Rotimi Chibuike Amaechi – Serial victor back in the ring
Rotimi Chibuike Amaechi, minister of transportation, has enjoyed a seamless rise in his political career. Since winning a seat in the Rivers State House of Assembly in 1999, he has never contested for any public office and lost. He won reelection to the House in 2003 and became Speaker. In 2007, he contested election for state Governor and won, then got reelected in 2011. And, as soon as he ended his constitutionally allowed maximum two terms in 2015, Amaechi was appointed minister of transport. Thus, since the beginning of this dispensation, Amaechi has become a permanent fixture in the corridors of power at all the three levels of government.
“I have been in the political arena for 23 years,” he said recently when he declared his intention to run for the office of President of Nigeria on the platform of the All Progressives Congress (APC). “I have served at every level of government – local, state, and federal. I have served both as a political appointee and an elected official. I have served both as an executive – as Governor of Rivers State and as a legislator – as Speaker of the State House of Assembly.”
He said he was contesting because he believes it is his moral duty to give what he can in the service of his country. “To sustain and intensify present efforts at solving our national problems, our democracy must ensure the emergence of a leadership that is equipped with broad experience in governance to ensure stability and continuity…No matter the darts and arrows that come my way, I will remain steadfast because the stakes are too high. We cannot afford to fail. We cannot afford to veer off-course…The road ahead will be long and arduous. But we go forward with faith.”
Amaechi is not a stranger on the arduous political road. In fact, his staying power on the political turf thus far owes a lot to his ability to fight and conquer on the hard road. For instance, he fought President Olusegun Obasanjo and Celestine Omeihia up to the Supreme Court to emerge Governor in 2007. As Chairman of Nigerian Governors’ Forum (NGF), he also waged a fierce battle with President Goodluck Jonathan’s government when they tried to stop him from seeking re-election as the NGF Chairman but he defied them and defeated Jonah Jang, Governor of plateau state, 19 to 16 votes, to secure his second term
A public affairs analyst has said, and tightly so, that Rotimi Amaechi’s political career is about fighting and winning. “He has an everlasting willingness to fight against the odds and he backs himself to win every single time. It was the trait he displayed when rising through the ranks to eventually become governor in Rivers State. It was the same trait he displayed while defying a sitting first lady and breaking with tradition to join the opposition as Rivers State governor.
“It is the trait he continues to display, which has helped him survive for seven long years as the most visible southern face on president Buhari’s cabinet.”
Now back in the ring, it can be expected, going by his personal records, that Amaechi, the figher, may just emerge victorious again in the 2023 presidential slugfest.
Amaechi was born in Ubima, Ikwerre Local Government Area of Rivers State and was raised in Diobu, a densely populated neighbourhood in Port Harcourt.
He had his early education at St Theresa’s Primary School from 1970 to 1976. He earned his West African Senior School Certificate in 1982 after attending Government Secondary School Okolobiri. Amaechi received a Bachelor of Arts degree (Honours) in English Studies and Literature from the University of Port Harcourt in 1987, where he was the President of the National Union of Rivers State Students (NURSS).
He completed the mandatory National Youth Service Corps in 1988, and thereafter joined Pamo Clinics and Hospitals Limited owned by Peter Odili, where he worked until 1992. He was a director of several companies, including West Africa Glass Industry Limited and Risonpalm Nigeria Limited.
Amaechi holds the national honour of the Commander of the Order of the Niger (CON). He is married to Judith Amaechi and they have three boys. He is a Catholic and a Knight of the order of Saint John (KSJ).
During the transition to Nigeria’s Third Republic, Amaechi was Secretary of the National Republican Convention in Ikwerre Local Government Area of Rivers State. Between 1992 and 1994, he was Special Assistant to the Deputy Governor of Rivers State, Peter Odili who believed in Amaechi as a young man with potential in politics, and brought him under his wing. In 1996, he was the Rivers State’s Secretary of the Democratic Party of Nigeria (DPN) caretaker committee during the transition programme of General Sani Abacha.
In 1999, he contested and won a seat to become a member of the Rivers State House of Assembly and was subsequently elected as the Speaker of the House of Assembly. Amaechi was elected the Chairman of Nigeria’s Conference of Speakers of State Assemblies. In May 2003, he was re-elected as the Speaker. In 2003, when the National Assembly moved to hijack the legislative functions of the State House of Assembly as enshrined in the constitution, he and his colleagues took the matter to Supreme Court and won.
As speaker, Amaechi used his close working relationship with Governor Peter Odili to increase the harmonious relationship between the Executive and Legislative arms of government. But later, Amaechi launched a campaign against the State Government and the Governor in an effort to succeed Odili as governor in 2007.
Amaechi contested and won the PDP primary for Rivers State Governor in 2007. His name was substituted by the party, an action which he challenged in court. The case eventually got to the Supreme Court. He became governor on October 26, 2007, after the Supreme Court ruled that he was the rightful candidate of the PDP and winner of the Governorship election in Rivers State.
His administration invested in infrastructure development, construction of roads and bridges, sticking to the vision of connecting all parts of the state by road. The governor was also committed to urban renewal and modernization of transportation services. His administration began building a monorail to provide mass transportation within the city of Port Harcourt.Some power plant projects (Afam, Trans Amadi, Onne) were also built to improve power supply in the State.
He was re-elected for a second term in 2011. However, in August 2013, Amaechi was amongst seven serving governors who formed the G-7 faction within the PDP. In November 2013, Amaechi alongside five members of the G-7 defected to the new opposition party, the APC, and became Director-General of Muhammadu Buhari’s presidential campaign.
In 2015, following Buhari’s election, Amaechi was appointed to his cabinet as Federal Minister of Transportation, a position he holds to date following his reappointment in 2019. His achievements in Rivers State, especially in the works and transportation sector, must have recommended him for this appointment. As expected, Amaechi put his best foot forward and this has yielded in a number of landmark projects. The 156km Lagos-Ibadan railway line officially began passenger operations in January this year, under the supervision of Amaechi. the Abuja-Kaduna rail line project is one of the first standard gauge railway modernisation projects (SGRMP) undertaken in Nigeria.
Under his watch, the maritime industry has witnessed a major change, which has increased its growth. The achievements recorded in the sector are screaming testimonies to his successes as a minister..
Since leaving office in 2015, Amaechi has been the subject of corruption allegations by his successor, Governor Nyesom Wike. He is accused of using state funds to finance President Muhammadu Buhari’s campaign during the 2015 presidential election through the sale of Rivers state-owned oil and gas assets and fraudulently misappropriating the proceeds of the sale amounting to US$309 million. Amaechi has persistently denied the allegations against him. He has not been prosecuted or convicted of any crime, thus leaving his integrity intact, at least legally.
Amaechi has been playing politics at the national stage since his days as Speaker of the Rivers State House of Assembly when he was Chairman of the Conference of Speakers of state Assemblies. As Governor for eight years he built a network of political allies among his colleagues and other politicians across the country. He has strengthened that network in the last seven years as Transportation minister. During this period also, he has deepened his knowledge of the geography, people and culture of Nigeria in the course of supervising rail and water transportation projects across the country.
Amaechi is said to be one of the most powerful ministers from southern Nigeria in the Buhari administration. He is also said to be very close to the president. This closeness coupled with the conferment of the award of the honorific chieftaincy title of Dan Amanan Daura by the Emir of Daura, the Emirate where the President hails from, have sparked speculations that Buhari had endorsed Amaechi as his successor.
A social commentator, Chijioke Nwachukwu, said: “The turbaning is an endorsement – a loud and eloquent statement on where the current ruling northern establishment stands as far as the 2023 presidential election is concerned.”
Everything considered, Rotimi Amaechi stands among the leading contenders in the Presidential race. He is, accordingly, selected as one of The Top10 Magazine’s top 10 most electable presidential hopefuls for 2023.