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Joachim MacEbong profiles Rotimi Amaechi: The rebel who …

Every country has public figures about whom there does not seem to be any middle ground. They are people you either love, or hate.

This is because, of essence, they are divisive characters, eliciting strong emotions from those who observe them, both near and far. Politicians like Nasir El-Rufai and Bola Tinubu would fall into this category, but there is one person in particular who has helped to shape Nigerian politics this year.

Throughout his career as a public servant, Amaechi has earned the reputation as someone with the gift of gab, a way with words and people that is the hallmark of every successful politician. He has also never been afraid to step out of line, to be seen as a rebel, but is also a very savvy politician.

Rotimi Amaechi is a former political son of Peter Odili, himself a two-term governor of Rivers State. In 1999, he joined the emerging democratic space after the end of military rule, and became speaker of the Rivers State House of Assembly in 1999, a position he held for all 8 years. Despite winning the governorship primaries, Amaechi was substituted for Celestine Omehia by the PDP in 2007. He then contested that decision, which resulted in a landmark ruling at the Supreme Court.

After a decent first term as Rivers State governor, most of his second term was spent in an escalating war of words with the Presidency, which culminated in a divided Governors Forum, which he used to chair. He was seen as too powerful, and even though he won the vote among his peers, Jonah Jang was declared the leader of the forum. It marked a 180-degree turn from being a Jonathan ally to being an outcast in the party.

The most dramatic part of this story was to come. Amaechi left the ruling party in order to join a newly formed opposition, embracing an uncertain future in the process. By the end of 2014, he became the Director General of the Buhari campaign, with the task of unseating an incumbent. Knowing that defeat would put him in a very precarious position, he undertook the task anyway and brought to it his trademark courage and authority, never shying away from going toe-to-toe with the PDP.

Courage, however, was never going to be enough against an incumbent with vast state resources at its disposal, and 15 years of patronage networks to call on. Amaechi’s eye for putting together a winning campaign was the result of his experience at the highest levels of Nigerian politics. The campaign he ran re-introduced Muhammadu Buhari to the Nigerian public and brought a freshness to his image that was absent in his previous three attempts at being a democratic president.

Quite simply, Rotimi Amaechi was the right man with the right task at the right time. There is something poetic that someone seen as a rebel would eventually lead a mini-exodus from the ruling party, to the opposition and be at the forefront of a deepening of Nigeria’s democracy. The long dominance of the PDP meant that an internal schism, combined with a popular yearning for a new direction, was probably the only way its grip on power could have been loosened.

After victory at the polls came another battle to be confirmed as a minister. Despite being in the first batch of nominees released, his hearing was delayed till the final day as a result of a number of petitions against him which were to be investigated by the Senate Committee on Ethics and Privileges.

A hearing delayed, however, was not confirmation denied. Now he is Minister of Transport, with the task of improving the country’s transport infrastructure.

If he applies the same courage and savvy to governance that he does to politics, it will be hard to count against him doing well.


 Joachim MacEbong leads on strategy at RED