Rivers State: Who Is Afraid of Rotimi Amaechi?, By Charles Anyiam

rotimi_amaechiI am of the school of thought that believes in the hypothesis that Amaechi’s current problems are more political than ethical. The developmental strides made under his belt as governor of Rivers State were on many occasions lauded by independent observers. For example, in the summer of 2009, an internationally adjudged panel in the United States made up of law makers, Hollywood celebrities and activists under the banner of the Africa Achievement Awards-USA, honoured him in Beverly Hills, California for his leadership role in one of the most volatile parts of the world.

When George Thompson Sekibo, the senator representing Rivers East senatorial District rose on the senate floor, October 9, to present a petition against the nomination of Rotimi Chibuike Amaechi as a minister, it left even the most naive amongst Nigerians in little doubt that the first shot had been fired in the plan to politically immobilise the former Rivers state governor. The Red Chamber’s response to the petition was reported to have been an uproarious frenzy.

Sekibo who said the petition was based on an investigation carried out by a Port Harcourt-based organisation called the Integrity Group that “believes in transparency, and fighting corruption,” is known to be among a hardcore group of Rivers State politicians who seem bent on scuttling Amaechi’s nomination – either by hook or by crook – and thus rendering him unfit to hold public office. Sekibo went on to explain to his colleagues that the Integrity Group believed “in good governance and the effective utilisation of every fund that is allocated to any state government.” In the group’s research, the senator alleged that on Amaechi’s watch, over N70 billion were transferred from hard currency account to places outside the country, a petition which he said had been forwarded to President Buhari. And this is quite a serious charge.

Also looming over Amaechi’s credibility is the recent report of the Commission of inquiry set up by his successor Governor Nyesom Wike that found the former governor guilty of diverting N53 billion, a charge which Amaechi has since denied, challenging his accusers to go to court if they feel so compelled. In his own defence, Amaechi explained that the missing funds were duly used to offset the short fall from federal allocations to his state which had dwindled over time due to incessant spats with federal authorities.

However, what has been conspicuous in its absence in this melodrama which has almost become a permanent feature in the politics of the Rivers State of Nigeria, is the timing of all these accusations and the identity of those who are making them. I am of the opinion that only a few Nigerians will be found to be ignorant of the fact that Amaechi’s problems have their origins in the grudge match between him and former President Goodluck Jonathan and his wife, Patience which has since morphed into all-out animus.

Since sometime in August 2010, when Amaechi endured public humiliation in the hands of Mrs. Jonathan who was reported to have literally snatched the microphone from the then Governor Amaechi and proceeded to offer him unsolicited lessons on governance and land use, there has been no love lost between the Jonathans and Amaechi .

Amaechi’s sin that earned him the public embarrassment was said to have centered around some demolition exercise which the state government had planned to carry out in Mrs. Jonathan’s Okirika hometown as to make the environment conducive to students in a nearby school. From thence on, Amaechi and Goodluck Jonathan have found it difficult to get along, and no amount of public posturing could mask the bad blood that have marked their frosty relationship.

In a piece in his The Guardian newspaper column of August 27, 2010, Reuben Abati – shortly before his appointment as the spokesman for the Jonathan presidency – encapsulated the Okirika incident thus: “In Okirika, Dame Patience behaved so impatiently and spoke to Governor Amaechi as if he is on the staff of the presidency. It may not be her fault though. Amaechi caused it all by bringing himself to such a level by undertaking to debrief Dame Patience about his administration’s programmes and activities in the misguided hope of getting cheap political endorsement. He should have asked his wife to attend to her.” How time changes everything!

Matters then took a turn for the worse with the news of Amaechi’s perceived ambition to contest the 2015 presidential elections as the running mate to Sule Lamido. It was obvious that this unconfirmed piece of news rattled the Jonathan cage to no end. And this was coming on the heels of Jonathan’s open hostility towards an Amaechi tenure as the Chairman of the all-powerful Nigerian Governors Forum (NGF).

With this as the back-drop, most of us are under no illusion about the origins of Amaechi’s current political headaches which have their roots in his problems with the Jonathans. And if you ask me, I believe that the former first couple are still waging a proxy war against Amaechi.

The mother of all feuds between the two, however, turned out to be the messy battle for the oil wells of Soku and Elem-Sangama.
Amaechi felt that his state – Rivers – had been sorely shortchanged by Bayelsa State, Jonathan’s home state, that became the beneficiary of proceeds from the disputed wells. Amaechi protested the arbitrariness of the handling of the matter, and expressed his position in unmistakable terms while directing his angst about the matter at Jonathan. Amaechi accused the former president of complicity, thus further deepening the chasm between the two camps.

From thence on, it was one ugly face-off after another between the two men. Amaechi dug in his heels. And Jonathan and his handlers pushed back, refusing to have the President humiliated.

Other public confrontations were to follow. With every given opportunity, Amaechi took on Jonathan’s men such as the well publicised media face-off with Jonathan’s Minister for the Niger Delta, Godsday Orubebe and Information Minister, Labaran Maku.

Therefore, it was no surprise at all when Amaechi quit his membership of the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and pitched his tent with the then opposition party – All Progressives Congress (APC), and taking with him four other PDP governors with several legislators in tow. Without question, this marked a major shift in the power equation on the national political scene for the first time in a long time. And from that moment, the centre could no longer hold. And while Amaechi gloated, his former party accused him of having committed the unpardonable sin.

Apparently, to compensate Amaechi for not getting the Vice Presidential candidate’s slot, APC leadership appointed him to the position of Director General of the party’s presidential campaign committee.

In the typical Amaechi style, he threw himself into the assignment with such personal conviction and gusto, making more enemies in the process. Amaechi took the task personal. His commitment was total. And he was loud about it.

On the PDP side, some of his erstwhile friends-turned-foes were working their magic to return the PDP to power so they could exact their comeuppance on Amaechi. One of them is of course, his one-time chief of staff and confidant now tormentor-in-chief, the current Governor Wike who assumed the unofficial role of a hatchet man for the Jonathans.

With this as the back-drop, most of us are under no illusion about the origins of Amaechi’s current political headaches which have their roots in his problems with the Jonathans. And if you ask me, I believe that the former first couple are still waging a proxy war against Amaechi. These are part of the dynamics which saw Rivers state show up ingloriously on the radar as one of the flash points in the last general elections – the outcome of which is soon to be determined by an electoral tribunal.

With Amaechi’s type of personality, I am not in the least surprised that he continues to get in trouble. Consequently, he remains one of the most misunderstood Nigerian politicians of our time. But, I must say that one of Amaechi’s strong suits is his fierce loyalty to his friends.

In fairness to his critics and enemies, Rotimi Amaechi can be brash. His in-your-face personality and impetuous disposition often rub many the wrong way. Conversely, he can be down-to-earth, and even apolitical.

For the records, Amaechi is a product of political crises, dating back to the events leading up to his winning the mandate to become the governor of Rivers state. His problems with the likes of Peter Odili (Amaechi’s political mentor) and former President Olusegun Obasanjo with whom he later reconciled are well documented. We cannot also forget the legal abracadabra that led up to a Supreme Court ruling that enabled him reclaim his mandate and go on to occupy the Brick House (the Rivers state Government lodge) to the consternation of many.

With Amaechi’s type of personality, I am not in the least surprised that he continues to get in trouble. Consequently, he remains one of the most misunderstood Nigerian politicians of our time. But, I must say that one of Amaechi’s strong suits is his fierce loyalty to his friends. That quality, I believe is one of the reasons why he enjoys such close relationship with President Buhari who himself is a stickler for loyalty, and his Vice President, Yemi Osinbajo. Even with Peter Odili from whom Amaechi is estranged, I have been in circles where he reverently referred to his erstwhile mentor in nothing but respectful
terms. But he does not suffer fools gladly.

That is why I am among those who believe that Rotimi Amaechi will be sitting in jail today if Goodluck Jonathan had won the last presidential election. His enemies were determined to humiliate him and deconstruct his career.

I am of the opinion that those same forces are still at work today. This time, they seem to be operating from the chambers of the National Assembly.

However, let me caution that the mob mentality demonstrated recently with the release of Buhari’s list of ministers does not augur well for our democracy. The nation must not be subjected to further delays in having the President’s cabinet in place, and the subsequent articulation and implementation of the policies of the new government.

I am not in any way advocating that Amaechi’s nomination as a minister in the new government should be any less scrutinised.

I am prepared to concede the fact to those who say that Amaechi’s problems are self-inflicted. More often than not, Amaechi demonstrates lack of tact and proper understanding of his immediate social and political environment. This is his Achilles heels. And that costs him quite some political dividends and mileage.

However, our senators mustn’t allow their parochial sentiments to becloud their constitutionally guaranteed duties. This process can no longer be unnecessarily dragged out for any narrow-minded reason.

When and if Rotimi Amaechi’s sins are profoundly proven beyond reasonable doubts, I have no misgivings about Buhari’s predilection to doing the needful – relieving Amaechi of his position. If he fails, Nigerians will not let him forget.

Until then, I am of the school of thought that believes in the hypothesis that Amaechi’s current problems are more political than ethical. The developmental strides made under his belt as governor of Rivers State were on many occasions lauded by independent observers. For example, in the summer of 2009, an internationally adjudged panel in the United States made up of law makers, Hollywood celebrities and activists under the banner of the Africa Achievement Awards-USA, honoured him in Beverly Hills, California for his leadership role in one of the most volatile parts of the world.

I am prepared to concede the fact to those who say that Amaechi’s problems are self-inflicted. More often than not, Amaechi demonstrates lack of tact and proper understanding of his immediate social and political environment. This is his Achilles heels. And that costs him quite some political dividends and mileage. However, let me state that that does not translate to inefficiency, corruption or any other form of malfeasance in any language.

Amaechi can be strongly opinionated, even to the point of being didactic. This has on many occasions been misconstrued to mean arrogance. I don’t think so. And at a time in the life of his tenure as governor, this became a source of veritable distraction to the attainment of some of his goals. That he should have managed it well as a statesman is an argument I can buy. The rest of the other theatrics have been nothing short of rabble-rousing, and trying to give a dog a bad name to kill it.

Having said all that, we must not allow this situation cost this nation the opportunity to have someone like Rotimi Amaechi serve. Therefore, we cannot afford to throw away this baby. With the bath water.

That is my story. And I stand by it.

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