Between Kachikwu and Amaechi
On the whole, nothing had significantly changed about Rotimi Amaechi. He was still himself; unable to contract his expansive ego onto a back seat and listen to others speak sensibly in Uyo last week. He used the occasion of the Town Hall Meeting in Uyo to discuss the perennial issues in Niger Delta to open his dry advocacy on the Maritime University in Okerenkoko, Delta State, and state, with all the emphasis he could bring to bear, why the university must remain scrapped.
Not one to retrace his step no matter the inappropriateness of his locus, Amaechi explained that the development of the institution is overpriced and that the cost of acquiring land alone for the university, which he puts at N13 billion could buy half of the city of Lagos. The accompanying sarcasm only helped to underscore his contempt for a facility, which he termed wasteful and does not in any way add to the resolution of the larger issues in the Niger Delta. He was characteristically sanctimonious, finding the point about budget and prudence stronger than the overall purpose of a university.
“I am not against the Maritime University, Okerenkoko. My argument about Okerenkoko is that the land alone is N13 billion. If you give me N13 billion, I will buy half of Lagos. That N13 billion has built the university already. What to do: let the EFCC retrieve the money and release the money (to us). If they bring the N13 billion, I will built the university for them,” Amaechi said with a magisterial finality.
Like a jester in a typical Shakespearean setting, I am sure, Amaechi only meant to amuse the Uyo audience and nothing more. But things just got terribly out of hand because he refused to act as a true jester who usually knows when to perform and when to hold back.
Altogether, I do not think that the Uyo town hall was a comic interlude in the fast-pacing Niger Delta drama for some jester to perform. I mean, here was a platform to discuss the very serious issues of the day, including the serial bombing of oil infrastructure by a new militant group, the Niger Delta Avengers (NDA), that has caused crude oil production to plummet from 2.4 to 1.2 million barrels per day. And here also was an Amaechi, a Minister of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and former governor of the oil rich State of Rivers proclaiming a financial wizardry that could make him buy half of Lagos (not Lagos Street in Port Harcourt) with N13 billion or establish a functional maritime university in the swamp of the Niger Delta with all the attendant ecological challenges.
Amaechi was joking, no doubt, but he chose the wrong time to joke. People don’t crack jokes when serious business is still going on. The Uyo town hall was not a relaxation joint for jokes. And this was underscored when Minister of State for Petroleum Resources Dr. Ibe Kachikwu took the stage. He created a tonal and content variation that unmasked Amaechi as a flat character, suited only for flat roles. Kachikwu returned the discussions to serious mode.
On the Maritime University in Okerenkoko, he said, “I disagree with the minister of transport. Any facility that is located in the South-south, we should work towards developing it. I don’t care the circumstances under which you are placed. It is not in my position to determine whether land was valued at N3 billion or N10 billion. The appropriate institution, which is at the cost system, will determine that. That has nothing to do with the development of infrastructure. As far as I know, so much has already gone into the university. So much physical asset has been developed. We are not going to throw away the baby and the bath water. We deal with the issues but the university will be developed. If Amaechi does not want it in Maritime, I will take it in Petroleum.”
This was more than redeeming for Dr. Kachikwu, who had before now exhibited dazzling brilliance, however, with little sagacity in public proclamation and, in fact, got his fingers burnt in political fire on one occasion when, out of frustration in the heat of the fuel scarcity, said he didn’t have the magic to ensure product supply in filling stations. But on this day in Uyo, the Onicha Ubgo Delta State born lawyer and oil technocrat held together the variables. He combined all the artistry in public administration to make Amaechi seem a huge mistake in the Federal line-up.
Kachikwu did not stop at the affirmations he made in Uyo. He had duly followed up with a visit to the university sites in Kurutie and Okerenkoko for on the ground assessment of affairs. He returned with a definite verdict to move things forward even if it requires transmission of an executive bill to the National Assembly for the conversion of the Maritime University to a Petroleum Academy to create the legislative frame work for the Petroleum Resources Ministry to take over the development of the institution from the Transport Ministry.
The twisted narrative of the Maritime University started last January. Again, it was Amaechi who initiated the twist when he told a Senate Committee on Maritime that the university would be scrapped because its continued development in the face of existing similar institutions such as the Maritime Academy of Nigeria, Oron, Akwa Ibom State, Nigerian College of Aviation, Zaria, Kaduna State and Nigerian Institute of Transport Technology, was a waste of scarce resources.
Amaechi also said the location of the university in the deep creeks of the Niger Delta was a clear disincentive to student enrolment. “Who will attend the university? How many parents will allow their children to go to such place,” he had asked with characteristic sarcasm. Given this backdrop, what Amaechi said in Uyo last week was only a reinforcement of an enduring conviction.
That said, Amaechi’s imagination of the Niger Delta is something of concern. It is extremely fertile. The man so easily creates scenarios that do not exist. He even said the university, for which billions had been spent and real structures standing, had not gone beyond the level of “feasibility study.” Most times, it is difficult for others to understand the full depth of his motivations. He could talk solely for sports; that is, talking for talking sake and not talking to impress any strong point.
So far, every statement he has made about the inappropriateness of the Maritime University is empty; a sheer creation of vocal sound to increase the atmospheric pressure.
The reopening of the university is one of the conditions given by the Niger Delta Avengers to stop the bombing of oil facilities. Yet, as they got into the town hall meeting last week, Amaechi and Kachikwu had opposing perspectives of what could be done to calm the boiling oil region of Nigeria so that projected oil revenues would be assured. While one was out to conquer and show his prowess as the reigning champion of Niger Delta politics, the other was out to engage as the new peace ambassador of the region. In the end, it was not difficult to identify who between the two merited his high office.
Leaders are raised to offer solutions and any leader that cannot point the way forward at a crossroad, is a liability not a social asset.
On this specific matter of the scrapping of the Maritime University in Okerenkoko, Delta State and the resolution of all the attendant issues including stopping the bombing of oil facilities by the Avengers, Amaechi is more of a liability than asset.