Amaechi and search for statesmen beyond politics
Until the emergence of President Goodluck Jonathan, people of the South-South or Niger Delta had only played a marginal role in Nigeria’s political equation in spite of being the country’s economic mainstay. They did not lead any of the many coup efforts that reshaped the country away from its workable, model structure in 1960, or muster the political balls to rise to the top so as to determine the direction in which their oil money could be deployed for the region’s maximum benefits.
In fact, people of the Niger Delta region had largely been bystanders and rudderless in determining what happens to their immense oil wealth that goes to feed other regions of the country. What is even more galling is that Nigerian operators in the oil region are largely outsiders who have no affinity to the region. The result has been unmitigated marginalisation of oil-bearing communities and the people, especially the youth.
And so by the time what resembles full democracy came into being in 1999, all the structures of federal governance had been skewed largely against the Niger Delta region and its people. It was why, after 1999, when the likes of Delta and Bayelsa States’ governors, James Ibori and Diprieye Alamieyeseigha, took on the resource control battle to Aso Rock to then President Olusegun Obasanjo, 13 per cent was the modest yield of that effort. In fact, Alamiesiegha’s impeachment on corruption charges mainly stemmed from that agitation. Ibori’s incarceration later in Britain also had some distant echo from that struggle. Ibori and Bola Tinubu were main campaigners for fiscal federalism and restructuring of the polity, issues that are still current in today’s political conversation.
Somehow, these two men who stood for equitable deals for the Niger Delta region would stumble spectacularly owing to forces outside the region that saw them as stumbling blocks to the continuing pillage of the region’s resources and environment without consequences. These were also the region and the country’s most restive years, as restiveness became a voice youths of the region found after years of military repression. Militancy took over and forced governments to have a rethink of their bad operations.
And then came Governor Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi, who had been Speaker during the Peter Odili years as governor. Amaechi came in through the courts with a certain swagger that was in consonance with the region’s style. Militancy and kidnapping of foreign oil workers was at its peak and the Rivers State he presided over as governor was on the boil. Amaechi, it appeared, waved some kind of magic wand at the agitators and calm soon returned.
Trained in the tradition of literary art and liberal humanism, which thrives in unearthing the underbelly of human folly and how to build the man of virtues, everyone expected Amaechi to be the beacon of political sagacity. He introduced Garden City Literary Festival that had culture workers from across the world and started renovation of classrooms for schools that many states would later emulate. Pupils in Rivers State had the best of time with the sparkling learning environment.
But the first sign of a troubled administration was the construction of a Mono Rail Line to help ease traffic in Port Harcourt city. Whether plans for that construction were designed in the dark is something residents of Port Harcourt are still battling to understand till date. The rail construction that started deep in the heart of the Old GRA at UTC would seem to have taken a mind of its own and decided to point right through many high rise buildings along the ever busy Port Harcourt-Aba Road. Had the blind design and construction been carried out to its logical conclusion, many big buildings would still have been pulled down. So when Amaechi embarked on rail construction as Minister of Transportation, many were alarmed, judging from his failure back home. The project gulped some N60 billion. It is yet to go beyond three kilometers, not even one third of its length.
Many, however, began to see Amaechi differently when he openly confessed that Chief Nanga, an odious political character in Chinua Achebe’s 1966 novel, A Man of the People, is his hero. And then entered President Jonathan and his wife, Patience, also from Rivers State, who began to challenge Amaechi on many political fronts. About the same time, Amaechi fell out with his political ally and then Minister of State for Education, Mr. Nyesom Wike, who Jonathan and his wife would later back to replace Amaechi who wanted his godson Dr. Dakuku Peterside to succeed him. Amaechi would lose out in the ensuing political battle. But he had a lifeline at the federal level where his massive financial support for Muhammadu Buhari would pay off in the latter’s victory against Jonathan in 2015.
After 2015 Amaechi became a general who went to battle without a troupe in the loss of his home state, and his voice became muted at the centre. He fought back like a wounded lion ahead of the political battle for the soul of Rivers State in 2019. But Amaechi had not reckoned with the enemy within his own All Progressives Congress (APC) party in Senator Magnus Abe, who like Wike, is a longstanding political ally. While Amaechi wanted the governorship position for yet another of his godsons, Mr. Tonye Cole, Abbe had other ideas. The resulting battle left APC cancelling itself out in an in-house fight long before the main battle with the opposition PDP. The courts promptly shut out Amaechi’s APC from the election as a result of internal wrangling.
His move to back another party late in the day so as to oust Wike from power and reclaim some electoral value before his Abuja masters would result in bloodbath and electoral confusion that kept everyone on edge for days. Yet again, Amaechi fought a vain battle and lost spectacularly. It is yet to be seen how he would shape up for the next cabinet. Amaechi’s electoral worth to APC is in seriously doubt; 2015 seems a distance away from 2019, except perhaps his 2015 financial input to APC’s victory was huge enough to still matter in 2019. Otherwise, he just might be consigned to some menial role.
And so as transportation minister what exactly did his blighted region gain from his portfolio? All the rails are well away from Aamaechi’s region; signs that the region will taste a workable rail line seem far-fetched. Just like Jonathan in his six years in office, East-West Road still remains uncompleted. What is transportation minister if roads are not part of his job profile? In fact, Amaechi’s job seemed so narrow. As transportation minister, he stayed clear of aviation where another man held sway. For all his electoral contribution in 2015, Amaechi turned out just another featherweight in the Buhari’s cabinet. The next cabinet makeup might just define the man ultimately.
Amaechi was among the founders of the BRACED (Bayelsa, Rivers, Akwa Ibom, Cross River, Edo, and Delta States) Commission for the South-South region designed to improve living conditions of the marginalised people of the Niger Delta. But blind politics and quest to pay godfather blinded many to the region’s growth, and Amaechi’s political battle with Jonathan and PDP is specially believed to have scuttled that noble aspiration for the region. And he has been a lone ranger from the region in Buhari’s cabinet in his bitter struggles with Jonathan and Wike.
Easily, Amaechi holds a grudge against his own region and people who have remained in PDP in spite of his efforts. And in four years as minister, he still carried that grudge as his arrival in Port Harcourt was usually in command-style like some petty warlords. And so whatever statesmanship attribute he would have acquired or ought to exhibit, as a Niger Delta chieftain operating from the centre of Nigeria’s politics is lost irretrievably in sheer ungentlemanly political acrimony against his own region and people.
Now that his political wings seem clipped at home for now like his Akwa Ibom State counterpart, Mr. Godswill Akpabio, what is next for Mr. Amaechi? The last election did not only demystify Amaechi, he was believed to have invoked federal might that shed the innocent blood of his own people with the military’s involvement in election. How would he buy himself back into the people’s consciousness after the fiasco of 2019 and remain politically relevant in his home state going forward?
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