Governor Nyesom Wike of Rivers State has sacked his Commissioner for Works, Mr. Harrison Bathuel Iheanyichukwu, with immediate effect, even as the Rivers state Commissioner for Information, Dr. Austin Tam-George has resigned his appointment, also with immediate effect.
The sacking was contained in a statement, issued on Thursday June 22, 2017, by the media aide on electronics to the governor, Mr. Simeon Nwakaudu.
According to the statement, “Rivers State governor, Mr. Nyesom Wike, has relieved the state Commissioner for Works, Mr. Bathuel Harrison of his appointment with immediate effect.
“The former commissioner has been directed to hand over to the Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Works,” the statement said.
He is the Second Works Commissioner appointed by Gov Wike, after the suspension of the former Commissioner for Works, Kevin Wachukwu in April 2016.
Harrison Bathuel Iheanyichukwu, is a civil engineer and architect, who was appointed to the position of Rivers State Works Commissioner, by Governor Nyesom Wike, confirmed by the Rivers State House of Assembly and sworn-in on May 9, 2016.
Mr Nwakaudu, in his statement, did not however give any reason for the sack, but reliable insiders suggest that, besides a more personal reason which may have accelerated the sacking of Mr. Bathuel Harrison, the decision of the Governor may not be unconnected with the charge which had been given to the erstwhile Commissioner on the day of he was sworn-in.
Recall that governor Wike had charged the then new commissioner to always be on the road supervising projects and reporting progress of work, having admonished him thus: “The former works commissioner [Wachukwu], was intelligent, but he could not meet up with the pace of work at the ministry. Take your work very seriously. There should be no compromise. The day you misinform me on the status of projects, will be the day you will be sacked. The day you begin to use your office to form rings will be the day you will lose out,” Gov Wike had warned then.
Meanwhile and in a related development, Governor Wike’s Information Commissioner, Dr. Austin Tam-George has resigned.
His resignation, which was communicated in a personal letter written and signed by him, to the Governor on the morning of Friday, June 23, 2017, takes effect immediately.
The letter, Titled ‘Resignation’ which also affirmed that he had handed over to the Director of Administration, Ministry of Information, Rivers State, reads thus:
“Dear Sir, I wish to resign my appointment as Commissioner for Information and Communication with effect from today, June 23, 2017.
“I have handed over officially to the Director of Administration of the Ministry.
“Thank for the opportunity to serve the state,” the letter concluded.
Though the letter was silent on the reason (s) behind the dramatic resignation, an unsubstantiated statement, credited to Mr. Tam-George and copiously published robustly on several social media and online platforms and portals, quoted the former Rivers state information commissioner lamenting bitterly that: “Most Commissioners serving under Gov Wike can no longer pay the school fees of their wards. Gov Wike is running a one man show Government and I’ve decided not to be part of such Government again,” he was quoted as saying.
Dr. Austin Tam-Geroge, a communication expert and former lecturer at Pan African University, was appointed in December 2015 to handle the public relations activities of the Wike administration, which was inaugurated in May 2015.
He assumed office with intimidation credentials, having received his PhD from the University of the Witwatersrand, South Africa. He also attended the IESE Business School in Barcelona, where he studied communication and institutional leadership and in furtherance of his academic, he taught at Pan-African University in Nigeria and at University of Cape Town where he was an Andrew W. Mellon Postdoctoral Research Fellow.
In 2008, he worked as research consultant to the New Partnership for Africa’s Development in its good governance monitoring projects across Africa and was the Executive Director of the Institute of Communication and Corporate Studies, prior to his appointment as Commissioner of Information and Communications.
Gov. Wike’s studied silence on the resignation is an indication that he has accepted to let the former Commissioner go his way and indeed feelers from impeccable sources, both from the Information Ministry and within Government house circles, hint that Governor Wike may have been totally unimpressed for a very long time, with the administrative style and personal attitude of Mr. Tam-George, which has seen him rely more or his alternative media team as his administration has unfolded.
Rivers State watchers and Governor Wike administration analysts have opined that there is palpable tension and an uneasy atmosphere hovering over the Rivers state cabinet as usually reliable sources claim that the governor may not be quite happy with the performances of most members of his cabinet, especially in relation to the pace and speed of the governor on project execution and the deliverance of democracy dividends to Rivers people.
Gov. Wike, who metamorphosed from his earlier pre-election monikers of ‘Bulldozer’ and ‘High Tension’, as a result of his energetic dynamism and clinical political decimation of all opposition before him during the governorship campaigns, has now been christened as ‘Mr. Projects’ by none other than the acting President of Nigeria, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo who, in recognition of his rapid infrastructural development and upgrading of projects in the state, has arguably set a very high performance bar for his cabinet and appears to be impatient with the response of some of his appointees.
An up to date appraisal of the relationship between Gov Wike and his cabinet members so far, revealed that, given the huge expectations of the governor after a hard fought and earned political victory against formidable forces, feathers would be ruffled and heads would definitely roll, right from the very early days of his administration and this was almost immediately underscored when the Media and Publicity Special Adviser, Sir Opunabo Inko-Tariah resigned his cabinet position in a letter dated 6 November 2015, stating that unfolding developments in the state, even at that early stage in the life of the administration, indicated that his services were no longer needed.
A few months later on 12 February 2016, Commissioner of Finance, Fred Kpakol and the Accountant General Abere Dagogo, were temporarily relieved of their duties and then re-instated, in a dramatic three day suspension which lasted until 15 February, following acrimonious threats to reveal damaging financial information and details about the fledgling administration and the subsequent interventions by different political leaders to quell the impasse.
Governor Ezenwo Nyesom Wike also suspended Kelvin Wachukwu indefinitely from his post as Commissioner of Works in April 2016 citing negligence, dereliction of duty and poor project supervision as some reasons for the action, which led eventually to Wachukwu been replaced by Harrison B. Iheanyichukwu, who was officially sworn into the Cabinet on 9 May, 2016.
On 31 August 2016, four commissioners, Tonye Briggs-Oniyide (Culture and Tourism), Fred Kpakol (Finance), Boma Iyaye (Sports) and John Bazia (Chieftaincy and Community Affairs ) were handed 3 months suspensions, alongside the Head of Service, Rufus Godwins and the Special Adviser on Lands, Anugbum Onuoha, following an Executive Council meeting in August “which the officials attended late”. They were later recalled to their various offices on 16 September, after two weeks of cooling their heels at home.
Gove Wike was to show his hand again in what was becoming a February event, when on 15 February 2017, the Commissioner of Health, Theophilus Odagme was dismissed from the office on allegations that he removed an important health item from a list already approved by the Governor himself.
Interestingly, a new Commissioner for Health has not been re-appointed since the sacking of Dr. Odagme in February and with the sacking of Bathuel Harrison and resignation of Austin Tam-George, three Commissionership slots are now vacant in the Rivers State cabinet.
However, there are also real fears now amongst the remaining members of the cabinet, that following the successful joint celebrations of Rivers State at 50 and Governor Wike’s second year anniversary ceremonies, the next pre-occupation of the Rivers state Governor, will certainly be the re-shuffling of his cabinet, not only to bring in persons who now understand his mindset and robust ambitions and actions, but indeed those who will form the structure and machinery for the impending political battle ahead, come 2019.