By Ikeddy ISIGUZO, Chairman, Editorial Board
IT was challenging making choices in a year that left you with few options. All the unimpressive issues were thrown up when we were to make the choices, they were clear markers of the sort of year Nigerians had.
When we were not groaning and speculating further increases in prices of petroleum products, we faced daily stories of human beings bombed to death. We got so used to reading about deaths that they were mere statistics, the position it appeared government took. What did it matter if hundreds died in a country of 167 million people and counting?
Those deaths meant more. The statistics were people. Families were fragmented. Lives lost without anyone appearing to care. Nigerians believed less in their country, seeking refuge in primordial enclaves that turned out to be no havens.
Insecurity was a major challenge. Government admitting it was not enough. Are the big budget spenders, beneficiaries of the insecurity, hence they are unwilling to do anything about it?
The same could apply to fuel subsidy which is a scam and a scandal rolled into one. Why is nobody (those who can) willing to deal with the matter? Will they throw up their hands in resignation as the Senate committee probing the despoliation of the pension funds has?
It was in the midst of these that we found the winner of our Personality of The Year, a choice that would appeal to anyone who craves for meaningful change. He was not chosen for his appeal or popularity, but for the ground breaking changes that he is making in Rivers State, a state that once presented the same challenges that Nigeria faces, particularly security.
Rotimi Chibuike Amaechi has through personal decisions that border on the exceptional, made painstaking efforts to develop a State that has resources, but served as den of kidnappers, which was an excuse for not developing it.
Security has improved remarkably and he is still working on it. Schools, hospitals, housing estates, transportation systems and farms of impeccable quality are springing up in various parts of the State.
Like a man in a hurry to get to the next project, he ploughs through the State, giving hope, to the poor, who stop him on the streets and he talks to them, and the women and elderly who are assured of quality free medical services in the hospitals.
Amaechi is a big dreamer and it is obvious that what he has achieved is only a small part of his dreams. Would things have been different if more Nigerians dreamt more? Real dreams for improving the country, not the crass for looting the public vault that is increasingly becoming the primary purpose of governments, instead of the welfare and security of our people, as the Constitution prescribed.
We present to you a young man, just 47, who has dared to dream and the consequences of his dream on Rivers State, now called Rivers of Possibilities. It is a journey we recommend for a new year…
ROTIMI CHIBUIKE AMAECHI: Statecraft Masters Competing Needs
By JIDE AJANI
EIGHTY-FIVE years after, a tradition that started in the United States of America, finds a worthy winner in our shores. When in December 1927, Henry R. Luce and Briton Hadden, founders of TIME Magazine, decided to choose a “Man of the Year”, they could never have imagined the universal effect that decision would have on journalism worldwide.
Today, the “Man of the Year” or “Person of the Year” or “Issue of the Year” phenomenon is global.
On the morning of October 25, 2007, 42-year-old Rotimi Chibuike Amaechi headed to Nigeria’s Supreme Court for a judgment on his epic political ambition of claiming the governorship of Rivers State against the contenders he had once been in the same corner.
He was not sure of the verdict nor the impact he would make in Rivers States, and Nigeria, years on. The Supreme Court held that since Amaechi was supposed to be the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, governorship candidate for the April 2007 election, but was illegally shoved aside, the victory of the party at that election be transferred to Amaechi as the rightful candidate. That judgement, after eight years of this Fourth Republic, was a landmark judgment and could not have happened without the doggedness of Amaechi. That, in itself, is a feat; he was sworn-in the following day.
After a gruelling session where Vanguard Editors debated personalities like House of Representatives Speaker Aminu Waziri Tambuwal, Dame Patience Jonathan, Lady Folorunsho Alakija, The Kidnapper, The Okada Rider and a few other nominees, Amaechi emerged Vanguard Personality of The Year 2012.
So, what were the factors that swung it for Amaechi? He has been governor for about five years so what has suddenly become so starling today that was not in years past? And in an environment of clashing political and socio-economic interests why should a state governor be acknowledged for merely doing what he has been elected to do?
Well, consider this: Within his first year in office, Amaechi established a state of the art primary school, Elekahia Model Primary School, in Port Harcourt. Any governor can build a model primary school but what stands Elekahia out is that it serves as a leveller between the rich and mighty on the one hand, and the poor and very poor, on the other. In order to accommodate more students into the primary schools, the government had to stop the building of the bungalow pattern of Elekahia, to continue with a new storey building design which would be able to take 25 classrooms instead of the usual 14 classrooms, with a standard of not more than 30 students per class – each equipped with ICT facility, internet connection, modern library, science laboratory, football field, basketball pitch, volleyball pitch and Nursery playground among others in a primary school.
Because of these amenities, the rich tried to appropriate it by withdrawing their children from expensive private schools to enrol in Elekahia.
Expensive private schools
It took the intervention of Governor Amaechi to stop the enrolment of children of the rich. He charged that Elekahia was for the poor with a promise to replicate same in every local government area and then every ward in the state.
He has delivered. Indeed, out of 500 new model primary schools being built across all 23 local Government Areas of the state, 254 are hundred percent completed, 92 are fully functional while the others are being furnished and equipped for students to move in. These are cogent and verifiable facts on ground.
The governor’s initial target however ‘was to deliver on the planned total of 750 primary schools by the end of his tenure, but due to the rush and increase in the number of pupils , the government has decided to stop at 500.
This is just a teaser about the Amaechi mystique. Now, governance or statecraft is about the philosophy of creating joy by spreading wealth to the largest number of people within a geographical entity. This relates to using statecraft as a leader to transport a people (in a Third World country like Nigeria) to the next level, just as Lee Kwan Yu did in Singapore.
In their book, POWER, AMBITION, GLORY, Steve Forbes, Chairman, CEO, and editor in chief of Forbes Media, and classics professor, John Prevas, provided intriguing comparisons between six great leaders of the ancient world and contemporary business leaders, setting out basic factors which led to greatness and the lessons you can learn.
Perhaps, Amaechi, a graduate of English of the University of Port Harcourt, who consumes literature like choice cuisine, may have read the book.
STRUCTURES DRIVING VISION
Forbes and Prevas insist that it is not just enough for a leader to have vision but he must put in place structures to effect it. They compared Cyrus the Great and Jack Welch and John Chambers and how their modern businesses were built.
Amaechi put security first. Before he became governor, Rivers State was the high-profile kidnap capital of Nigeria, with Port Harcourt, the kidnap commercial hub.
Sensing that you can never engage any development paradigm in the absence of peace and security, he sought the help of security experts from Israel.
He established the C4i, an operational code name for the security engagement, with a high security training camp where selected personnel of the police receive first class training.
Then there is the situation room for C4i, where Port Harcourt (it has since been extended to other towns in the state) is kept under a bird’s eye view monitor.
The operation is so swift that any form of criminal activity in the capital is monitored, tracked and can be contained in minutes. That made Port Harcourt an investment hub once again; because it became safe.
BUILD CONSENSUS AND MOTIVATE
The authors also say being a great leader requires knowing how to build consensus and motivate, using Xenophon of Greece, who put aside personal gains to lead his people out of a perilous situation in Persia (the same way Lou Gerstner and Anne Mulcahy did in rescuing IBM and Xerox), as an example.
Since assuming duties as Chairman, Nigeria’s Governors’ Forum, NGF, Amaechi has been consistent in his position that though most of the state governors are on the same PDP platform with the Federal Government, FG, that does not in any way obviate the reality of enthroning a regime of good governance for the benefit of Nigerians.
Therefore, unlike the seeming cosiness in the relationship between the FG and the NGF over the years (especially the person of the chairman of the forum), a relationship which had made the NGF an appendage of Aso Rock Presidential Villa, Amaechi’s leadership of the body has transformed it into a quasi check to FG’s whimsical approach to governance.
First is the management of the Excess Crude Account, ECA, and the Sovereign Wealth Fund, SWF. Whereas the FG has made very forceful arguments for both, the points of reality which Amaechi and the NGF have made clearly flow from the need to ensure that Nigeria operates as a country where the rule of law is entrenched.
At different fora, Amaechi has made the following arguments: Has the FG showed enough transparency in the way it handles joint ventures with state governments – an example of which is the constitutionally guaranteed management of the Federation Account? Who has the final say in ratifying investment decisions regarding the SWF?
Why should the FG make investments or savings on behalf of state governments? Even in the face of the shambles that Nigeria’s federation operates on, allowing the FG to get away with its continued stance on the ECA and SWF would be a grand violation of the laws of the land.
And NGF points to FG’s continued pillaging of the federal reserves from over $60billion in 2007 to just about $30billion in just about four years. Even the vexed issue of subsidy, the Amaechi-led NGF raised an alarm over how a N240billion scheme which was budgeted for, ballooned to over N2.3trillion. The thread that runs in all of these is consensus building. And you can not build consensus if you do not motivate.
Amaechi could have corralled his colleagues who are largely PDP members to kowtow in a conspiratorial manner, to the whims of the FG. But no! He is standing on the side of the people of Nigeria and not just members or leaders of PDP. Although some dispassionate observers may argue that the NGF is merely posturing, the counterpoise to it is simple: should the forum allow the FG to continue riding rough shod over Nigerians?
Character in leadership
Then there is character in leadership. Using the example of Alexander the great because of his exceptional leadership skills but destroyed through inability to manage phenomenal success, Forbes and Prevas drew a comparison with Dennis Kozlowski of Tyco, who at the head of his business empire lost his head – he is now in jail.
Amaechi, too, has turned Rivers State into a huge construction site. Attempts to draw a parallel between his achievements and other state governors have met with humility from him. Whereas most politicians would not put in context the uneven revenue allocation to states, Amaechi easily admits that though some states earn more than others, there is a saying in his community that “when an individual receives a part on the back for doing something, he would seek to do more”. He is doing more.
And his choice as Personality of the Year is a pat on the back from Vanguard. Some have even touted him as a possible vice presidential candidate but he says his primary assignment is providing good governance to the people of Rivers.
He is not the first chairman of NGF. But his approach has brought something of a collective which is issue-based and not ego-based. Let us draw a parallel here on the issue of personality and character.
The New Yorker, November 6, 2000, tries to put in context the debates between Al Gore and George Bush for the American presidency viz: “This may explain the paradox that while Al Gore was widely judged the substantive winner of all three of the candidates’ televised debates, and certainly the first and third of them, he lost the battle in the post-debate media echo chambers and, perhaps partly as a result, in the opinion polls. In the final debate, Gore stretched the rules (within the bounds of civility), while Bush complained and turned beseechingly to the moderator for help. Neither attribute is attractive, but it may turn out that fear of the first will outweigh contempt for the second.”
By the same token, therefore, whereas the NGF effuses effluvium of angst which creates public opprobrium, Amaechi’s approach in seeking to situate the agitations of the NGF within the praxis of the need for a larger good for society places him on a pedestal of good leadership. So, while people may be contemptuous of the NGF, Amaechi’s approach creates a shield of inoculation.
THINKING OUT OF THE BOX
Ability to think out of the box is also crucial; and this, according to Forbes and Prevas was demonstrated by Hannibal who crossed the Alps in winter to challenge Rome for control of the ancient world.
The first monorail project in Nigeria would be completed in Port Harcourt soon, very soon. When he decided that the project was worth pursuing, many saw him as going round the bend. Though the chart of the monorail route has bends enroute its terminus, the succour this would bring to the people of the state would be immeasurable.
Ambition: Forbes and Prevas go further to say a leader must have ambition to succeed. Like Julius Caesar who had plenty of it, Amaechi breaths ambitious projects.
Rivers Songhai initiative, a centre for training, agricultural production, research and development of sustainable agricultural practices, is about 20 times the size of the model from Port Novo. The farm project sits on a 314-hectare land in Tai Local Government Area. It is an integrated farm which combines livestock, arable farming, fisheries, snail farming and poultry.
There is also a 2,000-hectare farm in Etche with a total available land space of 3,000 hectares. The farm is projected to cost $140 million. The State is contributing $100m; the investors $40 million. The farm would have 300 farming houses (to accommodate 300 farming families), agro processing facilities, and 3,000 hectares for farming.
These are aside from fish farms in Buguma, Andoni, Opobo and Ubima; not to mention a Banana Farm in Ogoni-100 hectares have been done out of the total of 250 hectares and expansion is still on.
24 secondary schools are being built across the State with facilities that would be the envy of our higher institutions. They are also being built with standard boarding facilities, fully equipped laboratories for all required subjects, sporting facilities etc. In terms of infrastructure, they would compete favourably with any of the state owned universities in Nigeria.
There are 160 Model Health Centres spread across all 23 Local Government Areas in the State and most are already in use. The Free Health Care programme has contributed to a decline in the mortality rate of Rivers people particularly maternal and child mortality as the Health centres are strategically sited to serve every part of the state. Indigenes and residents of the State are beneficiaries to the programme.
David Iyofo, Amaechi’s Media aide, once wondered “how Oga will complete all these projects”. This was in the first two years of the Amaechi administration. Asked two months ago what he now thinks, Iyofo said he now believes more in the saying that “with God all things are possible”.
There is also the Greater Port Harcourt City Project, one that would create a city from scratch that may rival Abuja, the Federal Capital Territory, FCT.
Is he not taking too much at the same time?
Tradition of man of the year
According to TIME, The illustrated history of the world’s most influential magazine by Norberto Angeletti and Alberto Olivia, “The first “Man of the Year”, Charles Lindbergh, was named in 1927. The cover featuring his portrait was published in January 1928. The title is always designated in December and the issue is printed in late December or early January. Man of the Year was changed to Person of the Year in 1999.
The first American President selected was Franklin Delano Roosevelt (1932) when he was president-elect. He was chosen twice again, in 1934 and 1941, and he holds the record for the American president who was most often on the cover – in 1932, he was president-elect and was chosen at a time of unprecedented economic crisis; in 1934, for having fervently battled the Depression; and in 1941 for preparing a reluctant United States to join the war.
Interestingly, Adolf Hitler was selected in 1938 and TIME gave it to him because he was “the greatest threatening force that the democratic, freedom-loving world” faced.
When in 1979 the magazine chose Ayatollah Khomeini during the Iran hostage crisis, “thousands of readers sent protest letters”. Because they did not agree with the choice.
There may indeed be other Nigerians who may have achieved greatness in the year.
But after a gruelling debate session by Vanguard Editors, especially situating development paradigm in the context of governance and leadership which is a scarce resource in Nigeria, Rotimi Chibuike Amaechi emerged as Vanguard Personality of The year, 2012.
(A special feature on him would be published in Sunday Vanguard of January 6, 2013.)