One does not have to be super-intelligent to recognise that the elaborate social reception held in honour of Mr Rotimi Amaechi, former governor of Rivers State, at the Abuja International Conference Centre on Sunday, August 2, is part of an equally elaborate image laundering scheme for Mr. Amaechi. The guests included Vice President Yemi Osinbajo; Aishatu, wife of President Muhammadu Buhari; Chief John Odigie-Oyegun, national chairman of the ruling All Progressives Congress, APC; serving and former state governors, including Mallam Nasir El-Rufai of Kaduna, leading members of the APC and a host of others.
The sentiments heaped on Amaechi that night were effusive, with Vice President Osinbajo describing the guest of honour as a person worthy of emulation. Others eulogised the former Rivers State governor for the role he played in ensuring victory for the APC in the last general elections, especially the presidential polls. Rotimi Amaechi was Director-General of the Buhari Campaign Organisation, a position he got after he was apparently passed over as nominee for the Vice President slot.
But amid the torrents of eulogies, no one could satisfactorily explain or justify why such a galaxy of VIP guests were out to dine and wine in honour of Amaechi. The APC had long since celebrated its landmark electoral victory and President Buhari is inching towards his first 100 Days in office, although with an approval rating that is a far cry from the euphoria that swept him to power. Before he left office as governor on May 29, Amaechi had also staged a book launch in Lagos, to celebrate his tenure as Rivers State Governor.
The Lagos event was equally well attended with the usual partisan crowd. However, on August 2, Mr Amaechi did not disappoint in inadvertently disclosing the rationale for the social reception hosted in his honour in Abuja. It was to muster support as a counter measure to any move intended to block his nomination for a federal appointment. If other APC stalwarts in the other 35 states were to be hosted to similar ostentatious receptions, to garner support for their ministerial nomination, the cost would be enormous and the very idea itself runs contrary to decency.
It’s worrisome that, while the Buhari administration is trying to enunciate a regime of frugality, some persons are spending lavishly to polish Amaechi’s image. As has been his tendency in the past couple of years, Amaechi, at the reception, disparaged immediate past President Goodluck Jonathan, dropping the innuendo of suspected graft in the high claims for fuel subsidy during Jonathan’s administration. Amaechi also went after his successor as governor, Chief Nyesom Wike.
“May God not give me the kind of ambition of Nyesom Wike; he can sell anybody,” Amaechi was reported as saying at p.5 of The Nation newspaper of Tuesday, August 4, 2015. Amaechi further said: “Let me tell you what is currently going on in Rivers State. The governor and PDP are afraid of me getting an appointment to the Federal Executive Council because that will determine what the politics of Rivers State will be. They know that the current President abhors corruption and the only way they can stop me from getting the appointment is to associate me with corruption. The people that know me in Rivers State know that I don’t like money…And I expect them to defend me that I don’t like money.”
Pray, what evidence is available since 1999 when Nigeria returned to democratic rule that the politics of Rivers State has been determined by whoever was minister from the state? When Amaechi himself became governor in 2007, what role, if any, did the minister from the state play? While Amaechi was governor in his second term, Nyesom Wike was a member of the Federal Executive Council. Was Amaechi scared of Wike as minister? At least, the impression created by his frequent vituperations is that Amaechi is a fearless lion. Why would Wike be scared of Amaechi being a minister, or other appointee of the federal government? Those present at the Abuja reception for Amaechi probably see only one dimension of the man.
Rivers people see several dimensions. In the twilight of his eight-year rule as governor, Amaechi took on the unusual role of DG of the Buhari Campaign Organisation, which meant that Amaechi abandoned governance at the state level. For those who are quick to cite international best practices, it will surely be a difficult exercise to cite a parallel example of a governor of a State in the United States, virtually abandoning the post for which he was elected, to play the role of lead national coordinator for a US presidential candidate. Amaechi was unapologetically obstructionist in his last days as governor of Rivers. He did not hand over to Wike, as civil servants in the state were under strict directive not to prepare any handover notes.
Furthermore, Amaechi’s agents went shopping from one court to another in search of an injunction to stop Wike from being sworn in on May 29, on the ground that Rivers State had neither a substantive nor Acting Chief Judge to perform the swearing in and their futile search for an injunction was notwithstanding the sad fact that Amaechi had crippled both the judiciary and the legislature in the latter part of his tenure. But, if he could not stop Wike from assuming office, Amaechi ensured that Wike inherited a poisoned chalice. Despite a valid court injunction, Amaechi’s government went ahead to conduct a farcical local government election on May 23 and then purported to swear in new council officials. When he spoke at the August 2 reception, Amaechi made a song and dance of his claim that he “doesn’t like money.”
The insinuation is that those who like money are corrupt, and therefore will not pass Buhari’s test of integrity. How might we then classify abuse of office? Well, at the same reception, Mallam El-Rufai, governor of Kaduna State, committed a faux pas, by praising Amaechi for deploying (financial) resources to help fight electoral battles in PDP-controlled states. Amaechi is no Rockefeller, nor is he a Bill Gates, or a Dangote. Whose resources did Amaechi deploy to fight electoral battles? How did he have access to the resources, bearing in mind the processes for spending government funds? And yet, Amaechi is saying that people want to tarnish his image.
It’s indeed a commonly held view that if Buhari is really serious in fighting corruption, he must begin with those who assisted him to power, particularly the money-bags who came with funds from yet-to-be-disclosed sources. Amaechi claims that as chairman of Nigeria Governors Forum, he disagreed vehemently with former President Jonathan over the management of the Treasury, that is, the Federation Account. But the jury is still out on how he, Amaechi, managed the resources of Rivers State and those resources include receipts from the Federation Account as well as the state’s internally generated revenue, which at a point hit over N7 billion monthly.
“I chose the path of honesty and truthfulness. You cannot catch me doing such a thing,” Amaechi said at the reception, painting himself as a saint, while demonizing Jonathan and Wike. Well, Amaechi was Speaker of Rivers State House of Assembly for eight years and governor for an equal duration. He knows the paper trail for government transactions, in particular the release of funds. Problems arise where due process has not been followed, or where on closer examination a transaction is manifestly fraudulent, or the circumstances of the transaction and payment are questionable. For example, a consulting firm suddenly appears; it is given a job without tender and payment is directed to be made to the firm, even when in all reasonableness the firm could not have executed the job within the timeframe and for the huge sum it’s being paid.
Again, as stated earlier, the jury is still out on Amaechi, and he needs not cry wolf. After all, a clear conscience fears no accusation. The abandoned Port Harcourt monorail project tells a gripping story about the Amaechi years as governor and likewise the still-born Karibi Whyte Specialist Hospital. President Buhari, it’s said, is intolerant of corruption, as he would not shut his eyes to red-hot evidence against a guy who has been caught with his hand in the cookie jar. Above all, President Buhari has given firm assurance in recent interviews that no one, including members of the ruling APC, would be spared if found to be corrupt. Time will tell what granite-solid evidence will emerge as to the management of public resources by the immediate past administration in Rivers State.
Douglas, a public affairs analyst, contributed this piece from Port Harcourt