“And I knew that my parents suffered a lot. With tears, they were looking for money to pay for my school fees, buy me uniforms, bags and all that. When I was in the university, I used to tell the girls that ‘none of you looked at my face because I was wearing one shirt, one pair of trousers almost every day with a sandal’. On Fridays, we would wash it and we wouldn’t move out at all on Saturday to enable it dry; Sam Okah and myself. Then it would dry on Saturday, but on Sunday, we were back to life; wearing the same shirt and the same trousers” - ROTIMI AMAECHI
My good friend and political leader, Minister of Transportation Rt. Hon. Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi, will by Saturday, May 27, 2017 clock 52. This enigma of a man whose antics and antecedents in politics of Nigeria defies proper definition is to most watchers of political evolution of Nigeria, the ‘new face’ of Nigerian politics, while to others he is one of the main pillars in which the administration of the no-nonsense and czar of anti-corruption virus in Nigeria relies upon.
Silver and gold have I none to give to this man of the moment on this auspicious day at least, I can pay him a tribute by chronicling how he emerged from humble circumstances to become one of the shapers of modern Nigerian politics, within his first 52 years of sojourn on earth. In this regard, as a close friend who has watched him from close quarters over a long period of time, I will attempt in this treatise expose what makes him tick politically, his legacies and how he piloted the unseating of a sitting president and a political party that prided itself as the largest in Africa. ,
In order for us to understand appropriately the divine mission of this new face of politics in Nigeria, permit me to state that six great days stand great and epochal in the history of Nigeria, the most populous country in the black world. A country that stands tall among the comity of nations in all aspects of nation- building, not minding her stunt growth. The pride of Africa and the entire Black world being strangled and kept in a comatose state, with her citizens riddled with poverty in the midst of plenty, God-given resources and human materials due to poor leadership by those that have been opportune to act as her leaders.
These six great days are October I, 1960 and 1963, when the country got her independence and the republican status respectively.
May 27, 1967 was another historical day when Rivers State, one of the states that have continued not only to play a pivotal role, but assist to feed and fund the economy of Nigeria since oil became the main and major revenue source of our nation.
The other great day was 15th January 1970, when the three years civil war in the country was brought to an end. The other great day is May 29, 1999 when the country was freed from military dictatorship followed by the enthronement of the fourth Republic and popular democracy in the country expected to be accountable to the people of Nigeria.
May 29, 2015 marks the day when one of the most corrupt administrations in the annals of the country was unseated, and President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration aimed at fighting most of the ills institutonalised by Dr Goodluck Jonathan’s administration, was brought to bear.
The last but very important day in the lives of Nigerians, particularly the youths, is May 27: a day set aside by the government of the federation to celebrate our kids and is better known as the Children day.
You will be wondering what have all these great days have to do with the topic under discussion, “Amaechi: 52 Garlands to an Enigma, Gallant, Resolute and Misunderstood Democrat”. Let me start by stating that God, in his infinite wisdom and divine arrangement, gave us as a nation a gift whose roles in the life of this nation will have a lot of impact on some of these great days, Rt. Hon. Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi the enigma, hero and the new face of politics in Nigeria.
Permit me, therefore, to present how and why God presented this enigma of a man not only to play a key role in these days, but those days signify his life within his 52 years of existence in this planet call earth and in Nigeria particularly.
Let us start with May 27th the birthday of Rt. Hon. Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi; this day also is the day on which Nigeria celebrates Children’s Day. Inspired by the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), the Federal Government of Nigeria decided in 1964 – a year to the birth of Amaechi – to set aside May 27 every year as Nigeria’s Children’s Day. On this special day, the whole nation celebrates the Nigerian child and the Federal Government declares a public holiday for schools across the country. The day is usually marked with fanfare: featuring dances, singing by children in colourful dresses, and youth parades considered by many as the highlights of the day. With this devilment, one can easily understand why Amaechi is so much attached to the future of most children of this nation, through offer of qualitative and free education from primary to the highest level of education and the affairs of his beloved State, Rivers during his tenure as the Governor of the State.
By the time you are through with this study, you will come to the realisation of the relationship between Amaechi and the children of Nigeria and why he is attached to them so affectionately particularly those from Rivers State.
Let us continue with the May 27th episode and the history of Amaechi. This is also the day that Rivers State was created and therefore the State shares thesame birthday date with Amaechi. This mystery man’s tie with the destiny of Rivers State is mysterious, and different from that of any other political leader from that State. He is the only political leader so far who has played a key role in shaping the political future of the state that shares the same birthday with him. Whilst he was born on May 27, 1965, Rivers State was created two years after - on May 27, 1967 - by the administration of General Yakubu Gowon. This, somehow, underscores why his commitment towards the emancipation and development of the state is total and unique and why Wike and his cohorts are fighting lost battle to demystify and decimate him.
May 29th, 2015 is another great day in the history of Nigeria when the looting administration of former President Jonathan was unseated. The is the first time a sitting President could be unseated by an opposition political party marshalled out by no other person but by Rt. Hon. Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi. This is another epoch making day, a day that President Muhammadu Buhari was enthroned as the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and the role that Amaechi played in making this possible needs not be overemphasised. So this day in Nigeria is marked with a lot of fanfare and this enigma of a man has a role in this historical day. As Nigerians celebrate this day the man that made it possible is also celebrated.
Governor Amaechi’s Humble Beginnings
The family of Amaechi in Ubima, Ikwerre Local Government Area of Rivers State, was on May 27, 1965 blessed with the birth of a son who unbeknownst to all would become a force to reckon with in Nigeria’s political firmament even before his 52th birthday. He was named Chibuike, which means ‘God is all Powerful’ and Rotimi, an abridged version of Oluwadurotimi, meaning ‘the Lord stands by me’, while Amaechi means ‘who knows tomorrow?’ Remember the popular phrase, what is in a name? One does not need to be a sage to know that all the meanings embedded in his name are playing out in the acts and arts of politics in Amaechi’s life.
Amaechi, as he himself has unequivocally said on several occasions, was not born into opulence. As a child his family experienced real hardship and he admits going through several challenges that have helped to shape his perception of life. His determination to ensure equal access to education for every Rivers child and bridge the gap between the privileged and underprivileged children in the state is unprecedented. Whenever the occasion demands, Amaechi would not hesitate to point out that though he came from an underprivileged background, his was a modest family that inculcated in him the virtues of honesty, humility and sheer doggedness to succeed.
To give an insight into some of the experiences he had to go through in order to be educated and which perhaps may very well be the reason behind his passion to provide free education for all children in Rivers State, rich and poor during his period as Governor of Rivers State, Amaechi said in an interview: “I don’t know how many people in my cabinet that could have experienced poverty like I did. I grew up at No.18, Chibu Street. I moved from there to Nnamdi Azikwe. Later, I lived with one of my friends in one of the creek villages near Port Harcourt. And I knew that my parents suffered a lot. With tears, they were looking for money to pay for my school fees, buy me uniforms, bags and all that. When I was in the university, I used to tell the girls that ‘none of you looked at my face because I I was wearing one shirt, one pair of trousers almost every day with a sandal’. On Fridays, we would wash it and we wouldn’t move out at all on Saturday to enable it dry; Sam Okah and myself. Then it would dry on Saturday, but on Sunday, we were back to life; wearing the same shirt and the same trousers. How many of those in the cabinet passed through that?” This is the pathetic story of the man that is driven by unquenchable passion for a better Rivers State.
Amaechi’s Legacies as Governor of Rivers State
Amaechi became Governor of Rivers State in October 2007, after his previous position as Speaker of the Rivers State House of Assembly from 1999 to 2007. He successfully sought re-election as River State Governor on April 26, 2011.
An alumnus of the University of Port Harcourt (UNIPORT), Amaechi is resolutely committed to ensuring that education is received without much burden in terms of finance to parents and guardians. This he has demonstrated during his days as the Governor of Rivers State through the free education policy of his administration, including the provision of free uniforms, free sandals, free books, free hand bags and free tuition in the primary schools, while in the secondary schools, the government offers free uniform, free bags, free books, free boarding and free sandals. This may well be his own special way of living up to his birthday which coincides with the Children’s Day!
Amaechi’s massive investment in education that includes free education and overseas training for scholarship students clearly shows his desire for a better tomorrow for children, as there is no gainsaying the fact that education is the bedrock of the development of any society.
Amaechi redefined the art of politics and governance in Nigeria when he introduced free education and free healthcare programmes in Rivers State and within a space of five years created over 50,000 jobs to reduce the menace of unemployment, poverty and insurgency in the country. His administration started creating employment opportunities when he assumed office in 2007 by building over 140 Primary Health Centres, 23 model Secondary Schools that can compete with any modern university in Nigeria and over 300 Model Primary Schools. Each of these projects attracts about 100 workers.
Apart from education, former Governor Amaechi has also made massive infrastructural investments around the State, road projects, schools, health centres, rural electrification, ongoing monorail project, rural development, land reclamation, implementation of the Greater Port Harcourt Master Plan and, most importantly, the sustenance of relative peace and security evident in the continued attraction and influx of foreign investors to the State. Amaechi stands as the only African Leader to have constructed 60 health centres, donated to 60 communities. His astute leadership in striving for financial transparency, accountability and inclusive governance has earned the State a lot of accolades, numerous awards and recognitions by international bodies and corporations, including the ability to attract a B+/AA Fitch investment rating to the State, boost economic and structural development as well as enhance content development in all sectors of Rivers State.
As Speaker of the State House of Assembly, Amaechi was Chairman, Conference of Speakers of State Houses of Assembly in Nigeria (1999 - 2000). He was the first to serve two terms as Chairman of the Nigeria Governors’ Forum (NGF), recently handing over to a new leadership in view of the fact that his constitutionally allowed two terms as Governor is about to end. He has received the prestigious national award of Commander of the Order of the Niger (CON).
Amaechi bagged the Sun Newspaper Man of the Year Award in 2007 and the Compass Newspaper Award for Security in 2008. The Governor of the Year 2009 Award was presented to him at the Leadership Award for Excellence - 2009 and he was the Vanguard Personality of the Year for 2012. Amaechi’s international recognitions include his decoration last year as an Associate Fellow of the United Nations Institute for Training & Research (UNITAR), Geneva, Switzerland.
To many people Amaechi is the creator of modern Rivers State only comparable to the creator of the old Rivers State, HRH Alfred Diete-Spiff. This is the inescapable conclusion when one takes time to study Amaechi’s feats in the infrastructure change and revolution taking place in Rivers State during his tenure that includes creating the new Port Harcourt Mega City that has one of the best modern stadiums and other edifices only obtainable in modern cities of Europe.
His government then created the Banana Farms that have created jobs for over 2,000 persons, and revived Risonpalm, which was dead when he came in, and it has employed over 5,000 workers. The Songhai Farm has employed over 2,000 workers, while five Fish Farms in strategic locations have been completed.
All these legacies by Amaechi are what Governor Nyesom Wike of Rivers State is set to destroy by any means possible. Will he succeed in this devilish act, only time will tell?
Unseating a sitting President, a feat that positions Amaechi as a unique leader in Nigeria
When on 9th September, 2013 my appointment as the National Publicity Secretary of the New PDP was announced to Nigerians the only brief I received was the 30 minutes encounter I had with former Governor Amaechi. During that encounter he kept repeating that whenever General Muhammadu Buhari (rtd.) accepted to fly the flag of the emergent mega opposition political party in the country, the unseating of President Goodluck Jonathan and PDP would become a reality. I was deeply impressed by his strong belief in General Buhari. It was based on this that I went boldly into the field and with the cooperation of the G7 Governors and other leaders of the New PDP, we were able to dismantle what was the famous and largest political party in Africa.
At the time five out of the seven Governors joined APC formally and during the APC Convention, Governor Amaechi and with the help of others, General Buhari was duly elected as the flag bearer of APC. In appreciation of his key role in making Buhari the Presidential Candidate, he was duly appointed to head the Campaign of Buhari and his feat in ensuring that Buhari was duly elected as the President of Nigeria will forever resonate in the country’s history.
Amaechi’s legacies as the Minister of Transportation
Within less than two years of his appointment as the Minister of Transportation after futile attempts by some elements to frustrate his appointment; he once again replicated his zeal in leadership exhibited in turning the fortunes of Rivers State by achieving the following feats in the ministry attesting to his visionary leadership qualities.
* He prepared and forwarded Bills of National Transport Commission and Nigerian Railway Corporation to the National Assembly to enhance regulation and further opening opportunities for private sector investment into critical transport infrastructure.
* Rotimi Amaechi instilled financial discipline in the ministry of transport and its agencies and provided safety measures at the nation’s airports.
* Specifically this enigma need to be commended for the rehabilitation of the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport’s runway within a record time of six weeks, the completion of the international terminal at the Akanu Ibiam International Airport, Enugu and the Controller Pilot Data Link Communication (CPDLC) at Kano and Lagos.
* Competition of the Abuja-Kaduna railway line, worked on the standard gauge on the following routes: Calabar-Lagos line, Lagos Seaports; and the Lagos-Kano: Lagos-Ibadan-Ilorin-Minna-Kaduna-Kano and signed an MOU with Chinese Company, China Railways Construction Corporation (CRCC) for Investment for the completion of the Itakpe – Ajaokuta – Warri (Aladja Jetty) Railway Line and from Aladja to Warri town Port, Refinery and from Itakpe to Abuja”.
* He is making efforts to complete all outstanding rail projects in due time. Work has commenced on the Lagos-Ibadan rail line.
* He is opening up the transportation sector completely to the private sector, saving N53 billion from the ship building fund and through the rebranding of NIMASA.
* There is on-going rehabilitation of infrastructure at the seaports. He inaugurated the Bakassi Deep Sea Port steering and delivery committee while plans for the construction of Deep Sea Ports in Lekki and Badagry as well as completion of the Lokoja port have begun.
In conclusion and Interestingly, Rt. Hon. Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi has put Nigeria on the path of sustainable growth and development and sustained the confidence of maritime stakeholders and investors. He has maintained unprecedented commitment to forming a better maritime and shipping policy direction. He overhauled NIMASA by reversing policy of the past administration where national infrastructural assets were given to militia leaders to protect as against established bodies like the Nigerian Navy.
With all these feats in such a record time, Rotimi Amaechi remains an outstanding leader in Nigeria no matter the efforts of his enemies to undermine him. Amaechi is truly a God gift to Nigeria and no matter the efforts and plots to run him down; I am convinced that God has a lot to use him to better the future of Nigeria.
As I wish him good health and ccongratulate him for attaining this great age of 52, let me admonish him not to give up no matter the odds until he accomplishes his divine mission in Nigeria.
Amaechi, Man of History, Loving Husband of Dame Judith Amaechi and Devoted Father of three lovely sons – Chikamkpa, Obina Nsirim and Lemchi. Happy birthday and many happy returns my friend, brother and leader.
Eze Chukwuemeka Eze is a Port Harcourt-based Media Consultant and SA TO APC CHAIRMAN,RIVERS STATE.