By EZE CHUKWUEMEKA EZE
It was Marvin Harris that stated that, “I don’t see how you can write anything of value if you don’t offend someone,” while Edward Abbey said: “How could anything non-controversial be of intellectual interest to grown-ups?” Based on these submissions, I hereby dare to correct the
misconception in some quarters about the politics of Governor Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi and how he became the rallying point of opposition to the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) – a party of which he was one of the founding fathers but which inexplicably turned round to make life unbearable for him. This attempt is aimed at exposing the intrigues and the politics of this misunderstood leader and some of his actions that led to his present exalted position in the politics of Nigeria.
EARLY POLITICAL CAREER
University of Port Harcourt (UNIPORT) in Rivers State was where Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi laid the foundation of his political life, participating actively in student union politics, especially in the National Union of Rivers State Students (NURSS), of which he was President, and the National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS). After graduation, he cut his teeth in politics as Secretary of the now defunct National Republican Convention (NRC) in Ikwerre Local Government Area of Rivers State from 1992 to 1994. He was Special Assistant to Dr. Peter Odili, the then Deputy Governor of Rivers State, and also a member of the Board of West Africa Glass Industry as well as Risonpalm Nigeria Limited. He was Secretary of the Caretaker Committee of the Rivers State Chapter of the disbanded Democratic Party of Nigeria (DPN) in 1996 during the transition programme of the General Sani Abacha junta.
In 1999, Amaechi contested and won a seat to become a member of the Rivers State House of Assembly to represent his constituency. He was subsequently elected Speaker of the House of Assembly as well as Chairman of Nigeria’s Conference of Speakers of State Assemblies. He was re-elected into the State House of Assembly in May 2003 and equally re-elected Speaker. A Master’s Degree holder; Amaechi’s assumption of office as Governor based on a Supreme Court judgement after PDP dumped him despite his convincingly winning the party’s gubernatorial ticket, remains a mystery to many political watchers in the country. By May 2015 Amaechi would have spent eight years as Governor of Rivers State. He is currently Chairman of the Nigeria Governors’ Forum (NGF). His unprecedented feats in the transformation of Rivers State have won him many international and local awards as well as the respect of great world and Nigerian leaders.
The administration of Rt. Hon. Amaechi has recorded several feats, among them the following: Setting up of the Songhai Farms and the N20bn Agric Scheme that revolutionised agriculture in the State; initiated the Greater Port Harcourt City to decongest the present Port Harcourt City and construction of one of the best stadia that hosted the 2010 National Sports Festival in the new city; building and equipping 180 health centres across the State, constructed many roads and schools, embarked on a monorail – the first of its kind in Nigeria – which upon completion will transport 40,000 passengers daily.
Another feat is the offer of scholarship to over 2,000 students in Nigerian higher institutions and spending of about N5bn on Rivers students in foreign institutions. Then there is the building a world-class university which when completed will turn out well equipped graduates that will hold their own in any field and compete with the best in the world. There is also the building, in Rivers State University of Science and Technology (RSUST), of a hostel that will accommodate about 6,000 students in addition to housing all the lecturers of the university. The university will be fully ICT compliant.
It is important to point out here that the Rivers State Government is among the few in Nigeria that offer free education and free health delivery to its people but stands apart as the only State offering free education, free sandals, free books and free uniforms in Nigeria. About 200 primaries schools have been set up in 200 communities, a feat that no other state is yet to accomplish.
Under Health; so far, about 100 Medical Doctors have been employed to staff most of the Health Centres in the rural areas. The Rivers State Government has currently embarked upon the eradication of malaria vectors from the State. The Health Centre at RSUST will soon be opened to the public. The State was lauded last year for its daily commissioning of a health centre over a 60-day period in 60 communities in its 60-60-60 initiative. The Dental Hospital located in the Garrison area of Port Harcourt will soon be opened.
The Rivers State Government invested over N100bn per year from 2008 till 2011 in provision of roads, bridges and social amenities. In this regard, the Government has engaged in the construction of 800km roads with 250 already completed. It also commenced work on 10 major bridges, with 3 already completed while 20 minor bridges were started, with four completed. Other projects include 2 flyovers/interchanges under construction; 6 land reclamation/shore protection projects at Andoni, Opobo, Buguma, Abalama, Olombie/Owukiri Island, Oba Ama, Okirika, with 1,1400,000km completed; 2 major markets and a shopping mall under construction (Phase 1 of Mile 1 Market housing 960 shops and two banking halls completed). Apart from all these the Rivers State Government has built three power stations at Omoku (150 Mega watts), Trans-Amadi (130 Mega watts) and Eleme (75 mega watts).
The security and freedom the people of Rivers State are now enjoying can only be appreciated if the scenario in the State before Gov. Amaechi assumed office is replayed.
It is on record that Rivers State has again been affirmed a ‘B’ international rating by leading international financial analysis agency, Standard and Poor’s (S & P). The long-term outlook for the state was revised upwards from last year rating of “Stable” to “Positive” on the strength of significant ongoing infrastructural investments (in roads, ICT, health care, education and urban renewal) and relentless efforts to transform the public finance framework. All this would help lift the state’s social and economic status in the long run.
In appreciation of these feats, the Rivers State Governor, Rt. Hon. Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi, has been conferred with the prestigious SERA award for his contributions towards the social development of Rivers State, in line with the objectives of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), especially in the areas of Health and Education.
While I know the difficulty in managing public funds, Gov. Amaechi has demonstrated a high level of skill, integrity and probity in this regard. The numerous projects completed and ongoing in the State is a clear indication that the Governor indeed deserves encomium from all and sundry rather than being vilified by some people. He and his team certainly deserve kudos for prudently utilising the public funds. To Malcolm X, “When you have a philosophy or a gospel – I don’t care whether it’s a religious gospel, a political gospel, an economic gospel or a social gospel – if it’s not going to do something for you and me right here and right now – to hell with that gospel.” One can state unequivocally that Governor Amaechi has invested the resources of the people of Rivers State wisely and judiciously. This is not surprising to keen watchers of this administration. History will surely be fair to Amaechi and his team.
AMAECHI’S ‘SINS’ AND HIS RELATIONSHIP WITH PRESIDENT JONATHAN
Reminiscing on the orchestrated problem between PRESIDENT JONATHAN AND GOVERNOR AMAECHI two great sons of the Niger Delta, I took out time to study the gladiators and the bond between them which, ordinarily, should have made their friendship impenetrable. The word bond means something that binds, fastens, confines, or holds together a cord, rope, band, or ligament, something like an agreement or friendship that unites individuals or people into a group.
According to Catherine Beecher, “The principle of subordination is the great bond of union and harmony through the universe” and according to Rainer Maria Rike, “I hold this to be the highest task for a bond between two people: that each protects the solitude of the other.”
Facts available to me show that these two great exponents of democracy share similar family background – raised in humble families and experienced the pains of being educated by poor parents. President Goodluck Jonathan won the hearts of Nigerians with his expose that he was that student who trekked to school without a shoe, while Governor Amaechi also won hearts by revealing that he had a sandal and one pair of trouser which he washed every weekend to be used the following week for the major part of his undergraduate days. The two political leaders are products of UNIPORT and are among the Port Harcourt big boys.
Although President Jonathan is the older of the two, Amaechi has greater political experience. He has been in politics right from his days in the university, eventually becoming the only Nigerian that was a Speaker of a State House of Assembly for eight years and at the same time Chairman, Conference of Speakers in Nigeria, while later becoming Chairman of the Nigeria Governors’ Forum (NGF). President Jonathan, on the other hand, is the first PhD holder (not honourary) to preside over the affairs of the country and the only Nigerian that left the academic environment where he was a Lecturer after having a stint with the defunct OMPADEC and rose to become a Deputy Governor (Bayelsa State), Governor, Vice President and President – all this without contesting a single election.
Talking of the significance of their names, Chibuike means “God is all Powerful” and “Rotimi” an abridged version of “Oluwadurotimi” meaning “the Lord stands by me”, while Amaechi means “who knows tomorrow?”. On the other hand, Ebelechukwu which is the native name of the President, means “God’s Mercy”. Remember the popular phrase, what is in a name? One does not need to be a sage to know that all the meanings embedded in their names are playing out nicely in their lives.
While President Jonathan as the Vice President of Nigeria was suffering every humiliation in the hands of the cabal during the Umaru Musa Yar’Adua-led administration, Amaechi proved to be a reliable pillar of support behind him. When President Yar’Adua passed on and Jonathan was being pushed around, Amaechi was among those in the forefront of ensuring that Vice President Jonathan assumed office as the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria when the National Assembly out of their wisdom came up with the Doctrine of Necessity.
During the 2011 elections, Governor Amaechi, not minding some other options available to him, opted to rally other Governors to ensure that President Jonathan won the PDP ticket and during the election proper, Amaechi delivered two million votes from the State to ensure that Dr. Jonathan got elected as the 14th President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
Not done with all this affection to his own brother with whom he shares some invisible bond not known to many Nigerians, Amaechi went ahead even while President Jonathan was the Vice President to ask him to nominate candidates to his Cabinet in Rivers State. This resulted in the nomination of Professor Israel Owate, who was once the President’s classmate, as the Commissioner for Education. Unfortunately, Prof. Owate could not drive the vision of the governor on education as fast as the governor wanted, so he was dropped. Amaechi requested a replacement from Jonathan, who this time nominated Mr. Moses Ahubele, who manned the Ministry of Empowerment and Employment Generation till he died after an illness in the later part of 2010. After the 2011 general elections, Governor Amaechi requested from Mr. President and he graciously nominated Mr. Charles Okaye, who still serves as the Commissioner for Chieftaincy and Community-related Affairs.
Despite his great show of love to President Jonathan, Governor Amaechi has been subjected to monumental humiliation by the Jonathan Administration. A few examples: The plane of the Rivers State Government was grounded for no just cause, the PDP Structure in Rivers State was taken away from Amaechi, his election as the Chairman of NGF duly certified and acknowledged worldwide was annulled by President Jonathan and his cohorts. As if that was not enough, Amaechi was suspended from a party he so much loved and spent so much to build. Indeed, if not for divine providence, he would have been illegally impeached by five legislators in a House of 32 members; a Police Commissioner by name Mr. Joseph Mbu was posted to haunt, insult and abuse him publicly, calling him a despot. What is more, Governors that came to visit him were stoned! In the eyes of Nigerians, Amaechi stands as a great man while in the eyes of those haunting him he is a persona non grata.
REASONS FOR AMAECHI’S TRAVAILS
Governor Amaechi’s major sin apart from his feats in governance and his assistance to President Jonathan is his love for his State and readiness to protect the interest of Rivers State. According to the Chairman, House of Representatives Committee on Public Service Matters, Hon. Andrew Uchendu, who once raised an alarm that Amaechi’s life had come under threat from the Federal Government and its agents, “I have noted with dismay and astonishment that Governor Amaechi apart from being ambushed and refused entry . . . into Ekiti by military personnel acting on orders from above, was made to turn back and return to Akure where his chartered aircraft was parked but was chased and rounded by armed soldiers and security personnel in Odudu, Ondo State. According to the captain who led the operation, he had orders not to allow the governor entry or exit.” There was also an attempt later made to detain Governor Amaechi at the Mallam Aminu Kano International Airport, Kano, when he went to felicitate with the new Emir of Kano, HRH Alh Sanusi Lamido Sanusi.
Who would believe that a person of the status of Governor Amaechi, irrespective of his relationship, respect and love he exhibited towards his own brother the President, could be so haunted, humiliated, frustrated and his State turned to a war zone even while his brother is still the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria? That is the irony of life. Let the world judge!
Commenting on the perceived sins of Governor Amaechi, one of his closest allies, former Commissioner of Works and current Chairman of the Petroleum Downstream Committee of the House of Representatives, Hon. Chief Dakuku Peterside, said in a recent interview: “Some persons also claim that he is too forthright and I don’t know what crime that is called. However, the biggest unsaid problem is the perception by certain persons in the Presidency that Governor Amaechi has ambition to aspire to higher office. The attempt to criminalise ambition, if any, is the root cause of the perceived problem in NGF. The second strand is speaking truth to power as can be seen in Governor Amaechi’s comments on Sovereign Wealth Fund, Excess Crude Account, Rivers-Bayelsa oil well issue, fuel subsidy, East-West road, Adamawa PDP, amongst others.”
Barr. Achinike Godwin William-Wobodo, Senior Special Assistant to Governor Amaechi on Inter-Governmental Affairs, who holds an LLM in Criminal Law and Practice and is currently pursuing a PhD in Money Laundering and Anti-Corruption Law, in his own submission stated: “The induced situation is caused by third party elements, who are either driven by the hunger for power or jealousy. The seeming situation is induced principally by two classes of persons, those driven by hunger for power which represents the group in Rivers State, and those driven by envy, which houses external factors. For instance, the Minister of State for Education, Chief Nyesom Wike, my friend and brother, is at the centre of the group opposed to Amaechi’s style of governance and bent on wrestling power from the governor. My worry is not that they seek to wrestle power from him, because that basically is politics. My quarrel is the approach: the crude, undemocratic and uncivilised manner that they are going about it. In the process, they have undermined the rule of law, breached the peace of Rivers State and are threatening a breakdown of law and order.
“In the second category are persons who are driven by envy and the rising profile of the governor and the only way, to them, to break the rising profile of Governor Amaechi is to pit him against the president and hiding under the cover of the Presidency. For these persons, I think and honestly too that they have proven that they are not men enough to personally handle their affairs.”
To an illustrious son of the State and former Minister of Petroleum Resources, Prof. Tam David-West, Governor Amaechi is an innocent man and his travails illustrate the Nigerian paradox where excellence is relegated to the background and mediocrity is elevated. Hear Prof. David-West: “I’m particularly worried about the trend, not only because I am a Rivers State elder, not only because I am a strong supporter of Amaechi without any regret, I am also worried as a Nigerian because what is happening to Amaechi underscores a terrible Nigerian paradox, which I call the paradox of excellence. We support him because those of us who grew up in Port Harcourt as a famous ‘Garden City’ knew how the city changed to a rotten city. And Amaechi, who is also a Port Harcourt boy, returned the city back to its glorious “Garden City” status. Any person that does not realise this is not only blind but terrible.” This great sage reminded Amaechi’s opponents that he who laughs last, laughs best, stating with emphasis that the governor would laugh last because his first name, Chibuike, means “God is strength.”
WHY AMAECHI JOINED APC
The desperation of the PDP Leadership to completely destroy Amaechi led to his departure, alongside six other PDP Governors, to form the New PDP, with five of them later joining the mega opposition political party, the All Progressives Congress (APC). Explaining why he joined APC, Governor Amaechi said: “Unfortunately, recent events within the PDP have given me reason to reconsider our collective interest as people of the South South and indeed as Rivers people. At various times, as the one whom you gave your mandate, I had cause to complain about the marginalisation of our State and our people despite our huge contribution to the national coffers and our unflinching commitment and support for the ruling PDP. While the political and economic importance of Rivers State cannot be contested, we continue to hold the shorter end of the stick.
“A few instances may suffice: Our demand that the Federal Government return oil wells belonging to Rivers State to us has gone unheeded and been treated with levity under this administration. Rather, our oil wells have been ceded to Bayelsa, Abia and Akwa Ibom states. Even after we got a judgment that the oil wells were wrongly ceded to Akwa Ibom State and should be returned to us; only dry wells that were no longer producing oil were returned.
“In the specific case of the Soku oil wells, despite a decision reached that the monies should remain in an escrow account till all matters concerning it are resolved, the Federal government continues to pay neighbouring Bayelsa State the revenues meant for Rivers State in a classic case of robbing Peter to pay Paul. It is indeed noteworthy that we have made several representations formally and informally on this matter.
“A second instance is the total absence of federal presence in Rivers State. The ‘National Good Governance Tour’ provided a good opportunity for the Federal Government to showcase its presence in Rivers State. The tour, if nothing else, proved that there was not much to show in a state that is the cash cow of the federation. The East-West Road remains abandoned, work has been deliberately slow on the Port Harcourt International Airport, the third busiest airport in the country, while all airports started along with it have long been completed and commissioned. The Bonny-Bomu Road that leads to the only functional liquefied natural gas project remains uncompleted. In the midst of all these, our administration went ahead to fix federal roads to the tune of N103 billion. Several representations and letters after, not one kobo has been repaid. The Federal Government is actively discouraging investments in Rivers State.”
When the powers that be in Abuja, in their wickedness, chose to chastise Governor Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi left, right, front and back to make him look unpopular before his constituency in order to prepare the ground for his ultimate removal from office, I saw whose interest they were serving and warned that they would inadvertently help Amaechi to become not only stronger but also triumphantly victorious at the end of the day. Many people dismissed my prediction with a wave of the hand. However, I have become vindicated. One, surely, doesn’t need to be a son of Issachar to be able to read and understand the direction the pendulum would swing in this case because Amaechi is being persecuted without any justification whatsoever.
Today, despite all the attempts to bring him down, Governor Amaechi has proved himself an icon, hero and soldier of democracy. Some of the feats of this great leader of our time include making Port Harcourt the World Book Capital City, dogged fight for the oil wells and other rights of Rivers State and her people, as well as award-winning achievements in Education, Agriculture and Health, etc.
Even if President Jonathan and his confused cohorts do not recognise the great feats of Governor Amaechi, the rest of world does, the latest proof being his recent decoration as an Associate Fellow of the United Nations Institute for Training & Research (UNITAR), Geneva, Switzerland.
Let me conclude this treatise with Governor Amaechi’s 2014 Independence Day Speech, in which he noted that his administration’s persecutions, travails and betrayals have only ended up making him stronger. He advised politicians and their supporters to avoid maiming, killing, violence and thuggery, as the nation moves towards the 2015 elections. Amaechi’s words: “With the end of my tenure approaching, my resolve to build a virile state remains as fervent as it was seven years ago. Like athletes in a race, we are running to win. We must continue to run to breast the tape and reach the finish line strong. Our persecutions, our travails and betrayals make our resolve stronger.
“By May 29, next year, I shall have finished my course as governor, but shall always put Rivers in my prayers. As we prepare for the 2015 general elections, may our politicians and their followers know that a kingdom divided against itself cannot stand. If we maim and kill the people we aspire to lead, who would we then govern? Let us run our campaigns in the best manner and pursue our electioneering with respect for one another.
“When I assumed office on October 26, 2007, I committed myself to building a Rivers State of Possibilities, where none would be discriminated against. We set for ourselves a target and a goal to leave our state better than we found it. It was, indeed, a big challenge, but seven years after, we can present a commendable score sheet to the glory of God. When we took the oath of office in 2007, insecurity was at its peak. Military and police checkpoints dotted every street and lane. We were forced to raise our hands on our way home, at the end of a hard day’s job. Our humanity was debased, as much as our pride was assaulted. So, we chose to confront the criminals, who had stolen our peace. Not because we were strong, but because we loved our people. We chased them, not with arms and ammunition, but with bravery and the boldness of our fathers. We soon made our streets safe again, life returned to our biggest city, Port Harcourt, and our communities. Our economy again began to blossom and those investors chased away, began to return to our state. Today, our State thrives as Nigeria’s second biggest economy.”
Eze Chukwuemeka Eze is a Media Consultant based in Port Harcourt