Will Rotimi Amaechi ever pay for his perfidy?
WHEN in October 2015, President Buhari finally unveiled his ministerial nominees to the public following a drawn-out ‘screening’ process meant to ascertain the integrity and fitness of the candidates, the list immediately lost credibility with a chunk of Nigerians for one major reason: it contained the name of the sleazy former Governor of Rivers State, Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi.
For many, his inclusion meant that President Buhari failed to break with the lamentable tradition of using ministerial appointments as both a reward and protective cover for political operatives – especially former Governors – in desperate search of refuge from the reckoning of the law, after years of wasteful and corrupt management of state resources placed in their care.
Rotimi Amaechi’s case was particularly striking. He had latched on to the APC towards the tail end of his perfidious eight-year tenure as the Governor of Rivers State, taking delight in his ‘opposition’ to the center and the promised ‘expansion’ of the APC to the South-South.
What was not immediately clear to most at the time was that beneath the empty brinksmanship, as the disgraceful defeat of his anointed candidate eventually revealed, was a terrified man aware of the rebuke that was to come, both in the PDP where he had completely lost face following his monumental incompetence and dictatorial tendencies, and amongst the Rivers masses who caught on to the elaborate theft of public funds behind the numerous ‘white elephant projects’ Amaechi started with no intention to complete.
Take the monorail project, for instance. Rotimi Amaechi spent over 22 billion naira on a project that in 2015 was deemed untenable by its technical partners, ARCUS GIBBS Nig Ltd at a court hearing initiated to investigate the fraud.
Perhaps it is noteworthy to state that public interventions could – and in fact do – sometimes go sideways, as a result of a number of variables. It is indeed a reality government at all levels has to grapple with. However, to minimize the likelihood of this, project proposals are followed with in-depth analysis and tests to ascertain viability.
The Rivers State Government paid handsomely for the same pre-investment evaluation ostensibly to guard against waste, and the verdict, as confirmed by ARCUS GIBBS Nig Ltd, was the government had no realistic chance of completing the project and should thus not proceed. But that did not stop Rotimi Amaechi. Because completing the project was not the goal; using it as a conduit to siphon public funds was. And so, over 22 billion naira went down the drain, with nothing to show for it except tracks that covered a few miles and led nowhere.
To establish the fraud and remove all doubts on whether this was a ‘costly error’, ARCUS GIBBS Nig Ltd made another important revelation during the hearing. Facing pressure from the public and civil society groups alarmed at the emerging facts that the monorail was heading nowhere, Rotimi Amaechi sponsored the staging of a misleading and fake ‘unveiling’ to keep the racket going.
“We actually wrote to the Ministry of Transport in January to arrange for the governor to unveil the monorail project in April for the attention and coverage of the media based on the expectation of the people of the state.
Apart from the media coverage and public attention that it was expected to generate, the monorail was not technically and commercially ready,” said Wiero Viguezang, the Managing Director of ARCUS GIBBS Nig Ltd, in his court testimony.
Essentially, Amaechi was stealing from the people and staging hoax unveilings to conceal the fact and keep up a false appearance of ‘performance’. It was a summary of his eight-year tenure in charge of Rivers State and the reason his successor, Nyesom Wike, has eclipsed him totally in the state. Wike’s projects and flyovers at least manifest in reality, not just as items on a budget list that grew foreign bank accounts, instead of the state.
Typically, Rotimi Amaechi occasionally grants media interviews where he defends his record as the Governor of Rivers State. But his excuses and tantrums are undercut by an interesting fact: he has refused any formal inquiry to his tenure, and has gone to court to shield himself from the searchlight of a commission set up to investigate the controversial deals that dotted his administration. For a man who claims to have nothing to hide, the question to Amaechi, particularly from the people of Rivers state, is the same as the one in the popular local social media meme, why are you running?
The unassailable evidence of Amaechi’s corruption explains the objection to his association with the Buhari administration and the damage it did – and continues to do – to the President’s anti-corruption posturing. If the ministerial position was a lifeline offered to Amaechi to rebuild his image and repair his reputation, he has clearly squandered the opportunity, similar to how he treats public funds.
As Minister of Transportation, the self-described Agu has proven himself as a true leopard that cannot change its spot. When it comes to pilfering funds – especially with rail projects, Rotimi Amaechi cannot help himself.
He has done the same with the 283.75 Kano-Maradi standard-gauge rail contract awarded at a hefty sum of nearly 2 billion dollars, amounting to approximately $6.91 million (or N2.6 billion) per km. When this was held to scrutiny, media organizations and transparency organizations that the cost was double that of the average cost everywhere else in Africa, for no good reason.
Perhaps the Ministry was the victim of a scam perfected by the company, some might think. But more investigations showed that the bidding for the contract was neither competitive nor open to the public. In other words, Amaechi selected a firm and willingly paid it two times over the sum used to execute similar projects across Africa.
It was a shoddy and exceptionally corrupt affair that enraged the Senate. When Amaechi was hauled before it to explain, he refused to answer questions posed by the relevant Senate committee, instead questioning their authority to ‘debrief’ him and throwing an elaborate tantrum that distracted from the main objective of the hearing. The exchange remains available on YouTude, archiving and preserving Amaechi’s shame for future generations.
Even worse is the fact that Nigeria cannot afford Amaechi’s rapacious appetite for public funds at this time. So to bridge the gap, he remains in search of foreign loans from any country or entity so willing, at any conditions whatsoever, to obtain funds for his grossly inflated corrupt projects.
It got so bad that his hitherto sure ‘magas’, the Chinese government, has caught on to the fraud and are now dragging their foot in providing promised funds, despite the integral nature of such projects to its Belt and Road Initiative designed to strengthen its relationship with Africa.
Not to be slowed down in his thievery, Amaechi has turned westwards, in frantic search of unsuspecting countries and firms to scam into committing funds, half of which will go directly to him and other members of the fraud network he spearheads.
With this damning evidence, the question is not whether Amaechi is corrupt. Rather, it is whether he will one day be held to account for his perfidy and the damage he has done to the people of Rivers state and other Nigerians.
President Buhari has unwittingly offered him immunity from accountability in these last seven years by allowing him membership of his cabinet, including the famed ‘kitchen cabinet’ of close confidants. But with the administration set to end soon, one wonders if Amaechi’s luck will finally run out and he would be forced to face the consequences of his corruption – but no, he’s seeking to contest for the presidency at least, to secure immunity and to properly situate it for Amaechi, “it’s not about fulfilling any personal ambition”.