The forthcoming gubernatorial contest in Rivers State, slated for the 18th of March 2023, presents another opportunity for the electorate to exercise their franchise and select a successor to the incumbent Governor, Ezenwo Nyesom Wike. This poll just like in 27 other states across the nation, will be held concurrently with the State House of Assembly elections.
For years, Rivers State has always been one of the major flashpoints of political controversies, especially during elections. According to INEC’s data, it is the fourth state with the highest number of registered voters (3,537,190 registered voters) for the 2023 elections.
Notably, there are three major candidates in contention for the coveted gubernatorial seat in Rivers State: Tonye Cole of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Siminialaye Fubara, and Magnus Ngei Abe of the Social Democratic Party (SDP). That of the Labour Party is still surrounded by controversy. We shall come to that subsequently.
Tonye Cole – APC
Born on 11th January 1967 in Port Harcourt, Rivers State, Tonye Cole attended Corona School, Victoria Island, King’s College, Lagos, King’s School, Ely, Cambridgeshire, and the University of Lagos. He also holds a Portuguese Certificate from Universidade de Brasilia, Brazil, and a graduate degree from Harvard Business School’s Advanced Management Program.
Tonye started his career as an architect at the Brazilian architectural firm, Grupo Quartro SA in Goiania, Brazil, and later returned to Nigeria in 1993 and was quickly employed as the Director of Operations with the Nigerian office of Empressa Sul Americana de Montagens S.A.
He is also an ordained minister of the Redeemed Christian Church of God, and also a motivational speaker, writer, teacher, and mentor.
In September 2018, he resigned from all board and executive roles held in Sahara Group to contest for the gubernatorial seat in his home state of Rivers. He won the primaries under the APC, but the party couldn’t participate in the 2019 gubernatorial elections due to a court ruling.
On 26th May 2022, he emerged as the flag bearer of the APC for the 2023 gubernatorial elections. Another setback came when on 25th October 2022, a Federal High Court ruling annulled all Rivers APC primaries. Cole was later reinstated by the Court of Appeal in January 2023.
Tonye Cole is a Nigerian entrepreneur who has received recognition for his contributions to the oil and gas sector and his leadership in various business ventures.
Siminalayi Fubara – PDP
Sim Fubara, a flag bearer of the PDP for the 2023 governorship election in the State, is a former accountant general of the State.
Born in Opobo Town, Rivers State, Fubara studied Accountancy at the Rivers State University of Science and Technology.
He started his career in 2003 as a Principal Accountant with the Rivers State Senior Secondary Schools Board and rose to become the Director of Finance and Accounts at the State’s government house.
Fubara was later appointed the Accountant General of Rivers State on December 23, 2020, a position he held until May 2022 when he won the PDP’s governorship primaries for the 2023 general elections.
Fubara and 58 other government officials were declared wanted by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission for a ₦435 billion fraud in May 2022, and he was also wanted for a ₦ 117 billion fraud alongside four other Rivers State government officials.
He holds the traditional chieftaincy title of Amaopu-Senibo of Opobo Kingdom; also a knight of St. Christopher (KSC) Order of the Church of Nigeria Anglican Communion, and is married with three children.
Magnus Ngei Abe – SDP
Magnus Ngei Abe of the Social Democratic Party was a Senator representing Rivers South-East Senatorial District in the National Assembly.
Abe was first elected to the Nigerian Senate in 2011 but lost his return bid to Senator Olaka Nwogu in the 2015 general elections. He was, however, reelected through a rerun poll in December 2016 and was succeeded by Hon. Barry Mpigi in 2019.
Prior to his going to the National Assembly, Abe was first elected into the Rivers State House of Assembly where he served as the Minority Leader from 1999 to 2003. He was also a Commissioner for Information from 2003 to 2007 in the administration of Governor Peter Odili.
Abe, who was born on 24th May 1965 in Nchia, Eleme, Rivers State, obtained an LL.B degree in Law and was called to the Nigerian Bar in 1987.
Rivers Guber Elections: the Myths, Reality
Online Voting Polls
The employment of online voting polls has garnered widespread popularity, not only in the context of the electoral process but also in various other domains. This phenomenon was witnessed during the most recent presidential election, wherein the use of such polls was ubiquitous. Anap Foundation conducted a poll for the Rivers State elections, and the result indicated that Sim Fubara, of the PDP, emerged as the frontrunner by a slender margin. According to the poll, Tonye Cole of the APC, occupies the second position, while Magnus Abe of the SDP, trails behind in the third place, among other contenders.
Labour Party gubernatorial candidate issue
Two persons are currently claiming to be the authentic governorship candidate of the Labour Party in the forthcoming election- Fafaa Dan Princewill and Beatrice Itubo. While Fafaa Dan Princewill is campaigning, with his posters flooding the streets of Port Harcourt and other parts of the state, Itubo has claimed that she is the authentic candidate of the Labour Party.
The LP national secretary, Umar Farouk while reacting to that, said the party will only support the candidate that is approved by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).
Meanwhile, the former LP executive council in the state led by Dienye Pepple had last week, announced their adoption of the PDP governorship candidate, Fubara, for the election.
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The state chapter executive council was later dissolved by the party national leadership led by Barr Julius Abure, citing corruption and anti-party activities. It subsequently appointed veteran Nollywood actress, Hilda Dokubo, to head a three-man steering committee of the party in the state for three months.
The Labour Party has officially countered the adoption of another party candidate for the election, reiterating its steadfast commitment to its own candidate.
Nevertheless, the likelihood of the LP candidate’s emergence as the winner of the 18th March governorship election remains rather implausible.
Electoral Atmosphere in Rivers
The electoral space in Rivers State appears charged given various contestations. The trend, especially after the last presidential and National Assembly elections, has reinforced the chaotic situation usually encountered in the state during elections. For a considerable number of years, there has been a continuous pattern of electoral violence in the State, leading to confusion and unrest.
The incumbent governor, Wike, is a member of the G-5 governors that have been strongly opposing the national leadership of the PDP headed by Senator Iyorchia Ayu and did not support the party’s presidential candidate, Atiku Abubakar, in the last election over their disagreement on national chairmanship rotation.
Wike was alleged to have worked for the APC candidate, Tinubu in the 25th February presidential election. However, now he is back working to see that his “anointed candidate”, Sim Fubara, wins the governorship to succeed him. He has been urging Rivers people to vote for the PDP candidate in the election.
While WIke is trying to use his might of incumbency to ensure that his candidate wins, others with their supporters are also pushing to clinch the victory at the poll.