It was one of those early winter evenings in London. Windy and very cold, despite the absence of snow.
It was the first business trip of the new Governor of Rivers State, the Rt. Hon. Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi, to Queensland. Weeks back, Amaechi had won a resounding, earth-shaking Supreme Court victory to emerge as governor of the oil-rich state after an exhausting, long-drawn judicial and political battle with forces that were anything but democratic, behemoths who wanted to play God. Many years after, echoes of this landmark judgment continues to reverberate in Nigeria's judicial and political landscape.
As we rode in a black cab from our central London hotel to an appointment somewhere in North London, I asked the Governor when he thought we would be able to build a country like the United Kingdom or something pretty close- steady power; good roads; potable water; decent and affordable housing; health facilities that are not death centres; an education system that truly educates etc.
"David, honestly I don't know," he shot back rapidly, staring into the glitzy streets.
"But I do know that things have got to change and I will spend my time as governor ensuring that things change for the better in Rivers State, building a Rivers State that all of us, every Rivers man, will be proud of...", Amaechi continued after a short pause. He went on to talk about the changes he wanted and the kind of state he wanted to build during his time as governor.
Indeed, in the past five years, Governor Amaechi has not only talked the talk but also worked the talk. He has spent the past five years building a Rivers State that has transformed significantly from what we used to know. Passionate about his State and his people, Amaechi has made changes, small and big, that have impacted tremendously on their lives. And he was under no illusion that these changes must of necessity come with a heavy price. It is in the nature of change to cause a lot of discomfort, especially to the few who benefit from the rot, who would want the old ways of rot, decay, corruption and the sharing of the collective wealth of the people by the elite to continue.
Amaechi realised early enough that the task was daunting and the road would be tortuous. Amaechi set out to build a new educational system that is effective and efficient. He took quality healthcare service to the hinterland and started rebuilding the state's infrastructure. He blocked all the financial holes and clearly said NO to sharing of the collective wealth of the people among a privileged few.
A new city-Greater Port Harcourt-which will decongest Port Harcourt, the state capital, and give the citizenry a big sense of pride, is coming up. The investment in human capacity development is remarkable. Besides, agriculture is a focal point of the State economic development and employment generation.
The Garden City, as Port Harcourt is fondly called by residents and visitors, has regained its peace, after years of siege by criminals - thanks to Amaechi's priority to security. Now, nightlife is back, bigtime. The hitherto comatose social scene is alive again. And soon, there will be a stable and steady power supply in the State, which have been welcoming businesses with open arms.
There are many ways Governor Amaechi has altered for good the lives of Rivers people. These changes will forever enhance the fortunes of those who live in the geographical location called Rivers State. These are far-reaching changes that no other governor has been able to do since the days of the first Governor, Alfred Diette-Spiff, who was a military administrator.
The visually appealing Amaechi Schools, as folks tend to call the new model primary schools scattered all over the State, are properly furnished and fully equipped for learning with computers and other toos. Each of these schools has more than enough space for sporting and other recreational activities.
The target is to build about 750 of these primary schools all over the state. Many years after Amaechi would have served out his term as governor, Rivers people will continue to remember him for these schools and for delivering quality education at absolutely no cost to parents.
Modern health centres have been built, furnished and equipped in the rural communities and urban centres. These health centres have changed the way healthcare and medical services are delivered to the rural folks who used to be at the receiving end of poor and less than humane medical care.
The vast network of roads Amaechi has constructed, reconstructed and expanded in Port Harcourt and the entire State will forever be there as a testimony to his determination to rebuild Rivers State. In a short while, there will be a road with several bridges connecting the historical town of Opobo to the rest of the world - for the first time. The traffic situation in Port Harcourt may not yet be perfect, but residents know that if not for these new roads, the city would have been choked on its traffic. There are more vehicles in Port Harcourt now than ever before. As more roads are completed, it will definitely get better.
With his leadership style, administrative acumen, strenghth of character and passion to better the lives of his people, Amaechi has clearly shown that change, positive change, is indeed possible in Nigeria. He has shown that our country can achieve greatness if leaders at all levels match their words with actions for the good of all.
A goldfish, they say, has no hiding place. Amaechi's exemplary, sterling leadership qualities and uncommon service to humanity have been noticed by the Usman Danfodiyo University, Sokoto. Today, that great institution in the epicenter of the Caliphate will honour him with a well deserved Honorary Doctor of Law(LLD) Honoris Causa.
For those of us who have been with him over the years, this honour does not surprise us. It is a reaffirmation of what we have always known - that this country needs leaders like Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi for it to attain his full potentials and be a much more better place for us, a country of our dream.
Congratulations Dr. Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi!