(By Iheanyi Ezinwo)-Recently, Notable Outcome, the distinct newspaper(online) that is read globally, embarked on a project to identify those who are on the line for Rivers State’s Government House in 2023. In our first publication, names of politicians who stand a chance, across party lines were listed, and we promised to proceed to give highlights of their profile, as well as their weaknesses and strengths in subsequent publications.
Although Dr. (Mrs.) Ipalibo Banigo-Harry, current Deputy Governor of Rivers State was not the first on that list, actually it was published in no special order, we picked her to open the discourse because of her position in government. Arguably though, in some situations, the deputy governor is given right of first refusal in such matters. Besides, serving as deputy governor for eight years will make her the most qualified for the office, if experience is used as a criteria for assessment. So, we are starting with the accomplished administrator, leader and faithful Deputy Governor of Rivers State.
Dr. (Mrs.) Ipalibo Banigo-Harry is the current Deputy Governor of Rivers State. She assumed that office in May 29, 2015 and was re-elected and sworn into office, along with her principal, Governor Ezenwo Nyesom Wike, in May 29, 2019. She therefore became the sixth deputy governor of Rivers State after Engr.Tele Ikuru, and the first woman to occupy that office.
The proud daughter of Kalabari kingdom, specifically from Obuama in Degema Local Government Area, was born December 20, 1952. She served Rivers State in several capacities, rising in the civil service to become the Head of Service in 1998, and Secretary to Rivers State Government between October 5, 1995 and July 5, 1999.
In Nigeria where mediocrity in leadership is being blamed for stunted national development and under-development of the citizens; lack of shared vision and peace, the likes of Dr.Ipalibo Banigo-Harry, who earned Division One in the West African School Certificate examination, obtained Bachelor of Medicine, Bachelor of Surgery from the University College Hospital Ibadan, and also attended Harvard University for post graduate studies, stands out as a beacon of hope, based on objective considerations.
This amazon and chieftain of the Peoples Democratic Party, in the opinion of respondents in Notable Outcome’s survey, is one of the politicians many would wish becomes the next governor of Rivers State (in 2023). Although 2023 might seem far away, there is no doubt that the gods are already considering who succeeds Governor Wike, and probably not looking in the direction of the deputy governor.
However, that does not, in any way, completely foreclose her chances, no matter how slim, of succeeding her boss .The reason is simple: between 2019 and 2023 is such a long time; long enough in politics for decisions to be made and reviewed as new realities unfold. Interestingly, politics is such a dynamic game that, some one who might not be in thee picture today could dramatically become the preferred because of the exigencies of the time, especially for someone who has the advantage of proximity to the number one office in the state.
In addition to her intimidating academic credentials and experience in the civil service and government, those who spoke to Notable Outcome believe the idea of Rivers State having the first female governor will appeal to many, and will also enjoy the massive support of the women folk across the 23 local government areas, and beyond. The general opinion is that, this gracious and energetic lady, though over 60, has learnt the ropes of governance and therefore has all it takes to step into the shoes of her master, Barr. Ezenwo Wike, if judgment, time and chance work in her favour.
It is important to state that, unlike some who are not honoured at home, the impact of the Deputy Governor is felt in her immediate constituency. Recently, she facilitated the location of a bank in Degema, a move that has been applauded by the people as the first of its kind. She also enjoys harmonious relations with other political stakeholders in the Rivers – West geo-political zone, a factor many say could work for her in future.
Granted that the deputy governor has all it takes, including an experience that is very close and relevant, to become governor of Rivers State in 2023, there are other political considerations that could limit her chances. One of such factors is her gender. The mindset of many who spoke to Notable Outcome on this subject is not yet elastic enough to accommodate the idea of a woman becoming the governor of Rivers State. There thinking is that, it is premature. We also have this feeling , even among females, that the job is a tough one, and better left for men, for now.
There is also the issue of political structure. Considering her antecedents, it is unclear if the deputy governor has the foot soldiers to stand with her when the chips are down- incase she finds herself on the rough road to the Brick House. Our respondents also talked about the challenge of huge financial involvement in prosecuting a governorship project in a state like Rivers, especially if the All Progressives Congress succeeds to forge a common front in 2023.
In all, the dynamics of the time, the decisions of the party and that of the electorate are the deciding factors in this project. Without doubt, Dr. Mrs. Ipalibo Banigo-Harry has been blessed of God. Although it might be difficult for her to become governor of Rivers State in 2023, but our respondents agree that it is not impossible. Whether or not she remains in Rivers State Government House beyond May 2023, does not, in any way, remove anything from her: the medical doctor and accomplished administrator she remains a winner. The society gave her so much, and she has also reciprocated in so many ways, in her unblemished years of meritorious services to God and humanity.