The two-day visit of former President Olusegun Obasanjo to Rivers State for the inauguration of projects may have upped the stakes for the All Progressives Congress in the state, writes Olawale Olaleye
It was two days of drama and comedy- a genre of theatre act where former president Olusegun Obasanjo was never found wanting. The Owu, Abeokuta, Ogun State-born military officer and politician was a guest of the Rivers State government and people last week. And for the two days that he was in town, Obasanjo enlivened the political and social circles that had been retired to the coolers by the immediate past military governor of the state, CP Joseph Mbu. There was an unusual excitement electrified by a personality that is unequalled, his inadequacies regardless.
Obasanjo, who has come to be known as the â€œnavigatorâ€ of the progressives following his fraternity with the All Progressives Congress (APC) despite professing being a card-carrying member of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), had visited Rivers State on the invitation of Governor Rotimi Amaechi to inaugurate some of the projects that today stand the government and governor out amongst the lot in the country.
The Rivers Governor who had invested hugely in practically all walks of life thought there was the need to celebrate success, especially in a clime where people idolise mediocrity and worship corruption in the face of ravaging squalor.
Besides, the choice of Obasanjo was instructive. The five months struggle that saw Amaechi through to power was believed to have been orchestrated by Obasanjo, who at the time opposed his choice as the PDP governorship candidate in the 2007 governorship election and dismissed it as â€œdis one get k-leg oâ€.
The theory that underpinned the K-leg phrase had remained an issue even after Amaechi had assumed office and hit the ground running. That aside, Obasanjo, apart from having heard on the news that the governor had turned the lot of the people of Rivers around, had not really seen for himself and had often dismissed reports of an outstanding showing in the state as hype.
Consequent upon this, Amaechi thought the best person to inaugurate the projects and confirm reports of his sterling performance was Obasanjo. The former president too, regardless of whatever was their differences, accepted to see â€œThe Amaechi Wondersâ€ in good faith though and confirmed this when he finally gave his verdict.
â€œI earmarked it, eyemarked it, talkmarked it and I declare,â€ said Obasanjo, jocularly when asked to comment on what he had seen in the two days that he was in town. Obasanjo, who was also awestruck by the level of performance of the former PDP government but now APC said from what he saw in the state, the Amaechi k-leg had been straightened.
He said the projects executed by Amaechi especially in the rural areas showed that the governor had the grassroots at heart and remained a visionary leader. Obasanjo also called on other governors to emulate Amaechi in terms of his development initiative, saying such a leadership will transform the nationâ€™s economic fortunes for the better.
However, explaining the choice of Obasanjo for the inauguration, Amaechi affirmed that â€œHe was a foremost Head of State and government that we have had in the country. So, what is wrong in asking him to commission the projects? It was important that he came to have a look at what we have done.
â€œLike I told him in the public, we have a common friend and anytime the common friend talks about the things in Rivers, he would ask: is Amaechi working? It was important to bring him so that he can assess things for himself so that next time that question is put forward, he will give them an answer.â€
Amaechi dismissed insinuations that President Goodluck Jonathan could feel slighted that Obasanjo took the shine off him.
â€œToday, some governors still commission projects by themselves. Would you take offence when they commission their projects by themselves? I saw Fashola recently as he was commissioning projects. I saw Akpabio as he was commissioning a General Hospital. Why will the President take offence in that?
â€œIt depends on the choice that the governor makes. I can ask the President or governor to commission projects. My colleague had invited me to commission projects before in Jigawa. I had an invitation from Yobe. Adamawa had invited me. I don’t think the president will take offence in that.â€
The Rivers governor was not oblivious of the fact that an Obasanjo inaugurating his projects could enhance his profile. According to him, â€œLooking at Obasanjo’s status, you will certainly get some benefits by identifying with him; he is a man with this national and international clout. I was surprised by the kind of reception he got among the people that came out to receive him. There were those that were brought by the organisers.
â€œThere were those that came on their own hailing him, shouting baba, calling him all sorts of names- baba iyabo, baba this, Olusegun- some calling him without respect by calling a former president by such names. I can share this with you. He told us how he acquired the name, Mathew. He said that his parents said he should have a Christian name and when he got to Secondary school, they looked at how long his names were and asked him to be drop one.
â€œHe decided to drop Mathew and the reason he dropped Mathew was that Mathew was a tax collector. I think you can’t ignore the fact that identifying with such an important character will rub off on you, and I think positively.â€
Talking serious politics, Amaechi dismissed the likelihood of returning to the PDP. â€œYou should be careful with your choice of words. How do you know that the PDP is the predominant party? Why can you wait and see whether it is true? You have to be careful.
â€œWhat you assume to be the predominance of the PDP may be the predominance of the manipulation of the elite. It is now that we will source the votes from the down-trodden and then, you can say whether it is a predominantly PDP state or not. I think we should be careful in the choice of such words.â€
Amaechi, who declined to speak on the future of APC in the state, said â€œI am not God. Don’t give me such powers.â€
Also, when asked about his choice of successor, he stated: â€œI leave that to God. Don’t forget the way I was anointed as the governor. Even, the greatest of all Christians never thought that it will happen. There were occasions where I had sat down in Ghana and asked: how did it happen?
â€œI started thinking about these prophet who prophesied that you will be governor and I asked: how will it happen? He said we don’t know. You just watch and see how God does His things. You must take that into consideration. So, there is the God element. Then, you do your human planning. But, I am not focusing on human planning. I am focusing on building a party called the APC because there was none some few months ago.
â€œThat is why we say, if the PDP says that they are the largest party in Africa, I will say APC is the fastest growing party in Africa. No party has grown at the rate the APC is growing. Some few months ago, there was no opposition party in Sokoto.
â€œBut the PDP is now struggling to retain its status as the opposition party in Sokoto. It is the same in Kano. It is the same in Kaduna where the Vice-President comes from. It is the same in Kwara. And the APC is rearing its head in Bayelsa. So, you can see we are the fastest growing party,â€ he said.
Amaechi explained that the tension in the PDP over the sharing of the loot in Nigeria was enough to put the country into crisis. He said the corruption crisis in NNPC was best situated by one of APCâ€™s national leaders, Senator Bola Tinubu, who said the NNPC is the ATM of Jonathan.
â€œWe are not involved. We are not talking about it. We will allow the country to decide,â€ he said, insisting that Nigerians should react to the allegation of missing money at NNPC, even as he hinted that the decision taken by the Nigeria Governors’ Forum on the dwindling revenue at the state level was not because of the oil theft, but because of financial diversion.
On whether or not he would abandon projects for his successor, especially the controversial monorail, Amaechi retorted: â€œWhere you not there when I was interviewing the contractor? Everything about that monorail is inside the city of Port-Harcourt.
â€œThey said they would complete the terminus in October. We will start the power project very soon so that the train will have power to use. The train is built in such a way that if there is no power, automatically, it will resort to diesel. You can see the cost. You have power and diesel.â€
Although it was the second time that a major visit which included projects inauguration was paid to the state – the first being that of President Jonathan in 2010 – the Obasanjo visit was however both strategic and instructive. Coming a year to the general election, the presence of the â€œnavigatorâ€ might be a game changer and could go a long way in putting the APC government in a vantage position.
There is the swirling belief in the state that not only is Amaechi in charge as evident in his performance and support from the people, every attempt to intimidate or cow him would be in futility as his consistent persecution by the Jonathan-led government has turned around for good for him.
No doubt, the 2015 election would be tough and a decider for the state, all odds seem to be in support of a man the people think epitomises change and transformation, devoid of corruption and the sharing of the commonwealth of the people which characterised the era before his.
Whilst the 2015 election may not be an easy task for Amaechiâ€™s APC, many believe that there is no debating his retaining the state for his new party, even in the face of clear intimidation and harassment. That he not only understands the game and strategic in his approach, Amaechi is said to have a well-off scorecard to take to the polls as a proof of his service to the people of Rivers State.