RIVERS: Amaechi’s Mixed Grill Of Achievements, Letdowns
GOVERNOR Chibuike Amaechi, who is credited with improving infrastructure of Rivers State since 2007, will be leaving office in a few days with a mixed legacy of achievements and letdowns.
In his maiden address to the people of the state on October 27, 2007, Amaechi had hinged his socio-economic strategy on security of life and property; fiscal discipline, investment in education, healthcare, power generation, road construction, agriculture, and human capacity development.
By the time he was sworn into office, Rivers State was on the brink of anarchy, due to the activities of marauding militia groups disguised as Niger Delta militants. Mindful that it would be challenging to undertake developmental projects under the prevailing climate of fear, which had forced several multinationals and individuals to leave Rivers, he vowed to restore law and order.
Backed by the late President Umaru Yar’ Adua, he ordered a major military offensive in December 2007 in Okrika that dislodged members of the Niger Delta Vigilante led by Ateke Tom and other raids across the state.
Amaechi supported the security agencies in the areas of logistics and equipment as well as training of the police anti terror squad in Israel to enhance their capacity to provide security for residents.
Due to his zero tolerance policy against brigandry and banditry, before the late President Yar’Adua granted amnesty to the militias whose activities claimed several lives and destabilised the state, in 2009, Amaechi had restored law and order in Port Harcourt and other parts of the state. However, the security situation has deteriorated in the last two years due the compromise of the security architecture as a result of faceoff between the presidency and Amaechi.
But as he leaves office, many Rivers residents, particularly the poor, would remain grateful to the Amaechi’s administration for the social changes it promoted and implemented over the past eight years, particularly in the education and healthcare sectors.
Prior to 2007, the state’s educational system had broken down, due to years of neglect that left basic infrastructure in the 1,300 primary schools with six classroom each, in ruins. School buildings with dilapidated roofs and where children in overcrowded classrooms sat on bare floor to learn, was a common sight.
The desire to reverse the situation spurred Amaechi to declare a state of emergency in the sector. First, he decided to fix the infrastructural deficit by constructing 500 out of the 700 planned new modern 14 classroom primary schools, retraining and recruitment of 13,000 teachers.
Today, over 250 of these schools have been equipped and the pupils are provided free uniforms, free school sandals, free school bags and free textbooks. Several hundred Rivers indigenes and non-indigenes have benefited from the state undergraduate and post graduate overseas scholarship schemes.
In addressing issues regarding healthcare delivery, his administration built over 110 health centres located in nearly all the wards in the state. He also built referral facilities in Port Harcourt – Prof. Kelsey Harrison Hospital and Dental-Maxillo Facial Hospital, though the Braithwaite Memorial Hospital remains a shadow of itself. The construction of a modern School of Nursing in Port Harcourt is ongoing.
To tackle the excruciating traffic congestion in Port Harcourt and its environs, Amaechi, within the first six years of his reign, expanded into dual carriage ways the following: Rumuola to Rumuokuta Road, Wimpey Road, Ada George Road, Old Aba Road, Ikwerre Road (beginning from Education to Agip bus stops), Woji/Elelenwo/Akpajo Road, Azikiwe Road, Olu Obasanjo Road, Rumuokuta/NTA/Choba Road, Oginigba Road, Stadium Road, Okporo Road, G.U. Ake Road, Nkpogu Road, Port Harcourt/Owerri Road. In addition, the Rumukwurushi-Igwuruta as well as the Garrison-Trans Amadi-Elelenwo to East West Road dualisation work is on going. He is reputed to have constructed or upgraded more roads in the history of the Sstate, more than all his predecessors.
To ensure food security and employment generation, the government collaborated with the founder of the Songhai Initiative to develop an integrated farm, which combines livestock, arable farming, fisheries, snail farming and poultry on 314 hectares of arable land in Bunu-Tai. The governor also developed modern fish farms in four councils of the state. The farm in Buguma has a capacity for 1000 tonnes per year.
Other strides in agriculture include, the acquisition of 2,000 hectares of land in Ogoni for the cultivation, production and export of banana for commercial purposes in partnership with a Mexican firm, San Carlos Nigeria Limited. It is expected that about 6 million boxes of banana will be produced from this farm yearly. Under his watch, an agreement was also reached between the Government of Rivers State and SIAT Nigeria Limited for the rehabilitation and replanting of the once moribund 16,000 hectares Risonpalm estate. The rehabilitation of 14,972 hectares in mainly Ubima and Elele have been completed. SIAT had also signed agreement with the state for the rehabilitation of the 7,000 hectare Delta Rubber Company Limited.
Concerned that lack of access to electricity has been observed to be a major constraint to economic growth and increased welfare in modern times, the governor built two new power stations in Afam, expanded the Omoku and Trans-Amadi power stations. The cumulative capacity of the State’s power plants is above 500 megawatts. He also built about seven transmission stations and distribution injection sub-stations.
In line with his goal to render transparent and accountable stewardship of the resources of the state, in 2008, it enacted a Public Procurement Law as part of the boarder governance reforms and a subset of the public finance management reforms.
A budget analyst and the acting Executive Director of Social Integration Centre (Social Action) in Port Harcourt, Ken Henshaw, told The Guardian that Amaechi had struck him in 2007 as a leader who had a sense of history and a high dose of ambition, which at that time, was what Rivers State needed.
The budget expert affirmed that that the governor’s policies in the education and health sectors have been the most radical of the five Niger Delta states that he has been monitoring their budgets in recent years.
Highlighting the Governor’s knack for ambitious projects, Henshaw observed that while new roads were sprouting up, old ones like the road leading from Rumuodara to Eneka, ABC transport junction road that leads to Eneka, Obiri Ikwerre to the Airport, internal roads in Rukpokwu and several others parts have been left in the state of disrepair.
Henshaw emphasised that one of Amaechi’s most remarkable achievement in office was his ability to increase the internally generated revenue of the state to something close to N7 billion per month as against N2billion in 2007.
Despite this achievement, as a budget expert, Henshaw explained that he remains uncomfortable with the high debt profile, consisting of domestic and external loans, which Governor Amaechi will leave, for his successor. He criticised the governor for failing to diversify the state’s economy and spending the mandatory N1 billion monthly savings for future generation.
“Amaechi has set a standard that will be difficult to match. One of his major achievements, not even in terms of infrastructure, is in terms of policy he pursued. Amaechi showed the highest level of civility, exposure and advancement with the kind of policy he pursued. About a year ago, he eliminated the discriminatory school fees in Rivers State University of Science and Technology between indigenes and non- indigenes in line with his policy of everybody is an indigene of Rivers State. In doing that, Amaechi showed he is 100 years ahead of every state in Nigeria,” he said.
The executive director, Institute of Human Rights and Humanitarian Law, Mr. Anyakwee Nsirimovu, said Amaechi rendered outstanding service to the cause of sustainable development in Rivers State. He reckoned that the governor fostered values as fairness, justice and worked for the common good, rather than turning a blind eye to violence and exploitation, or promoting narrow self-interest and opportunism.
Nsirimovu, however, observed that Amaechi allowed sentiments from the beginning of his tenure to govern his choice of team. And as it turned out, most of his commissioners and aides brought absolutely nothing tangible to the cabinet or anything to table whatsoever, other than positioning themselves to reap where they did not sow. According to him, the behaviour, lifestyle of some of Amaechi’s aides, brought odium to the government.
A financial expert, Ms. Marie Akachukwu, said the governor’s reign would be tainted by profligate acquisition of multibillion Bombardier BD 700 Global Express jet for the office of the Governor and the monorail projects. She observed the money expended on the jet and monorail could have been judiciously spent to develop low cost housing estates in the two slums (Njamanze and Abonnema wharf) that the administration demolished and rendered thousands homeless.
She also observed that the governor, who was credited for being focused and purposeful in his first term, however, diminished his successes by abandoning the domestic state affairs for national politics.
According to her, the distraction the Nigeria Governors Forum politics caused him is the fallout of the reason why the State House of Assembly and Courts have remained under lock and key for close to two years.
“Governor Amaechi would have ended well if he had not meddled in national politics and engaged in some wasteful spending of State scarce resources to procure jet for his office when there are pressing social issues to be tackled. In as much as I had admired him for his first five years, it will be exhilarating to see him leave the scene and lets have a fresh start. He had effectively lost control of governance in the past two years,” she said.
A former resident of Abonnema wharf slum, Miss Gladys Etim, who now lives at Afikpo waterfront, explained she is delighted that the reign of the administration is winding down. She explained that many residents of Port Harcourt slums have lived in fear of the possibility of government demolishing their homes. She acknowledged that though some criminal elements reside in these slums, but majority of those who live there are law-abiding citizens, who could not afford the high house rents in Port Harcourt and its environs.
Another resident of Port Harcourt, Mr. Chris Chinda, said it was disheartening that after eight years; the governor was unable to address the issue of providing potable drinking water in Port Harcourt and its environs.
“Throughout Amaechi’s eight years in power, the Ministry of Water Resources enjoys budgetary allocations, yet is no potable drinking water in Port Harcourt. The government failed in this aspect,” he added.