THE Biblical anecdote of the rejection of Jesus Christ in his home town of Nazareth, a town in Galilee, always fascinates me. The story, variously told in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, narrates how Jesus went to the synagogue to teach on a Sabbath day, upon return to his birthplace, accompanied by his disciples.
Many who heard Him preach were astonished and wondered where He got the wisdom and how He acquired the power to perform miracles. Those were legitimate questions. Unfortunately, the people were not seeking knowledge to get a handle on the prodigy that was Jesus. Instead, they were on a derision voyage.
They knew Jesus from birth. He was not only the carpenter’s son, But He was also a carpenter Himself. Carpentry was a lowly trade. They knew other members of his family – the hoi polloi of the society. So, what did He know? What was He? The Bible said they took offence at Him. Jesus, amazed at their unbelief, “could do no mighty work there, except that He laid His hands on a few sick people and healed them”(Mark 6:5). He departed Nazareth with a retort: “A prophet is not without honour except in his own country, among his own relatives, and in his own house” (Mark 6:4).
What happened in Nazareth aeons ago is as true today as it was then, hence the 14th-century cliché – familiarity breeds contempt – in Tale of Melibee, one of The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer. This story reminds me of the fate of Rotimi Amaechi, former Rivers State Governor and former Minister of Transportation now on the new ministerial list.
Amaechi admits that he had a humble beginning, without any silver spoon; and for some people, he must eternally wear Franz Fanon’s ‘wretched of the earth’ pinafore.
It does not matter to them that in pulling himself up by his own bootstraps, he has become one of the biggest political revelations of the Fourth Republic.
He was speaker of the Rivers State House of Assembly for eight years and chairman of the Speakers’ Forum to boot. He was Rivers State governor for eight years and somewhere along the line was elected chairman of the Nigerian Governors Forum, NGF.
He has been a minister in the past four years and still counting. But Amaechi’s essence does not lie in the fact of holding public office but what he has been able to do with those positions. As someone who sees power, not as an end in itself but a means to an end where that end is the public good, the views public office, state or federal, from the prism of public trust. Before he became governor in 2007, Port Harcourt had become a haven for cultists who committed atrocities in the name of fighting for freedom. Amaechi would have none of that, insisting that struggle for equity and justice must be separated from criminality and brigandage. He was called names but, in the end, his worldview prevailed and Rivers was the better for it. His achievements as governor remain outstanding. But he has even demonstrated more superlative leadership capabilities at the national level as a minister.
He was indubitably the poster boy of President Muhammadu Buhari’s otherwise lacklustre cabinet. If there were things Buhari could point at as achievements in his first four years in office, they were definitely feats recorded under Amaechi’s watch.
So, when stakeholders in the maritime and transportation industry took the unprecedented step of feting him last week, the very first time that would happen in the ministry, it spoke volumes. As the chairperson of the organising committee, Mrs Margaret Orakwusi, noted in her opening speech, in less than four years, Amaechi energised the maritime industry by vigorously engaging the private sector to attain lofty heights, and worked hard to transform the transport industry. Comparing him to a crusader who came to reshape and transform the maritime cum shipping sector, Mrs Orakwusi said: “Amaechi revolutionised the maritime industry by appointing capable men and women to steer and execute the mandates of agencies in the sector. He did not appoint them and went to sleep, he kept them on their toes by constantly telling them of the importance of the maritime industry to the economy and the need to ensure that the deliverables were made possible for the good of economy and citizens.” Managing Director of the Nigerian Ports Authority, NPA, Hadiza Bala-Usman, and Director-General of the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency, NIMASA, Dakuku Peterside, were also effusive in their praises.
Bala-Usman, who spoke to one of Amaechi’s sterling qualities as a public figure – gender blindness – praised him for the courage to appoint her as the first female head of the NPA against all odds. “Amaechi has shown exemplary leadership role and leadership capacity. He has led the transportation ministry in such a dynamic way that enables all the agencies to maximise and have the best coming out. “The minister allows us like heads of agencies to define the path, he provides the leadership that is required to guide us and I will like to commend him for what he has been able to do within the period,” Bala-Usman enthused.
Underscoring the fact that Amaechi would always muster the courage to do that which he is convinced is right, Peterside recalled his days as commissioner of works in Rivers under him. “Amaechi is an honest, forthright man with vision and courage, who abhors residing in the world of impossibilities,” Peterside said. Kaduna State Governor, Nasir el-Rufai, concurred. “I don’t recall any minister of transportation that has achieved as much in so little time, very difficult circumstances, as Amaechi has done. Kaduna State is one of the beneficiaries of his effort because of the Abuja-Kaduna rail.” The minister narrated how he appointed Hassan Bello as head of the Nigerian Shippers Council, NSC, Commodore Duja Effedua (Maritime Academy of Nigeria), Senator Olorunnimbe Mamora (Nigerian Inland Waterways Authority), Peterside and Hadiza. “There were pressures and candidates being pushed by big men but once I am convinced of something, I go ahead with it and I am happy I did what I did when I did it as their efforts and the results they have shown are signs of even better, brighter future for Nigeria’s maritime industry.” That is quintessential Amaechi. That courage of conviction is what some see as arrogance. But it is not. Rather it is patriotism. So, why is such a man vilified at home? The answer is ensconced in the womb of Amaechi’s politics, which is not Nigeria-compliant. He is too blunt, and that scares away the fickle-minded. He believes in the power of ideas in dealing with Nigeria’s existential crisis. He is pragmatic and strategic. Yes, Amaechi is stubborn and he knows it. But it is a stubbornness borne out of altruism, which makes him persevering, tenacious, dogged, determined and steadfast, in pursuit of the public good. A man not given to herd mentality, he walks his talk and does not believe that political correctness should trump national interest. He is nationalist par excellence who does not pay allegiance to ethnoreligious sentiments. If his ethnic allegiance conflicts with the national interest, he would rather throw overboard ethnic interest and stick with the national interest. He builds bridges of understanding across Nigeria’s enervating ethnoreligious and even gender fault lines, most times at a very high personal political cost.
Remind Amaechi that every politics is local, and the need to be conscious of the prevailing sentiment in his political base, he will most likely retort that any agenda hoisted on the pole of political correctness which flies in the face of national interest is an anathema to him. The asphyxiating political permutations in the All Progressives Congress, APC, and the politics of 2023 have not helped matters.
The embers of disaffection against Amaechi in his home state are fanned by stalwarts of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, with the active support of APC chieftains who want to dislodge him from his high leadership perch in the South-South and his assumed political interests in 2023. But that is self-defeating. In countries with a shared national vision and ennobling dream, where the big picture is the pivot around which collective aspiration revolves, Amaechi’s transcendental leadership attributes are huge assets. However, Nigeria is neither an ideal society nor is it aspiring to be one. And the consequence is that small political minds would rather vilify Amaechi for the very same reasons he should have been garlanded with the epaulet of patriotism: the axiomatic leader without honour at home.
That narrative must change for the good of our country.