Governor Chibuike Amaechi of Rivers State has every right and justification to celebrate every October 25, the month he claimed his mandate through the Supreme Court from the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) that sidelined him in the 2007 elections for Sir Celestine Omehia after he had won the party's primaries in December 2006. Amaechi has every right and justification to even re-think taking this day as his birthday due to its uniqueness as the day he openly won justice against injustice. His victory signifies that no matter how fast injustice is in a sprint, justice will always overtake it. His journey to the Government House was not a smooth ride. It was as bumpy as it is today riding on the Nigerian roads. Amaechi, on becoming governor, even said that he has lost count of many times he embarked on dry fasting for weeks, as a Christian, in stretching hand for divine intervention. He was praying everything humanly possible to win his then case in the court, and he finally won, which made his supporters, indigenes and non-indigenes alike, rollout drums in jubilation that CHANGE had come. Rivers State then wanted change, like the Niger Delta today wanted presidency.
Amaechi has been governor of our state for three years now. His second year in office was elaborately celebrated. I remembered Rivers' stakeholders and journalists were, on October 24, 2009, taken on tour of projects embarked upon by his administration in the three senatorial districts of the state. The inspection was aimed at giving the stakeholders firsthand knowledge of how funds that accrued to the state were spent. People gasped that Amaechi had worked. Governor Amaechi used the tour of projects' to perform the foundation-laying ceremony of the Greater Port Harcourt City and the new Port Harcourt International Market. At the Alfred Diete-Spiff Civic Centre, Port Harcourt on October 26, there was also an Accountability Forum, which afforde people the opportunity of asking the governor questions and he supplied the answers without hesitation. We heard sums of money mounting in billions, how they were spent and were going to be spent.
One unique aspect of this administration is the governor's assurance that his administration was determined to make a difference in the state, declaring that no amount of blackmail would deter him from carrying out projects and programmes that had direct bearing on the people. And since then, Amaechi has achieved some feats in the areas of roads construction, education (where he declared an emergency) and health, among others, except the inability of his administration to provide potable water in Port Harcourt, which still lingers till 2010. What is still holding the Rivers' Ministry of Water Resources which had reached an advanced stage in the design of the Port Harcourt and Obio/Akpor Local Government Areas (LGAs) water master plan as of 2009, with a view to providing potable water for the residents of the city, while urging Rivers people to bear with the government?
Amaechi is regarded today as the action and visionary Governor of Rivers State because of the landmarks in revolutionary approach towards governance he took on the areas of people-oriented needs. Very prejudiced articles indeed, that make no sense at all, had been written against him within this period. A lot of us had written advisory articles to his administration because Amaechi said he was open to criticism. And as we can see today, there has not been any case of politically motivated killing in his administration as we had full of it between 1999 to 2007: an era that I regarded as political Armageddon in Nigeria.
As Amaechi celebrates, I deemed it fit to go back to the drawing board on the area of appointments in the state. The governor might not have made any promises to my quest but his administration had always boasted of carrying everybody along and emancipating the indigenes and non-indigenes alike in his administration. But this is three years of this administration and non-indigenes are yet to be nominated in his cabinet owing to their massive support to the development of Rivers State and to the Amaechi-led government of Rivers State.
I would like to remind Amaechi that Lagos State has at various times appointed non indigenes to positions of responsibility. E.g., the appointment of Prof Yemi Osubanjo, an indigene of Ogun State as Attorney general & commissioner for Justice under Tinubu's administration same period his brother was holding same office in Ogun State. Also the appointment of Nwabueze, an Igbo by origin as Commissioner for Economic planning in the Tinubu administration and is still holding to that portfolio in the present administration of Fashola and also an indigene of Kano as head of the popular agency KAI ( Kick Against Indiscipline ). These are among many instances of non indigenes performing excellently in the delivery of the dividends of governance to the people.
I once in the past wrote a piece which I didn't intend to aggrieve any person with it on the matter of appointing a non-indigene a commissioner of the state. That piece didn't officially welcome the nod of the government but it did won the minds of residents in our state and the staunch members of Amaechi's cabinet. Many of them called then that it was what was supposed to be done. However, my bill for a non-indigene being appointed commissioner appalled some indigenous fanatics against non-indigenes in Rivers State that over their dead body could they see a non-indigene become a commissioner in Rivers State.
But what this ignorantly Rivers fanatics didn't understand is that things are changing rapidly. For example, in the USA, their democratic culture is so advanced that you had two brothers becoming Governors of different states at the same time. President George Bush Jr. was once Governor of Texas at the same period his younger brother was Governor of Florida. These are our expectations in Nigeria. We have a ready example but must approach it subtly for better appreciation that would not whip sentiments capable of heating the polity. Appointing a non-indigene a commissioner is a beautiful idea that must be beautifully driven. In states like Imo, Abia, Anambra and even Ebonyi State, you would agree with me that the population of non indigenes is very low as against Lagos and Rivers, as such that the democratic culture in the respective states mentioned are relatively resistant to issues bordering on non-indigenes participating in elective positions as well political appointments.
I see the fanatical indigenes as lacking not only in the intellectual shortcomings but also for the sickening misrepresentation and mismanagement they display against the so-called non-indigenes without compunction. Amaechi once followed that line when he wore "Indigene" as a garb, always saying that the Rivers State money is meant for the Rivers indigenes. But I lacked words to express his turn-around approach when in this year, perhaps he had seen that many of the indigenous contractors handling major Rivers State Government's projects could not deliver; Amaechi punctured his belief of the INDIGENE mantra and said, Rivers State money is for the competent people.
It is heart-warming that Amaechi realised himself and I stand the umpteenth time to say that it is the so-called non-indigenes that develop any state but they are meted out with gross misrepresentation the indigenes display against them without repentance. The history is there that it was Ndi-Igbo that developed Rivers State and many Igbo speaking persons claiming Rivers State indigenes today could be Igbo aborigines of Aro-Chukwu extraction. But it is disheartening that wherever there is something to share, some people are ready to even deny their maternity.
The former governor of Rivers State, Dr. Sir Peter Odili was it who started this INDIGENE virus in Rivers State when he indigenized Rivers State that before any non-indigene got a job from any company operating in the State he or she must pass through the eye of the needle of the host community. Things were not like that before he assumed office; things were done on competence. But is Odili an aborigine of where? Your guess is as good as mine.
Like I mentioned earlier, under the ex-president Olusegun Obasanjo-led government of 1999-2007, for example, were there no indigene in Lagos State under Alhaji Bola Ahmed Tinubu and he appointed a non-indigene in Lagos State to head a ministry? Likewise a governor did in the North? In the same line, I think Amaechi with a changed administration should recall that commissionership is a privilege accorded those who have been tested and have something to offer the society irrespective of the state of origin. Governor Chibuike Amaechi of Rivers State has what it takes not to make this writer stay away from such advocacy if he wishes to change the dynamics or the current state of affairs between Rivers state and the non-indigenes.
I can recall that Rivers State chapter of the Action Congress (AC), (now Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) the strongest opposition party in Rivers State as of then, led by Prince Tonye TJT Princewill, called on Governor Amaechi to immediately sack his cabinet with an observation to injecting fresh blood into his supervision. According to the party, ''some of those (the indigenes) in Amaechi's cabinet are spent forces. They have run out of ideas on how to lift the state to an enviable height.'' Did the then spokesman of the party, Chief Eze Chukwuemeka Eze, not say ''we of the AC are of the view that Governor Amaechi's cabinet is overdue for a shake-up. Sacking the cabinet has become very imperative in order to enable the governor inject fresh blood that will speed up his vision of taking Rivers to the next level?"
Chief Eze went further: "On our part as the governor's partners in progress, we are expecting extra five slots in the new cabinet that will eventually emerge..." Based on that, I advocated that Governor Amaechi should consider the idea of bringing in at least two non-indigenes into his cabinet ÔÇô as Commissioners ÔÇô when he was to hearken to the clarion calls by the AC. I said that Amaechi should do this as it will boost his image across the divides of the state and strengthen his political and charismatic self-confidence. I urged the Secretary to Rivers State Government, Mr. Magnus Abe, who later announced the dissolution of the state executive council to see this proposal of appointing a non-indigene commissioner as an action that needs immediate effect.
The Rivers State Action Congress chairman then, Mr. Suage Badey bought the idea of appointing a non-indigene in the Amaechi's cabinet. He saw the idea of appointing a non indigene into government in any state of the federation, be he/she an Igbo, Yoruba, Hausa, Ikwerre or Ogoni as it applies to the state in question, as a bright idea, no doubt about it. Badey said, "I for one, would advocate that qualitative content rather than tribe or religion should be the yardstick for nominating persons to add colour and produce the desired goal of a responsive government, e.g. Amaechi's administration, which has set a new precedent in a long while since King Diete Spiff administration of the 70's... Suffice it to say that this is intellectually based and not like the "wandering disease'' that was captured in Cyprian Ekwensi's Burning grass (and also not intended to turn you into a fugitive in a state that appreciates your inputs) rather it was a genuine concern to alert discerning minds on the obvious which should open the door for ways of getting around this "vexed issue" as described by Odimegwu Onwumere (in his article entitled, Before Amaechi Sacks His Cabinet).
According to Badey again, "...Agreed, we definitely have a liberal and mature leader in Rivers state as exemplified by the present Governor who understands the benefits of working with persons of proven integrity and knowledge but would have to exhibit his democratic expectations through discussions with other stake holders and arms of government to achieve this or may be left with other options of looking inwards for equally sound and productive indigenous persons that would not lead to a rancorous situation bearing in mind the fact that he has succeeded a great deal in curbing the insecurity that plagued the state during the Omehia days... One approach I deem very appropriate for the people of Rivers state is to appreciate first, the presence of our brothers (Igbos, Yorubas, Hausas etc ) and allow them to participate in elections so that the talents amongst them would be exposed through our act of comradeship. This would provide the spring board and opportunities of having non indigenes in various positions from the local government to state and also at the legislative level. This would of course put aside those huddles encountered at the State House of Assemblies when non indigenes are nominated for political appointments assuming a member representing this constituency is a bonafide member of the legislative body constitutionally empowered through the ballot box to substantiate their case when ever such an ugly matter is raised. What do you think?
Badey went further without mincing words: "I will posit that we generally follow the trend in the United States of America where our zeal for democracy is anchored. The USA suffered such for so many years and the most hit were our African brothers who were badly treated and made to be regarded as an inferior race. Racial discrimination was as intense even as trivial as boarding a commuter bus. This cowardly act of discrimination was always brought to the fore until Rosa Parks struck and Martin Luther King Jr. lifted the torch. Today under a sound democratic setting in the USA, something that was never heard of has become a reality; we now have blacks (men and women) who have been mayors, members of congress, Governors, secretaries of state and now a black president. How else would one value the tenets of a democratic system that seeks to bring out the very best of the most difficult situation? This is possible in Nigeria and we must enact the enabling laws using the American example so as to reduce violence and unnecessary deaths while achieving the ideal... I look forward to Igbos, Yorubas, Itshekiris, Hausas etc of Rivers origin to be in the executive, legislative and judicial arms of the Rivers government just as I would want same to be applied for the Rivers man and woman who has made Imo, Anambra, Delta and Ebonyi their homes..."
I had deemed it necessary that the non-indigene Commissioners would help confront the non-indigenes when any such tagged ÔÇśbias' of the government comes up. I highlighted my example by asserting that Ndi-Igbo always accuse Amaechi-led government on the demolition exercise in Rivers State as a way of sending them packing from the state, as they hold half of the state's commerce, if not all. I advised that Amaechi have the right to appoint a non-indigene Commissioner in Rivers State, at least, Ndi-Igbo have helped in no less ways to the development of Rivers State and as well as have shared bilateral relationships with Rivers people before and after the creation of Rivers State in 1967.
While I was of that opinion and a lot of people said it is worth doing, at least Amaechi should understand the fact that Ndi-Igbo fought tirelessly for him during his travails with the PDP and INEC. But it was a shock then that Amaechi re-appointed his sacked cabinet without a non-indigene on the crew, whereas many of us had hoped that at least, the Information Commissioner wouldn't go for the non-indigenes following how competent and close a newspapers publisher in Rivers State was with the politics and administration of the state.
In the publisher's article when the debate was raging that no non-indigene made the list of Amaechi's new cabinet titled "Because I am Involved", the opening of the page was with a heart piercing narration. And it reads: "I have chosen to break my long silence on the issue of the appointment of a new Commissioner for Information in Rivers State to replace the former who was re-assigned to another Ministry after the last dissolution of the State Exco. I chose to stay away from the politics of who gets what in a government we fought hard to ensure its enthronement irrespective of what anybody thinks now about those who were known as the ÔÇśBelievers', made up of strong supporters of Governor Amaechi, strong believers in the ideals of a true democracy and in the struggle which he believed in."
The publisher hinged her breaking silence, according to her, out of the need to bring to public glare some of the actions that took place behind the scene before and after the PDP primary election in Rivers State which resulted to a protracted legal battle which though gave Gov. Amaechi victory, but it had seriously divided the once seemingly united ÔÇśfamily' headed by the former governor, Dr. Peter Odili. She made us to understand that despite what anybody may think of some of the major actors in that saga today, the plain old truth is that it was a formidable bloc of Amaechi zealots who preferred to go hungry rather than mortgage their conscience and the future of this great country whose democracy of uninterrupted ten years was further strengthened by the Supreme Court decision on Amaechi vs. the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC.
She said: "The bold effort by Amaechi then to fight a just cause has also paid off as the apex court displayed judicial gallantry without fear or favour and in any case has been used as a deciding factor in several other cases that had to do with the arbitrary substitution of a duly elected candidate by any political party without recourse to the laws of the land... I do not intend to blow my trumpet here on the role I played even long before the PDP primaries because it is not in my nature to do so though the gory details of how we fought and won will be published soon in my book titled, "My life on the Line". It is mind blowing and a no-holds-barred! I will only try to assuage the feelings of those who have sent me text messages expressing their surprise on why the governor in his wisdom decided to appoint Ibim Semientari as the next Commissioner for Information, one of the vital Ministries of any government. It is no mean task."
Whether that was a mien task or not, it is important that she didn't hands-off in what she believed. And she said: "Some have argued that I should have been appointedÔÇŽ I definitely know my limits, though sometimes, challenges can offer one the opportunity of improving on skills and know-how. I rather think that one of our own should have again been given that opportunity to serveÔÇŽ It is because I am involvedÔÇŽ As we were meant to understand, Mrs. Sementiari is the daughter of the former deputy governor of the state during Dr. Odili's eight year reign. She is a seasoned journalist who has been practicing in Lagos state. Many do not know that she was formerly a staff of Tell Magazine, one of the national weeklies that did not hide its disdain for the Odili-Toby-led Administration for eight years. So much was the heat on the government of that day that it resulted to an open confrontation between Odili's wife and Toby's wife, Sementiari's mother. The former First Lady considered it embarrassing for the magazine to constantly and consistently throw punches at the government under the watchful eyes of Sementiari. Of course, that did not change anything as the weekly could not be deterred in publishing what they considered facts which hounded Odili while exonerating his deputy. I remember the former First lady lamenting in my presence over the ugly trend and I recall telling her that it is possible Sementiari did not have what it takes to compel the management to shift grounds and at least give them a fair hearing through objective reporting."
Going further, she reported: "It was on the cover of the same magazine that the present governor was described as a thief during his travails with the crime commission, the EFCC. He was brought before public glare as being guilty as charged even when no court of competent jurisdiction had declared him guilty of any of those financial crimes. The magazine in its report portrayed him in that light without recourse to the former Speaker of the Rivers State House of Assembly to state his own side of the story. Again, Sementiari was there. I remember asking the governor to avail us his response to the charges against him by the EFCC as published by the magazine, but he preferred we maintained silent due to political reasons as the former President was still prowling about seeking who to ÔÇśdevour'. It is then worrisome that someone whose organization never saw anything good in her home state not even when her father was the number two citizen could be appointed as the spokesperson of government today. Just like our most eminent jurist, Niki Toby would say, "This is what makes a Hausa man shout ÔÇśHaba!' If she could not risk losing her job for standing in defense of her state and on the principles of objectivity, I am afraid she may not be able to deliver. The matter is even worse if after office, she cannot toe the path of those information managers who rose to defend the government they served with facts and figures after they have left office particularly in the days of reckoning if need be."
It is a shock today that time is fast running and the build up to the next general elections in 2011 is already gathering momentum. Is it not a surprise to find Igbo speaking people of River State very highly reclusive and ever willing to have identity complex and get over defensive when they perceive their Igbo brothers and sisters from Abia, Anambra, Imo, Enugu or Ebonyi states as competitors?Amaechi's performance speaks for him, but why do Nigerians easily forget those that helped them? Badey's belief that the Igbo (non-indigenes) in Rivers State deserved commendation in this regard, should be executed in the state level, even though that some local government councils in Rivers State had started it. Non-indigenes appointment in the government would help breach any narrow perception of the non-indigenes in the area against the government. This would tie-up some myopic battles. When the non-indigene who is with the government says anything, his people would not see it as a vendetta from the indigenes since it is coming from one of them. But it becomes a war when the ÔÇśtalk' comes from the ÔÇśalmighty' indigenes. This we have heard and had much in Rivers State. While Amaechi had the justification to celebrate his 3rd year in office, is there any justification for not appointing non-indigenes that fought for him as commissioners?
Odimegwu Onwumere, Poet/Author and Media Consultant, is the Founder of Poet Against Child Abuse (PACA), Oyigbo, Rivers State