“The lesson in my story is that all Nigerians must have part of my spirit which is resistance,” Governor Rotimi Amaechi yesterday told dignitaries that gathered for his 50th anniversary at a lecture in Port-Harcourt.
It was indeed fitting that in the epic struggle by rivals of President Goodluck Jonathan ahead of the 2015 presidential election, that they found a fitting mould in the person of Governor Rotimi Amaechi to lead the fight against the titanic Peoples Democratic Party, PDP which had projected itself to lead the country for 60 years in the first instance.
The choice of Amaechi to lead the presidential campaign of the All Progressives Congress, APC was indeed helped by his own past struggles in the trenches outside government. Even in government, his populist crusades for the enthronement of an egalitarian society that have seen rich and poor in Rivers State access the same standards of education and healthcare were indicators of a rebel in Government House.
Amaechi’s exposure to class struggle came first as a student activist when he fought against perceived harsh government policies. Remarkably, one of his most prominent struggles against authoritarian government policies were his agitations as an official of the National Association of Nigerian Students, NANS during which he fought in the trenches against the policies of the Muhammadu Buhari regime.
By the time he graduated in 1987 from the University of Port Harcourt, with a degree in English and Literature, he had also served as the President of the National Association of Rivers State Students (NURSS). His introduction into partisan politics had to wait until the onset of the Third Republic on the banner of the National Republic Convention, NRC and he subsequently became the Special Assistant to the Deputy Governor of the State, Dr. Peter Odili.
Ahead of the commencement of the Fourth Republic, Amaechi became the state Secretary of the Democratic Party of Nigeria (DPN) caretaker committee and following that, at the death of General Sanni Abacha, Amaechi joined the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP on whose ticket he was elected to the State House of Assembly.
Amaechi was to emerge as the speaker of the House of Assembly and won the record of being the only man to serve two straight terms as speaker in any of the 36 state Houses of Assembly. Amaechi’s political fibre was demonstrated in the days leading to the 2007 governorship election when after winning the ticket of the PDP he was removed on the assertion of him or his ticket having a K-leg.
Amaechi fought back and in the process, the once solid relationship he had with his one-time political mentor, Dr. Odili was severed. Amaechi’s doggedness eventually paid off in late October 2007 when the Supreme Court upheld him as the valid holder of the PDP ticket who should have been sworn in as governor.
He may have been the last of the 2007 set of governors to have taken office, however, Amaechi’s blueprint on taking office put him indisputably among the leaders in terms of performance in office.
The about 500 primary schools he built are comparable to the best in the world, the model secondary schools would put many local universities to shame, the 128 primary health care centres dwarf the prestige and sophistication of many hospitals, and the agricultural revolution he stimulated through the Songhai scheme are laudable achievements that put Amaechi on the pinnacle of history as among the best governors to have passed through Rivers State.
His achievements in the first term, his accusers allege, were tempered by the politics he played outside the state. His insistence on assuming his mandate for a second term in office as the chairman of the Nigerian Governors Forum, NGF was a reflection of his initial struggle for his governorship mandate in 2007.
Again, in his battle with President Goodluck Jonathan over the leadership of the NGF, Amaechi showed doggedness and unwavering commitment to the principles of democracy seemingly putting the president and his associates to pressure in their struggle to prove that 16 was a greater number than 19.
There is no doubt that the emotions that flowed from that struggle inevitably led to the defection of the five governors from the PDP, a development that nearly everyone now acknowledges signposted the defeat of President Jonathan and his party in the recent round of general elections.
Amaechi is, however, an ordinary man. He wins some and loses some. He may have lost the governorship battle in Rivers State with the victory of his one-time subordinate and chief of staff, Nyesom Wike in the recent governorship election. But it was a victory that came through a process that has been described by some as flawed by opponents of the PDP.
That seeming dent was not regarded as a defect for Amaechi yesterday. As he said, victory achieved at the cost of one human life is no victory. At 50, Amaechi has indeed put behind him the life of hustle-bustle, putting on the dignity that comes with life on the Golden plane.