By Donu Kogbara
EVERYONE who is well-plugged-in to the South-South political scene knows that Rotimi Chibuike Amaechi – the colourful ex-Governor (2007-2015) of my state (Rivers), current Minister of Transport and recurrent director-general of Buhari election campaigns – is super-combative and divisive by nature.
His enemies portray him as a devilish failure; but Amaechi definitely has a genuinely nice side and quite a few laudable achievements under his belt. He is, on a good day, a kind-hearted visionary who has great ideas and possesses an excellent sense of humour. However, he also displays a worrying penchant for unnecessary quarrels; and this tendency to plunge into several different battles on several different fronts is his Achilles Heel and a weakness that wreaks widespread destruction and will tarnish his legacy.
Amaechi fought with Dr Peter Odili, our Governor between 1999 and 2007, who rescued him from obscurity and poverty, treated him like a beloved son and only said “no” to him when it looked as if a “yes” would catapult him, Amaechi and their entire camp into deep trouble. Not content with distancing himself from a father figure and professional mentor who’d been extremely indulgent overall, Amaechi subsequently (2007-2015) fought with – or coldly ignored – huundreds of onetime friends and colleagues he regarded as Odili loyalists. He effectively divided Rivers State into two warring factions.
He also, during his turbulent gubernatorial stint, managed to squeeze in a massive fight with ex-President Jonathan, First Lady Dame Patience and Minister of State for Education Nyesom Wike, who had helped him become governor and served as his chief of staff.
I strongly supported Amaechi during this period for reasons that it’s best not to dwell on at a time when I’m more interested in reconciliation than rancour. But I must humbly admit, on reflection, that the Jonathan fight was regrettable and possibly avoidable. OK so let’s put the past behind us and fast forward to today. And guess what? Nothing has changed in gra-gra Amaechi-land!
Having deserted Odili and Jonathan’s Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Amaechi joined (with thousands of supporters) Buhari’s All Progressives Congress, (APC). But instead of calmly settling down and growing up, recognising the need to build rather than scatter and ferociously focussing on the many useful things that a powerful Minister can do for his region via his privileged Federal position, Amaechi has been squandering his considerable energy on toxic schemings that are undermining our region; and he has recently factionalized Rivers State yet again.
He appears to be addicted to conflict and is, as I type this column, at serious loggerheads with many of his former Rivers lieutenants……including two ex chiefs of staff (our current Governor, Nyesom Wike, included), his former attorney-general Worgu Boms, his former Secretary to Government, Senator Magnus Abe and a clutch of APC faithfuls such as legislators who are too numerous to mention…
…plus regular personal chums like me who don’t want to fight with him, but have been informed that Almighty Amaechi is not happy with us (often for trivial reasons) and may never speak to us again!
And I was, for a while, so upset about being banished for no good reason by someone who had been one of my favourite peeps, someone for whom I’d risked my life during the last election campaign. But I’ve gotten over my desire to revive that now-dead friendship. Amaechi also has Issues with plenty-plenty fellow APC folks at The Centre. And I think it is fair to say that if he does not take care, his circle may shrink to the point where he will only be able to comfortably relate to his dear wife, Dame Judith!
In the meantime, I just want to tell Amaechi, in front of the plethora of witnesses who read this column, to stop messing with my Ogoni ethnic group! Senator Magnus Abe, the most senior Ogoni government official in Nigeria, was one of Amaechi’s closest cronies for a long time. Then, suddenly, we were told that they had quarrelled and that Abe was going to stay in APC and launch a governorship bid against Wike, while Amaechi would produce a rival APC candidate.
A rival candidate – oil tycoon Tonye Cole – has now been produced; and I know, like and respect Cole and his family. And I know that Cole can be a good leader. But that’s not the point! The point is my bitterness about Amaechi’s obvious contempt for Ogonis.
Suspecting that Abe – who has a lot of fans in our state – would win any free and fair APC candidate-selection contest in the form of direct primaries, Amaechi never invited any APC Rivers members to participate in the process of choosing a candidate. He just single-handedly decreed that Cole would be the candidate, thereby flatly refusing to properly acknowledge the anguish of Ogoni people, who have never had a shot at the governorship of Rivers State before.
Cole’s antecedents are Ijaw and Ijaws have been governors of Rivers State in the past. It is also worth noting that Jonathan, the only Niger Deltan President Nigeria has had, is an Ijaw man.
I know that ethnicity should not matter in this day and age, but it does matter within contexts like this, in terms of optics and collective self-esteem at least! Ogonis have been consistently ill-treated and prevented from feeling like equal partners in the Rivers Project. And the question that MANY Ogonis want to ask Amaechi to his face is this: If you don’t want Abe, why couldn’t you have replaced him with another Ogoni?
Amaechi has, hoping to placate Ogonis, chosen Victor Giadom, the Ogoni Deputy National Secretary of the APC, as Cole’s running mate. And I really love Victor. But running mate is not good enough!
At any rate, my ruminations and complaints and observations about Amaechi’s shenanigans on our home turf are irrelevant and purely academic because Wike is going to win the Rivers 2019 election!
I just hope that Wike will help an Ogoni take over from him in 2023.