The Igbo have a saying that one of the symbols of the house of a great man is that you will find all manner of people in it. Any president is a great person. And President Muhammadu Buhari is a great man indeed. That is why his cabinet presents a mosaic of the Nigerian species. We probably won’t have been privy to the mindset of each member of the cabinet except to try to decode their body language, an art that not all of us are proficient in. So we must thank Information and Culture Minister Lai Mohammed for initiating the Town Hall Meetings where the ministers are compelled to answer questions in interactive sessions with members of the public.
Last Monday’s town hall dialogue in Uyo, Akwa Ibom State, was as revealing as it was sobering. I will not be surprised if the exchange between Transport Minister, Rotimi Amaechi and Minister of State for Petroleum Dr. Ibe Kachikwu, on the approach to solving the problem of Niger Delta militants and the fate of the Maritime University at Okerenkoko in Delta State, continues to dominate discussions for a long time to come. I shall restrict this discourse to the maritime university.
In his submission, Amaechi had expressed the view that the university be suspended pending availability of funds. His grouse, and that is a point than many will sympathize with, was that the princely sum of N13 billion allegedly spent on land acquisition alone was enough to complete the project. Kachikwu disagreed, insisting that it was incumbent on the transport ministry to source the resources to complete the project. He went ahead to offer a sanctuary in the petroleum ministry if the transport ministry was actually disinheriting the university. Kachikwu had observed that he couldn’t clear less how much was spent on the land given that it was a matter for the law enforcement agencies to handle. His greater concern was that abandoning the project would amount to throwing the baby away with the bath water.
Some people have taken umbrage at Amaechi for proposing that a project benefitting the Niger Delta be scrapped. I did not read that meaning from his position. If Amaechi’s antecedents are anything to go by, it will amount to a grotesque summersault for him to oppose any project anywhere in the south-south geopolitical zone. In Nigeria, memories may be very short; but it is too early in the day to forget, so soon, how the erstwhile Rivers State governor persistently accused President Goodluck Jonathan of not doing anything in the south-south zone. Or do we take it that by pooh-poohing the maritime university, Amaechi is simply trying to erase any legacy of the Jonathan Administration in the Niger Delta even if his beloved compatriots would be the ultimate losers? I doubt that.
Now, to the more substantive deductions that need to be made from the Uyo exchange between the two brothers and how that would impact on our politics, going forward. And this lies essentially in the differences in personalities and cognition of the two ministers. Amaechi, holding up the anti-graft mantra of the Buhari Administration is behaving like the typical Nigerian politician, looking at immediate popular acclaim; Kachikwu, on the other hand, is definitely concerned with the long term impact of the project on the Niger Delta and Nigeria as a whole.
Whereas Amaechi is the quintessential politician who carries partisanship to the highest level, Kachikwu has carried himself as the technocrat cum statesman who is prepared to cross boundaries if only the attendant inclusiveness will ultimately translate to a better narrative in terms of national cohesion, peace and stability. While Amaechi does not seem to be bothered that suspending the project could further inflame passions in the Niger Delta, Kachikwu is unapologetically committed to securing for the Niger Delta region every prospective advantage that will restore peace and provide the congenial atmosphere without which President Muhammadu Buhari will not be able to implement his change agenda.
Does it mean that Rotimi Amaechi and Ibe Kachikwu are working at cross-purposes? I doubt that. I am confident that both are committed to the success of the Buhari Administration.
While they share that common vision, it is all too obvious that they do not agree on the method to adopt in prosecuting and achieving change. Therein lays Buhari’s dilemma. He needs a Rotimi Amaechi whose bulldozer approach can dismantle political strongholds. But once the electoral war is over, as in times like this, he needs the genre of Ibe Kachikwu: calm, methodical, compassionate and reflective men and women who, because of their professional pedigree and global exposure, possess the moral high ground to look authority in the face and tell it the truth. Neither would such public officers be bothered by political longevity nor preoccupied with popular acclaim. Even personal survival does not cross their minds in so far as their perception of reality and commitment to principles are not compromised.