Fellow Nigerians, if you did not watch the much-anticipated and long-delayed Ministerial screening of Rt. Hon. Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi, last Thursday, October 22, 2015, at the Senate Chambers of Nigeria’s National Assembly, you definitely missed a high drama. There was no way I would have missed the live broadcast of that historic event. Thanks to technology, my wife and I stayed glued to Channels TV transmitting all the way to us in London.
We received many calls from well-meaning Nigerians who were anxious to see the cup pass over Amaechi’s head. Social media platforms were instantly on overdrive. Twitter in particular was on fire. The Rock Star of Nigerian politics was on stage and the entire country was at a standstill. I was very agitated for several reasons. In particular, I didn’t want the world to view Nigeria as a country of ingrates who would rather destroy and bury the heroes of their struggle instead of celebrating them.
Right from the time former Governor Amaechi’s name surfaced on the President’s list of Ministerial nominees which was sent to The Senate President, Dr Abubakar Bukola Saraki, it was obvious Amaechi had been sent, inadvertently, to the Hyenas’ den. True, Amaechi himself had been given the moniker of the Lion of the Niger Delta by his fervent and vociferous supporters but no one could envisage the outcome of a wrestle between the kings of the jungle. Many commentators had opined that President Muhammadu Buhari should have made life easier for his former Campaign Manager by offering him a job that needed no screening from anyone.
The scenario could not have been otherwise. Amaechi undoubtedly was a major catalyst that catapulted the Change Movement into power at the centre. It is only natural that the victims of such monumental defeat would neither forget nor forgive their principal tormentor in a jiffy. For them it was the first and best opportunity to have their pound of flesh and pay Amaechi back in kind. It was not surprising that the screening session was initially riotous but for the avuncular carriage and confident and astute handling of proceedings by The Senate President who calmed things down.
The entrance of Amaechi into the hallowed Chamber was grand. He looked regal and royal in his traditional Niger Delta attire. His confidence level was high and palpable. After the usual traditional bows, he took his place at the podium. The Senate President then set the ball rolling by asking Amaechi to introduce himself. Trust the consummate politician, one of Nigeria’s most effervescent leaders read from a well-scripted paper and sold himself powerfully to the influential Senators. He was friendly and conciliatory.
He killed it by recognising the three Senators representing Rivers State. The import of that was that he was able to demonstrate how they were friends once upon a time. It was a masterstroke that thawed the frozen atmosphere and eased the incredible tension in the Senate Chamber. Amaechi spoke eloquently about his political trajectory from his Student Unionist days to the present and outlined his outstanding achievements in the years he has spent as a politician. Everything appeared to be going smoothly until the moment for question and answer and then the friction that had been the root cause of so much seeming strife erupted momentarily before fizzling out.
However, it was almost an anti-climax when the Minority Leader of the Senate, former Governor Godswill Akpabio said his caucus had resolved not to ask Amaechi any question since the report of the Senate Committee investigating the allegations of corruption levelled against Amaechi was yet to be discussed. Very few observers and political commentators had expected the PDP to react to the screening of Amaechi in this manner.
Many conspiracy theorists had predicted a rigorous, strident and acrimonious question and answer session for Amaechi from amongst the PDP Senators. For them to take the path that Senator Akpabio had espoused smirked of great intrigue and suggested that there was a hidden agenda which would shortly unfold. The solid block of 49 PDP legislators against a fractious, disunited and slender APC majority loomed large in the minds of most analysts and suggested that when the time came to vote Amaechi would be played out.
But, mercifully and smartly, the APC Senators as a surprisingly and remarkable cohesive unit played a fast one when some of its Senators thereafter asked Amaechi some cogent questions. The PDP Senatorial boycott, if one can call it even that, was instantly shown to be dead on arrival. I loved the intervention of Senator Gbenga Ashafa whose question provided a veritable platform for Amaechi to defend himself against the spate of allegations of corruption. Of course, Amaechi said he was in fact never indicted by any judicial panel and that he was ready to place the relevant papers before the Senators to demonstrate this. After about 50 minutes of intense grilling, Amaechi was asked to go.
As Amaechi walked out of the chamber, the whole chamber was clearly electrified. His multitude of fans waited outside. Their joy knew no bounds as they erupted into an orgy of celebration which included much hailing of the valiant, victorious warrior and spontaneous singing. Though I had gauged and seen Amaechi’s rapidly rising popularity on social media, I did not expect anything close to what I saw displayed on live TV. The love of fans like me was very deep and I saw more enthusiastic ones on television. I received the pictures within minutes and posted them on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter.
I had known and predicted that the seeming victimisation of Amaechi was going to draw attention and sympathy to him. The libellous attacks on him in the last couple weeks were horrendous and sufficient to cow any weak personality. Anyone in doubt should visit Twitter. Not only was he viciously scandalised and abused, but anyone who tried to defend him was also verbally assaulted and brutalised. I became a major target of voltrons, as we call them, and all manner of obvious hirelings descended on me trying to sully and undermine my support for Amaechi.
They simply descended on Amaechi and his most visible and influential friends like locusts. Some of these guys used very foul and uncouth language including insulting my dead parents. But this got me more determined. I knew for sure that all they wanted to achieve was to bully us off cyberspace and have the opportunity to mount their scurrilous campaign of calumny against Amaechi, unhindered and undisturbed. However, on our part, we intensified the celebration of Amaechi and his stellar achievements and this served to win us more confident and ardent supporters.
This special tribute is to put on record the reason why some of us are quite zealous about Amaechi. It is impossible to meet Amaechi and not feel his deep ardour for Nigeria. His style is simple but classy. Most times his dressing is usually understated. As Governor, he drove himself most times. He believes more in action than glamour.
Our relationship was that of mutual love at first sight. I had visited his office over ten years ago when he was Speaker of the Rivers State House of Assembly. He sounded very intelligent, smart and passionate about the development of Nigeria in general and Rivers State in particular. He also appreciated my zeal for Nigeria and its success. We exchanged numbers and spoke a couple of times thereafter. Subsequently, on one occasion he came to Ghana for a conference of Parliamentarians. He got in touch and I invited him over to my house for lunch. I was greatly honoured when he arrived with the then Speaker of the House of Representatives, Rt. Hon. Bello Masari and many others. Our relationship blossomed from there on.
Somehow, I had a feeling that Amaechi was going to go far in politics and I watched and followed him with keen interest and rapt attention. His fearless nature was a much needed ingredient in politics. After spending two terms as Speaker of the Rivers State House of Assembly, he made an attempt to run the Governorship race but encountered countless obstacles that were erected by powerbrokers. It appeared that he had fallen at the first hurdle and had not won his Party Primary primaries and so could not contest the General Elections. Things got dangerously bad at a time that he had to flee to Ghana for his dear life and that of his family. But mysteriously and miraculously Amaechi won his case at the Supreme Court and he was declared Governor without having contested the election. He wasted no time in attributing this unprecedented achievement to God.
Unlike many who would forget their antecedents, Amaechi never forgot his humble beginnings. He demystified power and bonded well with the people of Rivers State. Most of his enemies were members of the privilegentsia. He made education, healthcare, infrastructural development, job creation, agriculture, power generation and so on a priority and immediately sought to enhance them and, thus, the quality of life of ordinary people in Rivers State. The quality of his work was impressive and commendable. I visited some of his projects during the course of his tenure as Governor and could not believe what I saw. My admiration for him quadrupled.
The situation that led him to abandon PDP for APC was tragic but divine. President Goodluck Jonathan lost his second term bid, in advance, the day he allowed Amaechi and his fellow Governors and others to leave the PDP. I remember asking Amaechi if he thought his group could take on an incumbent African President and win. His answer was an unequivocal, Yes. He said he was ready for any fallout from their decision including harassment and victimisation by the then ruling Party, PDP. He stuck to his guns to the very end and remained unmoved and unbowed by all manner of brickbat and missiles hurled at him.
Amaechi had also made up his mind from DAY ONE to support the presidential ambition of General Muhammadu Buhari which was almost turning to a mirage after three excruciating attempts. Though he had a very soft-spot for then Governor Rabiu Kwankwaso of Kano State and a very high regard for Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, Amaechi never at any time prevaricated on his decision to support Buhari. At this time he was a formidable lone ranger as others chose to pit their tents elsewhere until gradually they were won over by the popularity and appeal of the person and message of President Buhari.
When Buhari later appointed him the Director-General of his Presidential Campaign, many had argued that the job was beneath a serving Governor but Amaechi said emphatically that he was ready, able and willing to embark on the arduous task. He argued that nothing was too much to sacrifice for the salvation of Nigeria. During the campaign there were rumours that Amaechi was dictatorial and that he did not carry many members of his team along, he had a convincing answer to this criticism. He said he would not wait indefinitely for those who did not understand the concept of time and money. He combined well with Dr Bukola Saraki to mobilise heavily for Buhari. They were able to secure the support of many entrepreneurs who felt President Goodluck Jonathan was safer for them but later agreed to accept the change mantra. Other political leaders like the inimitable, resourceful and redoubtable national leader, Alhaji Bola Ahmed Tinubu had been in the forefront of the team and took the campaign to another level.
For me the biggest contribution of Amaechi is how he placed national interest above sectional and primordial sentiments. History would have high regard for him in the future, and generations unborn would read about his gallant efforts, if and when this latest gamble of a Buhari Presidency pays off. This is what has acquired for him today a cult followership at home and abroad. The deafening ovation he received at the National Assembly precincts only a couple of days ago was therefore a token of our appreciation for him being a truly exceptional Nigerian.
My sincere wish is for God to grant him more wisdom and the spirit of forgiveness now and in the future. Some have wronged him no doubt just like he must also have wronged others but he must demonstrate that he has risen above the disappointment and trauma engendered by such before God and man. There is no sweeter revenge than God taking up your fight all the time and ensuring that you are victorious. Amaechi’s story is a salutary lesson in this regard.
God bless Nigeria.