overnor Nyesom Wike of Rivers State is perhaps the most talked about governor in Nigeria today. And it is neither by accident nor is it a coincidence. It is a carefully choreographed and well funded strategy to dominate the national political and media space. He sure knows how to force himself, his views on the public and be the dominant topic of discussion. Hardly a day passes without the garrulous and sometimes comic governor being featured on paid live national television stations, raking up one allegation, lambasting a known enemy, going on an ego trip or dancing to his favourite tune: as e day pain dem, e day sweet us.
He has so positioned himself that when he speaks, the Peoples Democratic Party, its flag bearer, Atiku Abubakar, the National Chairman, Iyorchia Ayu, and indeed the leadership of the PDP sneeze, and usually end up with a new cold. He is like a bull in a china shop or an inebriated man throwing wild tantrums. While his group, the newly named Integrity Group, peopled with four other governors, and some senior party leaders, may have reasons to disagree with their party, the larger-than-life, self-promoting and whimsical self adulation of the Rivers State governor, is losing them public understanding and support.
His enemies, and they are many, are tempted to describe him as displaying symptoms of what Professor Sylvanus Ekwelie, Professor Emeritus of the Mass Communications Department of the University of Nigeria, UNN, describes as delusion of grandeur. Truth is, I am a bit worried about him, post office. After May 29th, 2023, with him out of office and no possible political appointment in view, how will he manage his mental health? He is used to ostentation, to grandeur, to being the centre of fawning adoration of the “anywhere belly face” political supporters, who of course would have shifted their perfidious sycophancy to the next occupier of Government House, Port Harcourt. When the calls stop jamming his phones, when he wakes up and spends the day alone in his expansive, luxurious mansion, when reality of after-office-life dawns, when to his shock, he discovers the Bible remains true: vanity of vanity, all is vanity! What would he do?
But I like him. For his boldness, rascality and entertainment value. He is surely having a very sunny time of life. But like him, forget tomorrow is pregnant. Let tomorrow come. Let the next occupier of the governorship stool inherit the curse which has afflicted previous governors: Dr Peter Odili, Rotimi Chibuike Amaechi, and now Nyesom Wike. Today is all that matters. And there is no way the story of the 2023 elections in Nigeria will be written, in future, without a generous paragraph, for ill or good, been devoted to the antics of Governor Wike. That is how it was for Governor Odili, and for Governor Amaechi. By the way, what do they give them to eat and to drink in that Rivers State Government House?
Nevertheless, while tomorrow waits, Wike must have his day in the sun and ruffle as many feathers as he deems fit. Take for instance, his recent outing where he hosted President Muhammadu Buhari and poured on him some sweet, loving words, like a long lost darling. Forgotten are his recent angst against the President. He became for a moment one of the sycophants he so lambasted for daring to say some good things about the Buhari regime. He had said then:
“When I hear people declaring for APC, saying they want to continue the good job of Mr President, the good job of people dying every day; the good job of Naira falling every day, I feel so ashamed. That we have gotten to the level where sycophancy, people will come and say, ‘I want to continue the good job of Buhari”. What is the good job of Buhari? Hunger is good job? or poverty is good job? insecurity is good job? or the economy falling is a good job? Such a shameful change. I can’t believe that somebody can come out in today’s Nigeria and say ‘I want to continue where Mr Buhari has stopped’ May God forgive you. May God never allow that evil to continue.’”
But in upping the ante against Alhaji Atiku Abubakar and the PDP, he decided to pepper them by inviting President Buhari to commission some of his government’s projects. His past opinion of Buhari did not matter. He had a score to settle with his party and fellow Niger Delta governors, who instead of teaming up with him, chose to follow Atitku Abubakar; with the exception of Professor Benjamin Ayade of Cross River State, who has pitched his tent with the APC. He decided to hit them hard, below the belt, and put them in a difficult spot with their people.
Playing to the gallery, Governor Wike announced that President Buhari has benevolently stretched out a generous hand of financial fellowship to, and baptised, the Niger Delta states with about one trillion Naira of previously unpaid 13% derivation. This, he said, has been kept from the public. Niger Deltans are not aware of the humongous funds which his fellow governors have collected and kept quiet about. Throwing a challenge to them, he listed a number of projects which he said he executed with the Buhari billion of Naira which fell on the lap of Rivers State. He then called on the people of the other states in the Niger Delta to ask their governors what they did with their own share.
As expected, the newspapers and social media were awash with Wike lauding President Buhari for paying money owed to Niger Delta states since 1999’: “Let me say it for the first time. So many people asked me: ‘where is he getting this money’? Let me say it. I want, through the attorney-General of the Federation, to thank Mr President. Money that were not paid to the Niger Delta states since 1999 – the 13 percent deductions – monies that were not paid. Mr President approved and paid all of us from the Niger Delta states. And for me, it would be unfair not to tell the public. It is not from FAAC money. It is the money that is supposed to be for Rivers, Delta, Akwa Ibom, Edo, and Bayelsa states.
“Yesterday, we commissioned the ninth flyover. In December, we will commission the tenth flyover. By February next year, we will commission the eleventh and twelfth flyovers. So i want to sincerely from the heart and on behalf of the government and people of the state, thank Mr President for this because as an opposition government, he could have said ‘don’t pay’. You can’t do anything.
Since 1999, the money has not been paid. Did we do anything? So, I want to sincerely thank him.”
He achieved his aim. The media lapped on it and there was, as one, a massive uproar in the states of the Niger Delta. Incredulous. Political opponents tagged on this and started a mass mobilisation to compel the governors to account for the humongous funds which Governor Wike said Buhari had generously given to each of the states.
Edo state was one of the first to react to the heat. It quickly informed that the Edo state has received only N2.1 billion in three tranches of N700 million each, out of the N28 billion, due to the state. Commissioner for Budget and Economic Planning, Mr Joseph Eboigbe, at a press briefing said: “In respect to the 13 percent derivation refund currently making the waves, it was the states commissioners of finance in Nigeria under the aegis of FAAC, especially those from the oil producing states that spotted that there was an anomaly in respect of the federal government spending money from crude oil and gas sales and not taking out derivation, so the work was done and a total of about N1 trillion was established as due to the oil producing states.
“It went through the whole process and the FEC approved it and a methodology for repayment, as approved by RMFAC, which they now agreed on what will be due to each state. Edo state share of that figure was N28 billion. It is a small figure out of the N1 trillion but that is what got to us. What was also approved was the way and manner this money will go to the states.
“The net amount will come to each state over five years. Each year, you will have quarterly remittance which means four releases each year over five years. This disbursement was late this year but some states went to court to restrain the government so the releases now started in October which is just last month. By the time they started the releases, Edo state got N700 million per quarter and this is verifiable in our bank account.”
Bayelsa state also came out to speak on the controversial payment. Governor Duoye Diri, in a statement by his CPs, Daniel Alabra, informed that: “For people who are talking about the 13 percent derivation funds due to the state, I want to to state that for one reason or the other, we were under-paid. When we discovered that, we followed due process from the state’s Executive Council to the state’s House of Assembly. Approvals were given and the funds were discounted.
“I do not play politics with this kind of thing. Anybody who wants to see how we use our money, our monthly transparency briefing on our financial income and expenditures are available. One kilometre of road we build in Yenagoa is costlier than three or four kilometres of road built elsewhere.”
But it was Delta State’s Fidelis Tilije who is State Commissioner for Finance who came out to give an elaborate explanation and situate the funds and how it will be disbursed to the states. Speaking on AriseTV, he noted that N240 billion is Delta state share of the fund. But he, however, revealed that only N14.7 billion had been received so far, with the rest spread for payment over the next four years plus.
As it turned out, contrary to Governor Wike’s claim that the entire money had been paid to the states, the truth is, by the agreement reached, it will take a total of five years, spread over four quarters yearly for the entire fund to be disbursed to the states. What Governor Wike failed to say, and which Governor Diri of Bayelsa state alluded to, is that some of the states have gone ahead to borrow tens of billions against the expected disbursements. Which means that though the payment will come over 60 months, some of the governors have discounted the full or part of the amount and spent theirs. That is what Governor Diri described at discounting.
VERDICT: Did President Buhari gift the Niger Delta states one trillion Naira in one fell swoop? The answer is no. First, the payment has nothing to do with President Buhari personally. It was a long drawn out reconciliation, with some court cases in-between, which RMAFC compiled and sent to FEC for approval. Secondly, none of the states has been paid the full amount. Rather only three tranches out of 20 endings in four years plus time have been paid. Governor Wike was economical with the truth.