Politics of Development in Rivers State and Okrika -Gov. Amaechi’s Albatross

When he assumed office in October 26, 2007 through a landmark judgment by the Supreme Court, the Rivers State Governor, Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi no doubt knew that so much was expected of him having fought a ten-month legal battle to oust the then sitting governor, Barrister Celestine Omehia who had already spent five months in office having been used to unlawfully substitute the name of Amaechi who was originally nominated at the primary elections of the ruling People’s Democratic Party, PDP, at the Sharks stadium Port Harcourt. It was a journey filled with landmines as such the people of the state desired to see a change in governance and the reasons for his desperation to right the wrongs meted out on him albeit other candidates of the party even when his own cousin had already been sworn-in as the governor.

Gov. Amaechi, a two-time Speaker of the Rivers State Assembly (1999-2007), knew the challenges which faced the state, which at the time of his ascension to the seat was already declared a war-torn state because of the activities of the dreaded cult groups which had held the state hostage. Soldiers were than drafted to the city of Port Harcourt as well as other neighboring communities to combat the already high level of crime in the state. Normal life was almost extinct as the state government then under Omehia had imposed a dusk to dawn curfew, with commuters and passengers made to raise their hands up at every security check point which littered the state. There was a total decay in infrastructure as the city became congested as there was hardly any good road network to ease the transportation problems. The Public schools were totally abandoned as parents had no choice but to send their wards to the private schools at heavy costs. Healthcare and Housing were almost non-existent as more and more persons moved to the slums around the waterfronts in search of cheaper accommodation. Such was the situation in a state which is adjudged as one of the richest in terms of oil wealth.

The governor again decided to correct the ills and decay which had engulfed the state making it to lose its ‘GARDEN CITY’ status to a ‘GARBAGE CITY’. He set about to not just carve a niche for himself but to restore the glory of the state while also truly changing the face of governance from what was obtainable in the past where those in charge were not accountable to the people over the huge sums that they collect for contracts that are eventually abandoned. There was no enforcement of checks and balances to ensure that the powerful politicians in the corridors of power are not engaged in excessive use of power to the detriment of the people. The activities of the different cult and militia groups were attributed to the use of armed thugs for elections in the different local government areas. This was the scenario before Amaechi took over the reins of leadership. He mapped out his programmes which at some point received knocks by the lily livered power brokers around him as they described the ideas as lofty. To the average Nigerian Politician, that would mean financial suicide for the governor to embark on such projects which though would in the long run impact on the lives of the people, but would take a larger chunk of the state’s allocation which they would have preferred to share. Amaechi indeed knew he was deviating from the old order as such would step on the toes of many. His penchant for service delivery would end up becoming his greatest undoing, an albatross that would cause him political problems those who are blind to the realities of the change that Nigerians and Rivers people truly desire. The governor, unlike many of his colleagues, past and present, has saved over a hundred billion Naira from the excess crude allocation for the people of the state. That is absolutely strange in Nigerian politics.

Some of the projects which are worthy of mention include the ability to curb the criminal act of kidnapping and militancy in the state, the establishment of a new settlement known as the “Greater Port Harcourt” expected to house over 30,000 residential units on a 2500 hectares of land with a ring road to connect both the upland and the Riverine communities, the demolition of the old and dilapidated primary schools and its replacement with about 350 model primary schools out of which over 70 per cent is completed, the building of 24 model boarding secondary schools around the 23 local government areas, the construction of 160 Health Centres scattered around all the wards in the state, construction of a Mono-rail to help ease of transportation at the cost of N60 billion, massive re-construction of roads including Federal Roads, construction of a mega hospital, the Maxillo-facial hospital, the Waste to Wealth programme as well as other projects in different sectors.

All these and more which has not only demystified governance in the nation has further exposed the ineptitude of past administrations except for that of Diette Spiff in truly developing the state with its huge resources from revenue allocation. The governor has shown a paradigm shift in development and governance. The peace in the state and the restoration of night life in the city cannot be over emphasized. But Amaechi’s greatest undoing stems from his hard stance in providing real governance to the people. His dare-devil nature to confront the criminals known as cultists as well as change the face of politics by bringing on board the opposition parties in a unity government has earned him knocks rather than kudos by the cabal who feel that it must continue to be business as usual. Rather than applause by those who had earlier messed things up in the state and given the PDP a bad name, he is being hounded by the group that prides itself as the “New Restoration” or preferably what most persons refer to as the “Abuja Group”.

The New Restoration is arbitrarily a change in name by the leftovers of the Restoration Group, a campaign outfit within the PDP of former governor Peter Odili. Certainly, a lot of its former members have left to join in the new train of Governor Amaechi’s “Believers Group” who were responsible for the support of his struggle to regain his mandate through the Courts. In the wake of the sack of Omehia’s government by the Supreme Court, most of those who are now referred to as the opposition relocated to Abuja on what was described by the media as self-imposed exile. They had hoped to sack Amaechi’s government through several litigations but that was not to be as Amaechi again emerged victorious in all the cases. The group led by the former Minister of Transport, Dr. Abiye Sekibo, Rt.Hon.Austin Opara-the former Speaker of the Federal House of Representatives and Barrister Celestine Omehia-the ousted governor again found their way to Aso Rock at the emergence of President Goodluck Jonathan whose wife hails from Okrika in Rivers State. Mrs. Jonathan is a kith and kin of Abiye Sekibo who no doubt would stop at nothing to dethrone Amaechi and take over the mantle of leadership in the state. Sekibo was the very powerful Secretary to the State Government under Gov. Peter Odili.

Amaechi who was formerly a member of the Restoration Team under the leadership of Gov.Odili stirred the hornet’s nest when he dared to continue with the case against PDP, INEC and Omehia for his unlawful substitution having been declared earlier the candidate of the PDP for the April 14, 2007 governorship elections and his name forwarded to INEC. He was asked to step down by the then former President Obasanjo, the leader of the party who relied on the trumped up charges by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, to deny him the ticket which he declared as having a ‘K-leg’ while handing over the flags to the flag bearers during the South-South rally of the PDP in Port Harcourt. Amaechi was then replaced by Omehia, his cousin, a move which Odili had quickly taken to forestall plans by Obasanjo to choose a successor. Amaechi was in consonance with the former governor when he went to the Federal High Court in Abuja to challenge his unlawful substitution. While the case was pending in court, and the pointers showing that he would obtain justice since a precedence had been set in Ararume vs Charles Ugwu, supra, Odili with the pressure of powers that be in the party as well as some members of the Restoration Team who were not comfortable with the initial emergence of Amaechi then urged him to ask Amaechi to withdraw the case in Court. Amaechi, who was already under cover in Ghana refused to bulge. It was this that then incurred him the wrath of his former boss and mentor, Odili, with whom he had more or less a father and son relationship.

The battle to stop Amaechi at the courts continued unabated as Odili pulled all strings to save his face and his towering political image which had been punctured by Obasanjo with the active connivance of Nuhu Ribadu, the former Chairman of EFCC. Amaechi’s case was made worse because he had lost the support of the man who had off-set the initial legal fees. He was no longer in Nigeria and his family had to be sneaked out of the country where the children lost an academic year. But one thing was certain; Amaechi was determined to stop the indiscipline in the party. He symbolized the struggle for a new democracy that would thrive on justice and equity and where set laws and order would be respected. It was a new beginning in the annals of our democratic history, a period when the nation’s judiciary decided to enthrone internal democracy amongst the political class without bordering whose ax is gored.

Governor Amaechi became the celebrated politician having won The Sun Leadership Award 2007. But three years down the road, his traducers are hell bent on taking a pound of flesh from him for what they call marginalization though many prefer to call it revenge. His achievement in development and security is almost being marred by the same people who rather than appreciate a performing governor prefer to play the ethnic card. One of the Communities in the state, Okrika, which had been bedeviled by the activities of militia groups as well as cultists who now go by the name, repentant militants courtesy of the late President Yaradua’s amnesty programme is now a home of peace. The infamous ‘Okochiri’ forest which used to be the hide out of Ateke Tom, a former warlord, was invaded by the governor and the Joint Military Task Force. The forest was converted to a Health Centre for the use of the people of Okrika which is incidentally the birth place of Dame Patience Jonathan, the wife of the President. Efforts to develop the state particularly the demolition of the waterfronts to reduce the rate of crime through the water ways and provide housing has pitched the governor who is of Ikwerre extraction against some of the leaders of Okrika, which is a riverine community. There has been a divide between the two ethnic groups particularly on the ownership of the land around the waterfronts, even though the law gives the right to the Crown of which the governor represents in the instance. Despite huge sums of money which has been paid to owners of properties around the marked areas as compensation, there has been so much resistance by the people. This may have prompted the recent not too palatable statements credited to the First Lady during her two-day visit to Rivers State. While the governor made frantic efforts to explain the difficulty and the challenge he faced in acquiring land, 21 hectares for the building of the Primary School, he went on to explain that his government had asked the Executive Chairman of the Council to ascertain the number of people whose stalls or buildings would be affected by the demolition as compensation would be paid to them, as it’s the practice. The First Lady apparently had been nursing the pain caused by the demolition exercise and without previous discussions with the governor, decided to lose her patience and publicly berated the governor. She frowned at Amaechi’s choice of words that the encroaching places ‘must’ be demolished to ensure that the school is exactly the same with the others in the remaining wards. She condemned even the demolition of the waterfronts, even though that was not an issue at the time being.

Surprisingly, she cut short the trip and shunned a planned reception by the Council Chairman in her honour and headed for the Airport. The opposition again was happy as they threatened that it would be an easy ride to stop Amaechi if he seeks re-election. What were Amaechi’s sins that would warrant such debasement and threats? The only answer is that he sought to change the face of Rivers State through his laudable projects. What their own people could not do for them, another man is doing, yet he is being chided. Could there have not been a better forum for the First Lady to have shown her displeasure with the style of Amaechi’s governance rather than do so after a loud reception and launching of her pet project? Is this the kind of leadership that will ensure that women are given the 35% affirmative action in politics and governance? Sincerely speaking, that change which the women desire may never come. African women are not known for berating their men.

Well, in truth, Amaechi’s sincere desire to develop the state beyond the expectations of those who did not want him there has indeed become his albatross.

The piece was written by Obiaruko Ndukwe, Publisher and Media Consultant

Email: obiarukondukwe@ymail.com

08033382586, 0703414777

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