Amaechi, the Lion of Niger Delta Politics, Strikes Gold
For a man to clock the golden age of 50 in a country like Nigeria where the life expectancy is much lower surely calls for a celebration. My good friend and political leader, Rivers State Governor, Rt.. Hon. Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi, therefore has every reason to roll out the drums as he strikes gold today, Wednesday, May 27, 2015. Silver and gold have I none to give the man of the moment but at least I can pay him a tribute, chronicling how he emerged from humble circumstances to become one of shapers of modern Nigerian politics within his first 50 years of sojourn on earth. As a close friend who has watched Amaechi from close quarters over a long period of time, I will attempt to expose what makes him tick politically and how he piloted the unseating of a sitting President and a political party that prided itself as the largest in Africa.
In my previous articles, I pointed out that His Excellency, Rt. Hon. Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi’s tie with the destiny of Rivers State is mysterious and different from that of any other political leader from the State. He is the only political leader so far who has played a key role in shaping the political future of the State who shares the same birthday with the State. Whilst he was born on May 27, 1965, Rivers State was created two years after on May 27, 1967. This, somehow, underscores why his commitment towards the emancipation and development of the State is total and unique.
Another unique thing about this great leader is that he shares the same date with the day on which Nigeria celebrates the Children’s Day. Inspired by the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), the Federal Government of Nigeria decided in 1964 – a year to the birth of Amaechi – to set aside the May 27 every year as Nigeria’s Children’s Day. On this special day the whole Nation celebrates the Nigerian Child and the Federal Government declares a public holiday for schools across the country. The day is usually marked with fanfare, featuring dances, singing by children in colourful dresses and youth parades considered by many as the highlights of the day.
Governor Amaechi’s Humble Beginnings
The family of Amaechi in Ubima, Ikwerre Local Government Area of Rivers State, was on May 27, 1965 blessed with the birth of a son who unbeknownst to all would become a force to reckon with in Nigeria’s political firmament even before his 50th birthday. He was named Chibuike, which means ‘God is all Powerful’ and Rotimi, an abridged version of Oluwadurotimi, meaning ‘the Lord stands by me’, while Amaechi means ‘who knows tomorrow?’ 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 his name are playing out in the acts and arts of politics in Amaechi’s life.
Amaechi, as he himself has unequivocally said on several occasions, was not born into opulence. As a child his family experienced real hardship and he admits going through several challenges that have helped to shape his perception of life. His determination to ensure equal access to education for every Rivers child and bridge the gap between the privileged and underprivileged children in the state is unprecedented. Whenever the occasion demands, Amaechi would not hesitate to point out that though he came from an underprivileged background, his was a modest family that inculcated in him the virtues of honesty, humility and sheer doggedness to succeed.
To give an insight into some of the experiences he had to go through in order to be educated and which perhaps may very well be the reason behind his passion to provide free education for all children in the state, rich and poor, Governor Amaechi said in an interview: “I don’t know how many people in my cabinet that could have experienced poverty like I did. I grew up at No.18, Chibu Street. I moved from there to Nnamdi Azikwe. Later, I lived with one of my friends in one of the creek villages near Port Harcourt. And I knew that my parents suffered a lot. With tears, they were looking for money to pay for my school fees, buy me uniforms, bags and all that. When I was in the university, I used to tell the girls that ‘none of you looked at my face because I was wearing one shirt, one pair of trousers almost every day with a sandal’. On Fridays, we would wash it and we wouldn’t move out at all on Saturday to enable it dry; Sam Okah and myself. Then it would dry on Saturday, but on Sunday, we were back to life; wearing the same shirt and the same trousers. How many of those in the cabinet passed through that?” This is the pathetic story of the man that is driven by unquenchable passion for a better Rivers State.
Amaechi’s Rise to Power and Legacy as Governor
Amaechi became Governor of Rivers State in October 2007, after his previous position as Speaker of the Rivers State House of Assembly from 1999 to 2007. He successfully sought re-election as River State Governor on April 26, 2011.
An alumnus of the University of Port Harcourt (UNIPORT), Amaechi is resolutely committed to ensuring that education is received without much burden in terms of finance to parents and guardians. This he has demonstrated through the free education policy of his administration, including the provision of free uniforms, free sandals, free books, free hand bags and free tuition in the primary schools, while in the secondary schools, the government offers free uniform, free bags, free books, free boarding and free sandals. This may well be his own special way of living up to his birthday which coincides with the Children’s Day!
Amaechi’s massive investment in education that includes free education and overseas training for scholarship students clearly shows his desire for a better tomorrow for children, as there is no gainsaying the fact that education is the bedrock of the development of any society. Today, his investment in education in the State stands out in the country. The awards the State has earned in this regard bear this out.
Apart from education, Governor Amaechi has also made massive infrastructural investments around the State, road projects, schools, health centres, rural electrification, ongoing monorail project, rural development, land reclamation, implementation of the Greater Port Harcourt Master Plan and, most importantly, the sustenance of relative peace and security evident in the continued attraction and influx of foreign investors to the State. Amaechi stands as the only African Leader to have constructed 60 health centres, donated to 60 communities. His astute leadership in striving for financial transparency, accountability and inclusive governance has earned the State a lot of accolades, numerous awards and recognitions by international bodies and corporations, including the ability to attract a B+/AA Fitch investment rating to the State, boost economic and structural development as well as enhance content development in all sectors of Rivers State.
As Speaker of the State House of Assembly, Amaechi was Chairman, Conference of Speakers of State Houses of Assembly in Nigeria (1999 - 2000). He was the first to serve two terms as Chairman of the Nigeria Governors’ Forum (NGF), recently handing over to a new leadership in view of the fact that his constitutionally allowed two terms as Governor is about to end. He has received the prestigious national award of Commander of the Order of the Niger (CON).
Amaechi bagged the Sun Newspaper Man of the Year Award in 2007 and the Compass Newspaper Award for Security in 2008. The Governor of the Year 2009 Award was presented to him at the Leadership Award for Excellence - 2009 and he was the Vanguard Personality of the Year for 2012. Amaechi’s international recognitions include his decoration last year as an Associate Fellow of the United Nations Institute for Training & Research (UNITAR), Geneva, Switzerland.
To many people Amaechi is the creator of modern Rivers State only comparable to the creator of the old Rivers State, HRH Alfred Diete-Spiff. This is the inescapable conclusion when one takes time to study Amaechi’s feats in the infrastructure change and revolution taking place in Rivers State today that includes creating the new Port Harcourt Mega City that has one of the best modern stadiums and other edifices only obtainable in modern cities of Europe.
For the records, Amaechi has succeeded in rescuing Rivers State from the hands of militants, whose activities made Port Harcourt to be described as the third most dangerous city in the world as at 2007 when Amaechi took over as Governor. He has since made the city an investors’ haven and has placed it prominently on the international map as the first African city to become the World Book Capital.
Governor Amaechi redefined the art of politics and governance in Nigeria when he introduced free education and free healthcare programmes in Rivers State and within a space of five years created over 50,000 jobs to reduce the menace of unemployment, poverty and insurgency in the country. His administration started creating employment opportunities when he assumed office in 2007 by building over 140 Primary Health Centres, 23 model Secondary Schools that can compete with any modern university in Nigeria and over 300 Model Primary Schools. Each of these projects attracts about 100 workers. His government has created the Banana Farms that have created jobs for over 2,000 persons, and revived Risonpalm, which was dead when he came in, and it has employed over 5,000 workers. The Songhai Farm has employed over 2,000 workers, while five Fish Farms in strategic locations have been completed.
Amaechi’s Role in PDP’s Downfall and the Making of the Buhari Presidency
The desperation of the Peoples Democratic Party (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.
When on 9th September, 2013 my appointment as the National Publicity Secretary of the New PDP was announced to Nigerians the only brief I received was the 30 minutes encounter I had with Governor Amaechi. During that encounter he kept repeating that whenever General Muhammadu Buhari (rtd.) accepted to fly the flag of the emergent mega opposition political party in the country, the unseating of President Goodluck Jonathan and PDP would become a reality. I was deeply impressed by his strong belief in General Buhari. It was based on this that I went boldly into the field and with the cooperation of the G7 Governors and other leaders of the New PDP, we were able to dismantle what was the famous and largest political party in Africa.
At the time five out of the seven Governors joined APC formally and during the APC Convention, Governor Amaechi and with the help of others, General Buhari was duly elected as the flag bearer of APC. In appreciation of his key role in making Buhari the Presidential Candidate, he was duly appointed to head the Campaign of Buhari and his feat in ensuring that Buhari was duly elected as the President of Nigeria will forever resonate in the country’s history.
If Not for Amaechi and the Four PDP Governors that Joined APC, APC’S Victory Would Not Have Been Possible – Atiku and Okorocha
Former Vice-President, Atiku Abubakar and the Imo State Governor, Chief Rochas Okorocha, have attributed the victory of the All Progressives Congress (APC) to the courageous decision of the five former governors of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) to dump their party and team up with the opposition party.
Speaking during a special dinner held for the outgoing and incoming governors of the APC under the auspices of the Progressives Governors Forum (PGF), Atiku said the reasons why the five governors who joined the APC made victory possible for the party and ensured the defeat of PDP was due to their outstanding performances and the fact that they were close to the people.
He said the governors have made significant impact in governance and through their sacrifices made momentous contributions towards the victory of APC at the presidential election.
“This is why the people of their states love them and Nigerians also love them. It is because of this that the exit of three of these governors from the PDP amongst others and their joining of the APC contributed significantly to our victory in recent polls,” he said.
While addressing the gathering, Okorocha described the contributions of the outgoing governors, especially those that defected from the PDP as very key to the revolution that saw the historic victory of an opposition party over the ruling party in the country.
“Make no mistake about it, without the five governors that joined the APC in 2013, we will not be here today. Anyone who understands the power and might of the federal government, especially under a vindictive leadership, knows the enormous risks taken by Governors Rabiu Musa Kwankwaso, Aliyu Magatarda Wammako, Abdulfatah Ahmed and the lion-heart Rotimi Amaechi. What happened to our colleague, Murtala Nyako could have happened to anyone of them, “he said.
Tribute to the Lion of Niger Delta Politics
Paying tribute to Amaechi, Nobel Laureate, Prof. Wole Soyinka, likened him to the Biblical David who slew Goliath, acknowledging that he has distinguished himself through selfless services to humanity, unleashing that progressive dynamism that rolls with wind of change in Nigeria. This feat to emancipate Nigeria from charlatans and the shackles of the undemocratic elements in PDP impoverished and misgovern our country is what makes Amaechi one of the heroes of our democracy.
Amaechi and Tinubu were the two architects of the APC victory in the general elections - Soyinka
Prof Soyinka said, “In the political atmosphere today, whatever you call it, change or hope or cautious hope and or careless hope, I recognise two personalities in particular who led the chant of change. One of them, I call him the architect of the process, the architect in fact, that houses the essence of hope – Bola Tinubu.
“The other person (Amaechi) was unconsciously, perhaps, the arrowhead of that charge that led to the change and that is the man that we gather here to celebrate.
“He was the one who said no, we cannot turn the clock backwards. Nothing about the philosophy of the clock runs against what we were hoping for. It was a very unpopular and risky decision to take. But it exposed to us the basic arithmetic fallacy of governance in demonstrating that when 16 is said to be higher than 19, something is fundamentally wrong and the same kind of arithmetic leads to the cooking of figures in governance.
“And it was within that nexus that he stood up and challenged even his own colleagues, and said let’s change the mentality of the stock, let us re-orientate it towards the people and towards the nation and the electorate.”
Addressing the gathering, Amaechi, who appreciated quite a number of people who inspired and supported him as governor of the oil-rich state in the last eight years, said contrary to widespread belief, he is not a stubborn personality but that instead, he operates on principle. ”I’m not stubborn, I only operate on principle. They were taking our oil wells because Bayelsa produced the president, so, I allowed the Kalabari chiefs protest in Abuja and they were rattled by that,” he said, explaining the cause of the disaffection between him and the presidency.
While noting that the Nigerian Governors’ Forum was a peer review mechanism among state executives to facilitate rapid development at the state levels, Amaechi urged incoming governors to adopt the concept to enable them enhance development in their states.
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 this 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..”
Congratulations, His Excellency Rt. Hon. Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi, Man of History, Loving Husband of Dame Judith and Devoted Father of three lovely sons – Chikamkpa, Obina Nsirim and Lemchi Happy birthday and many happy returns.
•Eze Chukwuemeka Eze is a Port Harcourt-based Media Consultant. He can be reached via [email protected] ,