by Eze Chukwuemeka Eze
The genesis of the hunt against Amaechi
The genesis of the hunt against Amaechi started when he was forced out of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) by Dr Goodluck Jonathan, then President of Nigeria and his cohorts, for reasons associated with the 2015 general elections. This hunt gained momentum when Amaechi decided to part ways formally with PDP and pitched camp with other progressives in the then opposition camp All Progressives Congress (APC). Apart from pitching camp with APC, he played a pivotal role in ensuring the ouster of the ruling party at the centre – the Peoples Democratic Party – by personally leading the campaign team of Gen Muhammadu Buhari, the APC presidential candidate as its Director-General.
The hunt against this man of vision climaxed when his party, APC, failed to match Jonathan, Wike, Dame Patience Jonathan, and PDP, in their deadly and bloodletting rigging machine, thereby losing power in Rivers State. With the accounts and governance of Rivers State in the hands of his enemies and opponents, Chief Wike who found himself at the helm of affairs in Rivers State in collaboration with this deadly gang embarked upon a three-point agenda for the governance of Rivers State: Destroy and malign Amaechi! Pull down all Amaechi’s legacies!! Hunt and destroy all persons and associates of Amaechi!!! Wike has pursued and prosecuted this three pronged agenda against Amaechi religiously and ruthlessly while other areas of governance including education, security etc suffers to the chagrin of many Nigerians.
Politics and challenges of ministerial nomination and confirmation
Wike’s desperation to drag Amaechi’s name in the mud – in order to frustrate his nomination or appointment as a minster – made him to sponsor a satanic documentary on Amaechi, aired on Africa Independent Television (AIT). This documentary was part of the propaganda war against Amaechi, for which he earmarked billions of naira in his wicked plot to destroy the person and character of Amaechi. Other propaganda tools planned and deployed during this period, in the war against Amaechi, include sponsored publications such as advertorials, columns, editorials and Op-Ed articles in major international, national and local print media; sponsored personality discussion programmes in the electronic media and sponsored special documentaries on television and radio through independent groups and organisations.
This insidious plot by Wike include commissioning a team made up of persons within and outside Rivers State to “initiate, formulate and contrive false damaging reports bordering on alleged corrupt practices by Amaechi, which were circulated to individuals and institutions within Nigeria and abroad, with a view to damaging the incorruptible character and rising profile of Rotimi Amaechi, in order to blackmail and put pressure on President Buhari not to appoint the former governor into his government.
Wike did not stop at the above, but went further to set up Justice George Omereji Panel, to investigate Amaechi’s administration. Though the panel did not found any wrong-dealing, or corrupt practices by Amaechi, Wike went ahead to issue a white paper indicting him of embezzling the sum of N53 billion. But how on earth can someone in his right senses describe funds withdrawn with the approval of the legislature and spent as prescribed by the state budget to be missing? Wike, in his desperation to stop Amaechi’s appointment as a minister, resorted to dancing naked in the market place.
But as God will have it – and contrary to the expectations of Governor Wike and his gang of miserable ingrates – their ferocious campaign to blackmail, disparage and portray Amaechi as a very corrupt person unfit to be appointed Minister of the Federal Republic of Nigeria failed to achieve the desired objective. On September 30, 2015, President Muhammadu Buhari went ahead to list and submitted the name of Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi, along with those of 20 other great Nigerians, as ministerial nominees to the Senate for confirmation.
And to the shock and chagrin of Wike and his cohorts, the Senate, after three sittings on the ministerial screening, screened Amaechi on October 22, 2015 and formally confirmed him on October 29. He was subsequently sworn-in with the 35 other ministers on Wednesday, November 11, by President Buhari, who as a further mark of confidence in the ‘Lion of Niger Delta’ assigned to him the strategically important Ministry of Transportation.
Addressing the financial allegations against Amaechi
With the clarification of the main aim of this attempt, let me highlight some of the areas this group continues to package and repackage in their efforts to run down and present Amaechi in a borrowed robe.
Addressing some of these bogus and unfounded allegations, George DN Feyi, former secretary to the Rivers State Government, and Chamberlain S. Peterside, former commissioner for finance, wrote to President Muhammadu Buhari with attached bank statement and relevant documents debunking the allegations of corruption, and rendering most of these allegations baseless.
The ex-officials informed Buhari that the decision to sell 70 percent of the state’s equity in the power assets of the state was arrived at after an extensive deliberation by the Rivers State Executive Council on 15th and 16th August, 2012. The letter listed the reasons behind the sale and the leasing and concessioning of entities such as Risonpalm, Supabod and Olympia Hotel. “These entities were leased/concessioned and NOT sold as being mischievously and erroneously peddled by some individuals in Rivers State. At the end of the lease/concession period, these revived assets will revert to the State Government.”
Feyi and Peterside added that payments from proceeds of the transactions were lodged in the Rivers State Power Assets Sale Account with Access Bank, as well as the Rivers State Revenue Account at Zenith Bank. They also stated: “The companies that were erroneously portrayed as fronts for looting of funds were actually those that bought the USD and made remittances of naira equivalent into the Rivers State Revenue Account with Zenith Bank.” A table of the companies was also included in the letter to the president.
On the alleged unlawful payment to and criminal conversion of N4,633,440,00.00 by Clinoriv Specialist Hospital, the two officials also explained in details the efforts made by the Amaechi government on the matter to convince Buhari that Amaechi “did not maintain ‘a studied silence for seven years without making any efforts’ as claimed by the petitioners, and he is also not involved in any unlawful enrichment and criminal conspiracy to convert public funds to private use.”
The duo also dismissed the issue of alleged unlawful enrichment of Messrs Collect Solutions (Nig) Limited as bunkum. They concluded that the allegations of fraud and wrongdoing against Amaechi are baseless. “The authors of the petition are either ignorant of the true facts or deliberately misrepresented and twisted the facts in order to tarnish the image of the former governor Amaechi and his administration for the purpose of achieving some heinous political agenda”, the ex-SSG and former finance commissioner said in the rejoinder to Buhari.
Funding of APC presidential election
Another area that Amaechi is accused of embezzling the Rivers state funds is where he raised funds to execute the APC Presidential campaigns from if not from Rivers state coffers.
To most of these hired hackers or writers, they are totally at a loss how Amaechi could have led the movement that stopped PDP that have ruled or rather ruined the unity and economy of our nation for the past 16 years without touching the funds of Rivers State Government.
By the time, I succeeded to convince Dr Ebohon of who Amaechi is, he has a change of heart as expressed in his reaction, “Chief Eze, You are the kind of Public Relation Officer worth having, a master stroke in the act of damping down flames. You are for convincing people with facts to change opinions they have, I must say that save of killing an opponent, it is the only way of wining people round. I salute you chief, and eagerly awaits the evidence.”
But did Amaechi use the Rivers State funds to sponsor the APC campaigns? Let us hear from Amaechi: On Monday, December 22, former governor Amaechi responded to Princewill’s allegation, when he spoke at the maiden rally of Dr Peterside, organised by the Port Harcourt City Local Government (PHALGA), at the Liberation Stadium, Elekahia. He pointedly denied Princewill’s allegation and challenged him to produce one bank account from where he finances Gen Mohammadu Buhari’s campaign as the presidential candidate of the APC for the Saturday, February 14, 2015, presidential election.
Throwing more light on Princewill’s allegations, Dr Chamberlain, finance commissioner during Amaechi’s administration, said: “It must be noted that Tonye Princewill has himself originated and anchored several projects and transactions in the state geared towards his own pecuniary gains. Meanwhile, the outcome of such projects remains questionable and far from set objectives. Rather than focus on his political career, I wonder why Mr Princewill will delve into an area of governance – public finance – which he knows little or nothing about. For the avoidance of doubt, Rivers State under the administration of former Governor Amaechi operates a very robust and transparent public finance system.
Amaechi and Rivers State Resources, A Treatise By An Insider
The main treatise of this attempt, for avoidance of doubt, is to examine and x-ray how former Governor Rotimi Amaechi of Rivers State diligently and prudently managed the resources of Rivers State or otherwise. According to the Punch Newspaper in its edition of 4th August, 2012, where the frightening financial status detailing the external high indebtedness of most of the states in Nigeria and the heart-warming stand of Rivers State, coupled with the pressure from some cynics that Amaechi is not doing much in lieu with the resources at his disposal. According to states and Federal Government’s external debt stock obtained by SATURDAY PUNCH of 4th August, 2012 from the Debt Management Office: Lagos, Kaduna, Cross River, Ogun and Oyo occupied the top position on the list of external debts incurred by state governments. As of June 30, 2012, Borno, Delta, Plateau, Taraba and Anambra states had the lowest external debts.
External debts of other states, apart from the 10 mentioned above are: Abia, $32,675,171; Adamawa, $29,183,118; Akwa Ibom, $61,198,851; Bauchi, $63,029,387; Bayelsa, $27,897,951; Benue, $26,501,393 and Ebonyi $41,060,946.
Edo State’s foreign debt is $41,408,440; Ekiti, $34,071,754; Enugu, $47, 788,769; Gombe, $29,572,867; Imo, $50,573,894; Jigawa, $28,720,760; Kano, $59,400,227; Katsina, $74,147,092 and Kebbi, $47,132,689.
Kogi State owes $33,976,282; Kwara, $43,798,143; Nasarawa, $36, 547,616; Niger, $28,178,180; Ondo, $52,255,534; Osun, $61,744,688; Rivers, $34,301,764; and Sokoto, $40,419,413. Others are Yobe State, $31,111,004; Zamfara, $26,329,259 and the Federal Capital Territory, $37,671,245.
Lagos topped the list of external debtors with $517,677,672 as of June 30, 2012. Next to Lagos was Kaduna with $197,155.525; Cross River had $109,351,503 external debt. Ogun State was the fourth most indebted State with $96,285.547 as of June 30, 2012. Oyo’s external debt (the fifth) was $78,878,401 as of June 30, 2012.
On Rivers, the State Commissioner for Finance, Chamberlain, explained that the current administration had borrowed N30 billion in October 2010, an amount that was paid off in September 2011 and that another loan of N20 billion was accessed in July 2011 from Guaranty Trust Bank and Zenith Bank, noting that a substantial part of the loan from Zenith Bank had already been paid back. The commissioner pointed out that the funds were used to finance the state’s ongoing electricity project, which would be completed by December 2012
To demonstrate the seriousness of Amaechi’s careful management of the resources of Rivers State, he immediately on assuming office in 2007 constituted his cabinet with men and women of integrity. And seeing the decay of infrastructures in the state, he commenced his task by initiating and signing into law, Road Maintenance and Rehabilitation Agency Bill No 3 of 2008; Sustainable Development Amendment Bill No 1 of 2008; Public Procurement Bill; Saving Public Fund Bill, and even a bill excluding the Office of the Governor from signing and awarding of contracts.
Recall then former. Governor Amaechi’s statement: “In order to lay a strong foundation for positive change in governance in the state, the administration has taken it upon itself to initiate very critical bills on fiscal responsibility to the State House of Assembly, virtually all of which have been passed into law and assented to by me. The executive arm of government so far has credit for having at least 60 per cent of all bills passed by the House of Assembly, saying that virtually all the bills were designed to deal with the age-long problem of financial irresponsibility and rascality and as far as the existing laws on fiscal responsibility are concerned, anyone in government who tries to have an over sight of the due process mechanism in the state would surely run into problems.”
Apart from initiating critical bills for the economic revolution in the state, the Governor inaugurated a high-powered Economic Advisory Council comprising the best brains in Rivers State. This included Prof Nimi Briggs as Chairman, with Prof Tam David-West, Engr Tonye Princewill, Ledum Mitee and Dr Chamberlain Peterside, among others as members. While inaugurating the council, Amaechi had identified the task before the team was to make recommendations that would attract new investors and make old ones more profitable.
In the same vein, the governor set up a committee headed by the then Deputy Governor, Engr Tele Ikuru, and made up of members of the Nigerian Society of Engineers, quantity surveyors, urban and regional planners, architects, among others, to produce a blueprint for the infrastructural development of Port Harcourt. His words: “We are determined to confront the challenges of infrastructural development in the state, but while you make suggestions in that respect, it is not the primary assignment of the Economic Advisory Council, because your task is to look at the micro and macro indices of economic growth bearing in mind our limitations as a state government.”
Congratulating the governor for the decision to find solution to the economic problems in the state, Prof Briggs, Chairman of the Economic Council, assured the governor that they would examine the issues seriously and proffer solutions that would assist the state move forward.
Apart from the above, Amaechi also set up an agency called Bureau on Public Procurement, alias ‘Due Process’ with the highly-respected Franklyn A. Nierum, a lawyer, as its Director-General. This is a man who due to his sterling and uncompromising attitude to corruption is hated by many of the government officials and contractors who see him as an enemy of the system, but most certainly loved by the governor, who sees in him the key to stopping corrupt practices in the state. This commission is to monitor projects, ensure proper valuation and costing of contract in line with the market value, thereby reducing corruption and inflation in the system, and ensuring that credible and capable contractors execute government projects in the state.
To Franklyn Acho Nlerum aka Mr Due Process, “Amaechi believed very much in value for money which underpins prudence. He operated within a clearly responsible personal normative framework with respect to resources, especially of government. He was clear that even if the legal regime fails to hold a public officer accountable for his activities, the social order should be able to do so. Moreover, he was convinced that everyone will ultimately account to God. These are the infrastructure of his attitude to public funds. They also informed his ready submission to the dictates of the public procurement regime even in the face of enormous pressure both human and time”.
Apart from all the above feats, Amaechi has to appoint Dr Chamberlain Peterside as his Commissioner for Finance. Peterside, a renowned financial columnist, was the Founder & President of New Era Capital Corp: MyCompletefinance.com, a New York-based financial services group. He was previously a Financial Advisor in the Global Private Client Group of Merrill Lynch. Chamberlain, whose background is both diverse and indepth, holds a Ph.D in Economics/Finance from a University in Europe. His company is based in Moscow and London, and is involved in conducting marketing research and financial analysis for foreign companies focused on the new markets of former Soviet republics. After a stint in Wall Street, in Global Wealth Management, he launched his latest enterprise, which seeks to capitalise on the power of technology to deliver high quality and efficient financial solutions.
Further proof of Amaechi’s Prudence in Public Finance
As Minister of transportation, Amaechi has once again demonstrated his sagacity and prudence in management of public finance by saving a whopping N134.4 billion for the nation (using N168 to $1 as it was in 2014, when the contract was first signed), by negotiating downwards the planned 1,402km coastal rail-line project already approved by the administration of Dr Jonathan at a huge cost. “Rt Hon Amaechi has by this singular act demonstrated to the entire world that he utilised the resources of Rivers State prudently and wisely during his tenure as the governor of Rivers State,”
Throwing more light on who Amaechi is, Mr. George Tolofari a fine stakeholder in the politics of Rivers State stated and I quote, “Eze, hmm, let me say it truthful as it is, Amaechi was one damn prudent guy as governor in Rivers state, always looking for ways where he can save even if it’s a penny for the state so he can fund his numerous projects. That is why I wasn’t surprised when it was reported that he saved some billions on the rail contract that was already approved by the previous government. That is Amaechi for you, he can haggle and bargain”.
To Dr Chamberlain Peterside, “Amaechi was a stickler to due process, transparency and accountability. He took us to task a lot of times to ensure financial transactions are properly documented and our accounting practices are above board. That was reflected in the various reforms and automation projects in the public finance sector (ministry of finance and BIR). His masterstroke was the monthly reserve fund savings program. Without that to fall back on, the state would have gotten into real hard times from mid 2014 and things might have been even worse today.
What did Amaechi Achieve?
That the administration of former Governor Amaechi had embarked upon many unprecedented projects, including setting up of the Songhai Farms and the N20 billion Agric Scheme that will revolutionise agriculture in the state; starting off of the billion Greater Port Harcourt City to decongest the present Port Harcourt City, and construction of one of the best stadia that hosted the last Sports Festival in the new city; building and equipping 180 health centres across the state; constructing many roads and schools; embarking on a mono-rail, first of its kind in Nigeria, which the governor had promised the completion of the first two phases by 2014. Upon completion, the mono-rail would transport 40,000 passengers daily.
Others include offer of scholarships to over 2,000 students in Nigerian Higher Institutions and spending of about N5 billion for students in foreign institutions; building a world-class university which, when completed, will turn out well-equipped graduates that will hold their own in any field and compete with the best in the world; building in Rivers State University of Science and Technology a hostel that will accommodate about 6, 000 students and accommodation for all the lecturers of the university. The university will be fully ICT-compliant. It’s important to point out here that the Rivers State Government is among the few states in Nigeria that offer free education and free health delivery to its people, but stands apart as the only state offering free education, free sandals, free books and free uniform in Nigeria. About 200 primary schools have been set up in 200 communities, a feat that no other state is yet to accomplish.
Health: So far, about 100 medical doctors have been employed to staff most of the health centres in the rural areas. The Rivers State Government has currently embarked upon the exercise to eradicate malaria vectors from the state. The Health Centre at the Rivers State University of Science and Technology ‘will soon be opened to the public.’ The state was lauded last year for its daily commissioning of a health centre over a 60-day period in 60 communities in its 60-60-60 initiative. The Dental Hospital located in the Garrison area of Port Harcourt will soon be opened.
The Rivers State Government has invested over N100 billion per year from 2008 to 2011 in provision of roads, bridges and social amenities. In this regard, the government has engaged in the construction of 800 km roads with 250 already completed. Ten major bridges under construction, with three already completed; 20 minor bridges under construction, with four completed; two flyover/interchange under construction; six land reclamation/shore protection projects at Andoni, Opobo, Buguma, Abalama, Olombie-Owukiri Island, Oba Ama and Okirika, with 1,1400,000 km, with two completed; two major markets and a shopping mall under construction (Phase 1 of Mile 1 market housing 960 shops and two banking halls completed).
International awards for Rivers State based on the financial prudence of Amaechi
It is on record that Rivers State has again been affirmed a ‘B’ international rating by leading international financial analysis agency, Standard and Poor’s (S & P) in a report released recently. The long-term outlook for the state is revised upwards from last year’s rating of ‘Stable’ to ‘Positive’, on the strength of significant ongoing infrastructural investments (in roads, ICT, health care, education and urban renewal), and relentless efforts to transform the public finance framework. All this would help lift the state’s social and economic status in the long-run. The agency in its 2010 credit analysis report on Rivers State, noted that the state currently had a high credit quality, owing to its strong cash holdings, low debt and a healthy operating balance.
While I know the difficulty in managing public funds, Amaechi demonstrated a high level of skill, integrity, probity in this regard. The numerous projects completed are a clear indication that the Amaechi, indeed, deserves encomium from all and sundry, rather than being vilified by Wike and his misguided group. He and his team certainly deserve kudos for prudently utilising the public fund of our people wisely.
While Wike within less than one year in office as Governor of Rivers State have borrowed a whopping sum of over N130bn from the banks the highest by any state government while ensuring that Teachers, Civil servants, Contractors are not paid their salaries and dues and that most of the schools constructed by Amaechi are under lock and key. Apart from all these sad and unfortunate feats, Wike’s administration is described as a ‘one chance’ administration where the state is governed without budget and lives of human beings are no longer sacrosanct or safe. Funny enough, the not performing Wike is at the forefront to run down a man who contributed to his political growth.
Wike and his demented team are free to allege and present such a fellow who utilised the best financial practices as being corrupt and not have achieved anything. But you, the reader have the final say.
Let me conclude this treatise by quoting Engr. Abdul Audu, “I am also a strong supporter of Ameachi, the man with the lion heart, the man who refused to be intimidated, the man who kept his head straight when others were losing theirs to greed and avarice. Those vilifying Amaechi should be courageous enough to drag him before a court of competent jurisdiction and prove that he is as corrupt as they are struggling to make us believe. If they cannot bring up proof with empirical evidence, then they should hide their face in shame.
The day they are able to prove before a court of competent jurisdiction that Amaechi is corrupt, that day I will renounce my support for him! Enough of this throwing of faeces that have removed to smell – forgive my language here – but it is disgusting the way they have been going about it!
To Amaechi and his erstwhile team, kudos as history will surely be fair to you all.
•EZE CHUKWUEMEKA EZE