Former Governor of Rivers State, Rt Hon Rotimi Chibuike Amaechi a Nigerian of Ikwerre extraction, an international figure of repute, a recipient of the prestigious national award of Commander of the Order of the Niger (CON) and an Associate Fellow of the United Nations Institute for Training & Research (UNITAR), Geneva, Switzerland; was born on May, 27, 1965; but due to exigency of his office as Federal Minister of Transportation, he was outside the country on this auspicious day of his birthday attending to issues pertaining to how to improve the nation’s transportation system. But Nigerians – particularly his political associates under the auspices of the Conscious Reformers Assembly (CRA), in collaboration with some other associations – gathered together in Port Harcourt on June 17, 2017 to honour this great son of Nigeria, whose love and zeal for his fatherland is legendary. The highlight of the occasion was the 52nd Birthday Lecture and Symposium entitled “Amaechi: The Man Ahead of His Times”.
I must confess that I was so fascinated by the arrangements for this epochal occasion that was beamed to the entire world through the Channels TV Network. The theme of the colloquium was ‘Amaechi: The Man Ahead of His Times’. The fact remains that the speakers, and those in attendance, did justice to the man, Amaechi, who is ahead of his time. But sadly most of the great views postulated by the Guest Speakers was not properly and widely published by the Organisers as expected of such a great event and as one of the authorities on the Rivers State politics particularly with biasness on the issue of who Amaechi truly is, I will be doing injustice to the world if I fail to appropriately address and present the issues that actually make Amaechi as a man ahead of his time in the proper perspective, which warranted this treatise. Apart from this, the need of this attempt becomes imperative at least to correct the erroneous impression been put across mostly by the PDP Chieftains with Governor Wike of Rivers State as the major culprit that Amaechi’s eight years as the Governor of Rivers State was totally a waste.
Amaechi’s Humble Beginnings:
The family of Amaechi in Ubima, Ikwerre Local Government Area of Rivers State, was on May 27, 1965 blessed with the birth of a son who unbeknownst to all would become a force to reckon with in Nigeria’s political firmament even before his 52nd birthday. He was named Chibuike, which means ‘God is all Powerful’ and Rotimi, an abridged version of Oluwadurotimi, meaning ‘the Lord stands by me’, while Amaechi means ‘who knows tomorrow?’ Remember the popular phrase, what is in a name? One does not need to be a sage to know that all the meanings embedded in his name are playing out in the acts and arts of politics in Amaechi’s life.
Rising from obscurity and state imposed persecutions to Limelight – the story of Amaechi
Amaechi, as he himself has unequivocally said on several occasions, was not born into opulence. As a child his family experienced real hardship and he admits going through several challenges that have helped to shape his perception of life. His determination to ensure equal access to education for every Rivers child and bridge the gap between the privileged and underprivileged children in the state is unprecedented. Whenever the occasion demands, Amaechi would not hesitate to point out that though he came from an underprivileged background, his was a modest family that inculcated in him the virtues of honesty, humility and sheer doggedness to succeed.
To give an insight into some of the experiences he had to go through in order to be educated and which perhaps may very well be the reason behind his passion to provide free education for all children in Rivers State, rich and poor during his period as Governor of Rivers State, Amaechi said in an interview: “I grew up in Port Harcourt as a young boy, had my primary, secondary and tertiary education in Port Harcourt and so I can speak firsthand about this city. I was not from a rich home. I used to pick food from Olu Obasanjo road – ‘Man must wack’ as we called it then. I hawked at different times for my parents in this city. After God, I owe my growth to Port Harcourt. I don’t know how many people in my cabinet that could have experienced poverty like I did. I grew up at No.18, Chibu Street. I moved from there to Nnamdi Azikwe road. Later, I lived with one of my friends in one of the creek villages near Port Harcourt. And I knew that my parents suffered a lot. With tears, they were looking for money to pay for my school fees, buy me uniforms, bags and all that. When I was in the university, I used to tell the girls that ‘none of you looked at my face because I was wearing one shirt, one pair of trousers almost every day with a sandal’. On Fridays, we would wash it and we wouldn’t move out at all on Saturday to enable it dry; Sam Okah and myself. Then it would dry on Saturday, but on Sunday, we were back to life; wearing the same shirt and the same trousers. How many of those in the cabinet passed through that?” This is the pathetic story of the man that is driven by unquenchable passion for a better Rivers State and greater Nigeria.
Amaechi: The Man Ahead of His Time and His Audacity
Rt. Hon. Chibuike Amaechi a humanist, administrator par excellence, visionary, egalitarian, radical, respected, a pragmatist and exemplary leader is an alumnus of the University of Port Harcourt in Rivers State. He was the Rivers State Speaker of the State House of Assembly from 1999-2007; Chairman, conference of speakers of State Houses of Assembly in Nigeria (1999 – 2000), Governor of Rivers State (2007 – 2015), two time Chairman of the Governors’ Forum in Nigeria from 2011 to 2015. A winner of several awards including the Commander of the Order of the Niger, CON and is currently the Minister of Transportation of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. These feats alone put him ahead of his time but read on to see other facts that truly mark him as a man ahead of his time.
What Men Who Were Ahead of their Times said about Amaechi:
Men like Amaechi, who conquered their past and rose from obscurity to limelight, always survive to live their lives ahead of their times. This special specie of creatures have one common principle in life – selflessness in their services to humanity. This was expounded by former President of United States of America, John F Kennedy, in his famous quote, “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.” Another great child of this world, D. Suresh, made a statement that was not too far from Kennedy’s. He said: “Don’t expect the government to find solutions for you. Assist the government in finding solutions.” In line with these patriotic statements by these great men who probably had Amaechi of Nigeria in mind and the role he is to play in the political life of the nation, based on the fact that at a period Nigeria was at a crossroad, as regards her future in the hands of corrupt and visionless leaders and when it was risky to challenge the status-quo or the government of the day on any issue, Amaechi risked his life to team up with some other great leaders to rescue Nigeria from the dungeon she was, under the then PDP leadership. The pivotal role he played in bringing about the current political dispensation in Nigeria and the patriotic zeal and willingness to sacrifice his blood for a better and greater Nigeria, puts him among men who truly were/are ahead of their times.
Another man that lived ahead of his time was Booker T Washington. According to this great leader of leaders, with Amaechi in mind, he postulated: “I have learned that success is to be measured not so much by the position that one has reached in life as by the obstacles which he has had to overcome while trying to succeed.” Like Amaechi who overcame rough and challenging obstacles to become what he is by today, Washington on the other hand was able to successfully rise above slavery to become a renowned educator, activist and Black America’s first power-broker. Although once a highly controversial figure, he was the most influential black leader of the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
Another man who lived ahead of his time was the former President of the Republic of Zambia, Dr. Kenneth Kaunda and during his visit to Rivers State described the leadership of Amaechi as the Governor of Rivers State as a focused one. Dr. Kaunda noted that with the focused leadership of Governor Amaechi, Rivers State would continue to be of service to humanity for many years to come.
The Deputy Speaker of Ugandan Parliament and Chairperson of CWP, Hon Rebecca Kadaga, lauded the developmental efforts and policies of Governor Amaechi, especially those geared towards improving the lot of children and women, saying that the issues already canvassed confirm that what the CWP was set to achieve are already in place in Rivers State.
Another great mind who commented on what makes Amaechi as a man ahead of his time was the former Israeli Prime Minister, Ehud Olmert and according to him: “The impression that I always get when I come to Africa is that these countries have enormous potential and your country and your State (Rivers) have enormous potential and I think that you happen to have at this time in history also, a dynamic, energetic and capable leadership that can make the dreams of building up the State into a reality of life for the 5.1 million residents in Rivers State that want their lives to be of much higher and greater quality.”
While to the then United States Consul General in Lagos, Mr. Jeffrey Hawkins, while exchanging ideas with some journalists stated, “I must commend Governor Rotimi Amaechi of Rivers State for embarking on numerous people-oriented projects and showing enthusiasm on Niger Delta issues. We are very appreciative of all that Amaechi has done. We are quite clear that addressing the issues of the Niger Delta, the challenges require focusing on things like education development, agriculture, health, all sorts of issues, and the governor was kind enough to show us”.
Some of the few landmark cases that truly put Amaechi as a man ahead of his time
- The Judiciary and His most celebrated Supreme Court ruling
I must reiterate that the issue that actually catapulted Amaechi into the national limelight and marked him not only as an institution in the politics of Nigeria but one whose inputs can’t be swept off the carpet was when he encountered his major political challenge after convincingly winning the PDP Rivers State gubernatorial ticket in 2007 but was denied to fly the flag of the party for the 2007 general elections under a very controversial circumstance of the K-leg episode. This again afforded him the opportunity to demonstrate why he is a man ahead of his time.
For avoidance of doubt, despite Amaechi’s landslide victory at the primaries, where he clinched 6,527 of the 6,575 possible votes while seven other aspirants that included political heavyweights like Hon Chief Austin Okpara, a former Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives, late Senator Martin Yellowe, Pawariso Horsfall and Mr. Chris Orji shared the remaining 48 votes among themselves. Amaechi’s name was subsequently forwarded to the INEC on December 14, 2006 in compliance with Section 32(1) & (2) of the Electoral Act 2006. INEC, thereafter, duly published Amaechi’s name as the gubernatorial candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party in Rivers State. The story, however, took a different turn when, speaking at the presentation of the party flag to its gubernatorial candidates at the Liberation Stadium, Port Harcourt, former President, Gen Olusegun Obasanjo (rtd), declared that Amaechi’s candidacy had ‘k-leg. Amaechi after this sought legal redress for his travails. Suffice to say, Amaechi went on self-exile to Ghana, and the powers that be further showed their contempt for him by selecting his cousin, Sir Celestine Omehia, who neither purchased nor filled a form, as PDP flag-bearer in his stead.
Amaechi’s vindication came with the October 25, 2007 landmark ruling by the Nigerian Supreme Court, declaring him as not only the authentic flag-bearer of PDP but also ordered that he be sworn-in immediately to replace Omehia, who had previously been sworn-in on May 29, 2007 as the Governor of Rivers State. Thus, Amaechi became the first and only person to occupy the office of governor in Nigeria without standing for election. In explaining the ruling, the Supreme Court has since stated that it is the party that contests elections and that the PDP won the gubernatorial elections, and that, consequently, Amaechi, being the rightful candidate, should assume power as the governor of Rivers State.
Explaining this great feat better my good friend, Ken O.Olumati a legal counsel based in Port Harcourt in an article he titled, ‘Ameachi’s Debt to the Law’ captured what Amaechi has done to improve the judiciary in Nigeria. He stated that, “It is noteworthy that the various decisions of the Supreme Court and Court of Appeal in Governor Amaechi’s case were reported in Parts 1040 and 1065 of the Nigeria Weekly Law Reports. In Part 1065 alone contains six decisions on Amaechi’s case; three by the Supreme Court and three by the Court of Appeal. This in itself underscores the significance of Amaechi’s battles through the courts. Few cases have enjoyed similar attention in the annals of Nigeria’s legal institution. Some of them include the case between Amodu Tijani V Secretary, Southern Nigeria, and the late Oba Oyekan’s legal battle for the Obaship of Lagos in the 1950’s, which went as far as Her Majesty’s Privy Council before a clear winner was installed. In recent memory, the case of the late Chief Gani Fawehinmi against the Nigeria Bar Association as well as his numerous court battles against the Military Government of former President Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida are cases that can be compared to that of Amaechi”.
If this feat alone doesn’t put Amaechi as a man ahead of his time then I wonder what else is expected of a man to gain ascendance to this special class of people.
- The Greater Port Harcourt City
Another area that marks Amaechi as a man ahead of his time was the bold step his administration took to initiate and build a new brand and mega City that has one of the best modern stadiums and other edifices only obtainable in modern cities of Europe after every effort to rebuild some of the creeks and shanties in Port Harcourt proved abortive. This man who was ahead of his time on assumption of office as the Governor of Rivers State saw the challenges of congestion in Port Harcourt and in 2009, ensured that a law was passed by the Rivers State House of Assembly so that his administration can spread development to the surrounding communities as part of the effort to decongest the Port Harcourt metropolis that was founded in 1912 by Frederick Lugard the then Governor of Northern Nigeria Protectorate and Southern Nigeria protectorate name after the then British Secretary State for the colonies, Lewis Harcourt.
After the discovery of crude oil in Oloibiri in 1956, Port Harcourt exported the first shipload from Nigeria in 1958. Port Harcourt became the centre of the Nigerian oil economy and it subsequently reaped benefits of its associations with the petroleum industry by undergoing modernisation and urbanisation. Port Harcourt’s growth is further due to its position as the commercial centre and foremost industrial city of the former Eastern Region ; its position in the Niger Delta; and its importance as the centre of social and economic life in Rivers State. Thus, to minimize consequences of rapid development, a master plan for Port Harcourt was produced with the primary task of providing the framework for physical planning, roads, housing, water system, electricity, drainage amongst others. Realising that the success of physical planning depends, to a very large measure, on the human factor, policies on health, welfare and productivity of its population were formulated ultimately for the development of the city’s total resources, as well as the country’s.
Amaechi’s Greater Port Harcourt was to spread to eight local government areas that include Port Harcourt, Okrika , Obio-Akpor , Ikwerre, Oyigbo, Ogu–Bolo, Etche and Eleme with total population estimated at 2,000,000 as of 2009, making it one of the largest metropolitan areas in Nigeria.
Let us listen to what Amaechi said about his dream mega city; “The Mega City, also known as the Greater Port Harcourt City is one of the biggest most single construction project in this part of the country. The Greater Port Harcourt City dream is now real, despite slowing down due to dwindling revenue.
This project was planned an eight-year rolling budget knowing that the mega city is capable of growing the state’s economy by three per cent (GDP) through massive infrastructural projects such as the New Stadium, New UST, major roads, bulk infrastructure, sewage system, water, power, and housing amongst others.
Already, construction of the all-important M10 Road expected to be an economic highway from the Port Harcourt International Airport in Omagwa to Onne seaport which houses the world’s fastest growing oil and gas free zone. There is also the M1 Road expected to open the new city to the south. There are different housing schemes going on there including the 2500 unit housing estate as well as the 1080 Mixed Use Housing Units”.
Again, if this feat doesn’t put Amaechi in the class of men ahead of their times then we are not being fair to him.
- The making of Port Harcourt Book Festival
Another feat that marks Amaechi ahead of his peers was the making of Port Harcourt Book Festival, formerly known as Garden City Literary Festival remains one of the city’s most important and popular events since its inception in 2008. Established by the government of Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi, the yearly gathering improves local literacy levels, promotes reading habits among denizens, and benefits exhibitors seeking wider audience. Throughout its annual run, Port Harcourt Book Festival has hosted renowned publishers such as Heinemann, Learn Africa Plc, Africana First Publishers and EPP Books Services. The festival currently continues to draw writers, literary connoisseurs, booksellers and publishers from every walk of life to the city. In July 2012, UNESCO, IPA, IBF and IFLA named Port Harcourt the
World Book Capital for the year 2014, making her the 14th city in the world to be selected as World Book Capital and the first in Black Africa.
- PORT HARCOURT AS UNESCO WORLD BOOK CAPITAL 2014
Port Harcourt, the capital of Rivers State of Nigeria under the tenure of Amaechi, played a historic role when it hosted the US-Nigeria Bilateral Commission on October 16 and 17, 2012, thereby becoming the first city outside the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja, to do so. This event is a top bill in international rating and the strategic relevance of the Gulf of Guinea area makes the meeting in Port Harcourt even more important. The United States Deputy Secretary of State and two Assistant Secretaries led the US delegation. On the side of Nigeria, the US-Nigeria Bilateral Commission is viewed with seriousness, especially by the Nigerian Governors Forum (NGF) led by Amaechi.
It would be recalled that UNESCO, moved by the revolutionary feats of Amaechi in the education sector, crowned Port Harcourt the 2014 World Book Capital City in April 2014, beating ten other great cities that include Oxford in England and Moscow in Russia. For this to be achieved against all odds and challenges simply demonstrates that Amaechi was a visionary and focused leader who has received accolades in this regard by world leaders. His administration has, in addition, promoted overall United Nations activities in the South-South geo-political zone, through the provision of an outstanding facility that can house over 15 UN agencies in Port Harcourt. As a result, there are five UN agencies in Rivers State at the moment; and more are expected to follow in due course.
Port Harcourt’s reign as World Book Capital 2014 began with the handover by Bangkok at an impressive ceremony at Hotel Presidential in the Rivers State capital. Dignitaries at the event included former Governor Amaechi, former Head of State, General Abdulsalami Abubakar; Nobel Laureate, Prof Wole Soyinka; UNESCO Director-General, Ms Irina Bokova; former World Bank Vice-President, Africa, Dr Obiageli Ezekwesili; wife of the former Governor, Dame Judith Amaechi; Engr Tele Ikuru, former Deputy Governor of Rivers State; Rt Hon O.D Amaechree, then speaker of State House of Assembly, members of Rivers State Executive Council, senators and members of the House of Representatives from the state. This feat by Port Harcourt in becoming the very first African city south of the Sahara chosen as World Book Capital based on public voting, beating ten other great cities that include Oxford in England and Moscow in Russia, is not only commendable but puts Amaechi as a man ahead of his time.
The remaining part of the feats that put Amaechi ahead of his peers will be listed in the concluding section two of this treatise to be released within the week.
Eze Chukwuemeka Eze is a Media Consultant based in Port Harcourt and can be reached through [email protected]