Highlights

THE TWO SIDES OF ROTIMI AMAECHI’S JET

RCA

RCA

If it was meant to be sensational, the assessment would be that Dr. Sekibo succeeded in extracting immediate disapproval from a lot of Rivers people who heard him on Silverbird Television lamenting that Governor Rotimi Amaechi was in the process of spending $48 million of Rivers State money to buy himself a new jet. The revelation was even more effective because for the past four years Rotimi Amaechi had succeeded in presenting himself to Rivers citizens and indeed the Nigerian public as a governor who was deploying Rivers money to the service of Rivers people. Indeed this had become a slogan of his administration – Rivers money for Rivers people. So Sekibo’s outburst on Silverbird, no doubt, seemed to many people on that evening as the smoking gun, the proof that behind the coveted and much touted infrastructural build up of the state – through the building of 350 model primary schools and 160 health centers – Amaechi was at the core atleast profligate if not deeply corrupt. It was such an effective offensive on the part of Abiye Sekibo that even many well known supporters of Rotimi Amaechi were momentarily nonplussed. ‘Please let him not do it,’ a prominent Kalabari journalist uttered as he listened to the arguments which followed Sekibo’s revelation. It was as if he could forgive Amaechi for being tempted but hoped that the second term governor would not eventually go over the edge by putting down… some even said $480 million, others said N40 billion for the jet. According to Abiye Sekibo, the Rivers House of Assembly had approved the money for the plane. The way Abiye Sekibo said it, it was clear that he thought of the Rivers legislature as being no more than a rubber stamp to the executive governor – an old suspicion that had dogged all the sessions of the House of Assembly since Dr. Peter Odili was governor and Rotimi Amaechi was speaker. Then ofcourse Dr. Sekibo was the secretary of the state government.
Perhaps to clarify the situation or to defend the reputation of the House of Assembly, the leader of the house Chidi Lloyd would declare that the house had indeed approved the money but it was to be used by the governor to trade his old jet for a new one. Across the state arguments would arise about the difference between approving millions of dollars to buy a new jet and approving millions of dollars to trade the old jet for a new one. Election season was however over and short of impeachment or an act of God, Rotimi Amaechi was expected to rule Rivers State for another four years including the weeks since May 29th 2011. What then did Abiye Sekibo hope to achieve ? Was he building up his role as a leader of the opposition ? There was always the possibility that buying the new jet for lots of millions of dollars might just add a negative dimension to people’s opinion of Amaechi and not necessarily from the day he takes delivery of the new Gulfstream. People outside Rivers State will probably judge him even more harshly because he had raised their expectation of him only to blow it all on a multi-million dollar Gulfstream. Nobody expects any Nigerian governor at this time, more so the chairman of the Governor’s Forum to be buying a jet in the current economic climate. Perhaps, if Amaechi had unveiled his plans to buy a new jet to the people of Rivers State instead of letting Abiye Sekibo do it for him, he would not have had to defend himself against suspicions of wasting the oil wealth in the midst of poverty.
Rotimi Amaechi had actually set himself up for the controversy as Abiye Sekibo gleefully pointed out. Apparently Abiye Sekibo had not forgotten how as a new governor Rotimi Amaechi had asked Stanbic IBTC chairman Atedo Peterside to find buyers for the second aircraft which had been bought by former governor Peter Odili. Amaechi had directed the sale of the air ambulance in the early days when he had just returned fresh and high from the Supreme Court battle which had reinstated him as governor. He was at war with his political father Peter Odili at the time, radically at odds with the system from which he rose and had wasted no time in condemning the second carrier bought by his then estranged former boss for the state as a waste of funds.
Over the years since those teething years of the Amaechi governorship, the dogs of war had been leashed and the burden of office had necessitated a review and even reversal of some of the extreme views and measures which he had professed and deployed. Over the past four years, the jet which Odili bought and used for his now legendary presidential excursion had proved most indispensable to the travels of Governor Amaechi from Port Harcourt to Abuja, Lagos and other parts of the country and even the West African region. The jet had been so useful that having lately noticed signs of ageing, Governor Amaechi perhaps for safety’s sake as he had admitted had put into motion the process for buying a new jet. Did that make him a hypocrite as Sekibo had insinuated ? Certainly, Amaechi’s decision to buy a new jet was an endorsement of Odili’s purchase, many years ago. He would not be the first son to find himself becoming more like his father as he got older.
There has been some confusion about the amount of money involved. The Rivers House of Assembly approved $48 million. At a recent exchange rate of N155 to the U.S dollar, $48 million equals N7464,000,000 (seven billion four hundred and sixty four million) Most Nigerian states do not get up to that amount in a month. For those states it would be shocking and unconscionable for their governors to even consider such. It is also a great deal of money in Rivers State and there is so much unfinished work all over the state. Take for an example the NTA Choba Road, which is one of the most notorious examples of roads being done by incompetent contractors, the road remains unfinished after almost four years. It was supposed to take eighteen months. Streets adjoining Choba Road have been terrorized by floods in the past one year due to this. Drainage in Port Harcourt is also basically inadequate. Many things need attention in the state, no doubt and the state borrowed about thirty billion last year to finance projects.
However Governor Amaechi’s position may not be as simple. He came into a jet-setting governorship lifestyle started by his predecessors. The office of the governor of Rivers State owned a jet before he became governor. As a speaker of the Rivers State House of Assembly, he had presided over budget appropriations which enabled the former governor Dr. Odili to purchase a jet which his successors had used for the past four years. As the secretary to the government, Abiye Sekibo was part of the deal and had many times ridden in the jet. Evidently with an eye for his safety, incumbent governor Rotimi Amaechi, after many years of cruising the clouds in the jet became satisfied that the jet had developed clear and present signs of age. What was he expected to do ? Decommission the jet at the Rivers State Government aircraft hangar and queue up with ordinary Nigerians at the domestic airport to be harassed by prominent Rivers people who can not penetrate the fortress in Government House ? Or perhaps smile and comment to curious reporters at the VIP lounge that though the private ride in the clouds was good while it lasted, the enormous challenges confronting the state had made him opt to go commercial, first class and use the eight billion naira approved by the good house for drainage work rather than a new gulfstream.
It would be understandable if he can not make that sacrifice. After having his own jet for four years, it would be a sobering austerity measure to return to commercial flights. Besides, he met a good jet and he should also, all things being equal, leave a good jet behind. Probably the new jet has already been paid for and Rivers State must now shrugg off the eight billion naira. But there are those who remember that once a long time ago, Amaechi had talked of demystifying the governorship and with a new gulfstream, one might as well admit that the governorship has been further mystified. It should also be accepted that the moment the office of the governor of Rivers was given its first jet, sustainability became the next step.

1 Comment on THE TWO SIDES OF ROTIMI AMAECHI’S JET

  1. Amaechi is such a frivolous Governor, I pray for Rivers people.

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