Rotimi Amaechi, Minister

By Ikechukwu Amaechi,

On Monday, January 20, the Minister of Transportation, Rotimi Amaechi, was back in Lagos for personal inspection of the Lagos-Ibadan corridor of the Lagos-Kano rail project. The huge project costs billions of dollars. And it is almost a monthly routine for him to fly down to Lagos to tour the site. The latest inspection was special because he was joined by Oyo State Governor, Seyi Makinde; and Minister of State for Transportation, Gbemisola Saraki.

Makinde was visibly impressed. He not only said his state would take full advantage of the project when it becomes fully functional but also assured that Oyo will build every necessary infrastructure to ensure residents derive the full benefits. “It is a wake-up call for us in Oyo State,” he enthused “because the track is already here (in Ibadan) and we need to pace ourselves up to meet up with what we have to do so that the handshake can be seamless and the benefits can come to our people.”

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By the time the tour, which started at the Ebute Meta mega station still under construction to Apapa Port, Agege, Abeokuta got to Omi-Adio, Ibadan – where Makinde disembarked – he had seen enough to convince him that in spite of differences in political parties, the railway project is one he must key into and he made the pledge. “We have to key into the programme that is being followed right now such that if we need to construct a road that will fit into this; if we need to look at the security aspect of things; the users of these facilities should be able to say they are in a safe and secure place.”

But Amaechi had to rush back to Lagos to attend another programme. Because of his achievements as Minister of Transportation, particularly with the railway projects, Thisday was honouring him with the award of Minister of the Decade. “President Muhammadu Buhari’s retention of Rotimi Amaechi as his Minister of Transportation after his re-election is a testament to his drive and commitment to give Nigerians a better travelling experience,” the newspaper wrote.

“He is superintending over the administration’s efforts to revive the railway system in the country. This has led to some projects such as the ongoing Lagos-Kano standard rail line and linking Nigeria’s eastern and northern corridors through the railway. Under his watch, the water transportation system is also receiving attention.” Because of these giant strides, the editors chose him as their “Minister of the Decade.”

Not many Nigerians will disagree with this choice. Even those who don’t see eye to eye with Amaechi politically will acknowledge that he is an achiever and a man with great leadership credentials. He has the axiomatic Midas touch, an uncanny ability to excel in everything he does. He excelled as the speaker of the Rivers State House of Assembly and governor for a cumulative 16 years. And at the national level, he is riding the storm, standing out, as it were, from the crowd.

Many Nigerians insist that the Buhari administration is underperforming and there are good reasons to believe so. Yet, it is almost a national consensus that the Transportation Ministry is excelling. Even the All Progressives Congress, APC, the ruling party, agrees. In a matter of weeks, the APC National Working Committee, NWC, will launch a magazine that chronicles the achievements of the Buhari administration, which they insist are under-reported. Amaechi will be on the cover as the face of the government’s success story.

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Ironically, the man does not perceive himself in such light, insisting that every minister is performing and, therefore, qualifies to wear the poster boy tag. “All the ministers are doing well,” he insists. “They are all ‘poster ministers.’ Credit for achievements rightly goes to the president not only because his attention is on infrastructure but everything we have achieved is his vision.” He agrees that it is not only his ministry that deals with infrastructure but adds that the Transportation Ministry is the most funded.

“Take for instance the Ministry of Works and Housing. [Babatunde] Fashola is getting money locally, though he has secured a few loans here and there but the Ministry of Transportation is heavily funded from outside.”Amaechi’s largeness of heart is part of his exceptionalism. But he is also humble. A lesser mortal would appropriate all the accolades, but not Amaechi. He is a team player.

He is, perhaps, the biggest disciple of Buhari and rather than appropriate credit for any achievement, he wants it to go to the president because whatever he has done is by his directive. But unlike many of the Buharists, he has a firm grasp of the issues and is not delusionary. For instance, he is under no illusion that the railway will be able to pay for the huge loans being procured to execute it.

“Railway is a social service that will boost the economy. It will create employment. It will enhance manufacturing, logistics, which is transportation, power. It will at least go a long way in solving the problems of those who do business between Lagos and Ibadan. It will create industries around its corridors,” Amaechi said. He admits that hunger has not been banished from the land. Poverty is a reality. Unemployment is also real. But nobody can convince him that Nigeria is not better off today than it was in 2015. “Nobody is assessing this government the way it should be assessed,” he protested.

Quantity of cargo

“People are assessing it based on raw emotions – whether they like Buhari or not, whether Buhari talks or not, whether he cares or not, whether he speaks to them or not. That is not how to assess a government. Assess what we met when we came. Assess the fact that the administration was just a few months old when the country went into a recession. But in less than one year we came out of the recession. The World Bank and International Monetary Fund, IMF, said that would happen in three years but we came out in one year.

“And there are countries that slipped into recession with us, including Brazil and South Africa, which are yet to exit. Yet, people do not attribute brilliance to us. We are fixing roads, power, etc. Before we came, power was bad. We know we have not hit the actual result Nigerians are expecting but we have left where we were before. Hunger is making us to under-appreciate what the Buhari administration has done.”

Amaechi sees himself as a Nigerian, in a country defined by ethnicity. That has created problems for him back home. But he doesn’t bother. Instead, he allows that worldview to define not only him but his approach to governance and allocation of state values.

His critics call him naïve, citing the rail projects which seem skewed in favour of the North and South-West to the detriment of the South-South and South East. Amaechi demurs. “We like breaking this country into components. Why don’t we agree first of all that ours is one nation? Whatever services we provide between Lagos and Kano is because of the quantity of cargo to be moved.

“Will you leave Lagos to Kano railway line which has about 30 million tonnes of cargo per year and do Port Harcourt to Maiduguri which has about 11 million tonnes per year? We have not even determined how much cargo is between Lagos and Calabar. In a country where nepotism is elevated to statecraft, such disposition may be seen as too idealistic because the reality on the ground dictates otherwise.

But when it is appreciated that it is the same reality that has put Nigeria in its unenviable position in the comity of nations, it is perhaps high time that idealists with ennobling worldview were helped to climb the ladder of Nigeria’s ultimate leadership position. Provincial leadership has dealt Nigeria a bad cut.

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