In recent months I have had a cause to comment on several issues concerning Rivers State. This is because these happenings have far reaching significance beyond the geographic confines of that state. I am heartened that prominent Nigerians like former Head of State, Gen. Abdulsalami Abubakar (rtd), Nobel Laureate, Prof. Wole Soyinka and eminent jurist, Mr. Femi Falana (SAN) have on several occasions condemned the lawlessness and impunity that have become the style of those who are assaulting the state and its leadership. There are those who have chosen to dismiss my observations as driven by pecuniary benefits, others have threatened, insulted, and even called me names in order to tarnish my image. I have chosen not to honour them with any response until they summon the courage to reveal their true identities. The only thing I can say is that I am gratified that the same positions that I have canvassed on the issues of Rivers State are in accord with those expressed by these distinguished statesmen mentioned above. In the puerile imagination of my masked critics, if these distinguished men mentioned above are my co-accused, then so be it.
Rather than being demoralized in line with the intents of my detractors, their criticisms have emboldened me to begin to probe further into the political impasse in Rivers State, and express my disgust at the deafening silence of the federal government. I have also curiously tried to unpack things by myself in terms of what could be the intentions of different actors. For instance there are those who insist that the Governor of Rivers State is the one who is fighting (if for the purposes of this discuss we agree that this is factual)and then I asked, what is it that Mr. Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi is fighting for? Is it for his pocket or any ambition or is he fighting for the liberation of Rivers people from the claws of stomach politics? Since the day the Supreme Court pronounced Mr. Amaechi as the duly elected Governor of Rivers State in 2007, two symbolic things have happened which contributed to shaping the kind of leader he has become. The first is that the verdict automatically disconnected him from his immediate political family. As someone who has been a prominent member of the kitchen cabinet of the former administration, his emergence in 2007 as governor would have become a mere extension of the former administration but for the fact that his candidature developed a k-leg mid-way. The straightening of the k-leg by judicial intervention now freed Mr. Amaechi from those who he would have owed an eternal debt of gratitude for enthroning him.
The second thing was that the ruling created a crack within their larger political family such that it allowed Amaechi to begin to re-assemble his own structure. Many politicians who supported him before the k-leg had crossed over to work with his cousin who was then holding brief before the Supreme Court ruling came. It was like a thunderbolt that took many people unawares and unsettled the political equation. Those who jumped over and were already playing prominent ‘lucrative’ roles in the temporary administration of Sir Celestine Omehia were caught with their mouths agape. They could no longer come back to the Amaechi camp after the court pronouncement. Governor Amaechi therefore had an opportunity to remodel the political structure across board with those who remained with him. Looking at these historical issues closely, one will gain considerable insight into the difficult issues the Rivers State Governor had before him as well as the depth of his courage and his navigational skills. He had to completely overhaul the system he inherited to re-engineer it to pursue his vision for the state. It is noteworthy that Amaechi had to ‘rebel’ against the very system that produced him. He grew through it and probably understood its shortcomings more than any of his peers and was poised to change it as soon as the opportunity came. It was said to be a dysfunctional, arbitrary and despicable system. But it was also heavily entrenched and whosoever did move against it must be prepared to pay a price. That person must be ready to be torn in between the short term interests of a powerful few and the long term interest of the apparently powerless majority. Amaechi chose the side of the powerless in an uncommon bravery and whatever price he is paying today is partly a direct consequence of that choice.
After being Speaker for eight years and almost rounding up a second tenure as Governor, what else should Amaechi be looking for? Why will he not allow those who are fighting desperately to take over the soul of the state to have their way? At least so that he can spend the remaining months of his tenure with peace of mind and to sleep with his two eyes closed. It is difficult to believe that any leader will be driven by anything except commitment to expose his life to such amount of risk as Mr. Amaechi has done just to just protect his vision. As someone who used to be on the other side, Mr. Amaechi understands the DNA of those who are now bickering to take over Brick House. He knows the risks in confronting them squarely. But he also knows what could befall Rivers people( a people he feels indebted to), in case of the misfortune of the return of these power thirsty scavengers. That primitive distributive chop-chop democracy which was at the verge of destroying Rivers State irreversibly would return again. Brick House would regain its fame or notoriety as a pilgrimage centre of sharing. Stomach infrastructure will begin to flourish while physical infrastructure will begin to diminish as in the days of old. God forbid!
However, as well intentioned as one may speak about his vision and approach, the Rotimi Amaechi administration has got its own share of mistakes too. Those must not be lost in the narrative. His pet empowerment project known as Rivers Money for Rivers People was not a complete success. It was intended to allow for an economic trickle-down effect from government projects on indigenous contractors and service providers. However some of the indigenous contractors under this scheme claimed technical capabilities that they did not possess and so could not deliver jobs given to them to specification and in record time, to the dismay of the Governor. The Rivers Monorail project is one other project that has drawn a lot of criticism for the Amaechi administration. Many people have validly argued that the project may useful in the long term but expensive. They have faulted it for not being a priority for the state at this time especially given that the first phase started from a part of town that is not known for so much traffic gridlock. Others have gone ahead to even question the Governor’s interest in the leadership of their umbrella association and argued that the he should not have contested the Nigerian Governors’ Forum election at all. Given all of these, will one say that Amaechi record as governor is any less exemplary? For me, leadership is not about being perfect or flawless. It is about vision, courage, commitment, values, transparency, compassion for the led and leaving a place better than how one found it.
Let those be the yardsticks that will be used to measure any leader at the end of the day including Mr. Amaechi. Let the role of passing a verdict at the appropriate time be left to history and posterity. However many pundits who have made any objective assessment of the situation in Rivers State have come out with the same conclusions that things have progressively improved under the current leadership. There are those who think otherwise. I respect their right to dissent but let their submissions be based on hard facts and verifiable evidence rather than speculations. It is my contention that the current political standoff in Rivers State is not about Rotimi Amaechi as a person, his desires or any ambition. It is battle between performance and mediocrity; transparency and opaqueness; ethical universalism and competitive particularism. It is about the Rivers people and their choice between a government that takes care of the needs of the majority and another one that services only the greed and lordship of the few.
Uche Igwe wrote from the department of Politics, University of Sussex. You can reach him on [email protected]