The thing that endears Rotimi Amaechi, the minister of transport, to his supporters, is the thing that disgusts his opponents the most about him. His tongue: sharp, unbridled and tactless. His supporters say it stems out from an inner bravery; others say it is self serving and hypocritical.
The thing which Nigerians are beginning to see about Ibe Kachikwu, the minister of state for petroleum, is that as brilliant as he evidently is, he could be just as tactless and indelicate as his colleague in the cabinet, Amaechi. Earlier this year, at the peak of the fuel scarcity, Kachikwu caused a storm when he declared that he was not a magician. That misspeak drew condemnations from no less a person that APC leader, Bola Tinubu, who asked Kachikwu to resign if the task had become too much for him. Kachikwu later apologised for his comments.
On Monday, the two tactless ministers clashed publicly in Uyo, the Akwa Ibom capital, during a town hall meeting put together by the ministry of information. The bone of contention between the two men was on how to proceed with the Nigerian Maritime University, proposed for Okerenkoko in Delta State.
Amaechi explained why the administration was not going ahead with the project, saying that there isn’t any money to proceed, especially because N13 billion was expended by the last administration on securing land alone. “Okerenkoko (Maritime University), I am not against,” he said. “My argument about Okerenkoko is that land alone is 13 billion (naira). If you give me 13 billion, I will buy half of Lagos. That 13 billion has built the university already.”
Now that’s a very salient point even though in his usual fact-challenged fashion, Amaechi exaggerated by saying N13 billion will “buy half of Lagos”. However, by any stretch, N13 billion for just the acquisition of land is humongous and ridiculous. “What to do: let EFCC retrieve the money and release the money and we build the university,” Amaechi said. “If they bring the N13 billion, I will build the university for them. That’s for land alone. I believe the Federal Government does not have money. When we have money, we can continue.”
There are subtler ways of putting that, but we have already agreed that Amaechi does not know what tact means. And then, the former governor baited his colleagues with the last line: “The minister of state has whispered that he will bring the money. Minister, if you bring the money, we will continue,” Amaechi said. That was absolutely unnecessary. Amaechi had no business telling the crowd that there was a division in the cabinet over the issue.
Ibe Kachikwu could have let that slide or offered a more conciliatory tone. But the man knew this was a personal opportunity for him to prove to Niger Deltans that he was truly one of theirs. When he was first appointed, there was the talk of him not being a proper Deltan because he belonged to the Igbo speaking part. “First, let me say on Okerenkoko University, I disagree with the Minister of Transport,” he said. “Any facility that is located in the South-South we should work close to developing it. I don’t care the circumstances under which you are placed.”
As the crowd proved, this was a popular thing to say in the South South. They cheered and applauded him. But the question Kachikwu will be asked in the coming days is: Is it just facilities in the South South that should be developed. How about the other zones? And how can a minister say he does not care about the circumstances under which the facilities are placed? So if N100 billion or N1 trillion is spent on land, for instance, we shouldn’t care, as long as the facilities “are placed?”
“It’s not in my position to determine whether land was valued at 19 or 10 million, or 3 million. The appropriate institution which is the court system will determine that. That has nothing to do with development of infrastructure. And as far as I know, so much has already gone into the university.
“So much physical assets are being developed. We are not going to throw away the baby with bath water. We deal with the issues but the university will be developed. If he (Amaechi) does not want it in Maritime, I will take it in petroleum,” he said.
As he spoke, minister of budget, Udoma Udo Udoma, smiled in embarrassment. His two colleagues with possibly the largest egos in the cabinet had decided to showcase disunity in public. Cabinet members will not always agree, but when differences move away from the council chambers to the TV, it is an advertisement of their weak link and opponents will pounce. Amaechi is experienced enough to know that but didn’t seem to care; Kachikwu is a political neophyte and he also didn’t seem to care. Reckless met reckless, and the team took a hit.