About That N5million Governor Amaechi ‘Gave’ Us, By Stanley Azuakola
As part of activities marking his 49th birthday, Gov. Rotimi Amaechi of Rivers invited some journalists and social media influencers to a morning of engagement at the Rivers Government House. At least 60 people, including this writer, were invited for the event. There was no way I was going to miss the opportunity to engage with the governor who I have criticized, praised and written about perhaps more than any other politician in the country with the exception of President Goodluck Jonathan.
The event held last Wednesday morning, a day after the governor’s birthday on May 27th. By evening that day, I heard from social media that we were each given the sum of N250,000 by the governor for attending the event. By the next evening, I heard that it wasn’t N250,000 we received, but N5 million.
*Diaris God o*
By now, anybody with half a brain would have realised that the rumour was false; anybody with rudimentary knowledge of cheques would know that the one being posted online is fake; and anybody who is not just trying to score dishonest propaganda points would have desisted from spreading the falsehood. But Nigerian politics is cruel like that – throw all the dirt you can, maybe one will stick.
For the record: The organisers handled my flight and hotel bills, but at no time was any cash received by me or even suggested. So if you clicked on this to hear about my N5 million, that’s all there is to know – you can stop reading now. But if you are interested in my observations from the event, well, read on.
The event was very open. The guest list had not just neutrals and journalists, but also strong partisans within both the governor’s party (APC) and the main opposition (PDP). I was surprised when some introduced themselves as “opposition”. As a result of the conflicting interests in the hall, the mood was tense; the kind of atmosphere which makes newshounds like me excited and expectant, knowing that fireworks will explode at anytime. And they did.
The first question thrown at Gov. Amaechi was from a Rivers man who is not a big supporter of the governor. He was tough and stood his ground, pushing the governor and at a point becoming deliberately intransigent. Here’s one line from their feisty exchange:
“If it’s only by performance, people from your local government, Etche, have no reason not to support me, true or false?” the governor asked.
“Depending on who you’re asking Mr. Governor. From where I’m standing, that’s not true,” the young man replied.
At a point when Gov. Amaechi was giving a long, winding response, the man – still standing – cut him off, saying: “Governor, that’s not the question I asked.”
Hot! Hot! Hot! I loved it.
It was during that exchange that the governor made a statement, which I subscribe to: “Don’t tell me to put billboards announcing that I did this or that project. I am paid salary to do the things I do. I don’t have to commission projects. I only do it when the opposition starts saying nonsense.”
Yeah, it was that kind of event.
Before we began the session, I feared that sycophancy was going to ruin it especially when several people introduced themselves this way: “My name is Ogogoro Panya, a strong and unashamed sycophant of Gov. Amaechi. As far as I am concerned the governor can do no wrong in my eyes. And I’m part of #TheAmaechiIKnow.”
Ha! Na wa!
Let’s get back to Gov. Amaechi. The governor seemed very comfortable with his new party, the APC. There have been stories that behind the scenes, he is looking at reconciling with Pres. Jonathan and moving back to the PDP, but one did not get that vibe at all from interacting with him. “I will NEVER, NEVER defect to the PDP again,” he said. Of course, our politicians are like the wind, incapable of being stable for long, but Amaechi used every opportunity to differentiate between his current and former parties. He said: “I am not saying that the president is a bad person. I am saying that the APC is better than the PDP, and an APC federal administration will be better than a PDP administration.”
The governor was asked why up till this moment the APC does not have a recognised/sellable aspirant for 2015. “We do not have a candidate yet because we all agreed to drop our ambitions on the altar. We want to work towards building a great party first,” the governor said. And to that I say, “Bleh!”
Amaechi and his party men who want to build a “great” party should just get something clear: The 2015 election is NINE months away. Just NINE. There has not even been any significant flirting by interested APC aspirants, not to talk of wooing their party men and ultimately the Nigerian voters, and yet they expect a safe delivery in nine months time! Bleh! The longer it takes the APC to rally round a candidate, the lesser their chances to win in 2015.
One of the PDP/Pres. Jonathan sympathisers at the event, Ross Alabo-George, a newspaper columnist, made a commendable show of defending the president in enemy territory. But it was difficult. His attempt made me realise that the president’s side does not have tangible talking points of what they consider as his main achievements. The exchange between the governor and Alabo-Geoge, will explain this point.
“Tell us the areas you claim Pres. Jonathan has done very well,” Gov. Amaechi asked him.
Alabo-George stammered a bit.
“You see, you are stammering,” Gov. Amaechi said.
“In the area of power the president has done well. Yes, he’s done as good as you have done on your monorail project,” Alabo-George said, smiling briefly.
“No it’s not the same,” Amaechi retorted. “Monorail has an expiry date. The expiry date is December this year. Pres. Jonathan does not have an expiry date for the power problem. I dare him to announce an expiry date.”
The governor’s supporters applauded him. Their man had made a good comeback. I, on the other hand, quietly noted it in my pad. We will definitely hold the governor to account for that statement, because the truth is that the monorail project does not look like one which Amaechi can successfully pull off on time. The idea, brilliant on paper, is taking forever to execute. However Gov. Amaechi and his team believe that trains will run by December. His special adviser on MDGs, Desire Bobmanuel, told me that the project would have gone much farther if not because the governor kept reviewing it. “He wants it to be such that his successor would have no excuse not to continue it. Initially the rail terminal was designed to accommodate one train; the governor asked that it be expanded to accommodate five trains,” said Bobmanuel. I nodded. Like I said, we will be counting down to December.
That sort of differentiation which the governor attempted to do between his rail project and the power project of Pres. Jonathan was the key theme of his engagement that day. He wanted his guests to see at every opportunity that his party offered better than the PDP and that he had delivered more than the president on their separate stages.
“You cannot be in the two sides,” he told a lady who asked if it was possible to support both him and Pres. Jonathan. “The president and I have no personal problem. We only disagree on good governance. You cannot support both good governance and bad one.”
Gov. Amaechi then claimed that past presidents from other zones did more for Rivers state than Pres. Jonathan has managed to do. “Politics is not about brother or sister. It is about interest. Is Jonathan serving the interest of Rivers people? No. The politics of 2015 will be a referendum of the Jonathan government,” he said.
On security, Gov. Amaechi said (and I agree) that: “Look, the president is responsible for the Chibok girls. As someone who swore oath, he is responsible. Any day there is failure in security, you can only hold one man – Pres. Jonathan.”
I agree with Gov. Amaechi on that one. I get dumbfounded when I hear people ask questions like: “Why are they protesting against the FG over #BringBackOurGirls? Is it the president that kidnapped the girls?”
When a ferry sank in South Korea in April, was the South Korean prime minister Chung Hong-won, the one who sank it? Yet he apologised and resigned because according to him, “keeping his post is too great a burden.” Here, nobody takes responsibility for failure, that’s why an incompetent man like Abba Moro is still a federal minister despite the fatal recruitment exercise he conducted. Our government does not apologise for failing to keep to their oath to keep us safe; they only condemn. After condemnation, they gather market women and thugs to harass those who want to peacefully protest on behalf of fellow citizens who would undoubtedly be forgotten otherwise. Sad!
Back to Gov. Amaechi. The governor had another testy exchange with the PDP sympathetic Ross Alabo-George, who is an indigene of Soku, the Kalabari community in Rivers state. Soku is at the centre of the dispute between the governments of Rivers and Bayelsa, as well as the presidency. Alabo-George said that although he is a supporter of Pres. Jonathan, he believes that Gov. Amaechi has not done enough to ensure that the Soku oil wells are not signed away to Bayelsa state. He said Gov. Amaechi should fight more against the president who he supports so that the wells are returned to Rivers. The governor taunted Alabo-George for his twisted logic.
“The day Chibuike Amaechi leaves office and Jonathan returns as president, your people have lost the Soku wells for good,” the governor said.
Amaechi said that he was shocked when the president took the disputed monies realised from the Soku oil wells which had previously been kept in an escrow account and signed them all to Bayelsa, his home state. “If I leave and Rivers state gets a new governor that does not have the ‘liver’, Soku well is gone,” he said.
One thing about Gov. Amaechi is that he passionately defends the actions of his administration whether they are popular or unpopular. It makes it difficult to tell when he’s being honest and when he’s feeding us with bullshit. But the one time that morning when it was clear that the governor was speaking balderdash, was when he was asked of his opinion on the recent exploitative pension law signed by Gov. Godswill Akpabio.
“I also signed a law like that,” he began, before making one of the most ridiculous defences of the law I’ve heard. “I told you I have been governor for seven years and I have no house. My wife will not let me rest about what will happen when we leave office, even inciting my children against me. When I signed that bill, she relaxed,” Amaechi said.
Unacceptable response! Perhaps Gov. Amaechi and his colleagues, who have been signing these pension laws that basically make them governors for life without the corresponding responsibilities, need to be reminded that governance is about service. The governor tried to create the impression that Nigerians have to choose between accepting robbery by these pension laws or robbery by their amassing of wealth in office. We choose none sir.
Public office is a sacrifice for which there can be no such obscene benefit. Bill Clinton, Tony Blair and other world leaders have become wealthy after leaving office through tangible services they are providing, and not because of greedy laws they arm-twisted their parliaments to pass.
Another thing which I would be watching closely from Rivers state is how soon before the governor settles the bills of Rivers students studying abroad on government scholarship. It is unacceptable that the stipends for those kids have become irregular. The Scoop which I edit has received several mails of complaint from the students and their parents over the matter. Without cash for their rents and upkeep, these students mostly from disadvantaged homes find it tough to concentrate on their studies and might become ready tools for crime. Gov. Amaechi promised to treat the issue, and “look for N6 billion” to pay them this week. He complained that Rivers has been experiencing a cash shortfall since monthly allocation dropped from about N20bn to N13bn when the state has a monthly wage bill of about N8.9bn.
I’ll suggest that the state government cut the number of students who get the scholarship subsequently or suspend the scheme for a year or two while some of those benefiting graduate, so that the amount spent on the scheme can be reduced.
The security situation in Rivers has clearly improved ever since the former partisan police commissioner, Joseph Mbu, was transferred. Gov. Amaechi however alleged that even the current commissioner is not being given the free hand to run the command.
“Tell them to allow the police function as the Nigerian police. The president’s wife and Nyesom Wike (education minister) have transferred 13 police DPOs for not playing ball. When I was talking that the president’s wife came here and changed the police commissioner, they said I was talking, but we saw her on TV summon a brigade commander, Borno police commissioner and others over the Chibok girls’ kidnap,” Amaechi said.
I screamed hoarse over that incident when Patience Jonathan summoned senior security officials to her conference room at the same time the president was having a media chat. The audacity of the lady is chilling! Some people thought me rude for calling her out, but I insist that Patience Jonathan’s continuous injection of herself into issues that she has no constitutional authority to intervene in are hurting the president and Nigerians far more than it is helping.
I appreciate Gov. Amaechi’s effort to de-emphasise indigene/foreigner division in Rivers. That nonsense is responsible for some of Nigeria’s great crises. The governor said he is “fighting for citizenship in Rivers state because it will help develop Rivers. When a person stays here for five years he should be qualified to enjoy all the benefits of a citizen. The reason why Lagos is developing is that it’s like a no man’s land.”
Ignorant and selfish people use the indigene/foreigner argument to shield themselves from applying common sense. On Facebook, I shared some photos which I took when we visited one of the Amaechi-built fully boarding secondary schools in Eleme, Rivers. The school is a world class marvel. There were functional laboratories and library; beautiful structures; well-tended environment and just 2 students in a room in the hostel. When I posted the photos, someone said it was “wash” and I would not understand because I was a “foreigner.” The tribalistic clown was so blinded by his bias that he did not realise I hail from Rivers – born, bred and ‘buttered’ – and the first time I left the state for more than a week was when I left to study at the University of Benin.
But even if I was a foreigner, did that also make me blind or my camera faulty? When we visited the school, I broke out from the group and secretly went into some of the rooms to interview the students. I wanted to confirm if they really placed just two students in a room; if the toilets were clean and if they had drugs in their school clinic. The answer was YES. I was pleasantly surprised. I interviewed kids who were withdrawn from federal government colleges, UDSS, and other private schools to attend the state-owned school where tuition is free. And this secondary school was just one of 24 (with seven completed so far) while there are hundreds of completed world class primary schools.
I spoke with a father who had come to visit his daughter. He was so excited; he kept saying “Amaechi should be president of Nigeria.” Interestingly, someone had asked the governor earlier if he would like to run for president. Here’s how he responded: “My party asked everyone to kill ambition so we can build a great party. Besides you know nobody has been president of Nigeria who wanted to be president. So do I want to be president? Leave it for God.”
Follow this writer on Twitter: @stanleyazuakola
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