My Governor, Dakuku Peterside!, By Femi Olufunmilade
The personality of Hon. (Dr.) Dakuku Peterside attracted my attention during the February campaigns when we had all thought Nigeria’s 2015 general elections would hold in that month. Peterside came across as a likeable, charismatic and ebullient politician on the hustings, carrying with him an air of youthfulness that would not make you doubt if you were told that he is in his 20s. I found his campaign the most exhilarating in this season. I watched his campaign from one Rivers State city to another live on TV. It was difficult to ignore him as he bellowed, “My governor, my governor!” to a reverberating response from an ecstatic crowd of supporters: “Dakuku, Dakuku!!!”. In quick succession, he would chant, “My president, my president!” and the crowd would hail, “Buhari, Buhari!!!”.
That was the Dakuku approach. His campaign was not selfish. He spent ample time, perhaps more than any guber candidate of the All Progressives Congress (APC), campaigning for the APC presidential candidate (now president-elect), Gen. Muhammadu Buhari, as well as his peers seeking seats in the National Assembly. The combination of his gravitas with the courage of the incumbent Governor of Rivers state, Rt. Hon. Rotimi Amaechi, gave me high hopes for APC’s performance in the presidential election in that oily state. Thus, as I kept sleepless nights, gathering scraps of reports from fellow APC members and agents across the states, some of them serving with me on the Presidential Campaign Organisation (PCO), particularly Hon. (Dr.) Sokonte Davies, watching out for the outcome of the election in Rivers State, I literally ran high blood pressure in the process.
Among other states, I considered Rivers strategic in our overall permutations for victory in the APC. It has the largest number of potential voters in the South-South geo-political zone, from whence hails the Bayelsa State-born incumbent President, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan, which made it extremely crucial to the president’s victory. I think the fact that humongous figures approximating about a million and half votes were ultimately cooked up to give the president a dubious edge over our candidate, who allegedly polled a paltry 60,000 plus votes, was all the proof I needed on how jittery the Jonathan camp had become on account of the work the duo of Amaechi and Dakuku had done in the state. I have it on good authority from friends who travelled to Rivers for the purpose of the election that voting did not take place. To be explicit, INEC ad hoc staff reported for duties at the various polling units ostensibly to conduct elections, but, like it happened to Governor Amaechi at his polling unit, discerning voters realised they were just about to affix their imprimatur on a grand rigging plot and refused to thumbprint any ballot paper; for the vital results sheets were not part of the materials with the INEC staff. And the INEC staff appeared helpless with no respite forthcoming. It was tantamount to asking a lecturer to submit an examination results without the officially designed score sheet for that purpose. Even though a lecturer can improvise and employ an alternative paper of his choice, it will be stretching comparison too far to contemplate same in a highly delicate and hotly contested exercise like an election where legal action often becomes the last resort.
Yet, we commend the wisdom of the Chairman, Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Prof. Attahiru Jega, in declaring the Rivers State results all the same to avert what could have amounted to a truncation of the presidential election, as that seemed to be the prayers of the likes of Elder Godsday Orubebe, who on the floor of the INEC Collation Centre in Abuja, went into shocking theatrics like an ‘area boy’, shouting and foaming, “Jega, you cannot continue!!!” All because the election results emerging from the states were not favouring the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), which had boasted to rule us forever. In all these, my only regret is the collateral damage done to APC candidates vying for seats at the National Assembly, Senator Magnus Abe, not being the least among them. I sincerely hope the cause of justice will be soon served at the Election Tribunal on their cases.
Hon. Peterside hails from Opobo, a town that has long registered itself in my memory since age 14 in my fourth year in secondary school, when I attempted the GCE O’Level examination, scoring an “A” in history. It was through the study of history I became acquainted with the pathetic story of King Jaja of Opobo, which filled me with sorrow whenever it came to mind. I adored Jaja for being one of those African leaders who tried to engage the white men as partners on an equal footing, dictating the terms of trade he transacted with them (mainly in palm oil) and forbidding them from trespassing into the hinterlands of what was then known as the Oil Rivers, where he reigned supreme. He was the epitome of dignified royalty, astute diplomacy, economic self-determination, and guarded sovereignty. He proved too tough for the British merchants bent on securing unfair trade deals and, ultimately, colonial conquest and unfettered exploitation of the resources of the Oil Rivers, both human and natural. He was eventually tricked to attend a meeting on board a ship, having made the big mistake of waiving his usual practice in such situations, which was to first put an ample number of white folks in the custody of his armed guards to guarantee his safe return. He was shipped to Accra in the then Gold Coast, and arraigned before an all-white jury on trumped up charges of engaging in slave trade, which in the late 19th century had been outlawed in Britain. He was found guilty and sentenced to serve time in exile in the West Indies. The highpoint of his story which made me cry was that, upon his petition to Queen Victoria of England to prove his innocence, reminding her that she had once recognised him for being an anti-slavery crusader, a royal order for his release was issued; but alas! he died in 1891 in controversial circumstances aboard a ship in the course of a voyage back to Opobo.
Hon. Peterside is what the Igbo would call a titled man, holding the chieftaincy title of Amaopusenibo of Opobo. Looking at his antecedents as a lawmaker representing Andoni/Opobo-Nkoro Federal Constituency at the House of Representatives, where he was the Chair of Petroleum Resources (Downstream) Committee; his stint as Commissioner for Works in Rivers state – twice – and so on, I believe he has what it takes to move Rivers State to higher grounds like King Jaja once did in the Oil Rivers, bringing the area global fame and immense prosperity. If only I have a vote in Rivers State, I would cast it for Dakuku Peterside on April 11, 2015, and make him my governor.
Femi Olufunmilade, a member of the APC Presidential Campaign Organisation, is available on firstname.lastname@example.org.