Since the return of democracy in 1999, Rivers State has managed to achieve political stability because the two vulnerable lines where cracks easily occur, between governor and his deputy or governor versus the House of Assembly, have remained smooth. There is also the usual Abuja politicians’ syndrome which pitches a governor against those serving the state at the federal level, a battle for supremacy and for control of party organs.
Enemies have never succeeded in creating any cracks at any point in time to get to the governor. Even with all the battles former Governor Peter Odili, fought with the opposition (the RDM) and with Abuja (the Nuhu Ribadu team), those lines remained intact.
Now, as Governor Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi, who had also enjoyed relative calm, begins to have political friction with those they call Abuja powers, there seems to be cracks, for once. This is not only because of the tension between Amaechi and the Presidency over suspicions that Amaechi, another Port Harcourt Boy, could be eyeing presidential ambitions that may destabilise the incumbent president, Goodluck Jonathan. Amaechi has profusely denied this but the more he denies it, the more the tension grows.
The governor has had cause, severally, to cry out, saying his state was being punished and starved gradually because of him. He has said Rivers State was being pauperised systematically by removing hundreds of oil wells from Rivers to states like Akwa Ibom, Bayelsa and Abia, leaving him with no option than to head to the Supreme Court. He has had some brushes with Governor Seriake Dickson of Bayelsa State and Godswill Orubebe of Ministry of Niger Delta, and a tiff with Governor Godswill Akpabio of Akwa Ibom. In all these, Amaechi smells the hand of the presidency.
Those close to Amaechi believe that his outstanding achievements (best schools in Nigeria, first state to achieve power sufficiency, megacity only second to Abuja, 160 ordinary and specialist hospitals, biggest agric ventures with foreign experts including Israelis and Zambians, huge human capital accumulation, 250 roads and 32 bridges and flyovers, and thousands of foreign scholars) as well as his growing influence as Governor of Governors (chairman, Nigerian Governors Forum) together with his previous position as speaker of speak
ers and wide connections as an activist in National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS), represent a huge threat in 2015. They believe the word is out to ‘bring Amaechi down’.
Looking at the terrain since 1999, the strategists believe that the presidency has only one fighting style; starve a threatening governor with funds, use anti-corruption agencies to effect, use the deputy governor as weapon because he will benefit from an impeachment, and deploy the House of Assembly for impeachment.
As if Amaechi feels that these cold fingers are clawing toward him, in less than one week, he spoke fiercely. At an event, he said the best way to cut off “political EFCC” was to outperform beyond expectations. He received huge applause. Few days later, at the signing of the 2013 budget the governor exploded even further, accusing some members of the State House of Assembly of having been contaminated by what he termed “Abuja politics”.
This he said because, for the first time since 1999, a motion or law was passed by a mere 50 percent of the House. Only 15 lawmakers endorsed his request for a mere conversion of a previous approval from a bond to a bank loan.
Few hours later, a statement from the House media department quoted the governor as being ready to fight back. The statement: “I want to join the conversation in the Assembly and say that nobody should go after my reputation. If you go after my reputation I will come out and fight like a lion.
“When we asked you to convert the bond you approved, N100 billion bond which you have approved for long and to convert it into loan, because we looked at it that by the time we finish the process of bond and all that and bond currently is at 14 percent, it will affect development. The reality is that we have effectively one dry season, so if I have one dry season and you members of the Rivers State House of Assembly approved by law the debt-financing of the budget by N100 billion, all I did was to come back to you to say, convert it from bond to loan. So if any member gets up in the Assembly and say the executive should show us what they have done, I can mention my administration’s projects in anybody’s village here. Anybody who says he is not having government projects in his local government area should get up and I will name what I have done in his Local Government Area as governor of Rivers State.
“Please nobody should bring Abuja politics into the Assembly because I will fight back like a lion. I hope you are hearing what is happening in Abuja. Please let us continue our fight in Abuja and not bring it here.”
Continuing, Amaechi said, “when we did that, the next N20billion was, you (the Assembly) on your own approved for us three hundred and something billion naira as budget, I say okay having approved N100billion for the debt financing of the budget, out of the three hundred and something billion naira that will come from Abuja, allow me extra N20billion as bridge-financing. “Every amount will be attached to projects. I will be sure you get copies of the projects so that you can do your oversight function. Ask commissioners about what they are doing with the money and I can tell you now how the loan will be spent. N40billion will go to ministry of works. N20billion will go to ministry of education to complete the primary schools that have not been completed and complete the secondary schools. I have given the commissioner for education a directive to complete seven secondary schools by September this year. Other model secondary schools would be completed gradually as the state gets money from the Federation Account.
“If I had 12 months of dry season, I won’t ask for loan. We have money but it is not enough to do all the projects we want to do at the same time. That is why I ask you, the Assembly, to permit me to borrow money because by June, we will have rainy season. Nobody can work then and you just have to wait for the rains to stop before you can start
“From the loan, N10billion each will be allocated to healthcare and the monorail project. I challenge anybody to a debate on the transparency of his administration.
“People should stop playing politics with development. House members should be very vigilant and not allow people who are being sponsored from Abuja to fight us, to use them to fight us. This is about development, about the lives of our people and not some cheap petty politics by persons who do not care about the people. I am ready to present to you the state’s statement of account publicly.”
Amaechi made these statements shortly after signing into law the Rivers State 2013 appropriation bill of N490.3bn and the state’s Internal Revenue Service bill in Government House on Friday, February 22, 2013. He thanked the legislators for promptly passing the appropriation bill and noted that the Executive would immediately start implementing the budget.
For the sake of prudence and to escape the prying eye that may be waiting to pounce on him to stop whatever they felt would happen in 2015, the governor warned: “I have always told my cabinet that we must go by our budget, nobody should spend outside the budget. There should not be any extra budgetary expenditure because I will not sign. I like to know that every expenditure is backed by the budget. Nobody should undermine the authority of the State Assembly.”
Some lawmakers are sill strongly behind the governor’s management of the finances of the state, no matter the pressure. Speaking to pressmen after the ceremony, chairman of the Assembly House Committee on Finance, Hon. Josiah Olu explained that the loan, apart from having a lower interest rate compared to the bond, would help the Amaechi administration complete all its projects in the state before the rainy season.
He added: “From the explanation of the executive, the four consortium of banks that are ready to give this funds to us are giving us the funds almost lower than the bond market was supposed to charge us as interest on the funds, so that is why government decided to convert the bond that the House resolution approved for the executive to go to the market to source for, into a loan. What we are doing is just to convert the bond to a loan. It’s just a change of nomenclature, it’s just the changing of a name from the bond. The bond was well captured in the 2013 appropriation law that was assented to by the executive governor today.”
Amaechi, right from his activist days in NANS, prefers to fight his way out of political situations than compromise. This could be the major cause of split between him and his former godfather, Odili, and this manifested in Abuja when he wanted Odili to fight the Olusegun Obasanjo/Ribadu trap instead of surrendering at the 2006 PDP national convention to choose a presidential candidate. Also, Amaechi wanted Odili to back him all the way after the national PDP has heeded to EFCC scare and withdrawn his name from INEC, but Odili had wanted a compromise with Abuja to reduce damage. This was all that led to the split of the Rivers PDP into those who chose to fight (present PDP) and those who obeyed Odili for a compromise (now in ACN and APGA).
Now, Amaechi is in the same position Odili was in 2006/7 and may be in a position to fight all the way, in his own way and style, ready to take casualties as long as he feels justice was on his side. The time to test this resolve may be near, as 2015 draws closer.