AMAECHI| Tortuous Journey to The Next Level By Eze Chukwuemeka Eze
The idea to write on the above topic came from a friend and a sister who is described in some quarters as an enfant terrible, the pen terror and the new face of political struggle and emancipation of Rivers State, Lady Oby Adaoha Ndukwu, Publisher of the ChangeAgent magazine and the Beam newspapers. According to this great lady, “Nigerians need to know the truth about the tortuous road that Amaechi passed through to get to this level and the fact remains that if this can be achieved by anybody based on the short notice, it is only you that can achieve such feat. So, please, try and educate the world on this aspect of the life of this enigma of a man.”
I accepted this challenge not minding that this suggestion came when I was on the road to see my family that I left for the past four months, to seek medical attention for my health challenge. This work, therefore, was done while plying the horrifying and death trap bequeathed to Nigerians by the PDP through Dr Jonathan’s administration, called federal roads in Nigeria. With the torture and horrendous experience during my eight hours trip, I will like to counsel that Babtunde Fashola the new Minister of works must be banned from flying any aircraft, except on emergencies, if he must understand the pitiable state of our federal roads and save Nigerians from the carnage that takes place on most of the federal roads on daily basis. This is a subject matter for another day.
Profiling Rt Hon Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi, CON, Hon Minister of Transport
Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi, who was on Nov. 11, 2015 sworn-in as Nigeria’s Honourable Minister of Transport, was born in Ubima, Ikwerre Local Government Area of Rivers State, to the family of late Elder Fidelis Amaechi and Mrs Mary Amaechi. University of Port Harcourt (UNIPORT), Rivers State, was where Amaechi laid the foundation of his political life, participating actively in student union politics, especially in the National Union of Rivers State Students (NURSS), of which he was president, and the National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS). After graduation, he cut his teeth in politics as secretary of the now defunct National Republican Convention (NRC) in Ikwerre Local Government Area of Rivers State, from 1992 to 1994. He was Special Assistant to Dr Peter Odili, then deputy governor of Rivers State; member of the Board of West Africa Glass Industry as well as Risonpalm Nigeria Limited. He was secretary of the Caretaker Committee of the Rivers State Chapter of the disbanded Democratic Party of Nigeria (DPN) in 1996 during the transition programme of the Gen Sani Abacha junta.
In 1999, Amaechi contested and won a seat to become a member of the Rivers State House of Assembly to represent his constituency. He was subsequently elected Speaker of the House of Assembly as well as Chairman of Nigeria’s Conference of Speakers of State Assemblies. He was re-elected into the State House of Assembly in May 2003 and equally re-elected Speaker. A master’s degree holder, Amaechi’s assumption of office as governor, based on a Supreme Court judgement after the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) dumped him, despite his convincingly winning the party’s gubernatorial ticket, remains a mystery to many political watchers in the country. By May 29th, 2015 Amaechi would have spent eight years as governor of Rivers State. He is currently Chairman of the Nigeria Governors’ Forum (NGF). His unprecedented feats in the transformation of Rivers State have won him many international and local awards as well as the respect of great world and Nigerian leaders.
Amaechi was the rallying force behind mobilising the governors under PDP to support the presidential aspiration of Dr Goodluck Jonathan during the PDP Presidential Primaries that produced Jonathan as the PDP flag-bearer and during the 2011 presidential election proper ensured that President Jonathan got over 2 million votes from Rivers State – the highest by any state in Nigeria. A misunderstood but an amiable personality; his forthrightness and boldness to stand by the truth attracts so much enemies to him, particularly those who cannot withstand his manner of approach to result-oriented feats. His numerous ‘sins’ will be highlighted later.
Amaechi, holder of the National honour of the Commander of the Order of the Niger (CON), is a Christian of the Catholic faith where he is a Knight of St John. Amaechi was appointed Director-General of the All Progressives Congress (APC) Presidential Campaign. The team led the party to victory in the March 28, 2015 presidential election in which a sitting president was roundly defeated for the first time.
Tortuous road to the next level
These are some of the roads that Amaechi passed through to become whatever he is by today in the politics of Nigeria.
1999 State House of Assembly election
Signs of the mission of Governor Amaechi in the politics of Nigeria started when FEDECO, the then electoral umpire, announced Uche Okwukwu, a lawyer, of the defunct APP winner of the State House of Assembly election of the Ikwerre Constituency in place of Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi of PDP. Amaechi contested this at the then Election Tribunal and the Court of Appeal and won, and was subsequently sworn-in as member, State House of Assembly representing Ikwerre Constituency. Thus, began his political struggles through the courts. Reacting to this, Okwukwu stated: “Yes, I contested against the present governor, Rt Hon Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi. Like I said, the Court of Appeal said I didn’t win and I should not be in the Rivers State House of Assembly. So, as a lawyer, by my training, I have since accepted the verdict of the court, particularly, when you do not have the right to appeal beyond that point.”
Battle over control of local governments
In 2003, Governor Amaechi came up with another feat through the courts. When the National Assembly moved to hijack the legislative functions of the State House of Assembly as enshrined in the constitution. He led his colleagues to take the matter to Nigeria’s Supreme Court, and the court gave a judgement that the control and supervision of local government is the prerogative of the State House of Assembly.
His most celebrated Supreme Court ruling
A lot of articles and statements were written following the ‘k-leg’ episode that was the outright hijack of the 2007 PDP gubernatorial ticket from Amaechi ahead of the April 14, 2007 election in Rivers State. This occurred despite his landslide victory at the primaries, where he clinched 6,527 of the 6,575 possible votes while seven other aspirants that included political heavyweights like Hon Chief Austin Okpara, a former Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives, late Senator Martin Yellowe, Pawariso Horsfall and Mr. Chris Orji shared the remaining 48 votes among themselves. Amaechi’s name was subsequently forwarded to the INEC on December 14, 2006 in compliance with Section 32(1) & (2) of the Electoral Act 2006. INEC, thereafter, duly published Amaechi’s name as the gubernatorial candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party in Rivers State.
The story, however, took a different turn when, speaking at the presentation of the party flag to its gubernatorial candidate at the Liberation Stadium, Port Harcourt, former President and then “Emperor” of PDP, Gen Olusegun Obasanjo (rtd), declared that Amaechi’s candidacy had ‘k-leg.’ Following this outright abuse of office, the dreaded bulldog that was the Nuhu Ribadu-led Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) was let loose on Amaechi, resulting in his decision to seek legal redress for his travails. Suffice to say, Amaechi went on self-exile to Ghana, and the powers that be further showed their contempt for him by selecting his cousin, Sir Celestine Omehia, who neither purchased nor filled a form, as PDP flag-bearer in his stead.
Amaechi’s vindication came with the October 25, 2007 landmark ruling by the Nigerian Supreme Court, declaring him as not only the authentic flag-bearer of PDP but also ordering that he be sworn-in immediately to replace Omehia, who had previously been sworn-in on May 29, 2007 as the Governor of Rivers State. Thus, Amaechi became the first and only person to occupy the office of governor in the country without standing for election. In explaining the ruling, the Supreme Court has since stated that it is the party that contests elections and that the PDP won the gubernatorial elections, and that, consequently, Amaechi, being the rightful candidate, should assume power as governor.
This epochal feat stands as Amaechi’s greatest input towards the growth of judiciary in the political life of Nigeria, as it has become a reference case in determining similar cases in Nigeria today.
Undemocratic suspension from PDP
When the PDP national leadership undemocratically decided to suspend Governor Amaechi from the party without any sound reason on May 27, 2013 and was to follow it up with expulsion. He resorted to the courts, once again, to stop them from taking any further step on his case until he decided to join APC. The suspension of Amaechi from the party was agreed during an unscheduled and unusually early morning meeting of the National Working Committee (NWC) of the party at the residence of the then National Chairman, Alhaji Bamanga Tukur. The meeting commenced at 8:00 am and came two days ahead of the regular meeting of the NWC, which normally holds on Wednesdays. It was also three days after Amaechi beat the odds with his re-election as chairman of the Nigeria Governors’ Forum. He had been allegedly opposed by the PDP Governors’ Forum (PDP-GF) ahead of the election.
The governor’s suspension was hinged on what the party described as his refusal to order the reinstatement of members of the Obio Akpor Local Government executive who were suspended from office on the orders of the Rivers State House of Assembly upon allegations of corruption raised against the LG executive. Hours after the suspension was announced, the party, at a press conference, said that it had constituted a committee headed by Mr Joe Gadzama, SAN, to probe allegations raised against Amaechi. Other members of the committee were PDP National Legal Adviser, Victor Kwon; Inalegwu Onche, Friday Nwosu, Udorji Amedu, Ola Kukuyi, Wakil Mohammed, Yusuf Jangwe, Mr Bola Doherty, Mr Tanimu Adamson and Anicho Okoro as secretary.
Reacting to his suspension during an interactive session with youths of the state, Amaechi asked: “Who has power to suspend Obio/Akpor council? Now you see political witch-hunting. It is so ridiculous; my party must rise above political witch-hunting. The governor did not suspend Obio/Akpor council, I hope you know. My power is to dissolve and remit it to the House of Assembly, but I have not done that yet, what the Assembly has said is ‘we are investigating corruption’ then the party says we should not investigate corruption: Is that fair?” He went further to state that the NWC issued a press statement to suspend him without any invitation and fair hearing. His words: “I was not invited by the National Working Committee of PDP; I was not given fair hearing. What I heard was ‘why did I refuse to reinstate the suspended Obio/Akpor Council executive? Who suspended them?’ His questions received the enthusiastic response of the youths who chorused: “The Rivers State House of Assembly.” Again, the governor asked: “Who has the power to investigate Obio/Akpor council executive?” The youths again replied: “The State Assembly.”
It was this suspension of Governor Amaechi from PDP, not minding all that he did to uplift the party that started the decimation of PDP and its reduction from a ruling national political party to an opposition regional political party.
Intrigues in appointment of Justice Agumagu as Chief Judge Rivers
The indefatigable and indomitable Chibuike Amaechi recently started another legal battle, but this time with the National Judicial Council (NJC). Like other cases involving Amaechi, this case is unprecedented in the annals of judicial adjudication, and Nigerians are watching with keen interest to see how he may win it.
Based on the Federal High Court ruling approving Justice Peter Nwoke Chukwuma Agumagu as the Chief Judge of Rivers State, Amaechi supervised his formal swearing-in ceremony. However, after few days, the NJC came up with a verdict suspending the newly-appointed Chief Judge. This, again, is unprecedented in the history of appointment of chief judges in any other state in Nigeria.
Transfer of Rivers’ oil wells to Akwa Ibom
As the serving Governor of Rivers State, Amaechi caused his attorney-general to challenge the transfer of some oil wells from Rivers State to Akwa Ibom State. The Supreme Court eventually ruled in favour of Rivers State in that case.
Travails in the hands of Jonathan
Despite his great show of love to former President Jonathan, former Governor Amaechi was subjected to monumental humiliation by the Jonathan Administration. A few examples: The plane of the Rivers State Government was grounded for no just cause; the PDP structure in Rivers State was taken away from Amaechi and his election as the chairman of NGF duly certified and acknowledged worldwide was annulled by President Jonathan and his cohorts. As if that was not enough, Amaechi was suspended from a party he so much loved and spent so much to build. Indeed, if not for divine providence, he would have been illegally impeached by five legislators in a House of 32 members; a Police Commissioner by name Mr Joseph Mbu was posted to Rivers State to haunt, insult and abuse him publicly, calling him a despot. What is more, governors that came to visit him were stoned! In the eyes of Nigerians, Amaechi stands as a great man while in the eyes of those haunting him he is a persona non grata.
To an illustrious son of the State and former Minister of Petroleum Resources, Prof Tam David-West, Amaechi is an innocent man and his travails illustrate the Nigerian paradox where excellence is relegated to the background and mediocrity is elevated. His words: “I’m particularly worried about the trend, not only because I am a Rivers State elder, not only because I am a strong supporter of Amaechi without any regret, I am also worried as a Nigerian, because what is happening to Amaechi underscores a terrible Nigerian paradox: which I call the paradox of excellence. We support him because those of us who grew up in Port Harcourt as a famous ‘Garden City’ knew how the city changed to a rotten city. And Amaechi, who is also a Port Harcourt boy, returned the city back to its glorious ‘Garden City’ status. Any person that does not realise this is not only blind but terrible.” This great sage reminded Amaechi’s opponents that he who laughs last, laughs best, stating with emphasis that the governor would laugh last because his first name, Chibuike, means ‘God is strength’.”
Why Amaechi joined APC
The desperation of the PDP leadership to completely destroy Amaechi led to his departure, alongside six other PDP governors, to form the New PDP, with five of them later joining the mega opposition political party, the All Progressives Congress. Explaining why he joined APC, Governor Amaechi said: “Unfortunately, recent events within the PDP have given me reason to reconsider our collective interest as people of the South-South and, indeed a Rivers people. At various times, as the one whom you gave your mandate, I had cause to complain about the marginalisation of our state and our people, despite our huge contribution to the national coffers and our unflinching commitment and support for the ruling PDP. While the political and economic importance of Rivers State cannot be contested, we continue to hold the shorter end of the stick.
“A few instances may suffice: Our demand that the Federal Government return oil wells belonging to Rivers State to us has gone unheeded and been treated with levity under this administration. Rather, our oil wells have been ceded to Bayelsa, Abia and Akwa Ibom states. Even after we got a judgment that the oil wells were wrongly ceded to Akwa Ibom State and should be returned to us; only dry wells that were no longer producing oil were returned.
“In the specific case of the Soku oil wells, despite a decision reached that the monies should remain in an escrow account till all matters concerning it are resolved, the Federal government continues to pay neighbouring Bayelsa State the revenues meant for Rivers State in a classic case of robbing Peter to pay Paul. It is indeed noteworthy that we have made several representations formally and informally on this matter.
“A second instance is the total absence of federal presence in Rivers State. The ‘National Good Governance Tour’ provided a good opportunity for the Federal Government to showcase its presence in Rivers State. The tour, if nothing else, proved that there was not much to show in a state that is the cash cow of the federation. The East-West Road remains abandoned, work has been deliberately slow on the Port Harcourt International Airport, the third busiest airport in the country, while all airports started along with it have long been completed and commissioned. The Bonny-Bomu Road that leads to the only functional liquefied natural gas project remains uncompleted. In the midst of all these, our administration went ahead to fix federal roads to the tune of N103 billion. Several representations and letters after, not one kobo has been repaid. The Federal Government is actively discouraging investments in Rivers State.”
Challenges of ministerial nomination and confirmation
Chief Nyesom Wike’s desperation to drag Amaechi’s name in the mud in order to frustrate his nomination or appointment as a minster, made he (Wike) to sponsor a satanic documentary on Amaechi aired on Africa Independent Television (AIT). This satanic documentary was part of Wike’s propaganda war against Amaechi, for which he earmarked billions of naira in his wicked plot to destroy and decimate the person and character of Amaechi. Other propaganda tools planned and deployed during this period, in the war against Amaechi, include sponsored publications such as advertorials, columns, editorials and Op-Ed articles in major international, national and local print media; sponsored personality discussion programmes in the electronic media and sponsored special documentaries on television and radio through independent groups and organisations.
This insidious plot by Wike include commissioning a team made up of persons within and outside Rivers State to ‘initiate, formulate and contrive false damaging reports bordering on alleged corrupt practices by Amaechi, which were circulated to individuals and institutions within Nigeria and abroad with a view to damaging the incorruptible character and rising profile of Hon Rotimi Amaechi, in order to blackmail and put pressure on President Buhari not to appoint the former governor into his government. These cooked reports to the shock of many Nigerians was sent to the Senate and presented through one misguided Senator Thompson Sekibo, which the Senate referred to the Ethics Committee of the Senate, which caused the delay in Amaechi’s screening and confirmation as a minister. Amaechi has through both the immediate past Secretary to the Rivers State Government, George Feyi, and the Commissioner for Finance, Dr Chamberlain Peterside, and others denied any form of corruption against him by Wike and his cohorts.
Wike did not stop at these but went further to set up Justice George Omereji Panel, to investigate the administration of Rt Hon Chibuike Amaechi. Though the panel did not found any wrong-dealing, or corrupt practices by Amaechi, Wike went ahead to issue a white paper indicting him of embezzling the sum of N53 billion, How on earth can someone in his right senses describe funds withdrawn with the approval of the legislature and spent as prescribed by the state budget to be missing? Wike, in his desperation to stop Amaechi’s appointment as a minister, resorted to dancing naked in the market place.
But as God will have it, and contrary to the expectations of Chief Wike and his gang of miserable ingrates, their ferocious campaign to blackmail, disparage and portray Amaechi as a very corrupt person unfit to be appointed as a Minister of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, failed to achieve the desired objective; as on September 30, 2015 President Muhammadu Buhari went ahead to list and submit the name of Chibuike Amaechi along with those of 20 other great Nigerians as ministerial nominees to the Senate for confirmation.
And to the shock and chagrin of Wike and his cohorts, the Senate, after three sittings on the ministerial screening of the ministerial nominees, screened Amaechi on October 22, 2015 and formally confirmed him on October 29, 2015. He was subsequently sworn-in with the 35 other ministers on Wednesday, November 11, 2015, by President Buhari, who as a further mark of confidence in the Lion of Ubima assigned to him the strategically important Ministry of Transportation.
Amaechi as Minister of Transportation
Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi, who was on Nov. 11, 2015 sworn-in as Nigeria’s Honourable Minister of Transport pledged to complete all ongoing rail projects around the country and extend rail lines to all parts of the country.
Amaechi made the pledge during his first day in office as minister shortly after his inauguration by President Muhammadu Buhari in Abuja on 11th November, 2015. He has since resumed work as the Minister of Transportation of the Federal Republic of Nigeria on 17th November 201 with a meeting with the Permanent Secretary and the Directors to look at the budget and its level of implementation. The meeting is necessary to chart a new course toward completing all ongoing projects, especially the rail and extending it to different part of the country.
Amaechi, however, called for cooperation from all parastatals and agencies of the ministry and the aviation sector. He promised to ensure a smooth working relationship with the Minister of State for Aviation for the development of the sector as well as meeting the expectations of Nigerians.
The minister also urged the staff to always play by rule, adding that “I belief in principles of discharging my duties. We are interested in completing all ongoing rail projects around the country because we don’t want to disappoint Nigerians. It is important that we realise that we have a mandate to deliver on our promises and there is competition among the ministers to deliver and we don’t want to take last. Amaechi also emphasised on the issue of corruption, warning that anybody that would work with him must not approach him for money.
The Rivers State APC Chapter in a press statement of 12th November, 2015 congratulated her leader, Rt. Hon. Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi on his historical appointment as a Minister of Transportation, “We heartily congratulate our leader on his meritorious appointment as Honourable Minister of Transport while at the same time extending our heartfelt gratitude to President Muhammadu Buhari for his confidence in Amaechi. We wish to assure Mr. President and all Nigerians that Amaechi, who has a track record of performance, will deliver even beyond expectations if given the necessary cooperation,” Rivers APC said in a statement signed by the Chairman, Dr. Davies Ibiamu Ikanya. Drawing Amaechi’s attention to some of the most pressing problems that deserve his attention, Rivers APC noted that he is assuming office as Minister of Transport at a time when the Port Harcourt International Airport is rated as the worst in the world and the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja, the seventh worst on the African continent, while the Murtala Muhammed International Airport, Lagos, is ranked 10th worst on the continent. “This is not acceptable to us and we wish that Amaechi quickly corrects this shameful anomaly imposed on us by the immediate past visionless administration of Dr. Goodluck Jonathan and his misguided Peoples Democratic Party (PDP),” the party said.
Continuing, the party said: “Amaechi is coming in as the Transport Minister at a time when the railway system is moribund and the maritime sector in a chaotic state. We know what Amaechi is made of and we expect him not only to turn around the fortunes of the railways but also to do same to the maritime sector.”
The party appealed to all Rivers people and the entire Nigerian population to accord Minister Amaechi all the support and prayers he needs to enable him translate his magic wand exhibited at the state level to the national level for the benefit of all Nigerians. It equally congratulated the 35 other ministers and called on Nigerians to give them every needed cooperation to deliver and make Nigerians feel the positive change promised by APC.
To the chagrin of Wike, PDP senators and other enemies of progress, Amaechi is today the Minister of Transportation. I salute the faith of President Buhari towards his son, and I am convinced that Amaechi will work assiduously with other ministers to rebuild this nation and bring hope to our battered economy. Let me formally conclude this treatise with the statement of President Buhari during one of his visits to Rivers State.
He said: “PDP decided to target some governors that are progressives and we feel will make a difference. We seek your support through Amaechi. I lived in Port Harcourt during my military career. I was a Staff Officer to Gen Danjuma in 1973. Rivers State has produced great men such as Professor Tam David West. 2015 will be another watershed in Nigeria. Amaechi is a great leader. We decided to come together to save Nigeria from misgovernance. We must come together and make Nigeria move forward.
“Amaechi has given Rivers people responsible leadership. The schools he has built will give Rivers children a better tomorrow, while women and children stand to benefit from the standard health centres he has built. He has also carried out physical rehabilitation of infrastructures in the state. People like Amaechi should join the APC to move Nigeria forward.”
Eze Chukwuemeka Eze, a Media Consultant based in Port Harcourt, Rivers State writes via email@example.com
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