The death by crucifixion of Jesus Christ and His subsequent resurrection three days after is marked all over the world as a major event called Easter in the Christian calendar. Its importance lies in the deep belief that Christ gave His life to save mankind from spiritual and physical self-annihilation. It is in this rooted belief that the adherents of the Christian faith symbolically relive the suffering and torture Christ went through in His last moments leading to His crucifixion on the cross.
It is a ritual entailing a volunteer carrying the cross with a crown of thorns placed on that person’s head in an attempt to re-enact the painful ordeal and humiliation the Son of God, Jesus Christ, endured before he was put to death on the cross. I am not a Christian, but the much I know is that it serves a powerful spiritual purpose, usually to remind us of our own sublime mortality – a period to celebrate the sacrifice of Jesus – that whosoever believes in Him will live and be saved – a period of quiet introspection, penitence and spiritual renewal all woven in a mystic narrative that has held adherents of Christianity in firm belief.
In the last couple of years, I have watched the Rivers State outgoing governor, Rotimi Amaechi, perform this task of carrying the cross on Good Friday in what I want to believe were meant to be voyages in personal spiritual renewal but which unfortunately seem to have ended as acts of pretentious emulative supplication that is clearly lacking in spirituality. As reluctant as I am to believe that a man will deliberately set out on such pretentious enterprise, the evidence around us suggest otherwise. The zest with which his media team pushes the pictures into the media easily gives the motive away as a mere public show that lacks the depth of genuine spirituality — an exercise in vain pretence — further buttressed by his actions after the show. How does one explain that immediately he drops the cross, he transforms into a “Floyd Money Mayweather” to engage his perceived enemies in a brawl in the boxing ring? The symbolism of his carrying the cross in imitation of Christ’s last moments is immediately lost. The spirituality of his act of temporary meekness evaporates, as the man who just moments ago enacted Christ’s last moments transforms into a roaring Roman soldier in full combat gear. There is no greater sin than playing games with spirituality – especially by someone in a position of leadership who professes one thing and does the complete opposite a moment later.
The state he has governed for eight years has known no peace since his rise to the pinnacle of power: fights, threats, vitriolic utterances, tension and even deaths have now become the new normal in the once famous Port Harcourt — the garden city and its environs. Many will recall, Rivers State wasn’t always in the news for all the wrong and unedifying reasons as it is today. Unfortunately, the once peaceful and serene state now wears the toga of being the most politically volatile state in the country since Amaechi came to power.
Amaechi would be marking his 50th birthday on May 27, 2015 — two days to the end of his tenure as governor. For those who don’t know, he is one of the biggest beneficiaries of our democracy – having being in powerful public positions for 16 unbroken years; meaning he was just 34 when he became the Speaker of Rivers State House of Assembly, a position he held for eight years before being made the governor of the state by the judges of the Supreme Court. They are yet to satisfactorily explain the legal basis upon which a man who did not contest the governorship election was declared duly elected by the people in 2007. Anyone who has been this unusually lucky should have every reason to be humble and eternally grateful to the “benevolent spirit”. But what we have seen in the last eight years is a man who hardly understands where delinquency ends and adulthood begins; a man still very much in need of adult supervision; a man who acts on impulse and then thinks later.
The early part of his now infamous eight-year monstrous tenure held some flashes of hope and promise despite the aberration of his rise to power. Dr. Peter Odili, his predecessor, had left the state in tatters – worse than he met it. An abysmal failure in governance who even dared to dream of being the president of Nigeria and almost got the position of vice-president, before it was submerged in high stakes political intrigues. To secure himself from being held to account, he got a pliable judge who granted him perpetual immunity from arrest or prosecution – clearly one of the absurdities that our democracy has seen in recent years.
Of course it is to Amaechi’s credit that he did set out to re-engineer and remodel Port Harcourt: he built some roads, hospitals, schools and initiated the construction of a monorail to ease transportation challenges in the state. The monorail, however, has become a white elephant despite the billions of naira sunk into it. Indeed, Amaechi will be leaving office without completing one of his most advertised projects – which unfortunately has become bottomless sinkhole for Rivers money.
I am sure in his quiet moments, he will be disappointed with his own performance, assuming he even entertains the thought of honest self-appraisal by any stretch of the imagination. By appealing to grievance instead of generosity, and fear instead of hope, Amaechi has successfully transformed from a leader with a vision to a leader on a mission – a mission that has seen the state laying waste needlessly. It will be an understatement to say Rivers State has been bankrupted by its leaders – the state is in ruins. All the fault lines that keep people apart have been robustly energised to achieve the vengeful satisfaction of one man. Amaechi surely occupies a prominent position on this list of bad leaders the state has seen. With all its vast oil wealth, the state remains abysmally poor in infrastructure. And now, like many other states, is unable to pay workers salaries.
A far less endowed state like Edo has done relatively better in terms of infrastructure development and meeting its obligations to workers. Where are the trillions of naira Amaechi has received from the federal government in the last eight years? Does the state look like one in which trillions of naira have been expended? Where are the billions of naira it claims to generate from IGR? Where are the state’s savings? Everything is gone – gone with the wind.
Lest we forget, it is this same Amaechi as chairman of the defunct Nigerian Governors’ Forum that championed the sharing of monies saved in the Excess Crude Account among the states. All efforts to make him and his colleagues see the need to save for the rainy day fell on deaf ears. They repeatedly cited the constitution to justify their position – that all the monies accruing to the Federation Account must be shared among the states. Oh yes! They were technically correct by law, but economically, it was a silly argument.
The dire financial position of the country would have been significantly mitigated if Amaechi and his fellow greedy governors had allowed common sense to prevail – saving the excess crude money for the rainy day as we now find ourselves. The Coordinating Minister for the Economy and Finance Minister, Dr Ngozi Okonjo Iweala, warned repeatedly about the dangers of not saving for the future but Amaechi and his recalcitrant gang of governors shouted her down with the now infamous strap-line: “All monies must be shared.” Today, none of their supporters is asking for an audit of what the governors did with all that money they pressurised the federal government into sharing. Can the new “saintly governors” tell Nigerians what they did with the money? I’ll bet an arm and a leg, it all ended up as security votes – the new amorphous way of stealing public funds. When we talk of corruption, they are the ones who got away. So many commentators would have the world believe corruption exists only at the federal level. No, the state governors are as corrupt as officials at the federal level, but they get far less attention because they have found immunity in playing opposition politics. And once you play this card in this country, you are suddenly branded a saint in the eyes of a gullible section of the public, whether you have robbed a bank or looted public funds, it doesn’t matter anymore – and you are now a progressive. Who knows, someday, convicted former Delta State Governor James Ibori will return to Nigeria, presumably joins the All Progressives Congress (APC) – and be celebrated as a progressive.
And despite their claims to performance and delivering of democracy dividends, poverty and diseases continue to ravage the people in all the states of the federation.
Again, it is this same Amaechi who along with his “Class of 36” dragged the federal government to the Supreme Court over the creation of the Sovereign Wealth Fund (SWF). The question on everyone’s lips is: why this bitter opposition to the fund that will “build a savings base for future generations, enhance development of infrastructure and impose fiscal discipline”?
Instructively, Michel Arion, the EU Ambassador and Head of Delegation to Nigeria and ECOWAS, was quoted to having said: “Nigeria is a rich country but Nigerians are regrettably poor”. On the EU’s assessment of the North, Arion said: “Development indicators in the area are unacceptably worse.” As a result, EU’s development assistance to Nigeria under the 11th European Development Fund would focus on Northern Nigeria. Arion also said emphasis would be on improving access to basic social services such as health, nutrition and social protection in Northern Nigeria.
Well, the situation is only marginally better in the South. Can anybody ask the governors what they did with the hundreds of billions of naira the states have collected in the last 16 years? And yet these are the people now claiming to be change agents.
Now, for a man who has made carrying the cross on good Friday an obsession, how can it ever be right that for nearly two years, this same man who claims to be a democrat and one of the architects of change has shut down the judiciary in Rivers State on account of his own morbid fear – the same judiciary that helped him to power in the first place. It is tempting to say it serves the judiciary right. But that will be too reductionist a position to take as too many livelihoods have been grounded – judicial workers and their dependants, lawyers, clerks, cleaners and their families, etc, have suffered untold hardships; hundreds of people are languishing in prisons because judges have been unable to preside over their cases; hundreds of litigations have been stalled with the attendant costs. Not surprisingly, the human rights community has maintained a deafening silence. It is a shame on them that such aberration has gone on for this long. It is a pity that it is people like Amaechi that we celebrate in Nigeria as architects of change and heroes of democracy. The pain and suffering of innocent workers and their families do not matter to our activists who have embraced the philosophy of one nation, two moralities. You are left to wonder if these people have a conscience at all.
The state legislature operates from the Government House, Port Harcourt. Bills are rubber-stamped for Amaechi without a free debate and this has gone on for two whole years.
Without any doubt, I am totally against that silly argument that six lawmakers in a House of about 31 can impeach Amaechi. Such impeachment cannot stand. The Supreme Court has made that very clear. Any such action will be null and void.
Now, what is the wisdom of conducting local government elections on May 23 – just six days to the handover date of May 29? What does Amaechi want to achieve by hastily conducting these elections and swearing in the “selected” ones before departing on May 29, when he has not done same in the last four years? Except the purpose is to create problems for his successor, I see no need for such an action. Just the same way, I see no plausible rationale in President Goodluck Jonathan’s recent rash of appointments. They are totally unnecessary even though some will argue that he is still the Commander-in-Chief until May 29. While APC has been condemning the president for those appointments, it has curiously been silent on Amaechi holding council elections a mere six days to the handover date. Does this not smack of double standards? Recall also that the former Governor of Ekiti state, Dr. Kayode Fayemi – the man who earned a spot in the hall of infamy for recanting after congratulating Ayo Fayose and setting a worthy example, created 19 Local Council Development Areas (LCDAs) after losing his re-election bid despite protests from stakeholders. For these people, hypocrisy is a way of life.
As for Amaechi, let us hope that turning 50, he will change to a more sober and reflective person than he is today. Happy birthday in advance and many happy returns!