Rotimi Amaechi: Man of the moment
THE newspaper advert was the reminder I needed to set me on the road to Port Harcourt, in mid-July 2013, to catch a glimpse of the state governor who, in my book, calmly outmanoeuvres other state governors as easily as he does an incumbent President.
I expected to see a giant but Hon. Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi, the Executive Governor of Rivers State looked quite ordinary. He wore a coat unbuttoned and his shirt tieless. When he sat down, he sipped from a can with a Red Bull label, oblivious to all the fuss he, clearly, didn’t demand from his handlers as he came and went from that auditorium where he played his many parts that day. He was chief host of the Rivers State summit on Wealth Creation and Poverty Reduction (WCPR). That event attracted speakers such as Jose Olsen, former President of the Republic of Costa Rica but whenever he took the microphone to join the conversation, Amaechi exuded a calm self-confidence unexpected of a man constantly under a crucible of fire from Nigeria’s Presidency
His curriculum vitae is ordinary too: he attended local primary and secondary schools before reading an honours degree in English and Literature from the University of Port Harcourt. He once worked as public relations officer for ex-governor Peter Odili of Rivers Sate, and was speaker of the state legislature. Then he became the state executive Governor in October 2007 after a legal tussle that reached the nation’s Supreme Court and was re-elected to that position in April 2011. His accomplishments as a state governor, including the massive infrastructural development and the famed Songhai Farm, are not necessarily the loftiest in our Federal Republic
But his sheer audacity and the astuteness of his politics and politicking stand him out as my man of the moment in our country’s history. His language is not complicated at all and, effortlessly, he reaches for and takes full possession of whoever is listening, from the villagers in Degema to the literary icons in our ivory towers. There he is, in simple and plain language asking and answering the questions that will count in the forthcoming national elections
Yet the man only speaks truth we knew all along: The election, he says “… is not about brother, it is about your stomach. If dollar likes, it can get to N300 or N400 to a dollar, the President can afford it but you can’t afford it …” “Another one is fuel. They have done everything possible to pay for fuel. They can’t pay. The money is not there. Now there is fuel crisis. If they win they abandon you completely because they have no solution to the problems”. “See your road. Two years ago, I sat with the president and Kalabari chiefs and I said, ‘Allow me take this road. The president said no’. You can see the road. Next rainy season, you cannot drive into this place unless you change the President and if you change the President, then the new President can fix the road.” And to INEC, he says: “Remember, those who try to stop change are usually consumed by change itself. All what Nigerians are asking for is a transparent process, especially if the card readers you introduce will work without manipulation.
Amaechi is irresistible
In his handling of the challenge of marketing the Presidential candidate of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Amaechi, almost single-handedly, is on the brink of making history in Nigeria’s political firmament. There he is, packaging a Muhammadu Buhari a few believed would allow himself to be so carefully groomed by a much younger man, even if he was desperate to become acceptable to the generality of Nigerians. Here in Nigeria and there at Chatham House, in the United Kingdom, for international scrutiny and resonance, Rotimi Amaechi was at his quintessential best, rebranding the old man, getting him to adopt new patterns of political behaviour, diplomatic and tactful, traits not usually Buhari’s. He has succeeded in changing the man’s dress code, and revealing his keen sense of humour, different from the taciturn ex-soldier we all knew! He even got the man to allow Aisha demonstrate that she easily out speaks the Patience of our First Lady department.
So, while transformation was a mere slogan at the Presidency, Buhari’s own transformation was assuming a life of its own in the hands of Rotimi Amaechi. Which often reminded me of a more light-hearted transformation, thousands of miles away, down under. Mitchell Johnson’s first three overs in the 2013-14 Ashes went for 15 runs; his first six went for 32. But, from 1 wicket for 41 runs he shifted to 4 for 43, transformed, through sheer self-belief. From a cartoon clown, Johnson became the dark destroyer, the Australian cricket hero that frightened English batsmen. There you have one definition of transformation, a word that has continually dogged the Jonathan Presidency
We need a radical President, and Amaechi, it would seem, has packaged one for us already! To be sure, the motivation that drives the desire of those with undying faith in Nigeria for a radical President for Nigeria at this time in its evolution stems from the rot we’ve witnessed with Goodluck Jonathan and his predecessors at the helm. He might have signed the Freedom of Information bill into law and declared that he is prepared to take unpopular decisions in the long term interest of Nigerians, but Jonathan’s actions (and inactions) spoke louder than his words. We needed a President that would redirect national resources away from wasteful and unproductive expenditure to critical areas of national need such as power supply, infrastructure, education, healthcare, agricultural development and employment generation. We didn’t have one. President Jonathan continued to stumble over serious national crises and, I’m convinced, was never prepared to put his own personal comfort at risk at any point in his Presidency. Faced with the challenges of the nation-state, he twiddled his thumbs. His promise to transform Nigeria was a ruse.
When the 2011 petroleum subsidy figure was put at 1.3 trillion naira and the Senate instituted a cosmetic probe to unmask illegal beneficiaries, the only word from the Presidency came in the fuel price hike, in early 2012, that prompted a nationwide lockdown as labour and civil society protested the crass insensitivity of leadership at the very top. So much so that our nation was described by no less an influence than Bishop Hassan Kukah as “dancing on a wet grave”, rightly so in my opinion.
While the Presidency stumbled and fumbled from pillar to post, Rotimi Amaechi bidded his time. And he took his chances as they came, including on the Governors’ Forum about which he roundly dusted the Presidency and its acolytes, as well as in Rivers State, where he rules the roost. Now, Governor Amaechi’s finest hour, his moment, has come. So, step up, Rotimi, take the centre stage, take that spot with the klieg lights and bask in them, for your time to shine has arrived, finally
• Professor Onyezili resides in Makurdi, Benue State.