Revisiting Rotimi Amaechi’s legacies in Rivers State – Part 2
The decrepit metal and concrete pillars on which the monorail should run, and three stations of Amaechi’s botched dream, continue to embarass the skyline of the Rivers State capital. Port Harcourt, once adorned the necklace of “Garden City,” in popular conversations. There’s this stanchion that stands there and stares at you, looking forlorn, as you drive through the main artery of the city, Aba Road, and approach Government House, by “UTC.” The concrete guideway and stations are rooted there as monuments to waste, profligacy, greed and graft. Amaechi has been minister of transportation under the Buhari administration for six years now. Like Fashola, he is at the head of one of the most visible, high performing ministries. Under his watch, the Abuja-Kaduna, Itakpe-Warri and Lagos-Abeokuta-Ibadan rail services have become operational. It’s always a delight to see photographs of travellers enjoying their train travels or just showcasing the beautiful, eye-catching terminal stations.
The aggregate contribution of Rivers State to the national economy, cannot be over-emphasised. Rivers State is second only to its brother state of Akwa Ibom in oil production. The state is second to Lagos on the internally generated revenue (IGR) ascendancy averaging N10 Billion in monthly accruals. Rivers State is home to the Nigeria Liquefied Natural Gas (NLNG) producing company. In March this year, Buhari announced at a conference, that the NLNG has generated $114 Billion revenues for Nigeria, over the years. He spoke at the Nigeria International Petroleum Summit 2021 Pre-Summit Conference. From all indices, therefore, Rivers State, whose legend is “Treasure Base of Nigeria,” is unarguably the second most important and economically prosperous and viable states in the country. The resources of Rivers State, humble the economies of many African countries.
March 10, 2021, the federal government flagged off the rehabilitation and reconstruction of the eastern railway line, originating from Port Harcourt and terminating in Maiduguri. It is a 1,443 kilometre (897 mile) rail line. It is expected to cost $3 Billion and will be a narrow guage line. And why not a standard gauge line, like the Lagos-Ibadan and the Abuja-Kaduna rail lines? The narrow guage technology is gradually being de-emphasised across the world. The project is expected to link up the Bonny Deep Seaport and the Port Harcourt Industrial Park. It is envisaged that it would reactivate economic activity in the nation’s eastern flank, hitherto impacted by insecurity.
Amaechi is working assiduously to establish a Transportation University in Daura, home town of the President. He pursues the realisation of the Kano-Maradi rail line, linking Kano in the nation’s north west, with Maradi in Niger Republic with uncommon gusto. I like him, Minister Amaechi, by the way, for a number of reasons. He studied English like I did, even if I graduated a few years before him, in a different institution. My classmate and brother in the university who also studied English and hails from Ogoniland in Rivers State, Blessing Wikina, was Amaechi’s Director of Press Affairs when the latter was governor. Looking at Amaechi from a distance, he cuts the image of a down-to-earth person, the way he talks and comports himself.
I have deep admiration for Wike as well. His curriculum vitae as a performing governor in a dispensation of scant and scarce do-gooders, continues to lengthen by the day. Should you have the misfortune of coming from one of those states which evokes nausea, sighs and hisses when developmental indices are compared and contrasted, you cannot but covet Wike. Again, I’m enamoured by his courage, boldness and candour to speak truth to power, no matter whose ox is gored. You know where Wike stands on issues. He is not one to sit on the fence. Curiously too, not on one instance have I been mistaken for Wike, in public! I’ve had occasion to settle bills in places, despite my denial that I am neither Wike, nor his brother!!
With the subsisting animosity between Amaechi and Wike, one is unsure if there will ever be a forum for both men to sit down at table and to discuss development as it affects Rivers State. The fact that they are members of different political parties makes a coming together of both of them farfetched. To this extent, those decrepit concrete monorail stanchions in the skyline of Port Harcourt, will remain there for a long time to come. But why wouldn’t Amaechi bring his influence in the Buhari administration, to bear on the abandoned Port Harcourt monorail scheme? Recognising the position of preeminence which Rivers State occupies in the nation’s socioeconomy, and the imperative to facilitate intra-city movement by residents of the Rivers State capital and commuters in that crucial national hub, that monorail project must not be allowed to die. As the originator of the idea, it should tug at Amaechi’s heart from time to time, the need to reactivate this project which was his baby.
Amaechi’s profile back home in Rivers State is not very savoury. He has been serially accused of playing retrogressive politics which has not only continued to alienate APC members in the state, but is impacting both the lateral and horizontal growth of the party in the state. Amaechi, allegedly, has reinvented the politics of hand-picking party officials, as against garnering consensus on such tricky issues. The people of Rivers State are supremely infuriated with Amaechi because the APC government at the centre where he is minister, has not executed a single project in the state since the advent of the Buhari administration. Specific allusion is made to projects listed for implementation in the various geopolitical zones courtesy of the $4 Billion and ‚Ç¨710 (two trillion naira) loans, being currently pursued by the federal government. This will raise Nigeria’s debt portfolio to N35 Trillion.
Fifteen projects are listed for implementation in the South South geopolitical zone, and not one will be built in Rivers State. It is believed that Amaechi has continued to play this specie of backward politics because he doesn’t want credit to be ascribed to Wike, his arch-adversary, for innovations in the state. But how on earth can you shortchange millions your own compatriots because of your disaffection with just one man? There is overwhelming apathy against Amaechi in the state, because he reportedly presents a picture of closeness to the president and one of the privileged few who can literally access the presidential bedroom, but with practically nothing to show for it back home.
It is indeed a measure of Amaechi’s featherweight political influence in Rivers State today, that the APC which he leads, is light in terms of representation at various levels in the politics of his homestead. In Nigerian political lexicon, he will be regarded as having almost no “political structure” or “political base” as the case may be. His political disciple Dakuku Peterside, former Director General of the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA), was not reappointed at the end of his first term in office, against the grain in the Buhari government, where reappointments are more frequent, than replacements. Rather, Bashir Jamoh from Kaduna State in the North West, replaced Peterside in March last year.
The people of Rivers State will not forget in a hurry, the quantum violence unleashed on the state during the 2019 governorship election, through the instrumentation of Amaechi. Deploying his influence as a senior official of the Buhari government, the 2019 polls were wholly militarized, with armed soldiers purportedly procured by Amaechi, intimidating voters and invading collation centres. Military trucks and armoured tanks, barricaded the headquarters of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), during that election, impeding the operations of the electoral umpire. At least seven people reportedly lost their lives during that election. The non-conclusion of the governorship and state assembly polls as scheduled, on March 9, 2019, caused rerun polls in six out of the 23 local government areas of the state, at a latter date.
Amaechi was Director-General of the Muhammadu Buhari Presidential Campaign Organisation, ahead of the President’s 2015 election. He functioned in the same capacity in the run up to the 2019 poll. He is regarded as a “super minister” in the Buhari configuration, not just on account of being a second term minister, but principally in recognition of the very strategic ministry to which he has been returned. He is also said to be one of the select members of the FEC who get to see Buhari privately. The resuscitation of the abandoned Port Harcourt monorail project, is one albatross Amaechi will bear until it comes to fruition. Hopefully this is one concept for which Amaechi should be able to secure the buy-in of his principal. The president recently gifted Katsina State with N6.5 Billion for the construction of a cattle ranch. Can Amaechi ask for something desirable for his own state? Buhari earnestly desires that history be kind to him, when he leaves office. It is left for Amaechi to help the president, and by extension, burnish his own legacy.
Olusunle, PhD, poet, journalist and scholar, is a member of the Association of Nigerian Authors (ANA).