Is Rotimi Amaechi an Ikwerre, Igbo or just a Port Harcourt Boy?

Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi is lost in minor crowds if there is no major controversy around him. The most recent is his prevarication over whether he is Igbo or Ikwerre. Are both identities not mutually exclusive? Some have noticed Amaechi in more Igbo outfits these days. Everything counts.

Amaechi is from Umuordu, Ubima, Ikwerre Local Government Area, Rivers State. There is no doubt about that much. A State of Rivers’ standing would not have had a “foreigner” as Speaker of its House of Assembly for eight years and Chairman of the Conference of Speakers. If being the Speaker was a mistake, Amaechi would not have been awarded the governorship of the State for eight years.

He promoted himself to national prominence with his controversial roles as Chairman of the Nigeria Governors Forum. Cracks in the fold cascaded to the departure of some governors who won elections under Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, to the opposition All Progressives Congress, APC. Amaechi was a proud leader of the movement.

APC’s victory in the 2015 elections and in 2019 further raised Amaechi’s status. On both occasions, he was the Director-General of President Muhammadu Buhari’s campaign. His national prominent has failed to improve his fortunes in the politics of Rivers. He could not gain victory for his proposed successor in 2015. The 2019 election was an utter disaster.

Wrangling over APC leadership in Rivers resulted in multiple primaries going to the 2019 elections. The courts, including the Supreme Court, ruled that none of the primaries met conditions for the selection of the party’s candidates for the election.

Amaechi quickly extricated himself from the loss that shut APC out of chances of winning at least some seats in the state and national legislatures.

Read also: APC vows to capture Taraba in 2023, gives PDP quit notice

What has not proven easy is which of his identifies he would use. He appears to prefer wearing different hats to match occasions, situational identity. At his 2015 Senate screening, he identified himself as an Ikwerre prince. He dressed to that role, he told Senators.

Senator Enyinnaya Abaribe was one of the earliest to officially question Amaechi’s Igboness. He had wondered why Amaechi left out South East in the rails projects of the Federal Government. Amaechi retorted that his name, Amaechi, was easier for Igbo speakers to make meaning of than Abaribe. His claims about the South East being in the rails projects are yet to be seen.

When in March 2018 he delivered the Convocation Lecture at Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Awka, his otherwise important lecture titled, ‘The Igbo In The Politics Of Nigeria’, his identity was a major distraction. It was a thought-provoking deliver laced with provocative darts at the Igbo.

“It is high time they (Igbo) came into national politics. They are completely out of the national politics and it will not pay them. If Igbo are not found in national politics, it will be to the detriment of their children. I don’t know what they will do now for voting against the APC. For refusing to support the APC, they cannot come to the table to demand the presidency slot,” he said during the question and answer session.

The reference to Igbo as “they” is noteworthy. He had a verbal confrontation with Nnia Nwodo, then president-general of Ohanaeze Ndigbo, at the event. Nwodo in his remarks kept on telling Amaechi to inform his people, the Ikwerre, that the civil war was over; they should return to being Igbo. Amaechi remarkably began his lecture by asserting he was Igbo. He said it was his undeniable heritage.

Six years earlier at a public event in Abiriba, when Amaechi was still in PDP, and governor, he had protested being addressed as an illustrious Igbo son. “I am Ikwerre,” he corrected then 78-year-old Chief Joe Irukwu, a former President-General of Ohanaeze Ndigbo. Many in the gathering were taken aback.

“For people like us in the APC, if the Igbo had come and voted Buhari, they would boldly tell Mr. President and the National Chairman of the party that presidency should go the South East since the South-South; South West and North West have produced President. What argument would the South East come up with now to convince anybody that they deserve the slot for 2023 President?” Amaechi asked in an interview he granted after the 2019 election.

His claim to being Igbo is seasonal. “I am a bona fide Igbo man. My name is Amaechi, but President Jonathan who says his name is Azikiwe cannot speak the Igbo Language. He says his name is Ebele; let him speak Igbo and let us see,” he said at APC’s campaign in Aba in January 2015. The choice of who he is was not his to make. Our origins are hereditary. Our rejection of them makes no difference to the fact of who we are, by birth.

What does it matter if Amaechi wants to be Igbo instead of Ikwerre or the other way round? It is important to politicians angling for the South East to produce a President in 2023. While their campaign is for an Igbo President, or a Nigerian President of Igbo extraction, it is convenient for them to forget there are indigenous Igbo populations in Akwa Ibom, Bayelsa, Benue, Cross River, Delta, Edo, Kogi, and Rivers States. They are finding out that they are really fighting for a President from the South East.

The President’s ally, Amaechi, stands a better chance than those who feel he is crowding the field. The advantage remains Amaechi’s if he gets busy with building the rails in the South East as he promised he would. There is little time left.

Now that the President’s busy schedule accommodates naming rail stations, one is fascinated by the station in Enugu being named after President Muhammadu Buhari. Trains running in the South East – and Amaechi’s South-South – should be a more pressing issue than whether Amaechi is Igbo or Ikwerre. Many would not care whichever he is if he gets the trains running. And would that not count as competence for Amaechi, in line with Mamman Daura’s prescription?

Amaechi does not have to be Igbo or Ikwerre to run for President in 2023. There is no such constitutional requirement. Unless he has forgotten, Amaechi can just run as a Port Harcourt Boy (thanks Duncan Mighty). Even Governor Nyesom Wike would not deny Amaechi being a Port Harcourt Boy.

.Isiguzo, is a major commentator on minor issues, first published this article on 04 August 202

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