UNTIL he joined the defunct National Republican Convention (NRC) in 1992 and became its scribe for Ikwere Local Government Area, nothing significant could be gleaned from public records about the Ubima-born politician and former governor of the oil-rich Rivers State, Rotimi Amaechi.
His antecedent is encountered thus: Amaechi is a graduate of English Studies and Literature from the University of Port Harcourt. He prepared himself and probably sharpened his politics a la Nigeria skills at the university where he participated actively and was elected student union leader, just as he held a leadership position in the zonal chapter of the National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS).
On completion of his mandatory National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) scheme, he jumped into the waiting arms of a man who later became his political benefactor, Dr Peter Odili, who employed him as the image-maker for his hospital. The relationship blossomed and in the process, Ameachi bridged the gap between political theory and practice under Odili’s guidance.
During the General Sani Abacha’s transition programme, Amaechi pitched his tent with the Democratic Party of Nigeria (DPN), emerging as the Rivers State secretary. At the dawn of the Fourth Republic, he was elected into the state House of Assembly and later the Speaker of the parliament for two terms. Amaechi came across at the ‘political voltage stabiliser’ in terms of the relationship between the House and the executive arm headed by Dr Odili, his godfather of sort. It was not towards the end of the second term that the relationship broke down irretrievably.
Amaechi participated in the primary election to elect the governorship candidate for the PDP and won. However, his name was substituted with that of Celestine Omehia who was sworn in as governor. But Amaechi took the fight up to the Supreme Court and was affirmed as the rightful candidate and Omehia was consequently was sacked. There was an attempt to resurrect the matter towards the end of Amaechi’s second term, but the fire was quenched at the Appellate Court which set aside the decision of a lower court in favour of Omehia.
Former President Olusegun Obasanjo who was allegedly behind the removal of Amaechi’s name and the former governor later joined the bandwagon of the change mantra crusaders in the buildup to the last elections. Speaking at the inauguration of some projects in Rivers State, Obasanjo described the weapon he used against Amaechi as K-leg Theory and said he had no regrets over it. He insisted Amaechi became governor through awkward Supreme Court decision.
After surviving many battles, Ameachi, a Catholic, would probably have invoked the scriptures that “many are the afflictions of the righteous: but the Lord delivereth him out of them all.” He would have thought the strife done and the battle o’er. But not at all. He was entangled in yet another fierce battle with the then First Lady, Dame Patience Jonathan, over the issue of successor to the ‘throne’ of Rivers. Amaechi lost the battle and his nemesis, Nyesom Wike, succeeded him.
But Amaechi directed his choler against the then first family by jumping ship to the APC along with others. Before that, his leadership of the Nigeria Governors’ Forum became factionalised until he left for the broom party. He swore to thwart the re-election bid of former President Goodluck Jonathan and achieved it. For this, he earned the alias ‘slayer of GEJ.’ He was the Director General of the Muhammadu Buhari presidential campaign. He was speculated to have provided the war chest to prosecute not only the presidential but also the gubernatorial aspiration of five APC candidates.
A commission of inquiry set up by Wike to look into how some of the state’s assets were allegedly frittered under Amaechi indicted the former governor. Specifically, Amaechi was accused of having diverted N53 billion state funds during his reign as governor.
Justice George Omereji, who headed the commission, said: “On the billions of naira said to have been stashed away in some places, there was the sum of N55 billion in the State Reserve Fund. Between 2014 and May 2015, they were able to remove N53 billion and we found out that the N53 billion was not used for the projects in the state. The money went to individuals. From the papers submitted to us, we also found out that the money was given to people they like. We went to the site of the Justice Karibi Whyte Hospital. We did not see anything at all.”
While Amaechi dismissed the allegation of funds diversion, the state chapter of the APC rose in his defence, accusing the commission and the Wike administration of crying wolf where there was none. The former governor accused his predecessor of manipulating the commission with a view to stopping his nomination as minister. Several protests and petitions urging President Buhari to rethink Amaechi’s nomination were ignored.
At an anti-corruption gathering in London, United Kingdom, this year, the then British Prime Minister, David Cameron, labeled Nigeria a ‘fantastically corrupt’ country. President Buhari, who was part of the gathering which generated a rather global interest. Weeks later, a British tabloid went to town with a story headlined: Is Nigerian leader’s pal ‘fantastically corrupt’? Friend of African president accused of stealing £500million. Amaechi was reportedly the subject of that report. The newspaper specifically accused him of “diverting £140m of state funds into Buhari’s presidential campaign.”
The latest on Amaechi came from two judges who alleged that overtures were made to them to derail justice in the governorship elections in Rivers, Akwa Ibom and Ekiti states. The judges narrated how Amaechi made the attempts and even mentioned the names of witnesses to the proposed deal. Amaechi has since not only denied it, but has also threatened that the judges will have a date in court with him.
In the spirit of the campaign tagged ‘operation war against graft in every sector’ and being vigorously pursued by the Buhari administration, protesters have poured on the streets to demand that the judges step aside to prove their innocence of the graft charges against them. From media reports, there is high probability that judicial authorities might cave in to pressure from on high to have the judges prosecuted.
But where does this leave Amaechi? SERAP, a non-governmental group founded by human rights lawyer, Femi Falana, SAN, has asked Buhari to probe Amaechi over the judges’ claims. The pan-Yoruba socio-political group, Afenifere, has also clamoured that Amaechi should step aside and be probed as well as the judges.
The alleged refusal or tardiness of President Buhari in endorsing the call for Amaechi and his colleague mentioned by the judges to step down and be probed has the potential of casting further shadow of doubt over his anti-corruption campaign which many already see as being one-sided. This is especially so coming after the British newspapers’ report as well as several other reports locally. Similarly, it may be interpreted that Amaechi is ‘being protected by the president’ as a further act of gratitude for a man who allegedly went all the way to get fund for his campaign.
A saying in Yoruba worldview goes thus: Today, we say the antelope has urinated in the forest. Tomorrow, we say it has defecated in the forest. Is antelope the only animal in the forest? The question being asked is why is it only Amaechi’s name that featured in the letters of the judges?
All these allegations against the Minister of Transport could indeed have been trumpeted by his political enemies. But that verdict of innocence and/or acquittal can only come when legal due process has been followed. The tragedy, of course, is that the anti-corruption crusade of President Buhari will thunder when it becomes obvious that some individuals both in his government and outside of it are sacred cows which cannot be slaughtered on the altar of justice because they enjoy maximum protection.
Buhari, speaking at the 10th memorial anniversary of Abacha in 2008, in Kano, gave the late maximum ruler a clean bill of health, despite allegations that Abacha stashed a humongous amount of Nigeria’s oil proceeds in Swiss banks and other western countries. But shortly after he was elected in March, one of the foreign diplomats who visited him was the Swiss envoy who pledged the commitment of his government to releasing Nigeria’s money stashed in Swiss banks when his government is inaugurated. As a follow-up to that, Switzerland, as recently as July, 2016, put the amount it intends to repatriate to Nigeria at $321m.