06 November 2023
Rotimi Amaechi, former minister and governor of Rivers State, at a public lecture on Thursday, October 26, sounded rather melancholic. For a man who has been in government since 1999, first as two-term speaker of Rivers State House of Assembly and later as governor for eight years, before he served as minister of the Federal Republic for another eight years, all on a platter, the privileges he amassed do not justify the grief he attempted to offload. And he was most unfair and incorrect as he tried to blame the polity’s woes on the people.
That same week, Port Harcourt was in turmoil as former governor Nyesom Wike vainly and desperately sought to protect a so-called political structure he claimed to have built. In a democracy, do individuals own political structures to the exclusion of the political party? And whose resources did he deploy to build the structure, Rivers’ taxpayers’ monies?
Back to Amaechi. It is true that politicians are enduring different stages of political frustration after the parties’ primaries and the general elections. Many invested resources and lost but have taken such with equanimity and have moved on. Others are now in a hurry to key into President Bola Tinubu’s Renewed Hope agenda, a concoction they do not understand and never believed in. They have to survive.
From an Amaechi, one expects a little pretense at role modelling for the sake of preserving the polity since it’s not yet Armageddon. Some who listened to aspects of the speech considered it a morbid verdict on democracy, and a reason to be depressed for Nigeria. That message provoked unwholesome troll on X (former Twitter), especially for those who took the minister’s speech as the gospel. Some expressed loss of confidence in the system. Some need therapy as we write.
In that clip, which is still available online, Amaechi picked on different subjects, some offhandedly, which shouldn’t be allowed for public consumption if his media handlers had gone through his notes. He said he had been approached by different media to say things, but had declined for two reasons: one, his publicist advised him not to speak and the second reason is the fact that Nigerians don’t react to issues.
He said Nigerians know that many politicians didn’t attend universities, earn certificates or participate in the national youth service, yet Nigerians still vote for them. Therefore, there is nothing new for him to say. He said Nigerians choose whom to vote and not to vote, that even if you come to a man’s house and kill a man’s wife, the man will continue and nothing bothers Nigerians. So, why should he waste his time? He said he has chosen to stay in his house quietly.
Hear him: “I chose not to speak again because there is nothing to say and because Nigerians will do absolutely nothing. If you say it’s a lie, line up 10 Nigerians and shoot them tomorrow, nothing will happen. The worst about Nigerians is that when you claim you’re not committing any crime, they will say he’s a thief, and Nigerians will chorus it and you will go to prison for nothing.” The clincher: “it’s a hopeless situation.” He wants the people to react to things the way they do in Ghana and Kenya. Really?
It’s a bit of some complexity trying to contextualize and figure out what political mindset could instigate such evocation, especially for a political leader who has managed the affairs of seven million plus people of Rivers State for eight years as governor and attempted to also manage the affairs of Nigeria’s over 200 million people.
What’s the leadership mindset that propelled him to sound so hopeless and chaotic? He even prayed that more Nigerians will get depressed as a result of the strangulating state of affairs and end up committing suicide? What is the recruitment process that prepared them for leadership in Rivers State and indeed the whole country? How come there is no empathy and compassion for the suffering millions who are struggling to survive?
It is not true that Nigerians are all docile and without mojo. They are very easy-going people who do not ask for too much from the leadership. When the price of bread goes up, the people adjust, get busy to earn more money instead of rioting like they do in Lebanon and Venezuela. Since the price of petrol has gone out of reach of the ordinary man, Nigerians have not protested. When they are supplied three hours of electricity instead of 24 hours, they simply find ways to improvise and move on. Does that make them docile and candidates for suicide? I do not accept that toga.
Shall we say that the people who fought the military to a standstill in the heydays of General Abacha were so unintelligent and stupid? At that time, some among Amaechi’s political class were nowhere near the hotbeds of pro-democracy protests across the country. They were not counted among students’ union activists who skipped classes to join rallies outside campuses.
What has happened to the Nigerian psyche since 1999 is a tragedy that is still unfolding. At the end of the day, the eyes of the people will open and they will thrash their newfound overlords and oppressors. It will not even require violence. The situation is such that governors since 1999 have been appointed by godfathers who have pocketed the states. The godfathers own the legislature and the judiciary. In the case of Amaechi, he was appointed by the Supreme Court in the first instance. So, he cannot appreciate the power of the people.
When elections do not count, when you do not need the input of the people to approve your budgets as a governor, because you own the legislature, you cannot understand and appreciate the agonies of a people. In eight years, you could not give them basic amenities in a sustainable manner. In 24 years of democracy, with multiple resources of revenue – 13 per cent derivation, taxes from oil servicing companies, federation account and sundry internally generating revenue, you could not give them good roads, schools, safe drinking water, primary healthcare beyond skeletal services; and you want them to go and die in mass protests because you haven’t become president? Not fair.
Whatever happened at the presidential primary of All Progressives Congress (APC) has little to do with the people. It was strictly a party affair and delegates determined the game on the basis of market forces.
Between Amaechi and Wike, they have some explanation to give to the people of Rivers State. Apart from Lagos, Rivers is supposed to be a very rich state. With appropriate corporate governance, Rivers could compete with Lagos. Unfortunately, and as it is in other states, there is little or no accountability in government. Governors connive with the other arms of government to rob the people, spend their resources recklessly and turn round to despise them.
There is a deliberate amnesia over the era of Peter Odili, who was governor between 1999 and 2007. At that time, matters of accountability and transparency were not prioritized. The man ventured into the presidential race of 2007 but the efforts and resources he deployed did not yield dividend. President Obasanjo frustrated that bid and Odili left the political stage and won for himself a rare judicial privileged not to render account to the people of Rivers State.
Both Amaechi and Wike also pursued unsuccessful presidential bids, and Rivers State people have not summoned them to render account for the resources they lavishly deployed. The resources Amaechi channelled to support Buhari’s presidential bid in 2015 are said to be huge. He was a sitting governor.
No group in Rivers has asked the former governors to account for monies they spent chasing political power at the centre. Maybe that’s the reason for Amaechi’s lamentation, of a docile people who cannot demand accountability.
The story is told of a former governor who spent weekends attending a law course in the UK, flying the state-owned aircraft fuelled and maintained by taxpayers. Another former governor flies another state-owned aircraft from Abuja every weekend to supervise and babysit his anointed governor in Port Harcourt, from his mansion deliberately positioned behind Government House.
Before the fracas and the fire set to the Rivers State House of Assembly, former governor Wike, who is now minister had one leg in Abuja and the other in Port Harcourt. The man couldn’t realize that his tenure as governor had ended. Because he assisted Governor Siminalaye Fubara in the civil service and installed him governor against all democratic tenets, he kept breathing down the neck of the young man. Wike appointed the SSG and Chief of Staff for Fubara. If there are 18 commissioners, Wike nominated 17. Fubara and Rivers people can’t breathe because Wike’s knee is on their necks.
Wike is in a hurry to replicate the Lagos template, where the Jagaban is the sole administrator of the resources and politics of the state. But the crude manner and rush to impeach Fubara has exposed Wike’s lust for power. In just five months, he says impeachment is constitutional and that he wants to keep a tight hold on the political structure in the state. Wike is doing to Fubara the same thing he will not take from anybody.
It’s time Rivers State people heed Amaechi’s rebuke and begin to demand accountability. The resources politicians use to hold the people down belong to the people. Say no to political bullying in Rivers!