By Dennis Agbo
Yet again, the controversy trait is haunting Mr. Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi. This time it is his role in the protracted 2016 budget debate that came to light with the embarrassing allegations of padding and corrupt introduction of extraneous matters in the financial document.
Before this, he had the unaccomplished monorail project in his state, Rivers State which as at the time he left office had gulped millions of dollars of state fund and has remained an unfinished business. Even the consultants and contractors handling the project doubted its viability yet Amaechi was not deterred in his intention to forge on with it until it became a stillborn project.
His ministerial screening at the National Assembly was not just turbulent but was in equal measure controversial. Three times, the Senate refused to screen him but in his clandestine proclivities, he managed to go through the process against objections by Rivers State and the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). The National Assembly did not listen when PDP warned about the implication of an Amaechi in the federal cabinet.
Political expediency overrode the necessity of bringing on board a character that will always remain a blight in saner situations. It was understandable why the PDP’s suggestion was not taken seriously because the All Progressives Congress (APC) was trying to assert its newly acquired power and was ready to resist anything that emanated from the erstwhile ruling party.
Now, the option before Amaechi is that he should resign his position. But it is obvious that it has become a not too viable option. The Rivers State chapter of the PDP has asked Amaechi not to heed the call of members of the National Assembly to resign or tender unreserved apology, over the Lagos-Calabar Rail project controversy. Rivers State PDP chairman, Bro Felix Obuah, asked the former governor to remain in office so he can show the world who he is.
“We have said it times without number that Amaechi cannot change his true colour under President Buhari and must remain a cog in the wheel of progress. His early resignation will hardly free the APC members and the unrepentant Amaechi apologists from the world of theories which is not good for the country.
“The taste of the pudding, they say, is in the eating, while experience remains the best teacher. Please let Amaechi be”, said Obuah.
Amaechi’s Railway imbroglio became more scandalous when Senator Gbenga Ashafa, the Chairman, Senate committee on land and transport (APC-Lagos State), confirmed that the Lagos-Calabar Railway project was not included in the initial budget sent to the National Assembly. “I confirm that the Lagos to Calabar Rail line was not in the original document that was presented to the National Assembly by the Executive,” said Ashafa.
The National Assembly had accused Amaechi of begging them during his budget defence, to slot in the project they claimed was not among the items submitted by Buhari. The federal government represented by the Budget Ministry, however, insists that the project was duly submitted and accepted by the National Assembly for approval, and noted that relevant committees of the parliament received the document.
Amaechi’s foray in politics began in 1999 when he was elected as a member of the Rivers State House of Assembly. He later emerged as its Speaker, a position he held for two terms of eight years. It is therefore expected that as a lawmaker, he is not expected to be a lawbreaker.
After his stint as a lawmaker, for him to become a governor was another round of controversy that made the Supreme Court to reverse itself after awarding Amaechi the governorship seat of the state when it was obvious that he did not participate in the 2007 election proper. As a Governor, he was the Alpha and Omega of Rivers politics, and was said to have abhorred dissenting opinions in the state.
The controversy personified in Amaechi played out prominently when he became chairman of the Nigeria Governors’ Forum (NGF).
Before his emergence, the NGF never held election to elect its officials but used consensus. On his assumption of office as chairman, Amaechi attempted to turn the NGF to a parallel federal paraphernalia through which the opposition political parties would punch the presidency. For him, controversy seems to be a way of life.
As Governor of Rivers State, Amaechi was involved in so many controversies such as the dismantling of his benefactor and godfather, Dr. Peter Odili’s political structure in the state. It is also being alleged that he in a bid to neutralise Nysome Wike in the politics of Rivers State, he recommended him for appointment as Minister so that he (Amaechi) could have a field day in the state without the prying eyes of his then Chief Of Staff. Little did the former governor know that he was actually sending Wike out to become the Governor of Rivers State.
Even the controversy surrounding the vacant stool of the Traditional Ruler of Ubima (Amaechi’s Home Town) is allegedly attributed to Amaechi’s insistence that his brother must become the sole candidate.
The appointment of a Vice Chancellor (VC) for Rivers State University of Technology, the state owned university was mired in controversy that led to the school’s closure for months, leaving thousands of students and parents in limbo. The demolition of the waterfront settlements displaced thousands of families in Rivers state and which was given as reason why Amaechi fell out with the former first Lady, Dame Patience Jonathan.
The Soku/Oluasiri oil well dispute between the Kalabari in Rivers state and Nembe people in Bayelsa ended in an needless war that cost innocent lives due to the alleged perfidious schemes of Amaechi who later used the crisis to blackmail President Goodluck Jonathan.
The revealing controversy over the purchase of an aircraft by Amaechi cannot be so easily forgotten in a hurry. The state’s teaching hospital stirred sufficient controversy too. Ditto for the Obi Wali Cultural Centre. The sale of the centre was shrouded in secrecy and failed to pass the test of due process and fiscal responsibility.
Subsequently, Amaechi led an arsenal against his own brother, then President Goodluck Jonathan, by leading five governors away from the PDP to form the New PDP in the full glare and to the disgrace of the President at the Eagle Square of all places. Amaechi worked tirelessly for the APC with the hope that he will be nominated as Vice Presidential running mate. He bankrolled the campaign and held a war chest. At the end Amaechi did not only lose Rivers State but was denied the Vice Presidential slot.
We are watching to see the next controversy he will stir in the coming days.