Some of my readers considered it unpardonable. Let me explain why I think it is tangential. I believe strongly that she was just on mere errand. Whatever she did at any point was directly or indirectly sanctioned by her husband. I am married and I know that some women can get into their element and become really meddlesome and may go out of control. But that is not the case with Mrs. Jonathan. She might not be exposed but she is not dull. She saw the body language of her husband and went to the battlefield on his behalf. She may be opportunistic but not stubborn or disobedient as some try to make us to believe.
There was also an aspect of the First Lady’s conduct which arose from the feeling that she was the highest public officer in Rivers State and so expected that a certain level of courtesy and access must be granted to her. Though she has no constitutionally recognised office, she expected Governor Amaechi to give her a lot respect. And she got just that. At least initially. On several occasions he had cancelled engagements outside the state to wait and receive the First Lady. Whenever the First Lady travelled to Bayelsa, he would wait to see her off before he could travel. Sometimes she travelled to Bayelsa two times a week; may be as Permanent Secretary that she was. On one occasion the governor had an engagement in Imo State in the afternoon but got a call from the villa that the first lady was planning to come to Port Harcourt. He had to cancel and stayed back in the office to wait to receive the First Lady. His convoy was set all day only for him to get a call around 6pm that the trip had been put off.
You must have read the triumphalist account of former Rivers State Police Commissioner now AIG Mbu Joseph Mbu. The person he was sarcastically referring to as the leopard he tamed is an elected governor of a state. During his reign in Port Harcourt, he was an emperor. A defacto chief security officer. One wonders when a police officer in this country got such audacity and temerity to challenge a sitting governor. Only under President Jonathan. What a dangerous precedence that has been set? The recklessness of the Mbu era in Rivers State will go down as one of the most unprofessional periods of any Police Commissioner in Nigeria. Yet neither the President nor the Police authorities in Abuja thought it wise to reprimand Mbu, even to do so hypocritically. Rather they rewarded him with a promotion for supervising what almost snowballed to anarchy in Rivers State.
I must add very quickly that the Rivers State Governor contributed somewhat in aggravating the matter. He had a style which sometimes yielded unhelpful results. At the heat of the saga, Governor Amaechi was responding to everything and anything by himself. He was always on the front page of the newspapers. It was one drama after another. Although it generated massive publicity and goodwill for him, he just did not know when to stop. Some of the folks that used to support him were probably approached to begin to smear him as discourteous, rude and unstable by the well-resourced propaganda agents in the Presidency. They sold the dummy to the public that Jonathan was Amaechi’s elder brother to whom he needed to bow.
The Rivers State Governor himself was defiant in defending the interest of the people who elected him, which suffered tremendously due to that avoidable conflict. And I will dwell on this in detail later.
Nigeria is a federation where states are supposed to be independent units. On paper that is true, but in practice it is not. The centre of the Nigerian federation is so strong that you can actually do little as a state, when you are not in the good books of the centre. President Jonathan knew this and maximised it to the disadvantage of Rivers State. Now my point here is why a whole state should suffer because of a political conflict of two individuals. This is where I argue that President Jonathan missed the point. He will someday come to regret the fact that he deliberately denied Rivers State many federal projects because of his political conflict with the governor. Port Harcourt is the gateway to the Niger delta. No one can favour the Niger delta region without positively impacting on that city. Many people from the President’s home state in Bayelsa live in Port Harcourt till date. One will imagine that the President would have seen this bigger picture. Abandoning the renovation of Port Harcourt international airport was pointless. The preference of Brass LNG project to Bonny LNG was completely unnecessary and even childish. The politicization of the cleaning up of Ogoni land does not speak well of the President and will remain a sore on the conscience of this administration. Clearly beyond Amaechi as a person, the actions of the Jonathan administration disproportionately hurt Rivers people.
There are those who argue that Governor Amaechi never wanted to reconcile with the President. That is false. The governor did his best in this regard. You must have noticed that even when the stalwarts of All Progressives Congress (APC) visited Rivers State, the governor was gracious enough to say publicly that he would consult with the President. Many prominent Nigerians pleaded with the President to resolve their differences so as not to crack their party. The President always promised anyone who came to him that he would resolve the matter but failed to do so. I remember the case of one big man of God from the South West who got involved at a point. A friend of mine went to plead with him. He was very reluctant initially because he complained that the President did not honour his last promise to him during a similar conflict. He had pleaded with the President not to touch Chief Timipre Sylva and the President promised but later did the opposite. It was reported that the man of God hesitantly went ahead and held discussions with both Amaechi and the President on their differences after which the President promised to call a truce but never did.
Now let me hint on the implications of the Jonathan-Amaechi conflict on the President’s 2015 ambition. I am of the view that the President has a right to re-contest his position. Whether this is constitutional or not, should be left to the lawyers to determine. I also think that the President will win the majority of votes in the South-South and South-East. I will not vote for him but I do not think my vote will make any difference. However the number of votes he will get will be far lower than in 2011. He may still not win the election regardless of the bravado of his lieutenants. The numbers do not favour him currently. You can take this to the bank! The whole North has become a no-go-area for him. The situation was made complex partly by his unending antagonism against Amaechi and the Nigerian Governor’s Forum. If NGF was still there, may be the President would have reached out to them as a group. Many of the influential Northern governors like Wammako and Kwankwaso either showed solidarity with Amaechi during the NGF struggles or merely saw it as an opportunity to express their own grievances against the President. If the North speaks with one voice against the President, then his 2015 ambition will be dead on arrival.