Is Rotimi Amaechi a traitor?
Chibuike Amaechi, the Governor of Rivers State is no stranger to controversy. His political trajectory since be broke into national limelight as a two-term speaker of his state’s House of Assembly has so far portrayed him as a man who has never shied away from confronting his adversaries. Neither has he shown docility in staking a claim to what he thinks rightly belongs to him. The loquacious governor has fought many battles in his brief political career.
His brush with the powers that be in his party first began when he expressed interest to replace the former governor, Peter Odili, in 2007. It was in the heat of the Peoples Democratic Party’s endorsement of candidates for the governorship race. As was expected, the stake was high in Rivers State. But it was not surprising. The state’s huge oil resources had always made it attractive to the rapacious Nigerian ruling elite. Even during the military years, the state was at the centre of bloody conflicts by the military elite who committed some of the worst crimes against the people of Ogoni in a bid to corner its oil wealth. Now, years after the military has left power, rivers is once again a battle field. Politicians are in a ‘’do-or-die game of Russian Roulette to gain power by any means necessary.
In the run up to the 2007 election, Amaechi who had had two uninterrupted terms as House Speaker looked primed to replace Odili — or so it seemed at the time. But his party, which was then in the firm grip of former President Olusegun Obasanjo had the power of life and death in the choice of candidates. In Rivers State, though it had appeared Amaechi would coast home to being the PDP’s flagbearer, the party’s apparatchik had other plans. All of a sudden, his once unassailable candidacy had become shrouded in mystery. No one, except the party’s hierarchy was sure who would succeed Odili. At a rally in Port Harcourt, the PDP flag was not handed to any candidate. Obasanjo had famously remarked that Amaechi’s candidacy had developed a “k-leg”. But the reason why the rug had suddenly been pulled under Amaechi’s feet soon began to emerge. Odili was said not to be favourably disposed to having Amaechi succeed him. Eventually in what proved to be one of the most controversial decisions of that era, the party hurriedly picked Celestine Omehia, said to be Amaechi’s cousin. Omehia, however, tasted power just three months. He was removed by the Supreme Court and replaced by Amaechi who was re-elected again in 2011.
Amaechi’s stormy political path, public image and governance style have made him one of the most controversial and highly visible state governors of this dispensation. In the course of governing his state, he has demonstrated his readiness to step on toes either for the sake of development or in his frequent spats with foes. Perhaps, his importance and leadership qualities saw his being elected as the chairman of the now contentious Nigeria Governors’ Forum. One trait which I think has stood the governor out is his garrulousness. He speaks fearlessly and frankly about national issues. He is also never afraid to take sides no matter how unpopular — an example was his decision to back the removal of fuel subsidy in January 2012. But no one knows till today if Amaechi’s decision was based on his knowledge of its inherent benefit or if he sided with the people’s oppressors given the revelations of the scam that later emerged from the sector. Soon after he became the governor, he set on the task of transforming Port Harcourt. But his attempt to demolish the waterfront slum settlements soon brought him in collision with the opposition. The governor defended his action. He spoke strongly about the danger the settlement posed to the security of the metropolis. But again, he had his way.
An assessment of Amaechi’s tenure as he continues to wage his battles will reveal a man who seems to have been toughened by the manner of his emergence. His governance decisions may also have been shaped by this. Amaechi has so far fought his battles with the conviction of a lone ranger. He has also largely been independent-minded. These traits may have been responsible for the discomfort shown to his candidacy in 2007. The latest in the governor’s bag of controversies is his rumoured 2015 presidential ambition which has pitted him in a battle of wits against elements from his region and the Presidency. His decision to contest the NGF chairmanship election for the second term also brought him in conflict with the powers-that-be in Abuja. An immediate threat to his government has also been the overbearing influence of the First Lady, Mrs. Patience Jonathan. The First Lady who hails from the same state as the governor has sought to exert her influence. The latest being the bloody clash between factions said to be loyal to Mrs. Jonathan and the governor. But Amaechi has refused to be cowed.
The governor’s 2015 ambition also provides the fuel that has ignited his recent confrontation with the Presidency. Amaechi is said to be aiming to become the Vice-Presidential candidate to a Northern candidate. It is also for this reason that the governor is considered a “traitor” by fellow Niger Deltans. There is also a sense in which his alleged ambition is considered a betrayal of the Niger Delta cause. This logic is linked to the fact that President Jonathan should not be rivalled by any Nigerian in his second term bid. This position has been irritatingly canvassed by Niger Delta leaders — with the region’s oil wealth as a major bargaining power. I consider the argument that the President automatically deserves a second term notwithstanding his performance nonsensical. The warped argument that any Niger Deltan who runs against the President is a betrayer belongs to the jungle and should not be encouraged in a democracy. This depressing scenario is unfortunately at the centre of Amaechi’s travails. He was first labelled a traitor by Mujaheed Asari Dokubo who accused him of “working against his brother” (Jonathan) by conniving with the Northerners. Dokubo’s diatribe against Amaechi, whom he said would be treated like a traitor, unfortunately mirrors the thinking of the average Niger Deltan. It is also a pointer to how President Jonathan and his wife have been reacting to the governor.
The accusation of betrayal levelled against Amaechi raises some disturbing questions. What makes a governor a traitor? Is Amaechi not entitled to his ambition in a democracy? How does his coming from the same region as the President make him ineligible? And why does the Presidency feel threatened by this? Why has the President not condemned the Fatwa pronounced on the governor? The point needs to be made that Amaechi, like any other person for that matter, has a right to his ambition. It does not even matter if he hails from Otuoke as the President? Are Nigerians not entitled to seek elective positions no matter their ethnic or religious backgrounds? Is it not surprising that President Jonathan playing God today was himself a vice-president to a Northern president and was supported by Nigerians when he was victimised by the Yar’Adua cabal? The meddlesomeness of the First Family in the Rivers crisis must be condemned. The crisis is about the single threat to our democracy today. It also casts doubt on Jonathan’s already tainted Presidency. The President must as a matter of urgency rein in all his out-of-control and self-appointed spokespersons who by their utterances threaten the corporate existence of Nigeria.
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