(An excerpt from Amaechi: Burden of A Crusader by Philemon Doro Adjekuko & Humphrey Bekaren)
“Amaechi, a friend to die for, a friend who will die for you”
In the densely populated poor neighborhood of Diobu where former Governor Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi, now Minister of Transportation, grew up in down town Port Harcourt, Rivers State, he was fondly known and called by three names, Timi, Boy and Chibuike. Timi was a clip of the Yoruba name Rotimi, an affectionate name that means “embrace me” with three variants: Stay or stand by me, the Lord embraces or upholds me and wealth or honour embraces or upholds me. His Ikwerre name, Chibuike, means “God is my strength”. There is something interesting in the life of Amaechi that approximates the meanings of his names.
In the first place, how did an Ikwerre man in Rivers State end up with a Yoruba name? The story goes back to the early 60’s, to a legal legend called Chief Frederick Rotimi Alade Williams, a Queens Counsel and Senior Advocate of Nigeria who straddled the country’s legal terrain like a colossus: A courageous man who went to the end of the earth to find the law to convey justice and equity to those in dire need of the rule of law, a politician who defended his political party, the Action Group, with all the legal weapons he had during the crisis in Western Nigeria and stood up to the military’s encroachment on both private and public legal rights.
But down in Diobu, Rivers State, was another man called Fidelis Amaechi, father of Governor Amaechi, a man of modest means who ran a patent medicine store. He was also a political activist, member of the Action Group and a great admirer of Chief FRA Williams. So when he had a son in 1965, he named him Rotimi after his legal Idol. His desire was that his son would be a prominent, courageous and intelligent person. But then did Timi, the Boy turn out to be all that his father wished for? Who really is Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi?
To answer the two posers concerning Amaechi, we spent over a year watching and tracking the then Governor’s activities in and outside of Rivers State. It was time spent riding with him, flying with him, sharing meals with him and most importantly, watching him at work and talking to his close associates in and out of government and to a random selection of people across the state.
Understanding Amaechi was a difficult nut to crack. He is man loved and hated with the same degree of passion across the political spectrum. His close associates, however, described him almost with the same set of words as if rehearsed. They unanimously consider him to be passionate about people, very honest, extremely generous, very courageous, blunt, fair minded, detribalized, focused, visionary, well informed, trusting, loyal to friends, and God fearing. On the flip side, some said he could be impulsive, tactless, temperamental, impatient, fairly unorganized, and sometimes allows subordinates too much discretion and individual latitude.
In the eyes of the public, Amaechi is a paradox. People, who salute his courage, sometimes turn around to accuse him of being loud, disrespectful and arrogant. But according to Hon. Dakuku Peterside, who has known the Governor for over 25 years,
“People mistake Governor’s Amaechi’s passion for being over bearing.”
Indeed, some people consider Amaechi to be overbearing. Mr. Basil Eze, a Rivers State citizen and a strong critic of Amaechi on social media is one of them.
“It is expected that programs and policies of the government should be according to the goals and aspirations of the people and not according to what the leader or chief servant, if I may classify him correctly, thinks is right. He may actually have his own opinion, which may actually seem right but if the people don’t buy into it, it amounts to nothing. My argument is that the world has grown beyond the Machiavellian era. We must begin to appreciate that in this age and time, the shift is towards civility, not coercion. Whether we like it or not, the norm today is that whatever you do, even if it is for your wife, kid or maid, you must reflect their will and aspiration. Leadership is not a fast and furious race”
But is there something in Amaechi’s style of leadership that may be interpreted or misinterpreted to be overbearing.
Here is how Mr. Noble Pepple, who was then the Executive Director and CEO of Rivers State Sustainable Development Agency described Amaechi,
“He is also a very bold and courageous individual, sometimes to a fault. He is the sort of person who will not bother a lot about how things will impact him personally. And if he believes in something, if he believes that he is fighting the right course, he will go all out”
Most of the people spoken to captured Amaechi in this light. Could this be the source of the accusation that he is imperious?
Mr Mustapha Njie, a Gambian and the CEO of RIVTAF, a Special Purpose Vehicle (SPV) set up by Amaechi’s government to build a multi billion Naira Golf Estate in the Trans-Amadi area of Port Harcourt said,
“Leaders do make mistakes but they must take decisions. Whether wrong or right, you must be a decision maker. And that is one of the qualities that Governor Amaechi has. If he believes in something, he goes for it and implements it. He is bold and blunt. But then, there is a big argument out there today whether political democracy as it works in the West can work in Africa. But take a look at history. If you look at the success stories in the world, wherever you have economic success, somehow there is some form of dictatorship. Look at Singapore, Malaysia, China and the United Arab Emirate. Leaders must be ready to know that no matter what they do, there would be opposition. Therefore, there should be a limit to what they should listen to.”
Should a leader pander to what the majority of the people think? Would a leader be able to deliver on his vision if he constantly seeks to carry along the majority of the people?
In his book, “Understanding Politics –Ideas, Institutions and Issues“, Thomas Magstadt wrote,
“Democratic government- when defined as unlimited rule of the majority-can become synonymous with mob rule. Commonly viewed as defense against tyranny, majority rule, ironically, can produce another kind of tyranny, which Alexis de Tocqueville called the tyranny of the majority. The concept of government by consent –or majority rule- was highly controversial when the delegates to the Constitutional Convention met in Philadelphia in 1787.”
History, as President Barrack Obama can testify to, clearly shows that although carrying the masses along may be desirable to deliver a great project or policy, it is equally fraught with dangers. Obama’s resort to executive orders for his health insurance and immigration plans, though constitutional, was considered dictatorial, at least, in the eyes of Republican dominated members of the American Congress, the people’s representatives.
Again Mr. Pepple said of Amaechi
“He is dogged and stubborn. If he believes in something, it will take really superior logic to change that belief. But the good side of that is that he will debate issues with you and if you are able to offer clear, logical reasoning that is superior to his, then he would back down. This trait in the Nigerian political space, which believes in compromise, dog scratch dog, makes it difficult for him to survive.”
But getting Amaechi to listen to you could also be a task. Senator. Andrew Uchendu, a longtime political associate of Amaechi said,
“He is always in haste. He finds it difficult to sit and listen through, which is a major fault. If somebody is talking trash, hear him or her out. If he listens to you and you are making sense and then you goof along the line, he will pick that up and that is the end of the discussion. That is not good enough. He has little patience in listening to people because he trusts himself.”
Kingsley Wali, another associate of Amaechi confirmed Sen. Ochendu’s opinion and prescribed an antidote:
“Amaechi likes to scream. What that has done is that people who lack confidence are unable to stand up to him. But he is somebody who easily caves in to superior argument. If you are able to break through his intimidation, he might not say yes to you right there. But when he is taking that decision, he will consider what you have said. Therefore, it takes somebody with confidence, somebody not suffering from a large dose of inferiority complex to work with him.”
Nevertheless, Amaechi when he was Speaker of the Rivers State House of Assembly cut the image of someone you could readily run to and get a listening ear. Hon. Chikere Wanjoku, a member of the 7th Assembly, looked back and captured the feelings of a number of members.
“Amaechi had a one on one relationship with members of the State House of Assembly. The loyalty of the members was to him and not the Governor (Dr Odili) because he was interested in the personal lives of everybody. He was like a father figure. Even those that were older than him would run to him for advice when they had marital problems. If you had problems in your local government, you will run to him. He stood by everyone. And so when he had the k-leg crisis, nobody could break the River State House of Assembly and that tradition, left behind by that batch of members still, continues till date.”
Is Amaechi an arrogant and dictatorial person or is he a victim of the tyranny of good intentions? Contrary to that image of a person who is tough, takes no nonsense and willing to take on anyone who distorts the truth, Amaechi appears to be a man with a very soft side. His then Commissioner of Information, Mrs. Ibim Semenitari, who was in the eye of the storm managing the Governor’s public persona described as him as:
“Sensitive to people’s feelings, thoughts, emotions, needs and who has difficulty in hurting people. A man who has a strong love for state and country. He is an idealist. He believes that there is an ideal that he world should aspire to and he works towards that. Very often he is influenced by his experiences. He is someone who likes to overcome challenges. And some of his early experiences defined his approach to government and governance. He expects that government should be able to provide a buffer for its citizens and so even in his vision and his mission statement you are going to notice a consistency. His world view is such that you find him talking about ensuring a good society. Ensuring that the people live and enjoy their God given wealth. He talks about the matter of a society where everybody is able to benefit from the resources of State in a manner that is sustainable. Talks about the issue of accountability and transparency. He is a very selfless man. He is not greedy.”
Sen. Uchendu agreed with Semenitari’s position on Amaechi.
“He is people oriented. He is people focused. He has obsession and great passion for the welfare of the people even at the cost of overwhelming the state treasury”
Dr Samson Parker, a friend of the Governor and his then Health Commissioner threw some light into another aspect of him.
“If Amaechi sees somebody that is ill, it appears that he is the one that he is ill and would want to do all he can to assist the person. Sometimes, some people take advantage of that. When they want something from him, they pretend disadvantaged or take a less privileged position and blackmail him into helping.”
Again Sen. Uchendu said:
“One thing that endeared him to the people a lot is that he demystified the office of the governor. It became the people’s office. He will be working and people will be holding meetings around him. Before now, the office of the Governor was like an impenetrable area only for the high and mighty.”
How does an individual described with such soft and soothing words end up in the opinion of some people as arrogant and disrespectful?
Amaechi’s then Commissioner for Commerce, Mr. Chuma Chinwe, went philosophical in an attempt to resolve that paradox:
“There is some level of messianic tendency in him and unfortunately if you check through history, most persons with messianic tendencies get sacrificed and I have always worried about that for him. Some of the things he shouldn’t have said if he didn’t have that tendency he said them all the same. And some of the things he didn’t have to do if he didn’t have that tendency he did them anyway. They stand him today in very good stead. There is no Governor as popular or as noticeable as him. Anybody who wants to sell his newspapers would put Amaechi on their front page. He has become an enigma. He has become a phenomenon. But it comes with a cost. So I have those concerns about my boss.”
Rt. Hon. Amachree Daniel, Speaker of the 7th Rivers State House of Assembly, who knew Amaechi from his University days, commented,
“Amaechi is a nice man. He listens to people. He solves their problems. He interacts well with people. But he is somehow erratic. Before you know it, he is already angry. Sometimes, he tells people the truth to their faces. And you know people don’t like being told the truth. So, some see him as arrogant.”
Dr Uche Igwe, a political scientist, who has written extensively about Amaechi and his administration, offered an interesting resolution of the paradox with a blend of political philosophy:
“Governor Amaechi is consummate politician who is contesting or struggling with the system that produced him. He is a product of the kind of politics that is prevalent in Nigeria. The politics of who you know, politics of god fatherism, politics of the few appropriating the public space and politics of particularism. Having being produced by that and having some form of activist orientation, he finds himself at the centre of a struggle to dethrone what enthroned him. But to do that, he has to dethrone part of him because it is that same thing that enthroned him. And that is what captures Amaechi as a politician.
But as a person, he is a compassionate individual. A man, who understands his background, understands his journey through life and appreciates and supports those he identifies are in a similar fate. I think that is what drives him. And he is a kind individual and if time permits him and this struggle I talked about permits him, he is always reaching out to his friends, to people who do not have because he is a man who was catapulted from a background of not having to, in a way having it, so whatever people see manifest in him is as a result of this competing parts of him. A part of him that is activist ready to cause change, dethrone the status quo and a part of him that has alliance with the status quo and because he rules and was produced by the status quo. And that is what makes his situation as a politician very complicated. And it depends on the side of him you see, you make conclusions. And the controversial picture he paints is that no one has been able to systematically articulate Amaechi as a kind and consummate individual and Amaechi as a politician struggling with a new way of doing things and the old way of doing things that produced him.”
Reconciling the paradox of Amaechi public persona is intriguing. The tough question though was whether or not the Rivers people know the real Amaechi and appreciate him. Mrs Semenitari cleared this up,
“The general people know and appreciate Amaechi as a compassionate person. You have to have a tender heart to do what he did with respect to free education. If you go out on the street, you will see that people love him. They rush to him, they hug him, they congratulate him. It is a tiny portion of the elite, the political class that has problem with Amaechi. And it is not that they don’t like him. It is that they think that they should have their hands in the till. And Amaechi is not letting them do that. I can play back some of the comments of these same people at different times. Many of those same people had their medical bills and those of their wives paid by Amaechi. And that shows you that Amaechi is a kind hearted man. If he was just a politician he would have put out all of those bills that have been paid, which is what these people would do if things were the other way round.”
Mrs Laz-Nwokeafor, Amaechi’s then Executive Director, Bureau for Public Private Partnership collaborated Mrs. Semenitari’s position,
“I think the young people do. Those that don’t capture who he is are the older generation. And I will tell you why. Our culture is also part of the problem. We have over the years in Rivers State created a culture of rent seeking. Nobody wants to work hard for Rivers money. It is our money, bring it and let’s share it. Nobody is trying to say, ok, we can still share this money but can we work a little. It is all a question of how can we share the money. And so because it is in our mind that all we have to do is share the money, anyone body who is not sharing the money one, is a bad leader, two, he is not carrying people along and three, in the case of Governor Amaechi, you are rude. Why are you rude? You are rude because you will not share money with them. The vast majority of the young people in this state, they admire and respect Governor Amaechi. Where he has a lot of challenges is with the establishment who see him as arrogant, rude and does not take advice because he insists on due process.”
Commenting on the subject matter, Dr. Uche said,
“I think that very many times, an ordinary person in Rivers state perceive him as a successful governor in terms of what is on ground, in terms of infrastructure. Those who were here before now cannot deny the fact that he has put in place solid infrastructure, solid roads and I have gotten to place and they say if you see what this place used to be. So Amaechi’s name is written all over the streets of Port Harcourt on solid infrastructure with the ordinary people. However, his politics, especially this part of him that tries to contest the old ways of doing things does not resonate with the public. It makes him come across as a rebel, as an ungrateful person, as someone who does not understand the general interest of the political elite. So two levels, first level is that he is very appealing to the ordinary people. But he does not resonate with the political elite and beneficiaries of the status quo who feel threatened by the fact that he conducts himself as though he is very committed to dethroning them. And in a way because the political elite are a powerful group of people who also try to shape the thinking of the public, so I see a decongestion of public sympathy for the Governor and a congestion of the sympathy for the political elite who see him as a rebel, someone who does not want to protect interest, as someone who wants to enthrone universalism over particularism. By that I mean a view that pushes the fact that very few people have the birth right to unfettered access to public resources and public opportunities and now Amaechi emerges from nowhere to now want to enthrone universalism, there must be universal access to public resources that is a very difficult job and that is what has made his outlook very controversial and that controversy is threatening to submerge an impactful governance in the past four years.”
Irrespective of how Amaechi may be perceived by ordinary folks and the political elite, most people spoken to admit that as a Governor he meant well and had done well for Rivers people. “The man try” is how he is often described in the local parlance in Rivers State.
Ade Adeogun, Amaechi’s then Sole Administrator of Rivers State Waste Management Agency who had lived in Rivers State for over two decades had this to say about Amaechi’s attitude to development,
“Governor Amaechi has a large appetite for development. He is a man who is greedy for development. He is so much in a hurry and thinks there is so much to be done and wants to do everything at the same time. Unfortunately, there is no resource to feed such large appetite for development. But the job of the leader is not to build today, it is to build the future. Governor Amaechi set out to build the future. Someday, people will come around and say thank you.”
Did Amaechi really have such a large appetite for development? Mr. Chinwe agreed
“He did quite a number of things early. If he were driving past somewhere and there is traffic. He would say, oh this traffic can’t be here we need to put a road here immediately. Good intention, but if you sat back and planned and took a bigger picture and planned, may be more of the important things would have been done earlier and some of the less important ones could have been done later. I also think that he took on too many things. And from the second year of his administration I began to scream privately that he needed to stop and do an audit otherwise he would go bankrupt.”
Clearly, Amaechi was a man in a hurry to get things, a lot of things done. Is it possible that this may have hurt him? Mr. Adeogun thought so.
“With a little more organization he would have been someone people will be celebrating everywhere. If you look at what he has done, you have to add some little, little things to make them monuments.”
Amaechi’s then Director General of Bureau for Public Procurement, Franklyn Nlerum, agreed with Adeogun’s position
“The Governor is a visionary with a good heart. He sees a long way into the future and he is bold. He will tell you what is on his mind. But it is the staying power that he lacks. It is not doing many things that is the problem. It is that lack of staying power, that lack of organizational flair to turn his vision into reality that is the problem.”
There is no doubt that Amaechi came to office with a clear agenda of what he wanted. Dame Alice Nimi-Lawrence, Amaechi’s then Commissioner of Education, repeatedly said,
“He was prepared to be a Governor. I was lucky that I was working with a Governor who knew what he wanted. All I had to do as a Commissioner was to run with his vision. But I also tried to see if I could beat him even though he would tell you what he wants.”
Although Amaechi knew what he wanted, weaving everything together neatly and getting everyone to buy into the dream with the same passion as a team was a challenge. Mrs. Laz-Nwokeafor, provided some insight.
“Governor Amaechi has a very good idea of what he wants. But he thinks everybody is good just like him. He sees everybody for their good and finds it difficult to see the evil in people. May be that is just how his God created him. Not to judge people by other people’s mistake. He sees a good project, you talk to him and he thinks you can deliver it. He lets you run with it, he does not micro manage you. So, because he sees the good in you, he has no reason to micro manage you. Therefore, he does not know when you are failing. He does not see the cracks. But when you are a leader you need people to implement your dream. It is hard to be the thinker and the implementer. However, those that you delegate to must from day one share your passion, because with him, he has got a lot of it. So they must share your passion not just to deliver but to deliver the quality that you want. It is that quality that makes the difference. Therefore, at the end of the day you must find the people who can implement your vision and deliver the quality that you want on time and on budget.”
Re-enforcing how trust have hurt the Governor, Mrs Semenitari said
“Certain people may say that trust is a positive attitude and it sure is. But then, for an administrator, you should be able to read persons and places. You should be able to quickly define what people’s capabilities are. And I think that in terms of understanding strengths and weaknesses of persons, because of his very, like I said, almost childlike heart, he tends to take people at their words. In a sense he could be naïve. Early in his administration, a lot of people played on that. And therefore, sometimes he does not see a lot going on.“
Amaechi’s trusting nature hurt him personally and to some extent his administration. Most of those who became his staunch political rivals were those he had worked with closely and assisted to grow politically. He has always stood by his friends. But some of his friends did not just leave him but became thorns in his flesh.
Hon Dakuku took a long look backwards and declared that Amaechi’s trusting nature was both and asset and a weakness considering how friends have betrayed him over time, yet he never changed his attitude to friendship.
“I can share with you what happened between 1992 and 93. He was very active in government and extremely generous. But between 1993 and 1999 when he came back to government again he suffered some form of hardship. Those friends were not there for him. A good number betrayed him totally. I was staying in his house. The number of visitors to his house dropped to almost zero. But let me tell you the most shocking one. In 1992/93, like I said, he was in government and very generous, very liberal with everything he had. In December 1993 when he was about getting married. But there was a coup by General Sani Abacho which pushed out Earnest Shonekan. Between that time and the time he got married, I and a few of our young friends were the ones running around for everything about his wedding. Fifty percent of the friends were no longer there. But he never had course to complain about the fact that his friends deserted him. I don’t know his own genetic composition. I can’t explain that. He never complained. He never for once complained to me about the fact that his friends deserted him, never. Even when I would draw his attention to it, he would just wave it aside and say I don’t understand how life is.”
The issue of whether or not friendship and trust may have hurt Amaechi’s Administration was a bit contentious.
First, Amaechi did not set out to flood his administration with friends and family. He was even said to have told people around him at the beginning that he only needs those who are prepared to work to be in his administration and that those who were merely interested in making money should engage his government from the outside. However, Amaechi did bring some of his friends into his government. Some people outside government and a few inside government claimed that some of Amaechi’s friends were a burden on him.
Dame Mrs Aleruchi Cookey-Gam, Amaechi’s then Administrator of Greater Port Harcourt Development Authority, who had been in the government of Rivers State since 1999 reflected on the issue of Amaechi’s friends in government,
“Amaechi does not condone inadequacies. But life is a balancing act. It is not that straight forward or straight jacketed as people would want to see it happen. Sometimes you tolerate people not because you cannot do the contrary but there are several factors and considerations that always come into play. It is just the same way as dealing with your staff. Sometimes, you think that what you need to do is sack somebody. But as the end of the day you decide not to do that. So, I don’t think it is peculiar with him. It is just that as you go through life you are always weighing things and deciding the best options. But, I believe that if the issue at hand is critical that it would affect the well-being of the state, as a statesman he would take the decision and move on. I don’t think he shies away from decisions when it becomes absolutely necessary.”
Speaker Amachree said Amaechi could not have been afraid to talk to his friends in government but would rather tolerate and try to help them to succeed:
“The Amaechi I know does not pretend. If you are not performing, he will tell you without fear or favour. Yes, he cherishes friendship but then, he does not play with his job. He will not want anybody to jeopardize his efforts. He will not easily fire you but he will tolerate you and would continue to let you know that you are not performing. He will help you to ensure that you perform. He is a man who loves challenges, so he tries to bring you up to be on the same level with him.”
Dr Parker corroborated Amachree’s position,
“If somebody has done something wrong he knows how to deal with that person. He is not afraid of any person. Some of his friends, particularly those very close to him are always under attack. In politics, people want to shift things around so as to make space for others. A lot of people out of envy say a lot of things they cannot prove just to weaken the system. When they cannot go after the Governor, they go after his friends.”
Amaechi may have picked some people around him without scrutinizing them for capacity but in generally he tried to assemble a good team. In his first tenure he pushed his team very hard to deliver on his plans for the State. But by the second term he became somewhat distracted and more tolerant as be battled the attack from local and Abuja adversaries. Commenting on this Amaechi said,
“My first term was wonderful. It there was any problem at all, it is this 2nd term. The imprints are everywhere. I’m not saying we are not working now, But by my 2nd term, the fight with the president (President Goodluck Jonathan, you are more cautious of how you handle people and situations.“
Amaechi, no doubt, set out to get things done properly. He worked very early on in his administration towards establishing key agencies and selected very capable hands to assist in driving his dream. Some of the agencies included the Rivers State Bureau on Public Procurement (RSBOPP), Rivers State Bureau for Public Private Partnership (RSBPPP) and Rivers State Sustainable Development Agency (RSSDA). Quite noticeable was that the agencies had a different orientation from that of the ministries.
But doing things the right way was a battle. Though the Governor was determined to run with the mantra of Rivers State money for Rivers State people, carrying everybody along was a heavy burden. On the setting up of RSBOPP, Mr. Nlerum said,
“Even within, both at the board and staff level people didn’t think this was supposed to be a serious business. They thought it was going to be a joke. And many of the commissioners, if they knew where the Governor was heading, they wouldn’t have supported it. Sometimes I pity the Governor. He is a politician. To have a stubborn man who insists on the right way to do things is not easy for him. But he has given us all the support we need. Many times I want to pack and go because you look and ask who is with me. On my board or my staff, I can count the number of people who are with me, who are committed, who can make this place function whether I am here or not and that is not the majority.”
It appears, therefore, that apart from getting everyone to domesticate his huge appetite and passion to deliver development under his lais·sez-faire style of leadership, the greater challenge to Amaechi’s administration was how to change the old order of doing business. And that challenge came from within and outside his government.
For instance, the Rivers State Bureau of Public Procurement was considered to be a stumbling block rather than a partner by some people in the administration. But for the fact that the Amaechi gave the agency a free hand to operate, the agency would have been dead on arrival. The same applied to the Rivers State Bureau for Public Private Partnership and the Rivers State Sustainable Development Agencies.
From the angle of these agencies you could have a glimpse of how Amaechi wanted to run his administration.
Examples of two projects will illustrate the point. The first was the 40 hectares (825 units) Golf Estate in Trans-Amadi constructed by RIVTAF a Special Purpose Vehicle jointly owned by the Rivers State Government and TAF Nigeria Homes Limited, a subsidiary of TAF Holding Company, based in the Gambia. The entire project was conceived and started within eight months. The company was recommended by some people at the World Bank to the Nigerian Government and Rivers State. Reflecting on his experience in Rivers State, the CEO of RIVTAF, Mr Mustapha Njie said,
“I have been around here (Rivers State) for three years and I have not met the Governor more than three times and each of the three times it has been official. I have not met him privately, one on one. I am sure that he does not know my name off the cuff. If I have to give a reason why this project is successful, it is because the man who is the Chief Executive of the State has got his hand off, zero interference. And most of the times, in a project like this, there is interference from the top for various reasons including personal interest. I can frankly and honestly say that I have not seen that here. Contracts are very transparent. There are obstacles that come across your way from time to time. But these are normal in life.”
Mr Njie, impressed with his business experience in Rivers State said he has adopted the State as his home in Nigeria and that he was not in a hurry to go to any other State to do business any time soon. As at the time of the interview with him, he was getting set to sign another contract with the state to build a 450 low cost housing estate in Greater Port Harcourt.
The second project that illustrates how Amaechi does business is that of the LR group, an Israel company that operates World Wide in managing, developing, producing and maintaining medium and large scale national projects in emerging markets. Their Chief Executive came to Nigeria (his first visit) on a Sunday, got all his paperwork from the state on Monday, signed the contract for a $140m project on Tuesday afternoon and left back for Israel. At the airport and just before he departed, he was reported to have said,
“I have been doing business in Africa and all over the world for the past 30 years; I have never done a transaction like this in my life. We did a $140m without any person asking for a dollar.”
Several contractors and consultants interviewed confirmed that Governor Amaechi is not known to ask for kick backs from projects. Although, unemployment, poverty and hunger drove Amaechi into politics and could have made him as greedy as most politicians are generally assumed to be, he believes that what a public official gets from the pecks of office is pretty enough. Here is how he put it himself,
‘“In less than one year, you would have all the money you were not getting before, flowing in from allowances, trips etc. What else would you be looking for? It is greed that keeps people to continue to eat. So, in less than one year, the issue of what to do with power became apparent and you want to know and ask: do I want to leave my name in the history books or to be one of those Nigerian leaders who stole the country dry. And I decided that it was time for service. I’m not sure that if you open some pages, you won’t see my name or lets say Nigeria is too large. In Rivers State politics, there is no way…absolutely No way you can write the history of Rivers state and you won’t see large chapters on what I have done.”
Even though he did not micro manage people working under him and may have actually allowed some of them too much latitude, Amaechi was nonetheless very much involved in project delivery. He would visit project sites whenever he wished without notice to commissioners or contractors. Sometimes he would do so while on his way out or back to the State or when he had out of state visitors. But these unscheduled visits created a nightmare for Amaechi’s security aides who usually found it hectic to keep up with his unplanned detours.
While driving himself in a convoy, something he does 99.9% of the time, he would go off to an unplanned destination to inspect a project and everyone struggles to get the convoy back in order. Though this took a huge toll on his time and compounded the pressure on him, he explained it this way:
“The reason is that most of them (commissioners) can’t talk to these contractors. I shout at them, I harass them and give them deadlines. Just like the house (River State Lodge, Abuja) I am moving into now. Ordinarily it should take us one year and eight months but in nine months time, it was ready.”
The question of whether or not Amaechi finished his tenure as strongly as he should have is hotly debated. But he admits that he was distracted during his second term:
“My first term was wonderful. It there was any problem at all, it is this 2nd term. The imprints are everywhere. I’m not saying we are not working now, I’m saying that if you see corruption in my government, it was more of the 2nd term than the first term because in my first term everybody was scared and worried about me and people kept away. But by my 2nd term, the fight with the president…you are more cautious of how you handle people and situations, so those distractions could lead people to steal. By first term, there was competition on which ministry outperformed the other. That’s when you can see people in establishments asking you to give them money for their own performance.”
There is no doubt that Amaechi’s fight with the Presidency Under Goodluck Jonathan took a huge toll on him and almost led to his impeachment illegally by 5 renegade members of the State House of Assembly. Despite this experience he advised incoming governors:
“To fight for their rights because at all times, there is always an attempt to undermine the governors. If you don’t fight for your right, then they will undermine you.”
What if Fedilis Amaechi was alive today, would he be proud of his son, Timi, the Boy? There is no doubt, whatsoever, that he would have been a very proud father. Amaechi, warts and all, is living his father’s wish to the full.