No particular description seems to capture his predilection for confrontation. But as he turns 50 today, Governor Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi of Rivers State displays an uncommon courage, writes Olawale Olaleye
“The man dies in him who keeps silent in the face of tyranny”.
-Professor Wole Soyinka
The quote above is a very famous one – indeed, notoriously famous. It has become so familiar that some of those who like to reference it do not even comprehend or can hardly make more intelligible, its literal connotation. The headline is not as familiar though. It is neither original to this article nor its writer. It is Professor Wole Soyinka’s – borrowed for the purpose of this tribute to a man so deserving because it seems to fit – aptly.
In a recently published book by the duo of Dr. Chidi Amuta and Dr. Seyi Ogunbiyi, titled: “The Dynamics of Change: The Amaechi Years” – the foreword of which was written by Professor Soyinka – the revered poet defines courage with some sort of elevation from the ordinary dictionary meaning. His definition screams with poetic optimism.
With his experience and years devoted to the many shades of struggle, Soyinka seems awed by Governor Rotimi Amaechi’s distinctive courage – the type that dignifies the commonsense revolution. Such mesmerizing disbelief, perhaps, informs the title of his foreword – The Tyranny of Courage.
What more can be edifying than these excerpts from the wordsmith? “In a nation where the meaning of courage is the very act of daily survival, this is perhaps understandable, but it is necessary also to remind the thinking part of any electorate that there exist others in the ranks of leadership, who refuse to pander to the lowest common denominator of public expectations. They lay the foundation for a viable future, even at the risk of earning hostility, even of the violent nature of others on their or other rungs, of the shared ladder of power. Those proponents of the live and let share attitude to governance cynically promote a culture of handout dependency among vulnerable sectors of the public.
“They advertise the opposing school of governance as enemies of the people, and forge in them bonds of loyalty to whatever passes for power. Around their orbit is woven a network of corruption that is self-proliferating since it draws more and more of the same tendency into itself, swelling its ranks while the resisters are isolated, sometimes pilloried, hunted and even wherever possible, eliminated as deviants from the norm.”
Obviously writing with the ease of pleasure about a man after his heart, Soyinka notes further: “To stand up to a bully, no one will deny that this takes courage – be it as a class pupil against an aggressive classmate or overbearing school prefect, a driver’s apprentice against an over-muscled garage tout, a battered wife – or husband – against an abusive and violent spouse. Even a factory floor worker tied to slave wages has it in him to refuse to act slavishly in relating to the foreman or factory owner.
“It requires only that attribute that is common to all humanity – courage. Few draw upon that inner resource, however. In any non-dictatorial form of governance, where all are equal before the vote, and earn legitimacy within clearly demarcated zones of authority no matter the tier of governance, conduct that requires exceptional courage in interaction should be totally incongruous. Yet, the choice of resistance and surrender constantly looms as a factor of survival, and many succumb to force majure.”
In his concluding submission, however, Soyinka explicitly situated the thrust of his discourse in a particularly lucid context. Here: “We must laud those whose governance conduct is marked by a consistency in the promotion of the seeming intangibles that manifest themselves as the pillars of productive self-confidence within society, at the head of which we count Freedom. Volition. Choice.
“This is where governance courage is most openly displayed and most easily betrayed – in the ability to say, ‘yes, I am a part of this, but that is not what I was elected to be part of.’ Then leadership courage, within or outside governance, transfers back to, and animates follower, so that when a familiar voice is heard saying, ‘Let us march,’ it finds the followers not merely ready, but miles ahead.”
How you look at Amaechi is entirely a matter of choice. This also depends largely on which side of the divide you are. But whether you are for him or against him – one thing is certain – you are not going to run away from the fact that you have an unusual personality to deconstruct.
He is not your quintessential politician but the Rivers State Governor is from all intents and purposes, your everyday guy. His demeanor reminds one of a humble upbringing and a man who in his eight years in office lived a life so ungubernatorial – completely down-to-earth, compassionate, unbelievably honest and humble. Although he demystified the glamour of office, he however did so without undermining the respect that was due the office.
Naturally, at the mention of the title, “His Excellency” much less “Governor XYZ”, the plausible mental stimulation of a near-deity adoration of both the office and person in question is automatic – just at name mention. In this part of the world and especially a third world nation, leaders at different levels are deemed next to God and as such, hero-worshipped.
Need you, therefore, ponder the larger-than-life predisposition of political leaders in the country? Not as such. It is evident in their lifestyle and everyday disposition. Their position of power and money as well as carriage in office raises niggling concerns in other climes because it is primitive and unschooled – sometimes unimaginable.
But where an individual elects to differ from this argotic and uncivilised order – given the same circumstances of power and money – those already indoctrinated into this establishmentarian pattern and psyche are not likely to see it differently. A culture has already been inculcated and a lifestyle assumed a circle of its own, thereof. Change, as a result, is seen in different light – the infiltration of an otherwise bad culture.
Amaechi, the maverick Governor of Rivers State is unlike a majority of his colleague-governors. “I am not a big man governor”, he is quick to say with full responsibility. He is original to himself and honest to a fault, sometimes without discretion. He is too trusting.
In the last eight years, Amaechi has lived every day of his life, knowing full well that his reign would end someday. As a matter of fact, it will end in two days. Like him or hate him, it does not eliminate the fact that from the creeks of the Niger Delta comes this freethinking idol and constructive fighter, who not only saw tomorrow but predicted the change that is now gliding across the horizon.
When placed side-by-side with the age of Nigeria’s founding fathers, Amaechi is probably a late starter. But he knew from the scratch what he wanted for himself. He also has a distinct mental picture of the Nigeria of his dream. Thus, his standing up to the authorities was not because he needed to make headlines or craved overnight celebrity status. Does a man who had been speaker and governor for sixteen years at a stretch really need to wrestle for attention? Not even in the cave age.
But Amaechi saw on time that the nation was heading for the rocks and this was buoyed by the opportunity of being an insider. He knew the leadership lacked competence and capacity and was innately dishonest. He had seen with evidence that an industry had been created in corruption. And for him, he could see that even from the point of view of rudimentary economic literature, a majority of the Goodluck Jonathan policies were unsustainable. And he cried out. But it earned him an ignoble tag – enemy of the state.
Since then, his roads have been rough – pretty rough. There were temptations as much as there were persecutions. He was caught between options and offers – sometime horrible options and offers he would be unable to squeal even to close allies for doubts of consequences. For toeing the path he took, his life and those of his immediate family members were unsafe. But he cared less. Somebody had to lead the battle and he offered himself, unsolicited.
However corroborating his courage is vision. Ascending office in October 2007, Amaechi had a clear cut vision what to do with his mandate. Education was top on the list, then infrastructure renewal and development. He wanted to develop power and he did.
What about capacity building and human development? He has a lot to reel out from that sector. Security was one of his biggest feats. Amaechi is just another 21st century leader, who knows what power his and what to do with it. He sees more the positive side to power than the impunity it confers on the no-do-wells.
Eight years ago, the Rivers story can never be the same again. His critics cannot fault his development ideas. They may fault his politics, especially as he does not encourage corruption, Amaechi would rather address empowerment than enrich an insignificant few in the name of politics or sustaining the tradition of “business as usual”. Amaechi came at the appointed time, saw and conquered with evidenced performance sheet.
Today, at 50, his idea of a much needed change that has shown the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) the way out of power is worth celebrating. Not only did he believe there was the need for change, Amaechi had argued two years ago that true and defining change was only feasible with a Muhammadu Buhari as president.
“Even if it means throwing all of us in jail, he is the only one that can do it for now because the stable is too dirty,” Amaechi had said two years ago.
Not a few understood why he went all out during the campaigns. It was not because he was the campaign DG, Amaechi thought he owed Nigeria the duty of showing the PDP the way out of Aso Rock, the presidential villa. His investment in the Project Nigeria is incalculable and he never bothered. Even when the pretenders within the progressive family did not believe in the retired general and were mulling other options because they feared he would not fly, Amaechi was fixed and he stayed the cause – it is Buhari or nobody.
Looking back, it is pertinent to conclude that it is only with grace that Amaechi has turned 50 today. Apart from being one of the biggest and genuine winners in the Buhari presidency, he has shown leadership with dignity, trust and the fear of God. He has proven to be an example to emulate in time of crisis and commonsense revolution. Amaechi is a fulfilled man at 50 even though being courageous comes with its price. But in the final analysis, the result is always worth the trouble.
Happy 50th to a man, who truly typifies the tyranny of courage!