One of such is that Amaechi has inherited some of the people who worked with his former boss. Magnus Abe is one such personality. As Odili’s commissioner for information, he rationalised frivolous investments by the government like the purchase of two jets. According to him, “we need aircraft for a variety of reasons. I don’t think we can fight poverty by going back to live in caves.”
A year after he made this statement, Odili handed over power to Celestine Omehia. A couple of months later, the Supreme Court ousted Omehia and Amaechi took over the mantle of leadership. Abe bounced back as the Secretary to the State Government.
Since then, the opaque and unaccountable nature of governance characteristic of Amaechi’s predecessors has not ceased despite his oft-repeated mantra of ‘Rivers money for Rivers people’. In the past decade, the state government’s annual income has increased in gigantic proportions. Its average monthly federal allocations topped $95.5 million, paling into insignificance the allocations received by other states.
Recently in March, it topped states in the volatile region of the Niger Delta by receiving $90 million from the Excess Crude Account Allocation. In addtion to this, it also carted away, that same month, another N11 billion, this time from the Federal Allocation.
Much of these astronomic gains before Amaechi, were unaccounted for. Extravagance, waste and corruption continue to bog down the government .Under Gov Odili; there were budgets for unspecified donations amounting to $91,000 per day. There was also a security vote of N5 billion and over N10 billion spent on special projects annually. Travel budgets gulped a whooping $65,000 per day, while budgets for catering services totalled N1.3 billion; and over N6 billion was spent on the purchase of two helicopters mentioned earlier; the construction of landing facilities and purchase of new vehicles.
Although Amaechi has since set a machinery in motion to dispose the jets, he is yet to convince pundits that his administration is a departure from that of his former boss. For one, two prominent people who were with Odili: Magnus Abe as Commissioner for Information and Nyesom Wike, as the local government chairman of Obio Akpor Local Government, are still with him. Indeed, Wike is now the Chief of Staff to the Governor.
Wike is still neck deep in an allegation of corruption following a petition that he siphoned N120 million into his personal account. The matter is still a subject of litigation being pursued by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC). Before now, Wike, a lawyer by profession, had been steeped in allegations of financial impropriety when he was local government chairman. It was said that his council then budgeted $961,000 for works on health centres in the area, but the projects were never executed. Another embarrassing profile was the over-arching schism between Wike and his former deputy, Lawrence Chuku, whom he alleged, as the supervisor of health matters in the council, stole $90,000 meant for projects under his department.
So far, no conclusive investigation has exonerated either Chuku or Wike. Instead of this, the former local government boss is now part of Amaechi’s kitchen cabinet. And, in there, controversy over his financial fidelity has continued to rage. Last year, he was arrested along with the SSG, Magnus Abe, the state’s finance commissioner and the state’s Accountant General, Zida Famor, for diverting huge sums of money into his accounts. He, however, claimed the money was for building projects released to him.
Contrary to this, it was revealed that he connived with a staff of a new generation bank to open account number 6010916587 on March 27, 2008, under the fictitious name of Harrison B. Princewill. Further revelations were that he did not provide photographs and information about the next of kin of ‘Princewill’ when he opened the account.
About the same time, accounts number 602500949, belonging to the same person began to witness a large turnover. In three months, N233 million passed into it. Again, three months afterwards, Wike withdrew N300 million and disappeared before he was arrested.
Not long after, the Independent Corrupt Practices and other Related Offences Commission (ICPC) was petitioned by Tamunosisi Gogo Jaja, the immediate past Chief Whip of the Rivers State House of Assembly (RVHA). Gogo Jaja, who was representing Opobo/Nkoro constituency, had refused to partake in an alleged deal of N3 billion being money released to the lawmakers for their constituency projects. It was said that each of the legislators got between N100 and 105 million for the purpose. Upon receipt of the petition, the ICPC invited the Speaker, Rt.Hon. Tonye Harry to intimate the House on the issue.
A resident of Port Harcourt who prefers anonymity, told me that, “it is difficult to expect any concrete result and after all, we did not elect Amaechi. The Supreme Court just foisted him on us.”
Amaechi himself has not helped matters. In various fora, he has continued to defend his lieutenants, insisting that the two incidences are the handwork of his political detractors.
The governor has never won an election in his political career spanning ten years now. That is why, when he became governor, all over the state, there were biblical quotes on billboards reading, “Once has He spoken; and twice have I heard that power belongs to God”. When he sought to contest a seat in the Rivers State House of Assembly in 1999, he was not given a ticket by his party. His opponent who clinched it lost to him, when a court ruled that he was not a card carrying member of the party. Eventually, he did not only become a legislator, he became the Speaker of the House.
In trying to correct the wrongs of the past civilian administrations in the state, Gov. Amaechi has created a network of contract industry that is into healthcare, education, roads construction, landscaping and every other thing. He is trying to build the confidence of the voters that although they did not elect him, he could prove his mettle by doing better than his predecessors.
If there is anything that residents of the state are happy about, it is that the hitherto frightening climate of criminality that nearly paralysed the state has started to recede. People can now make telephone calls freely and publicly without fearing that they will be dispossessed of their handsets. The dangerous wave of militancy has also abated, although kidnapping is still rife despite the promulgation of a law stipulating death sentence and life imprisonment for its commission.
Nonetheless, people in the state, as in the entire Niger Delta region, have no way of holding their leaders accountable for their actions. The worst part is that information about public resources is a closely guarded secret in the state.
When asked whether the governor has not bitten more than he can chew by the large number of projects simultaneously going on in the state, a resident, Mr Steve Dappa-Addo said, “there is no confusion. In the past with the amount of money the state got, nothing was done. Maybe, with the governor’s policy of ‘Rivers money for Rivers people’, he is sinking money into infrastructure and embarking on multi-faceted development projects. If he is biting too much and doing more, then it is ok”.
Dapaa-Addo posits that holding the executives accountable rests squarely with the state House of Assembly and local council legislators. “If they are not doing their work, then it is not democracy that has failed. It is their duty to call their leaders to order”, he added.
Between 1999 and 2008, the 23 local government areas of Rivers were allocated more than $636 million through the Federation Account. These have increased four-fold since then. The problem is that the councils spend huge amounts of money constructing and furnishing edifices. They also allocate large amounts to these bogus projects than they allocate to healthcare and education.
Most time, they do not follow due process in the award of contracts. Before Amaechi’s contract regime commenced, the state was littered with abandoned projects- schools, empty fish ponds and the like. Now, he has since started chastising the local government leaders to ship in or shape out.
As the challenges and controversies surrounding Amaechi continue apace, his next outing to seek the people’s mandate in 2012 will be his first litmus test in the real act of politics that providence has not allowed him to face all this while.