By Ochereome Nnanna, Chairman, Editorial Board
WHEN former Military President, General Ibrahim Babangida, set out in his convoluted transitions to civil rule programmes (1985 to 1993) to look for those he termed “new breed politicians” to take over the political landscape from the politicians that he and his fellow military adventurists had chucked out of power, it was not clear what he expected of them.Hon. Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi, Dr. Chris Ngige, Mr. Udom Emmanuel, Malam Nasir el Rufai, Mr. Babatunde Fashola (SAN) and so many other political products of the new millennium have defined for us what it means to be a Nigerian new breed politician.
The old-school politicians of the post-independence era that military expired were expected to be loyal to their political mentors of the NPC/NPN, NCNC/NPP and AG/UPN/AD dispensations.
They were sponsored for elective and appointive posts and expected to maintain the ideological traditions and strategic directions pioneered by their mentors. But the new breed are hot-headed radicals. Once you put them in power they declare their independence and drive you into political oblivion. They are not bound by any ideological traditions. To hell with godfathers.
Amaechi’s 21 years in politics has been one hell of a rough ride, but he has adequately proved himself as suitably equipped to ride the storms. Amaechi, the Ubima, Ikwerre Local Government-born former student-politician, started off his political journey after getting employed by Dr. Peter Odili’s Pamo Clinics and Hospitals Ltd, Port Harcourt in 1988.
Odili took him under his wings in 1992 and got him sponsored into the State House of Assembly in 1999 where he was elected Speaker. Amaechi’s association with Odili remained strong, which ensured that he emerged as the only State Assembly Speaker who lasted eight years during which he was the Chairman, Conference of State Assembly Speakers.
A radicalised workaholic
However, the erstwhile docile loyalist in Amaechi was discarded overnight when the battle to succeed Governor Odili heated up in 2007. Amaechi had won the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, governorship primaries and was waiting at the campaign ground to be given the party’s flag for the state-wide campaigns proper.
It was at that juncture that former President Olusegun Obasanjo’s reign of impunity asserted itself. Between Obasanjo and Odili, an on-the-spot decision was made to hand over the flag to a Celestine Omehia who was somewhere in the grounds running other errands!
It with was Amaechi’s iron-clad determination (backed by his staunch ally-turned-arch-foe, Nyesom Wike) to reclaim his mandate through the courts that, from his hideout in Ghana, he received the good news that the Supreme Court had ordered that he be immediately sworn-in on October 25, 2008.
From that day onwards, the gentleman in Amaechi went on permanent exile and the warrior (some say lion) came out. A radicalised Amaechi declared war on Odili’s political camp, knowing that if he did not, his former boss was capable of running him off his seat. Throughout much of the first three years of Amaechi’s advent in the Brick House, Odili could not openly set foot in the state. Much later though, Amaechi opted to reconcile when he had sufficiently consolidated his power towards 2011.
Amaechi also drove the so-called Niger Delta militants out of Port Harcourt and into the creeks by systematically demolishing the waterfront settlements of the city from where they staged their reigns of terror. He also declared war on cultism and gradually restored security in an oil-rich state that had become off-limits to expatriates who were routinely kidnapped for ransom.
Having sufficiently pacified Rivers State through sheer superior force, the stage was set for the governor to mount his enormous reforms in education, health, infrastructural expansion that sought to link all parts of the state with roads and bridges, development of power stations and a strong attempt to set up a monorail system to tackle traffic congestion in the state capital. Amaechi also created the Greater Port Harcourt City Masterplan, but most of his visionary projects have been hampered due to his inability to install a government from his political lineage.
Pillar of the Buhari order
Apart from his battle to consolidate his regime as governor, the next formidable task was his role in the making of the All Progressives Congress, APC. When Amaechi’s simmering feuds with the President Goodluck Jonathan family eventually blew into the open he fought back by mobilising the Nigerian Governors’ Forum, NGF, of which he was the Chairman and the so-called PDP “renegade governors” to form the nPDP to rebel against Jonathan’s second term. The nPDP eventually joined the Action Congress of Nigeria, ACN, Congress for Progressive Change, CPC, and the All Nigerian People’s Party, ANPP, to form the APC which eventually defeated the PDP.
Amaechi’s personal sweat as the two-time Director General of the APC’s Presidential Campaign with the financial muscle of Rivers State played leading roles in the making of the Buhari Presidency and APC as the new ruling party. This is why he has emerged as the longest-serving Minister of Transportation in Nigeria with very sound future political prospects.
Vanguard’s Board of Editors specially gave the award of Public sector Icon of the Year for several reasons. True to his frank nature, Amaechi is about the only official in the Muhammadu Buhari cabinet who, in spite of his political enmity with the previous PDP administration, refrained from playing the regime’s blame game. He has always given credit to whom it is due, particularly in the very area where he has earned most of his credit: the national railway renewal agenda.
Amaechi met the $500m Abuja-Kaduna standard gauge railway project at over 80 per cent completed and quickly finished it. Not only that, the nation pays N40m monthly subsidies to enable Nigerians use the corridor, though this undue “Father Christmas” gesture is caustically criticised. Also, the standard gauge Lagos to Ibadan rail line has almost been completed, with the Iju to Ibadan route free train rides extended from November 20, 2019 to March 2020.
Amaechi is overseeing an ambitious new Nigerian standard gauge rail development which will leverage heavily on foreign borrowings. It is the first major indigenous effort we are making since independence to add to the colonial legacy left behind by Britain. Great efforts are also being made to develop new deep seaports in the coastal precincts of the nation and dry ports in the hinterland.
He makes us laugh
In spite of his exterior pugnacious or warrior outlook, Amaechi is a man of great humour which he demonstrates in the way he dresses, things he says and things he does. Amaechi, as governor, was once photographed plaiting a lady’s hair in a Port Harcourt salon. He once won the accolades of Nigerians with his dexterity in dancing Davido’s hit track: “Skelewu” while fully dressed in immaculate white suit.
Perhaps, Amaechi’s most hilarious and memorable quote of all time was caught on Channels TV where he told his interviewer: “Is my honesty in doubt? I have told Nigerians and I repeat to Nigerians today, I am not corrupt and I don’t like money!…I try as much as possible not to annoy God by saying I am honest, but I am an honest Nigerian, and there are very few honest Nigerians”.
Often referred to as the workaholic minister, Amaechi is overseeing the construction of dry ports in different parts of the country, a deep sea port; and ensuring that all agencies under the Ministry of Transportation are performing optimally.