By Ikechukwun Amaechi
ON Saturday, February 5, 2022, all roads will lead to Daura, President Muhammadu Buhari’s hometown, where the Minister of Transportation, Chibuike Amaechi, will be turbaned as the Dan Amanar Daura (trusted son of Daura) by the Emir, Alhaji Umar Farouk Umar. Coming in this political silly season, it is one chieftaincy title that is bound to attract a lot of attention in the days, weeks and months to come. Yet, I can say without any equivocation that this has absolutely nothing to do with politics. But saying so will not stop conspiracy theorists from going overboard with all manner of febrile conjectures. But knowing Amaechi well, he will not be fazed.
I am particularly awed by the title, Dan Amanar, which I am told by my Hausa friend means trusted son. Chibuike Amaechi is a proud Ikwerre man from Rivers State. In this era of heightened ethnic irredentism, fueled principally by Buhari’s exclusionist politics, it is ironic and at the same time fascinating that someone from the Niger Delta has been adopted as a son by the Daura Emirate.
But beyond the issue of adoption, claiming him as one of their own, is the significant issue of trust in a country where mistrust is a thriving industry. If Amaechi has been adopted as a trusted son, it then means that the people of Daura have faith in him – his reliability and uncanny loyalty to friendship. And that is exactly the Amaechi that I know – a reliable, good and honest Nigerian, whose integrity, strength of character, fidelity to agreed causes and ability to deliver on promises are unparalleled.
Sadly, these are virtues that are in very short supply in the country today and the reason we are plumbing the depths of misery and despondency. Amaechi is loyal to his friends and he is a bridge-builder. As a politician, the only art which he has refused to master is how to be politically correct. He is not given to equivocation even when what he will say will hurt him politically. So, being conferred with a title that robes him in the uncommon garb of trust is as deserving as it is apposite. Amaechi has been faithful to his friendship with President Buhari and the political alliance that made his presidency a reality after three failed attempts. He took the greatest political risk in that gambit. Had he failed, the collateral political damage would have been monumental for him.
But typical of him, Amaechi will never talk publicly about his enormous sacrifice even when those that made lesser contributions are shouting from rooftops and using that as a basis for laying claim to being the Khalifa – anointed successor. Not only did he play crucial role in Buhari’s emergence as the APC presidential candidate, he was the Director General of the Buhari Campaign Organisation in 2015 and 2019.
But beyond the role he played in ushering in the Buhari Presidency, what he has been able to do in the last six and half years as minister is even more significant. A statement from the Ministry of Transportation said he will be honoured with the traditional title in recognition of his contributions to the socio-economic development of the country, especially for his effort in bringing to life the rail sector that has been moribund for over three decades. Amaechi is the poster boy of the administration. His dedication to duty makes all the difference. His attention to details is incomparable.
The revolution he is orchestrating in the railway sector is remarkable. Because of his achievements as Minister of Transportation, particularly with the railway projects, THISDAY newspaper honoured him with the Minister of the Decade award in 2020. “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.
“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,” the newspaper wrote. Amaechi 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 Speaker of the Rivers State House of Assembly and Governor for cumulative 16 years. As Speaker, he led the Conference of Speakers of State Legislatures of Nigeria. As Governor, he was also the Chairman of the Nigeria Governors Forum.
And at the national level, he is riding the storm, standing out, as it were, from the crowd. Ironically, he does not perceive himself in such light. He would rather share the accolades. “All the ministers are doing well,” he told me two years ago. “Credit for achievements rightly goes to the president not only because his attention is on infrastructure but everything we have achieved is his vision.” That is how humble he is.
But despite his humility in not taking personal credit for his achievements, his creativity stands him out. Amaechi is one Nigerian leader who thinks outside the box. His ability to explore ideas that are creative and unusual, ideas that are not limited or controlled by rules or tradition sets him apart. He is a quintessential promoter of the avant-garde, an iconoclastic public servant who has no qualms pushing the boundaries with every step he takes in public office. It is his ability to think outside the box that attracted a transportation university to Nigeria. At the groundbreaking of the Transportation University in Daura on December 2, 2019, Amaechi disclosed how he forced the Chinese construction firm, CCECC, to build the university. “I engaged the companies. The first engagement was when they were constructing Lagos-Ibadan. They were not so keen at spending their funds to build a university for Nigeria, until I refused to sign the contract for the Lagos-Ibadan railway.”
Amaechi only agreed to sign the Lagos-Ibadan railway contract after CCECC met three conditions. “The first thing is to take our children to China and train them by giving them a first degree in railway technology. The second is that, if we must sign the purchase of locomotives in China, they must build a factory where we can construct coaches, locomotives and wagons and today at Kajola that factory is being constructed. Finally, I insisted on the University of Transportation.”
That is ingenuity in the service of fatherland. Lesser mortals would have cornered the funds meant for those projects. Amaechi’s largeness of heart is part of his exceptionalism. But he is also humble and graceful. 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 Buharists, he has a firm grasp of the issues and is not delusionary.
He admits that hunger has not been banished from the land. Poverty is a reality. Unemployment is also real. But he insists the Buhari government has done well. “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,” he said. Amaechi sees himself as a Nigerian, in a country defined by ethnic and sundry primordial sentiments. That has created problems for him back home. But he doesn’t bother. Instead, he allows that worldview to define not only his person but his approach to governance and allocation of state values.
Any project in any part of Nigeria will serve Nigerians, he argues. His critics call him naïve. He 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 rail-line for instance, is because of the quantity of cargo to be moved,” he contends. In a country where nepotism is elevated to state craft, such disposition may be seen as too idealistic. But Nigeria needs leaders with holistic appreciation of what it needs to lift up the country. That is the import of the title that will be bestowed on Rotimi Amaechi in Daura on Saturday.
He is not only a trusted son of Daura, he is a self-sacrificing, conscientious and diligent public servant, a trusted son of Nigeria with ennobling worldview. Provincial leadership has dealt Nigeria a bad cut. It is high time we changed course and Amaechi fits the bill of transcendental leadership that Nigeria sorely needs. That is the message the people of Daura are sending to other Nigerians.