The Real Sins of Rotimi Amaechi, By Uche Igwe

imageThat the governor of Rivers State, Chief Nyesom Wike inaugurated a probe panel to investigate the former governor Rotimi Amaechi did not take me by surprise. You will only be surprised if you were not around that state before and during the last elections. I was there and I saw the ferocity with which the battle was fought. It was like war. I wonder if the current drama in Rivers State took the former Chairman of the Nigerian Governors’ Forum by surprise too. If you were taken aback by the probe announcement and related actions of the state government then you are at best ignorant of the political undercurrents in that state. Let me come out plain. The average politician in Rivers State and in the Niger Delta wants Amaechi punished severely. They have many reasons, but I will talk about two of them. The first reason is that Amaechi made them to suffer withdrawal syndrome when the Ubima born politician blocked their access to public treasury for almost eight years. The second and probably more significant is that he supported a ‘stranger’ against his brother in the last Presidential elections.
Now, let me explain myself. Those who are familiar with politics in Rivers State know how it used to be before the Supreme Court ruling that brought in Rotimi Amaechi to power in 2007. The Brick House, as the seat of government in that state is known and called, used to be a pilgrimage centre and a destination of all manner of characters nationwide. It was a place with a reputation for sharing. You only need to get access and you will take your own. Politicians from Rivers state got regular patronages in cash and in kind. No one bothered about any infrastructural projects and no one talked about those. One way or the other the trappings of the state will reach you or your wife or your friend. Even militants who kidnapped expatriates got huge ransoms paid to them by government. Middlemen, security agents and negotiators who worked to free captors also got their own share. Every one of them smiled to the bank while the ordinary people suffered. Traditional rulers, clergy men, youth and women groups from all parts of the country stopped by under the pretext of presenting one award or another to get their own share. Bazaar was made out of state funds with superlative recklessness and everybody knew it including the President at that time. It did not matter much as everyone got a little bite although development was halted. There was this case where one big politician was given money in three different currencies- US dollars, British Pounds and Euros. He had to go to a bureau de change to ascertain how much he was given. Citizens were outraged but kept sealed lips. The regular joke at that time was that “it was bad table manners to talk when you have food in your mouth”.
The system was operating almost seamlessly until one supreme court ruling landed one ‘rebellious’ man from exile in Ghana. As soon as Amaechi arrived the state he was determined to stop the mindless squandering of public resources and commit a greater part of it to infrastructural development. He had to step on many toes. Many politicians were upset by Mr. Amaechi’s new style which had its own shortcomings and was far from perfect. As someone who himself was a product of the same system, he tried to reintroduce a new channel known as ‘Rivers Money for Rivers People’ through which he encouraged indigenous companies with technical capability to come forward to be considered for contracts from the state government. He wanted some trickle-down effect from oil money for indigenes who could deliver service. Of course that effort failed as many politicians with little or no technical competence hastily put together companies, collected fat government contract and disappeared with the money for mobilisation to Dubai for holidays. They never came back to do the jobs. The former governor fumed endlessly and later cancelled the program. How dare you? Many politicians exclaimed at that time. It meant that the major access points of these politicians to government patronage were blocked. For them enjoying government patronage was an entitlement that they were used to. They starved for eight years and have not forgiven Mr. Amaechi till date.
Secondly and probably more grievously was the decision of the former governor to join the All Progressives Congress (APC) and later to support President Muhammadu Buhari to defeat former President Jonathan. This very action of the former governor made his people extremely bitter. It was not limited to politicians only. It cut across the population. For them, although the former President was not performing, his brother Amaechi should not have joined others to fight him. Even among Mr. Amaechi’s cabinet there were a few people who were very angry that he was not supporting President Jonathan but they could not say so in public. Some of them might have even supported the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) in the state one way or another. Many of them who reluctantly crossed over with him to the All Progressives Congress (APC) had to adopt a siddon-look approach during the massive rigging that was allegedly masterminded by the PDP in the state. Others simply took advantage of the crisis to make money while pretending to support their principal. Every one of them commended Mr. Amaechi’s developmental efforts but always concluded by saying that the man would have left a very impressive record if he did not decide to fight with his brother. The public utterances of the former governor against the President was the final nail on his public perception in the region. That was the unanimous view not only across the state but across the Niger Delta region.
Now, when eventually the former President lost the elections, many of the politicians swore to teach him a lesson. Somehow people from our region caught the flu spread by former Amaechi’s supporters like his former Deputy Tele Ikuru that the APC is a party of insurgents, anarchists with an anti-Niger Delta agenda. The general feeling that elections in Rivers state were neither free nor fair is something many Rivers people are familiar with. They knew about it and they saw it. Many of them did not vote. The alleged thumb printing happened in their neighbourhood and they were aware. Yet they ccould not say anything because as far as the outcome did not favour Amaechi’s candidate or his party the APC. Many of them saw the gubernatorial election as an opportunity to repay Amaechi in his own coins for betraying Jonathan. And they did so by submitting willingly to be disenfranchised and looking the other way while the rigging lasted.
Today politicians that suffered these two levels are the ones that surround Nyesom Wike. And so what do you expect? The Obio Okpor born politician also understands that he benefited from their anger and so must strive to continuously placate them. Especially with the amount of illegalities committed in the past elections and with a possibility of a re-run, he must keep these ‘strong’ men beside him. If he must continue to enjoy their support, he must continue to do two things. First is that he must reintroduce the culture of sharing of public funds and regular patronage to get them back on their feet. The second is that he must bruise and abuse Amaechi at all costs, smear him with corruption allegations and submerge his legacy as much as possible in controversies. Therefore, if anyone imagines that the harassment of Amaechi will stop soon, that person should better have a rethink. It will not. Nyesom Wike’s government will continue to dig up mud until President Buhari and those in Abuja will no longer recognize Amaechi. That is the target. For them, Mr. Amaechi has committed so many ‘sins’ and it is now time to pay him dearly. That is their own way of seeking legitimacy from a politically wounded population.

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