by Stanley Azuakola
In light of recent developments, the list below must have gotten to 9 or 10 ‘sins’, but with Monday’s suspension of the Rivers governor, we thought it would be nice to share this piece once again. It does not contain the most recent ‘sins’ however.
Almost all the nation’s dailies led this morning with stories about the rumble in the Nigeria Governors Forum (NGF), that assembly of the nation’s governors who despite their different party loyalties have always managed to make a show of unity in order to protect their common interests.
It is an open secret that President Goodluck Jonathan and the Rivers governor who heads the NGF, Rotimi Amaechi do not get along. Amaechi, an impulsive, down-to-earth and often times abrasive fellow has had run-ins with the president (or his proxies) so often that the president and his loyalists must have realised that as 2015 approaches, if Amaechi’s wings are not clipped, he might constitute a clog in the wheels of the Jonathan Express.
Earlier this year, The Scoop listed Gov. Amaechi as one of the 10 people in politics to watch in 2013. Who would have thought it would be so plain this early in the year?
There are intense moves to oust Amaechi as NGF chairman, championed within the NGF by 4 governors namely Seriake Dickson (Bayelsa), Emmanuel Uduaghan (Delta), Gabriel Suswam (Benue) and Ibrahim Shema (Katsina). Elections would reportedly be held on Monday.
Currently, it appears that there are a few more governors in support of Amaechi than against, but a lot can happen in one night.
So what exactly has Amaechi done? Why is he such a marked man in Aso Rock?
We’ve listed the governor’s seven deadly sins which might be responsible for the sword currently hanging over his head.
1. When the Dame got impatient
Many might have forgotten that embarrassing moment in August 2010, when the first lady, Dame Patience Jonathan visited Rivers state to launch her pet project, Women for Change Initiative, which was her first love as first lady before her new found mission for a N4billion Mission House.
The governor and his guest were having a good time in Rivers state, until they visited the first lady’s hometown, Okrika. As the governor made a presentation on some demolitions he intended to undertake in order to make school environments conducive for students, the first lady stood up, collected the microphone, and chewed into him (not literally please).
Speaking angrily, she said: “Okrika has no land. Every little land that we have is very important. They don’t play with land. It’s a serious affair. So I want you to know that.”
The governor tried to explain, but Dame Jonathan had lost all restraint. “”Listen!, you must listen to me,” she said. “I want you to get me clear. I am from here (Okrika). I know the problems of my people. So, I know what I am talking. I do not want us to go into crises. We are preaching peace and we must maintain peace at any time. But what I am telling you is that you always say you must demolish. That word ‘must’, you use is not good. It is by pleading. You appeal to the owners of the compound, because they will not go into exile. Land is a serious issue.”
Amaechi was downcast after that. He failed to attend the reception organised in her honour afterwards. His handlers did a press conference later on, with subtle digs at the first lady, while proclaiming loyalty to President Jonathan who was on his way to becoming the PDP candidate in the 2011 elections.
That was strike one.
2. The governors’ governor
Say Governor Amaechi is an arrogant man, and hardly anyone would argue with you. Make such a man the ‘head’ of all governors in the country and you have a powerful arrogant man. Placed side by side with a president who most take to be weak and the result was that the wishes of the Governors Forum became binding 9 out of 10 times.
Whenever the governors stirred a bit, billions were withdrawn from the excess crude account to placate them. They instituted a case at the Supreme Court over deductions by the FG from the account and used that as a wedge against the setting up of the Sovereign Wealth Fund. After negotiations for minimum wage with workers were concluded, governors said they would not implement, as they felt the FG should not have negotiated for the states. This greatly embarrassed the president, who had to beg and share some more excess crude billions. Whenever things went wrong in the polity, like after the subsidy removal in 2012, and government spending was being scrutinised, all eyes and fingers pointed towards Aso Rock, while the governors were hardly called to account.
Aso Rock wasn’t too pleased with these happenings. The media machinery of the NGF was more oiled than that of Aso Rock. And any time the president looked down at those 36 men who plagued him so much, who did he see leading their charge? Rotimi Chibuike Amaechi.
3. Those 2015 rumours
When the time comes, Goodluck Jonathan is expected to vie once more to be president of Nigeria from 2015 to 2019. When that time comes, it is expected that he would be fiercely challenged and the main contenders would come from the Northern part of the country.
One man whose expected candidature is already generating some buzz is Sule Lamido, the Jigawa governor, whose tenure as governor expires in 2015. That, on its own, isn’t enough to sour the president against Amaechi.
However, there are rumours that Gov. Amaechi, who is from the Southsouth, like President Jonathan, has been pencilled as vice presidential candidate to Lamido. In fact, Lamido/Amaechi campaign vehicles as well as posters have been sighted in some states. Expectedly, this hasn’t gone down well with Aso Rock, and the half-hearted denials by both Lamido and Amaechi is not helping matters.
4. The proxy wars (1)
In the last quarter of 2012, a messy battle ensued between the Rivers and Bayelsa state governments.
Gov Amaechi of Rivers and Gov. Dickson of Bayelsa, as well as their deputies, used the media to buttress the claims of their respective states to five oil wells in Soku and Elem-Sangama. Amaechi was provoked that Bayelsa was being given proceeds from the wells when the Boundary Commission had not concluded delineation of the boundaries as ordered by the Supreme Court.
Naturally, because the president is from Bayelsa, he was roped into the argument, with Rivers overtly accusing him of bias.
5. The proxy wars (2)
In January 2013, Gov. Amaechi had a high profile spat with the Minister of the Niger Delta, Godsday Orubebe, who is known to be one of the closest men to President Jonathan. The back and forth between the two men was the highest profile exchange between Amaechi and a presidential surrogate. (Edwin Clark, the so-called godfather of the pesident had also previously criticised Amaechi).
Amaechi blasted Orubebe for poor performance as Niger Delta minister, especially as regards delivering on the East-West road project. The minister’s response was bizarre. He argued that Amaechi does not respect the president, that Amaechi was bribing Nigerians, and that Port Harcourt, the Rivers capital is a slum. In fact, Orubebe tackled so many (non)issues apart from the one for which Amaechi had blamed him.
Expectedly Amaechi rebutted the minister (twice). See here.
6. The proxy wars (3)
The most recent proxy battle between the Brick House, as Rivers government house is called, and Aso Rock, involved Labaran Maku, the Information minister, during his Good Governance Tour stop in Rivers state.
The governor and the minister openly argued with each other at one stop over whether the FG had supplied computers to the state when Maku was the minister in charge of communications. Maku said computers were supplied. Amaechi said they weren’t.
When President Jonathan newly became Bayelsa governor, Gov. Amaechi was speaker of the Rivers assembly and chairman of the Association of Speakers of State assemblies. Then, Jonathan used to come over to Rivers where he relied on the backing of Gov. Peter Odili. Amaechi was a confidante of the former governor back then, and an influential speaker, so naturally, the Bayelsa governor did pay ‘homage’ to the speaker.
That was then.
Circumstances have changed, but somehow, from the dealings and carriage of Amaechi, he’s never quite accorded that loyalty and respect to President Jonathan which presidents come to expect, and even demand. So maybe, it’s time to clip some peacock wings.
Yeah, we know, this is conjecture but as lawyers would say, it is trite law that one must never outshine the master.
Talking about lawyers, have you read our new offering on The Scoop – #TheScoopLegal.
In today’s edition two lawyers Nana Nwachukwu and Rotimi Fawole weigh in on the Wazobia FM license withdrawal issue.