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, freshly minted 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 and miraculous 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 centers; 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, committed to serving 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 a few privilegentsia to continue.
Amaechi realized early enough that the task was daunting and the road would be tortuous. The signs were too obvious. It was a tumultuous period in the history of the State. The economy was in near collapse. Criminals and armed bandits were fully in control of the streets. Sporadic outbreak of gun-shots was not uncommon on the roads of Port Harcourt. The few businesses that stayed back in the city because they probably had no choice but to stay back and eke a living, did fast and pray daily to keep the lawless marauders from invading their businesses. These lawless rogues had grown beyond the law and no one seemed able to arrest the situation.
I'm sure those in Port Harcourt their will not easily obliterate those dark days from memory. They certainly will not forget quickly how a notorious crime suspect broke free from government custody, after the holding facility was bombarded by superior fire power. There was dusk to dawn curfew, which finally nailed the coffin on the social scene in the city. Nightlife, which used to be one of the hallmarks of the city, was practically dead. Occupancy rate in hotels and related hospitality businesses were at its lowest. This was the scenario Amaechi met when he became governor.
I won't bore you with the deplorable state of infrastructure, health services or education. As a matter of fact, it was so bad in the educational sector that Amaechi had to declare a state of emergency with automatic alacrity after a group of consultants brought in to look at the state of education in Rivers State came out with their depressing report. This was the basis for his building the first class model primary schools all over the State.
The infrastructural and urban decay was so alarming that he had to immediately and aggressively pursue and implement an urban renewal programme that would give the city a facelift.
Amaechi set out to build a new educational system that is effective and efficient. He took the funding of primary education away from local councils that could barely fund it. Apart from the building of new schools, he started the continuous training and re-training of teachers in the state educational system. This was done in collaboration with the efficient British Council. Besides Port Harcourt, he took quality healthcare service to the hinterland and started rebuilding the state's infrastructure. He blocked all the unnecessary financial loopholes and clearly said NO to the hitherto mindless bazaar of sharing the collective wealth of the people among a privileged few.
A new city, Greater Port Harcourt, which will ultimately decongest traditional Port Harcourt, the state capital, and give the citizenry a big sense of pride and relief, is coming up. His administration's investment in human capacity development is indeed remarkable. Thousands of students are benefiting from State scholarships and training in some of the best institutions you can find. Besides, agriculture is a focal point of the State economic development and employment generation policy. Risonpalm, the vast palm plantation in the state - one of the largest in the west coast of Africa - which was the pride of Rivers State in the good old days, is being restored even beyond what it was, in its glory days. New farm settlements and plantation are springing up all over the State. The enormously large Songhai Farm and the vast banana plantation in Tai, Ogoniland are just two of his new agricultural initiatives.
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. He knew nothing could be achieved without peace and security. He invested heavily in security, security equipment and practically helps in funding our federal security agencies to fight the atrocious insecurity in the State.
But far and above all that, he showed the political will, strength and commitment to fight the lawless lords who had taken over our beloved State. With the heart of a lion, Amaechi dared, fought and ran the arms carrying bandits out of Rivers State. Now, nightlife is back, bigtime. The hitherto comatose social scene is alive again. New fun-spots are springing up in the city, every now and then. Hotels and hospitality spots are presently smiling to their banks. And soon, there will be stable and steady power supply in the State, which has been welcoming businesses with open arms. The governor has invested heavily in building power stations and sub-stations in the state.
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 modern tools of learning. 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 centers. These health centers 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 commitment to Rivers people and determination to rebuild Rivers State into a modern wonder. 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, strength 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. With his clear leadership example in Rivers State, Amaechi has shown that with a clear vision, strength of character and commitment to implement, our country can be turned around. That Nigeria can indeed be great again with right and committed leaders. He has demonstrated that there is hope for Nigeria.
A goldfish, they say, has no hiding place. Amaechi's exemplary and 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 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 its full potentials and be a much better place for us to live in, a country of our dream. A Nigeria we can all be proud to call our own.
- Iyofor, former Port Harcourt Bureau Chief of Ovation International, is Chief Press Secretary to Governor Rotimi Amaechi.