Amaechi and the challenge of leadership recruitment
BY SOLOMON BOB
When Mr. Rotimi Amaechi’s time in public office is done, he will be remembered as much for his meteoric and unmerited rise as his mindless and callous destruction of his own people. Amaechi has visited carnage, deprivation,
destitution and marginalization on the people of Rivers State, nay the Niger Delta. Outsiders humor him as “Lion of the Niger Delta” more in jest or patronage than anything, but how is he to know when he is seemingly
impervious to reason?
Anyone would scratch his head to find Amaechi’s parallel in contemporary Nigerian history. Some Yorubas speak glibly of Ladoke Akimtola’s betrayal (of Chief Obafemi Awolowo) during the first republic. But whatever might be the merit of that contention, Chief Alaintola did not engage in willful expropriation of the then Western Region’s resources to the North or distant lands in megalomaniac pursuit of grandeur. But I digress.
As we literally teed off on yet another rerun election in Rivers State on Saturday 10 December, it turned out a good time to reflect on what might have been had a man like Amaechi not been promoted out of his depth and made governor in 2007. As I pondered the grim specter of strife, injury and death to be visited on Rivers people once again by federal forces acting on the pretext of an endless circle of elections made possible by INEC’s unconscionable love-in with Amaechi and the open endorsement of same by powers at the highest levels, it became painfully clear that the costly price Rivers people were paying was set years ago.
That was when a man who had not distinguished himself in anything, let alone ticked any box in the leadership matrix – save, perhaps, for perceived loyalty, was put forward as a candidate for the very important office of
Amaechi’s underwhelming performance and degenerate actions remind us of the urgent need to evaluate the leadership recruitment process in Rivers State.
No doubt, loyalty is very important but, as Amaechi has demonstrated, it cannot replace character and competence and it is no rocket science to find a man or woman who embodies all. What is more, in the unique context of Nigerian political climate, loyalty, which is often a nebulous word, is an ephemeral quality – as all of Amaechi’s benefactors have ruefully found out. Indeed, it is yet to be seen that a former governor in Nigeria managed to put his successor in a bind.
Although the “pernicious” Supreme Court judgment (apologies, Prof. BenNwabueze, SAN) which appointed (yes, appointed!) Amaechi governor in 2007 was an illegal judgment to the extent of the untold violence it did to the 1999 Constitution (as amended), and I have a pretty well documented view on that.
And there is merit in the suggestion that Amaechi’s egregious hubris and prima donna complex are traceable to that judgment why wouldn’t a man be incredibly self-entitled if he could become a governor without even contesting an election?
Yet the ‘original sin’ was committed in 2006, in the nomination process that was designed to produce only one outcome – to pick a man with no known views, no stand on anything, no credible academic background and clearly the least qualified by a long stretch, for the office of governor.
Amaechi has since duly proved himself a spectacle in the Nigeria public square. As we say in everyday parlance, he has been dancing naked. He has lurched from one controversy or notoriety to another, and it is difficult to see what positive value he brings to President Buhari’s touted government of change; except, of course, that he’s left to hang in there as a useful election fodder in the final annihilation his people — a role he has been chomping at the bit to play since the first rerun in March when he flaunted his new federal status and unleashed unspeakable mayhem. Amaechi has impoverished his people and pulverized their dreams.
Until he left office last year as governor after eight years, Port Harcourt seemed like a wasteland with disgraceful infrastructure despite all the riches, while he built castles for his ‘foreign’ masters. And thanks to Amaechi’s scorched earth politics, Rivers people had virtually no representation in the National Assembly for one full year (until a few days ago) even as their resources were pillaged to piggyback the very same institution.
Other than to placate Amaechi’s over-sized ego, there was no factual or legal basis to hold another rerun, or any rerun at all, in Rivers State one year and a half into the life of another administration. The reason is because the 2015 elections were free and fair as the then INEC Chairman, Prof. Attahiru Jega, maintained several times. But Amaechi, who has practically placed Rivers people under siege since Buhari took over as president, would have none of it.
In an extraordinary display of an illusionist’s proclivity for false memory, he – launched an incredible media campaign denouncing the elections and claiming that he and his party had been shortchanged and denied victory. It’s a hard task finding a man with Amaechi’s audacious capacity for invention and mendacity even in the face of clear-as-crystal odds.
Amaechi knows that he does not command any following worth speaking about in Rivers State and that is why he has consistently lost elections even in his village of Ubima. But he pushed the false narrative all the way and, after his appointment as minister, deployed state influence against hapless judicial officers even as he bragged about it all the time as is his wont.
He ultimately secured an astonishing and unprecedented whole scale annulment of all federal legislative elections conducted in Rivers State bar one! The same elections which Prof. Jega’s INEC had repeatedly sung to be free and fair? You bet!
It was a similar scenario in respect of the elections into the state legislature. How did he accomplish that ignoble goal? Amaechi employed both blackmail and unrealistic promises. This was made clear in the lead up to those bizarre judgments last December. We can also safely extrapolate, for those with eyes for further general corroboration, from the sworn statements of the two Supreme Court justices who recently accused Amaechi of attempts to suborn them to pervert the cause of justice.
That’s how Amaechi got Rivers State enmeshed in the crises of rerun after rerun. Amaechi is desperate to save face by clawing back political capital for his evaporated stock.
But while he served as governor he failed to heed Machiavelli’s advice in The Prince that he who is made prince by the power of the nobles should, before anything else, win the people over.
Amaechi did the exact opposite. So, at every turn he has faced repeated and formidable pushback from the same people he betrayed and whose patrimony he squandered.
His nightmare is compounded by Governor Nyesom Wike who is everything Amaechi is not: he’s got gravitas and common touch and is proving himself a prudent and effective manager of public resources. In this battle of owners
versus usurpers, the people see him as their champion, a bulwark against forces of occupation who is leading from the front. He is paying salaries and re- building decadent infrastructure and public institutions on a scale that belies the present dire economic circumstances.
These are the gains that Amaechi wants to roll back by handing over Rivers State and its resources to his masters once more. His brand of realpolitik is a slavish display of the type of lack of self-awareness that defies common sense.
His motives are odious and represent an existential threat against the future of every son or daughter of Rivers State who must feel sufficiently impelled to thwart him. Beyond that, however, our leaders must shut down the kind of leadership crucible that produced an Amaechi in the first place.
That is the only way to prevent a re-occurrence of the madcap politics which has made Rivers State the news for the wrong reasons and hobbled it for so long.
Bob, a lawyer and public affairs commentator, wrote in from Port Harcourt.