Amaechi at 55: A look into a journey of challenge and change

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Factual Pursuit of Truth for Progress

By Chris Otaigbe

In a tweet that had over 180 retweets and close to 1.9k likes, Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi expressed his appreciation to his well-wishers on May 28, 2020, the day after his 55th birthday:

“A special thank you to everyone that celebrated me today. I’m humbled by your love, words of admiration and prayers.”

But for Covid-19 rules of social distancing et al, friends and families of Amaechi would have insisted on an elaborate celebration of the day with much fanfare and merriment.

From Speaker of the Rivers State House of Assembly, Governor of the State, where he served for eight unbroken years each, and now Transportation Minister, Amaechi has enough justification to ‘bring down the roof’ in celebration of a political Journey.
Underlining his trajectory, however, is the story of betrayal and determination to succeed despite the damning intrigues around him.

Blessed with a ‘broadcaster’s voice’ Amaechi would have been a Television Presenter today, instead of the successful Politician he has become. But he believes there is a part that grace played in his movement on the political turf.

His father was a politician, who ran for councillorship back in the days. “I didn’t join politics because I wanted to be a leader or because I wanted to solve Nigeria’s problems. I joined because of unemployment.” He confessed.

Auditioned at the Nigeria Television Authority (NTA) to be a broadcaster, Amaechi walked into the Station then, and asked to see a certain person. “But the person I met asked me if I had been auditioned because I had a wonderful voice. I told him I hadn’t and he asked for me to be auditioned.” He said.

Fortunately for him, before the employment letter came, he was already into politics. And that was what saved him, otherwise he would have been a broadcaster today.

His bid to escape the unemployment market, took him to Nigeria’s political field.
From his days in the University, Amaechi began his love for politics. Contrary to his father’s wish for him to study Law, Amaechi studied English Studies and Literature at the University of Port Harcourt.

Deliberately, his father had wanted him to be a Lawyer in the fashion of Frederick Rotimi Alade Williams (FRA), who was a model his father respected and admired greatly.

Unfortunately, getting admission to study Law was a huge challenge and the first admission offer he got was to study Secretarial Administration.
At that time, in addition to the Unified Tertiary Matriculation Examination, he also wrote an exam to get into the Rivers State University of Science and Technology.
“I had even started registration as a student of RSUT before I was offered admission (through UTME) to study English Studies and Literature at the University of Port Harcourt. I applied to study English at UNIPORT because the school had no Law faculty then.” Said Amaechi.

Born in Ubima, Ikwerre Local Government Area of Rivers State to the family of the late Elder Fidelis Amaechi and Mary Amaechi. His first and last names are ‘Chibuike’ meaning, “God is strength or power” and ‘Amaechi’ meaning, “Who knows tomorrow” respectively. ‘Rotimi’, which is indeed a Yoruba name, was given to him by his father to show how passionately the old man worshipped FRA.

Raised in Diobu, a densely populated neighborhood in Port Harcourt, Amaechi is the typical ‘Port Harcourt boy’ who lived most of life in the state.

When Amaechi detoured into politics, his father was indifferent, even though he too was a politician and most probably did not expect his son would get to the point he got. Unfortunately, he died before Amaechi became a governor.

Amaechi completed the mandatory National Youth Service Corps in 1988, and thereafter, joined Pamo Clinics and Hospitals Limited, owned by Peter Odili, where he worked until 1992. He was also director of several companies, including West Africa Glass Industry Limited and Rison palm Nigeria Limited.

Amaechi’s first office in politics was as Secretary of the now defunct National Republican Convention in Ikwerre Local Government Area of Rivers State. Between 1992 and 1994, he was Special Assistant to the Deputy Governor of Rivers State, Peter Odili.

He was the Rivers State’s Secretary of the Democratic Party of Nigeria (DPN), Caretaker Committee after, in 1996, during the transition programme of General Sani Abacha.

Peter Odili believed in Amaechi as a young man with potential in politics, and brought him under his wing. Their relationship further translated into a harmonious relationship between the Executive and Legislative arms of government in Rivers State, until when Rotimi Amaechi launched a campaign against the State Government, and verbally attacked the image of the State Governor, in an effort to succeed Peter Odili as governor in 2007.

In 1999, he contested and won a seat to become a member of the Rivers State House of Assembly to represent his constituency. He was subsequently elected as the Speaker of the House of Assembly.

Amaechi was elected the Chairman of Nigeria’s Conference of Speakers of State Assemblies. He was re-elected into the State House of Assembly in May 2003 and was also re-elected as the Speaker. In 2003, when the National Assembly moved to hijack the legislative functions of the State House of Assembly as enshrined in the constitution, he and his colleagues took the matter to Nigeria’s Supreme Court and the court gave a judgment that the control and supervision of local government is the prerogative of the State House of Assembly.

Amaechi contested and won the People’s Democratic Party primary for Rivers State Governor in 2007. His name was substituted by the party, an action which he challenged in court. The case eventually got to the Supreme Court. He became governor on October 26, 2007, after the Supreme Court ruled that he was the rightful candidate of the PDP and winner of the April 2007 Governorship election in Rivers State. He was re-elected for a second term of four years in April 2011.

His administration invested in infrastructural development, construction of roads and bridges, sticking to the vision of connecting all parts of the state by road. The former governor was also committed to urban renewal and modernization of transportation services. His administration began building a monorail to provide mass transportation within the city of Port Harcourt. Some power plant projects (Afam, Trans Amadi, Onne) were also built to improve power supply in the state.

It was at the point of his gubernatorial pursuit he began to feel the confounding nature of high wire politics with its stinging intrigues. His political godfather and mentor, Odili, who had endorsed his candidacy and consequent court case, when Amaechi was robbed of his victory, was the same person who asked him to drop the case.

That was Amaechi’s first major taste in classic betrayal in politics, Nigerian style, and it shook him to his foundation.
This was what fired him to ensure that he concentrated on the infrastructural development of Rivers State, which his predecessors had neglected, for the most part.

And so, in his eight years of service and as the fifteenth governor of Rivers State, Amaechi governed the state with a paradigm shift in infrastructural development in all sectors which overwhelmed his administration.

In the Road sector, he initiated and constructed over 170 roads, which added more than 900km to the existing 1,000km since 1967. On the roads, were 30 bridges. Of these, 10 were new road dualization projects, which added to the existing six since 1967, out of which only two were real dual carriageways.

On State Security, he established a rehabilitation and empowerment programme, which succeeded in tackling the internal security problems in the State.
His focus on Education was quite visible as he constructed over 500 modern primary schools and 23 model secondary schools. The students enrolled in the primary and secondary schools were given free uniforms, school sandals, bags, textbooks and over 13,000 teachers were employed.

Healthcare under his administration was given some emphasis with the construction of over 110 health centres in virtually all wards in Rivers State. Over 7,000 health workers and 600 medical doctors were employed with each doctor receiving a car gift.

Aware of the critical role power plays in the development of the society, Amaechi built two power stations in Oyigbo L.G.A and expanded existing Power Stations, increasing the cumulative capacity of Rivers State power plants to above 500 Mega Watts. He also built about seven transmission stations and distribution injection sub-stations.

To boost the state’s economy, Amaechi acquired 200 hectares of land in Tai Local Government Area, for the cultivation and exportation of Banana in partnership with a Mexican firm. The Buguma Fish farm was constructed to produce 1,000 tonnes of fish annually. Songhai farms located at Bunu-Tai/Ban-Ogoi in Tai Local Government Area was set up on over 314 hectares of land.

Despite all of these, Amaechi still had problems with some of the people who felt he had become high-handed and arrogant. This trait could have been inherited from his highly strict father, who Amaechi said, does not suffer fools gladly.

In the twilight of his second tenure, Amaechi had fallen out with his Party, the People’s Democratic Party (PDP). Out of vengeance and in an attempt to block Amaechi’s anointed candidate, the party nominated someone he personally handpicked, groomed from Local Government Chairman, through Chief of Staff and finally, to the federal level as Minister, Nyesom Wike, as gubernatorial candidate to succeed Amaechi as Governor.

As the party in power at the Federal level under President Goodluck Jonathan, PDP applied the full weight of its federal might (rigging for rigging, violence for violence) to defeat the outgoing governor’s candidate.

By this time, Amaechi had jumped ship and crossed to the All Progressive Party (APC), while he was accused of using Rivers State money to fund then candidate Muhammadu Buhari’s campaign.

So, having completed eight years as governor, Amaechi left, APC defeated PDP at the center and he lost his state to his former party. Meanwhile, Rivers State was soaked in a pool of blood of Rivers citizens as bitterness and hate had deeply divided the state along party and ethnic lines, with Amaechi and his former protégés, Wike, the polarization arrowheads.

Since political crisis broke out in 2012 and tore apart two kinsmen and close political allies, Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi and Nyesom Ezebunwo Wike, Rivers State has never known peace. Amaechi is from Ubima in Ikwerre Local Council Area and Wike is from Rumueprikon in Obio/Akpor Local Council, all Ikwerre men and Rivers political leaders. Both have been allies; Amaechi is believed to have made Wike a local council boss (Obio/Akpor) against all odds, made him Chief of staff and Minister. On the other hand, Wike stood for Amaechi when the whole world, led by Olusegun Obasanjo, seemed to come down on him. Wike fought the fierce battle that won back the governorship from the Supreme Court and formed the backbone in the administration that scared away enemies until Amaechi stabilized.

An article by Ignatius Chukwu, published in the Apr 28, 2019 edition of Business Day online, titled: Between Wike and Amaechi: Reconciliation or deconstruction? What Wike offered; what Amaechi asked for; what the allies say, reported that Chukwuemeka Eze, a media consultant and chieftain of the APC, claimed that he had uncovered N100billion war chest to deconstruct Amaechi. “Governor Wike has set aside a whopping sum of N100 billion war chest for a media campaign against the Minister.

According to the article, Wike’s government Insiders said the governor assembled a team of sworn anti-Amaechi PDP and other opposition elements (names withheld) with a serving senator as coordinator of the project.

Eze said Amaechi’s offence was simply for leading President Muhammadu Buhari campaigns that led to the defeat of an Ijaw son (Goodluck Jonathan), and a repeat of it in 2019.

Allegedly, the objective of the plan was to damage Amaechi’s public image, using the media at all levels as well as on multiple platforms. The end-result, he said, was aimed to make the Minister unattractive for a reappointment in President Buhari’s next cabinet, adding that a mobilization of N20billion had already been disbursed to the assembled team.

Wike’s campaign to portray Amaechi as a very corrupt person unfit to be appointed as a Minister of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, did not dissuade the President from making Amaechi a Minister.
However, on September 30, 2015, President Muhammadu Buhari went ahead to list and submit the name of Chibuike Amaechi along with those of 20 other great Nigerians as ministerial nominees to the Senate for confirmation.

While Amaechi’s achievements as governor of Rivers State cannot be discountenanced, his ardent critics believe the former Governor was far more corrupt than he makes out to be.
One major example, frequently cited by them, is the fact that while his people were owed salaries, he was, allegedly, flying around in an $18 million jet and spending money on the campaign of Muhammadu Buhari so he could be considered for the Vice-Presidential slot or at worst, a ministerial appointment.

If Odili’s betrayal confounded him, Wike’s sustained attack must be destabilizing to Amaechi.
Love him, hate him, Amaechi’s imprint on the lives of the people of Rivers State cannot be dismissed as unsatisfactory, just as his impact on the nation’s Transportation sector (particularly the passion with which he is personally prosecuting the national Rail Project) cannot be wished away.

This is because he succeeded in making himself visible as a major State Actor whose sense of responsibility, passion, and commitment to the cause of the people is front and center of national development.

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