Revisiting Rotimi Amaechi’s legacies in Rivers state
Fortuitously, Martins Oloja admonishes us in his piece of Sunday, September 5, 2021, to de-emphasise media inquisition on Abuja and the goings-on in high places, in the nation’s capital city, which is usually the major focus of media attention. He advises we reset our binoculars and interrogate happenings around and about the country, for editorial balance. A lot really happens in the provinces, by the way, which are subsumed by the mono-directional fixation on the nation’s capital. While some leaders have jettisoned their primary responsibilities to serve their people and are floating around in Abuja as interim overseers of political parties and aspirants for the nation’s topmost job, respectively, some are honestly serving those who voted them into office diligently and ticking off impressive records in service delivery. Either way, there are always newsworthy developments for reportage and documentation.
The wheelings and dealings in high brow hotels and exquisite villas in Maitama and Asokoro, in Guzape and Katampe extension, are gaining traction. Yes, it is that time when Aso Villa and its numerous ancillaries, reverberate with emboldened treachery and demagoguery, when political subterfuge and shenanigans and the mercenary merchandising of reason and integrity on the platter of political umbrage, are recurring, even revolving decimals. Backstabbing, blackmailing, brinkmanship, rumour mongering, characterise and dominate discourse at seasons like this. And they will remain constants, like the northern star, in the rapidly evolving national political narrative.
Yes, it is the season when nocturnal political bats, opportunistic chameleons, mutate their exteriors, in the frantic quest for concordance with the ambience of their preferred political ecoscape. This is the season when looters of our national commonwealth, being tailed and trailed by handcuff-wielding anti-graft agencies, force incongruous fraternities with those they once decorated with unflattering name tags, spewed with so much bile, so much venom. That shameless capacity, that unblinking propensity to make a 180-degree turn and to return to their dog’s vomit, by the Nigerian political class, must be engaging the attention of enthusiasts of contemporary Nigerian politics, at home and abroad. The Guinness Book of Records must be searching for the most appropriate garland to festoon on practitioners of such vile debauchery.
Executive truancy is heightened as provincial overlords abdicate their duty posts to join in the chicanery, duplicity and doublespeak of the season. Political incest at times like this is consummated on the marbled floors of the Capitol, where criminal converts are deodorised, adorned with new garments and beatified by the ramrod straight chief priest himself. They are administered communion and wine and chauffeured in steel-plated, state-owned limousines, emblematized with the insignia of state, bodyguards standing sentry at their beck and call. This is the high point of the eventual confirmation of their rites of initiation and legitimisation. And “Behold, old things have passed away, everything has become new,” as the Holy Bible says.
In his piece under reference, Oloja, however, enjoins us to take a moment to discuss the “state of the states,” away from the Abuja hustle and hassle. He begins his treatise with Lagos State, the nation’s former political headquarters, which nonetheless, remains the economic nerve centre of not only Nigeria but of the West African subregion. He is concerned about the continuing state of disrepair of one of the pillars holding the all-important link bridge to the local and international airports. The said link bridge got burnt in a fire incident, at the critical “Toyota Bus Stop,” near Oshodi. The bridge he observes has been shut down since January 10, 2021, impeding vehicular movement on those perennially restive Lagos roads.
Oloja is at sea about the curious lack of synergy between Babatunde Raji Fashola, a former governor of Lagos State who is the incumbent Minister of Works and Housing, and Babajide Sanwo-Olu, the incumbent helmsman of the same state. Both men are proteges of Bola Ahmed Tinubu, the first governor of Lagos State under the subsisting democratic dispensation, between 1999 and 2007. He handed over to Fashola upon the completion of his second term in office, in 2007. Fashola, like Sanwo-Olu, belongs to the same political party, the All Progressives Congress (APC). Tinubu their mentor did not only initiate both men into the party, but he is also their leader both on the domestic front in Lagos, and indeed at the national level, where Tinubu is revered as the “National Leader” of the APC.
Shouldn’t Fashola and Sanwo-Olu by collaborating seamlessly to develop Lagos in various ways? If the bridge is classified as a “federal” infrastructure, then it falls within the kern of Fashola. The Works minister sure has his hands full attending to federal roads, bridges, drainages, culverts and housing projects across the country. But can’t Sanwo-Olu get a meeting with Fashola, reach an agreement on the rehabilitation of the bridge, fund the project and file for refunds to the Lagos State government, since state funds were deployed to restore the bridge?
Rivers State Governor, Nyesom Ezenwo Wike early this year, received an N78 Billion refund from the federal government, for federal projects executed over the years. Three years ago, governors Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi and Dave Umahi of Enugu and Ebonyi states, presented a joint request of N45 Billion for the reconstruction and rehabilitation of roads in their states to the federal government. In 2019, Ifeanyi Okowa and Nasir El Rufai governors of Delta and Kaduna state respectively applied for refunds of their expenditures on several federal government-owned projects. What this implies is that there is an existing template in operation between the federal and state governments, with regards to the mode of settlement of commitments incurred by state governments, in the construction or reconstruction of federally designated projects, as the case may be. And this arrangement is being explored by state governments to update infrastructure and fast track physical development.
With the overarching personality of Tinubu, mentor and benefactor of Sanwo-Olu and Fashola, a traditional-style alternative dispute resolution (ADR) mechanism can be emplaced, bring both brothers to the discussion table. Leaders and statesmen, political and apolitical, have been requested to weigh in on issues of unease between feuding personalities, over time. In this specific instance, however, it is only rational that we excuse the APC National Leader, who has been abroad for a long spell in recent weeks, attending to medical issues.
The stasis on the reconstruction of the airport link bridge in Lagos, echoes an otherwise well-reasoned project initiated by Rotimi Chibuike Amaechi, as governor of Rivers State, during his stint in “Brick House,” as Government House, Port Harcourt is known and called. He was in office between 2007 and 2015, and that vision, unfortunately, has been bitten by the “abandoned project” bug. In a manner reminiscent of the Lagos Metroline Project conceived by the second republic governor of Lagos State, Lateef Kayode Jakande, Amaechi commenced a monorail system to provide mass transportation within Port Harcourt metropolis. The Lagos vision, we recall, was abrogated by Muhammadu Buhari during his earlier stint as military head of state between January 1984 and August 1985 and has not been revisited ever since. It was a brilliant concept that would have markedly mitigated the traffic insanity in Lagos.
Amaechi conceived of the monorail project in 2009. Preliminary works began in 2010. About $400 million was reported to have been committed to the project by Amaechi’s government, for the 4.7 kilometres coverage area. It was subsequently discovered, painfully, that the cost of the Port Harcourt initiative, was almost twice the cost of the Moscow monorail of the same distance. The Moscow equivalent cost $240 million and is fully operational. The original plan for the Port Harcourt monorail was to have it cover the 5.4 kilometre distance, beginning from Sharks Park Station to UTC Station, at the heart of Port Harcourt. It was subsequently scaled down to 4.7 kilometres. The guideway and three stations on the rail route were in place and test runs began on a section of the monorail, in 2014.
Wike who succeeded Amaechi as governor in May 2015, initially raised hopes for the continuation of the project. He assured me it will be reviewed. About a month after that promise, in July 2015, a rail car was seen running on the monorail, further fuelling optimism about the continuation of the project. There were controversies over the cost of the project which reportedly gulped about N30 Billion under Amaechi when the exchange rate of the naira to the United States Dollars (USD), was still respectable. This was before the Buhari era free cascade of the nation’s currency. The ensuing beef, between Wike and Amaechi, both of them very prominent gladiators on the political landscape of Rivers State, has not helped either.
Rather than continue with the contentious project, Wike has since embarked on a very massive infrastructural makeover of the riverine state, earning national acclaim. He has continued to defy the mangroves and marshlands in the state to deliver roads, bridges, flyovers and housing estates, for the betterment of the lives of the people of Rivers State, among other projects. He has commenced the decentralisation of the Rivers State University of Science and Technology (RSUST), into a proper multi-campus institution, building three new campuses, one in each senatorial zone of the state. He has never spared any opportunity to showcase his endeavours, regularly inviting and playing host to dignitaries from across the country, and indeed across political divides.
The decrepit metal and concrete pillars on which the monorail should run, and three stations of Amaechi’s botched dream, continue to embarrass 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 in 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 state 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 gauge 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 the table and to discuss development as it affects Rivers State. The fact that they are members of different political parties makes the 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 species 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 of 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 later 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).