The Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi I Know


“For what is a man

What has he got if not himself

To say all the things he truly feels

And not the words of one who kneels…”

       Paul Anka, in the song, My Way, which was sang and popularised by Frank Sinatra

Those words paint the picture of a man who speaks his beliefs with conviction and no apologies; of a man who is passionate, bold and courageous in giving form to his beliefs and ideas.  Demand of me to name a contemporary Nigerian politician who has these characteristics and more, and I will readily name Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi. Those are some of the enduring traits which I have, for as long as I have known him, associated with the former Speaker of the Rivers State House of Assembly, former Rivers State Governor, former Hon. Minister for Transportation and now an aspirant for the office of the President of the Federal Republic.  

I have known Chibuike Amaechi since his days as an undergraduate student at the University of Port Harcourt.  Then, he was a leading light in student unionism.  I knew him to hold strong progressive opinions but he was always clear-headed and realistic.  I recall one of the critical moments then when the real Amaechi stood up for what was fair and just.  In the course of the students’ union election of that year, it became apparent that the ethnic bogey would topple everything: it was the only weapon the opposition could effectively deploy against the frontline candidate.  Those who thought an Igbo – never mind he was from the State – should not be leader of the union were hoping that Amaechi would throw his considerable influence behind them. But he quickly saw the injustice in what was to be and gave his unequivocal, clear and direct support to the embattled frontline candidate who went on to win.  That early in his career, as demonstrated in this instance, Amaechi’s conviction in the justice of the situation trumped over pressure to do the wrong and yield to the convenience of sentiment.

The Amaechi I know is a man who has held fast to certain principles: loyalty and respectfulness, justice and fairness, humility, compassion courage and forthrightness. Where he changes his position on issues, it is because he encountered superior facts.  To be sure, he hardly does so out of convenience but on reasoned conviction.  The man is uncompromising with his opposition to oppression and injustice, insincerity and treachery. 

Back in 2011, I edited a book with the title Nigeria, Leadership and Development: Essays in Honour of Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi. I consciously did the book to honour Amaechi, then Governor of Rivers State, because I was impressed with the boldness of the vision of development he demonstrated, the passion and energy with which he went about his work, as well as the courage with which he took on some of the vested interests in the State.  Given what the country is used to, Amaechi even then demonstrated a promising vision. He still does.

I have never been Amaechi’s political associate nor was the book in his honour for partisan political or any material reasons. It was simply because I saw reason, logic and hope in what he was trying to do and in the enthusiasm with which he was going about it. Such persons, I believe, deserve recognition and honour, to encourage them and to inspire others. In the same breath in which I commended what Amaechi was doing, I also commended others like Donald Duke in Cross River State, Adams Oshiomhole in Edo State and Babatunde Fashola of Lagos State – leaders in their respective States who were exemplary at the time, in my view.  Those familiar with the book know that there is not even a page or a chapter in the book devoted to discussing Amaechi’s politics, programmes or style of governance. 

My purpose then was to point my readers to the essence of purposeful leadership and meaningful development, which he represented and still does. I felicitate with him today and in the context of the unfolding political situation because I see in Amaechi one of those best equipped with the right vision, passion and experience to set a new agenda in the nation’s development trajectory.  As State Governor and chair of the Governors’ Forum, Amaechi stood noticeably taller than most of his colleagues who were batting below average. 

The Amaechi I knew then is essentially the same Amaechi I see today. Considering the severe security challenges in Rivers State when he took office as Governor, and the steady hand with which he routed the cult groups and criminal elements, one feels confident that he understands that if Nigeria is to survive, the state must effectively reclaim the ungoverned spaces taken over by groups of foreign and local bandits and terrorists. Safety of life and property is a sine qua non for sustainable development, human fulfillment and happiness. Here’s a man who travelled that road successfully, offering himself for more service. 

The Amaechi I know is very passionate about social welfare, the nexus between his compassion and his vision. He understands that without creating employment, widening and deepening the positive advantages of education as well as skills acquisition, and bringing the benefits of healthcare to the grassroots, security would not be assured. Insecurity would still be feeding on illiteracy and ignorance, joblessness and hopelessness. Merely throwing arms and money at insecurity does not solve the problem so long as the fundamental causes are unattended to. 

As Governor, Amaechi ensured that at the same time as his administration was denying safe harbour to cultists and criminals, it was also building the economy, reinforcing the education foundation and recruiting into the public sector, especially education, to deny insecurity the pool of hungry, angry and despondent youth from which it found recruits.  The bold and novel steps to boost education and agriculture created hundreds of new jobs.  The detailed redesigning and reconstruction of primary and model secondary schools as well as primary health care facilities in local governments and communities turned the State into a massive construction sight.  Even his worst critics, unless they are blinded by partisanship, see in Amaechi a man who demonstrated his concern for the future of the youths by creating conditions for their development. 

One of the abiding characteristics of the Nigerian ruling class is its anti-intellectualism and intolerance of ideas and debate – unless the ideas came ready-made from donors or the World Bank. Amaechi is happily free of this trait.  When he made education top priority under his administration, he was not playing to the gallery. He is a self-confessed lover of books and ideas. He still finds time to read! This is rare among members of the Nigerian political elite. Amaechi’s administration supported the annual Book festival in Port Harcourt.  He not only dutifully attended them but he also participated actively in the discussions that were not always pro-government. Under his administration, Port Harcourt was named one of the Book capitals of the world. Here is a man who can take criticism in his strides; a man who acknowledges his own mistakes.

He cannot be leader who has no vision of where he wants to take the society. As Rivers State Governor, Amaechi showed that he had a holistic vision and a plan for its implementation, based on what was provided in the State’s Master Plan. Each of his major projects derived from his vision of a safe, economically strong State with an educated and skilled workforce able to leverage the advantages of the expanding infrastructure.  Care was taken to ensure equitable spread of all development aids across the Local Government Areas.  One could see a leader planning today for a greater tomorrow.

Amaechi is not without his critics and some of them are justified.  However, some of the critics mistake for arrogance his outspokenness and low tolerance for incompetence; they see him as disrespectful and intolerant.  I must say that this is far from the Amaechi I know. But then that is the lot of a man who has few guiles and who prefers to call a spade by its proper name.  He can be brash, yes; but disrespectful, certainly not. The fact is that when he sets his mind on a goal, he gives it his best – sometimes at the risk of stepping on toes. He strictly distinguishes between the personal and official relations.  Because he takes responsibility for what he does in office, he is not one to let personal relations get in the way of doing the job to the best of his ability. Obviously, those who see things differently will most likely place negative construction on what results from such interactions.

Amaechi has a high sense of loyalty.  Some people achieve high office and abandon old friends as they embrace new ones.  Not the Amaechi I know.  He stands by old friends.  It is in relating to them and to those who remind him where he is coming from – the poor and weak – that his compassion comes to full play.

It is fair to describe Amaechi as a workaholic. His staff will attest to the fact that his working day begins quite early and ends rather late. He is not daunted by the amount of work he has to do. He is worried that it should be done well.

Those of us who claim a critical disposition have some responsibility to hold up to the young people those who have the potential to steer the ship of state in a positively different direction. The Amaechi I know is one of such people. As I felicitate with him on this birthday anniversary, I hope he continues to be steadfast in standing for justice and equity, for hard work with fair returns.

Happy birthday greetings, Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi! As the Igbo say when they see what is commendable in anyone, Jide nk’i ji!!

Ekekwe is a Professor of Political Science

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