BACKLASH: The Making Of Saint Amaechi
FORMER Rivers State governor, now a minister designate, RotimiAmaechi is a study in political immortality. Just when it looks it is all over for him, he will return with renewed strength. He is a politician with many lives of which he has expended a handful only in critical political battles and has a lot more in stock.
In other words, Amaechi is still very well equipped to do many more battles, if need be,without dying.He is only 51 and at the rate he goes into wars, it will be difficult to speculate on how many more battles he will do before he retires from partisan politics the same way Chief E.K Clark, who clocked up 87 this year, has done.
For now, it is enough to say the man has covered good battlegrounds within a relatively short period.From nowhere, except being Personal Assistant to Dr. Peter Odili, his predecessor in office as governor, Amaechi stormed the Rivers political centre stage in 1999 to carve out for himself the robust role of speakership of the State House of Assembly. He had enough stage craft and presence of mind to sustain that role in the eight-year performance, between 1999 and 2007.
So far, being speaker of the 32-member Rivers State House of Assembly is about the only high political prize Amaechi has picked without fierce battles. His ascendancy as governor in 2007 created completely new set of interpretations and possibilities in the country’s judicial and electoral systems. When the Supreme Court on October 26, 2007 sacked Celestine Omehia, the winner of the 2007 Rivers State governorship election and installed Amaechi, it became established that elections could be won outside the electoral system. The apex court held that elections, at least under the Nigerian brand of democracy, are contested and won by parties and not individuals and that since Amaechi was able to prove (of course beyond all reasonable doubts and the doubt of President Obasanjo who had said Amaechi’s candidacy was k-legged) that he was the right candidate and not Omehia of the PDP, which won the election, he,
Amaechi,could very well walk home with the star prize of a competition he never contested.
Today, Amaechi’s name stands out in the history books as the first to be elected governor of a state without even participating inthe election that produced the governor. He survived the ferocious PDP and Obasanjo onslaught of that time to clinch a miraculous victory and ever since,his life has not been the same again. He got ordained as the conqueror of Babylon. He ceased being ordinary and anything he did, going forward, was situated in the context of his new image as the only one with character in the polluted political firmament that could do good. He came close to approximating the law as his mistakes in the aftermath of his legendary conquest of Obasanjo and the PDP were interpreted as new positions in political morality.
Like in post-apartheid South Africa, Amaechi, upon assumption of office as governor, created his own peace and reconciliation commission, headed by the late Justice KayodeEso, to ventilate the issues in Rivers politics. There were controversies as to the purity of purpose of the inquisition. But nothing actually mattered outside the purpose of Amaechi, who wanted by all means to make a public show of his persecution by the PDP establishment and all the unconventional tactics he undertook, including self-exile in Ghana, to survive through the hunt-down to triumphantly re-enter Port Harcourt city after the Supreme Court judgment. He obstinately drove the process to some kind of conclusion, even without the participation ofhis estranged successor and benefactor, Dr.Peter Odili, who rightly or wrongly, saw the entire set up as a witch hunt, just the same way Amaechihas seen the Rivers State Judicial Commission of Inquiry under his successor, Governor WysomWike and MohammaduBuhariback in 2000, had seen the Justice Oputa’s Panel under President Obasanjo.
But there was no stopping the conqueror. He stepped up momentum to a category 5 tropical storm, called Hurricane Amaechi and took down everything that was in his path. He actually became war-like, refusing to talk peace even when war was absolutely unnecessary. For instance, he refused to negotiate with “criminals called militants” and drove as many as possible out of town into exile in the creeks. Not even the late President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua’s amnesty policy got him convinced on the need to negotiate with these criminals if for nothing else, but to ensure the free flow of crude oil from the Niger Delta to sustain the national economy. The federal government amnesty for the Niger Delta militants in 2009 was inaugurated in spite of him.
Amaechiwas not deterred by that momentary loss. Somewhere along the line, he reportedly picked a degree in law to add to whatever he had. This must have further enlarged his appetite for justice and sensitivity to his rights as a man first and foremost, and as a high political office holder. Therefore, when some misguided lecturers of the state owned higher institution, Rivers State University of Science and Technology (RUST), wanted to unlawfully determine the appointment of a vice chancellor for the institution, they were promptly told by Amaechi that the matter wasin his exclusive legislative list as visitor and he was not prepared to yield ground, no matter the degree ofpressure or intimidation by any group to do the contrary.
That insistence on his right to appoint a VC in spite of the local ASUU and the objective conditions on ground the campus kept the university in crisis for over three years. What he wanted was for things to be done properly and he could not be bothered about whatever it took to achieve that good purpose.
It was precisely the same scenario at the state judiciary, when time came to appoint a new chief judge to oversee matters at the retirement of the substantive CJ. There is this body called National Judicial Council (NJC), which got over busy and thought part of its business was to appoint or at least be part of the appointment process of a Chief Judge inRivers State.
Amaechi, who understood his rights and privileges as a governor the same way the Supreme Court understands its jurisdiction as a court of final arbiter, brought all the illustrations on that matter as contained in the 1999 Constitution to keep the NJC at bay. Again, his insistence was not without consequences. The state judiciary went to sleep for about a year, from June 2014 to May 2015.
The shut down and all its attendant consequences, including the conversion of some Port Harcourt lawyers to taxi drivers since there were no courts to entertain cases, at once became part of the sacrifices that the people made to assist Amaechi deepen democracy in Rivers State. It was the same consideration that might have informed the public acquiescence of the two-year or so shut down of the state legislature. It had seemed after the judiciary had been contained, the legislature was showing signs of slowing down the good works of Amaechi and he had had to move in quickly to put things back on course.
And what does the Bible say when a finger or any part of a man’s body impedeshis progress into the Kingdom of God? It should be cut and that was precisely what Amaechi, who is a devout Catholic and was seen during the last Easter celebration carrying a big cross,that was almost bigger than the one the Lord Jesus, carried on the way to cavalry, did with the Rivers State Judiciary and legislature.
Effectively, all powers in Rivers State, above Rivers State and beneath Rivers State were surrendered unto Amaechi in the last two years of his stay as governor of the oil-rich state. One policeman called Joseph Mbu who wanted to share in Amaechi’s consolidated power was taken away by a benevolent spirit. It was from this consolidated position that Amaechi pushed for the last show down with the PDP. The result of that epic encounter is all known.
The conversation continues next week.