Uche Igwe: Where Did Chibuike Amaechi Go Wrong?

The River State Governor Chubuike Rotimi Amaechi is probably one of the most misunderstood Nigerian politician in recent times. From nowhere those who perceived him to be a potential threat crafted an image of a stubborn, disrespectful man who listens to no one and that perception hung around his neck till date. They successfully leveraged on a minor political difference between him and the President to portray the governor as a cantankerous hater of President Jonathan. He struggled with it for a while but later it stuck.

Some observers have tried to blame his handlers for what has become the image of their boss. They could have assisted in constructing a less hostile image for Amaechi and save him from the trap his detractors set for him.

That Mr Amaechi is a performing governor who has turned around critical sectors in his state is not in doubt. However his many controversies are threatening to obliterate his sterling legacy. The Ubima-born politician did not help matters either. He became unwittingly tactless at a point in some of his speeches especially when he saw the agenda to forcefully remove him from office superintended over by the former Police Commissioner (now AIG), Joseph Mbu. In the process of battling to save his political future he employed some strategies that made him come across as uncivil.

Regrettably, the Rivers State Governor is nowhere near the picture that his detractors try endlessly to paint of him. He can be loquacious no doubt and even argumentative. He is someone that is very impatient with dishonesty and can be brutally frank, especially when he comes in contact a microphone. However, he is neither disrespectful nor arrogant.

Unknown to many beyond his close friends, he is a very compassionate person – in many ways even kind and loyal to a fault. Those who grew up with him can attest that he is someone who cannot overlook a friend who is in trouble or in dire need. His childhood friends recall that there were many instances during his early days in politics that Amaechi was said to have borrowed money to solve the problem of his friends. He is said to very generous without being profligate, especially when it is established that there is a genuine problem.

On so many occasions he has supported people who he did not know and who do not come from Rivers State to pay their medical expenses. One of the beneficiaries of the governor’s kind heart is currently a close aide of President Jonathan. As at the time that gentleman took ill, he could not afford his treatment abroad and had to approach his friends including Mr Amaechi. The governor was the first person who responded and paid for the guy’s treatment in America. One wonders why such of kindness will be unfortunately lost in the narrative.

There are those who suggest that Governor Amaechi dislikes the President. Very wrong. Now, if that is true then it means that all the Niger Delta Governors including Governor Godswill Akpabio and Dr Emmanuel Uduaghan fall into the same category. All of them without exception were directly loyal to Alh. Umaru Yar’Adua as President. After the sudden demise of President Yar’Adua they all, including Amaechi, consulted widely before supporting the doctrine of necessity. Is that disloyalty? Those who followed the story will remember even the Governor of Akwa Ibom State who now seemingly enjoys a cosy relationship with the President did not support the transition of Dr Jonathan from Acting President to President until later in the day.

Unknown to many people, Governor Amaechi consistently extended both respect and courtesies to Jonathan since his days as Vice President. During his first tenure as governor, Amaechi gave the then Vice President Jonathan an opportunity to nominate a member of his cabinet in Rivers State. When that nominee unfortunately died, Dr Jonathan was also asked to nominate his replacement. Does this not run contrary to what mischief makers want the public to believe about the relationship between the President and Governor Amaechi?

Even the crisis in the Nigeria Governors’ Forum had very little to do with Amaechi directly as peddled by some sections of the media. The truth is that many of the issues that pitched the NGF against the President were policy issues like the Sovereign Wealth Fund, Fuel Subsidy removal, etc. The involvement of Amaechi was only because he was the Chairman of the NGF at that time and acted according to how his colleagues agreed and delegated him. Furthermore, there were two occasions that
Amaechi and NGF intervened on behalf of their colleagues, Chief Timipre Sylva and Governor Murtala Nyako.
The protracted political conflict between the former Governor of Bayelsa State and President Jonathan is one that many Nigerians are familiar with. The political differences between the former PDP Chairman (President’s key ally) and former Adamawa state governor is also in the public domain. Many colleagues of Sylva and Nyako including Amaechi wanted to save them and pleaded with the President to give them a soft landing. Needless to say the pleas fell on deaf ears as both men were axed out of their positions eventually. The foundation of what culminated in the infamous ‘jangalization’ of the NGF was laid by these events and had everything to do with the NGF as a group and little with Amaechi as an individual. Now how does being your brother’s keeper make anyone arrogant or disrespectful?

I was present in Port Harcourt the day that five legislators attempted unsuccessfully to forcefully impeach the Rivers State governor in the presence of twenty seven others who were loyal to him. It was a sort of choreographed commando movie. Nothing in the Nollywood can be compared to it. To the best of my knowledge, the news of the invasion of the Rivers State House of Assembly by those hoodlums took the governor unawares. He had barely finished breakfast when the call came and he was left with no other option than to hurriedly go and repel them with a few of his personal aides. There was temporary chaos in Brick House while the confrontation lasted.

It was an unbelievable sight to imagine in a democracy. I managed to drive into the premises of the House of Assembly myself, but when I saw fierce looking thugs being escorted into the building by policemen, I had to advise myself to disappear from the area. Though the governor and his team managed to successfully halt the invaders, announcements had already gone out on the state owned Nigerian Television Authority that the Speaker of the Rivers State House of Assembly had been impeached.

As if that was not enough, the next day we were woken up by the impact of tear gas canisters that were thrown into Government House by a team of battle ready policemen led by former Commissioner now AIG Mbu. The Governor and his visitors were embarrassed and humiliated to say the least. I peeped out of my window and saw him struggling through the smoke and frantically trying to make a call. I was thrown aback when I got a call that Mbu was on a mission to arrest the governor and bundle him to Abuja. I crawled to shut my window in the guest house and prepared for the worst. Now all this happened to an elected governor and a President who was a member of his party (at least at that time) kept quiet. How come?
I am surprised that those chronicling the Jonathan-Amaechi saga often fail to acknowledge that the Rivers State Governor was one of the highest contributors to President Jonathan’s election in 2011 both in terms of finance and number of votes. The Rivers State owned aircraft was practically donated to the Jonathan campaign organisation to convey dignitaries around the country. The same aircraft that was later confiscated allegedly on the orders of the same people who used it for their campaigns. Suddenly they discovered that the aircraft was not brought appropriately into the country.

I was also present when Governors Kwankwaso, Babangida Aliyu, Sule Lamido and Murtala Nyako came on a solidarity visit to the governor of Rivers State. It was as if the news of the visit leaked in Abuja. About one hundred buses filled with thugs were already at the airport before the visitors arrived. As soon as their plane touched the ground, the occupants of the buses thronged out in numbers and blocked the exit of the airport chanting negative slogans and carrying placards indicating they were not welcome into Rivers State. As soon the convoy attempted to drive out of the airport with the guests, there was momentary commotion with stones flying from different direction. The motorcade managed to pierce through the crowd amidst a free-for-all banging on the vehicles. The glass windows of the bus I rode in were shattered by a stone that narrowly missed my head. I felt very sad that we could treat our brothers from the North that way. The same people that organised the embarrassing stoning will soon travel to the homes of these governors to seek for votes and will expect to be welcomed.

I do not want to mention the organised judicial snatching of party structures in the state from the governor. I will leave that for another day. I will reserve the contentious and vexatious ceding of Rivers owned oil wells to Bayelsa for another conversation. In all these, how come some people still feel that Governor Amaechi was at fault? Where has fairness and objectivity travelled to? Could he have remained in the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) where he would have become a toothless bulldog? Which other governor in the history of Nigerian politics has been subjected to this amount of state sponsored persecution and oppression? Which other politician has been so harassed, disparaged, tormented and vilified? Which other chief executive can stomach the level of meddlesomeness that this man has gone through in the last seven years? Where did Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi go wrong?


Written by Uche Igwe, from Department of Politics, University of Sussex.
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