Sunday, April 18, 2021

Rotimi Amaechi: An Ode to Thisday’s Minister of the Decade, by Dahiru Mohammed

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On Thursday, 16th of January, 2020, THISDAY Newspaper, during the hosting of its Awards Ceremonies, bestowed on Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi, the Minister of Transportation, THE MINISTER OF THE DECADE AWARD. As I sat in a corner of my bedroom to watch the presentation on that day, the title of the Award kept resonating in my head: Minister of the Decade. The word; “decade” resonated more rapidly even as I tried to conceptualize the usage, just so that I could put myself on the same page with the Host of the Award.

A decade in its ordinary usage is a period of ten years, but when used figuratively, it reflects a very long period of time, stretching more than the ordinary usage. I have no doubt that THISDAY Newspaper, judging by the content of its Editorials and articles understood much more about the usage of the word “decade”, especially when the same is used to qualify, describe and evaluate the weight of the award and commendation. By the way and for those who may not have known, THISDAY, established in 1995, is one of “the preferred newspapers among the business, political and diplomatic elite, and is easily the most recognisable and influential national media brand globally”.

Now, turning to the Awardee, Amaechi, he was first appointed a Minister of the Federal Republic of Nigeria in November 2015 by President, Mohammadu Buhari and assigned to the Ministry of Transportation, where he superintended over the transportation sector (road, rail, maritime and aviation transportation), until recently when aviation was severed from his portfolio. He was reappointed to the same position in 2019 by the President. There is no doubt that as the man in charge of driving the policies of President Mohammadu Buhari and the Federal Government of Nigeria in the transportation sector, he has discharged that responsibility with the full admiration and commendation of the ordinary Nigerians. I am sure that his passion, zeal, commitment, and determination to set goals and deliver on the goals would have counted in his favour, in earning him this prestigious award.

Amaechi (as simply as he would wish to be addressed), despite the daunting nature of Office, carries out his responsibilities so seamlessly. In other words, he does so showing little or no signs of pressure at all. I think, three factors seem to be responsible for this (i.e. the achievements and lack of pressure in delivery of responsibility). They are: (1) the ability to coordinate, manage the workforce and defuse work conflicts, (2) capacity to identify goals, prioritize targets and establish implementation roadmap, (3) past experience.

As soon as Amaechi took charge of the captainship of the Minister of Transportation, his first approach, as is usual of him, was to carry out “human capacity audit” to ascertain the strength and weakness of each staff, especially within the senior and managerial workforce. Secondly, he determined the policy framework and target goals of the Ministry, as envisioned in the Mandate and Agenda of Mr. President. Immediately, the Ministry established its own Strategy for achieving the target goals and then setup a Roadmap for implementing the Strategy. Automatically, everyone knew his role and those who could not fit into the roadmap and speed of the Ministry found their way out, without necessarily causing a feud with either the Minister or the Permanent Secretary, as appeared the case in some other ministries. His third step was the liberalization of communication channels; Directors and Deputy Directors could access the Honourable Minister, including other staff, but in a manner that did not undermine established official reporting lines. The sole aim was to fast track and ease communication within the Ministry and amongst the comprising parastatals.

With the established goals and roadmap, it was easy, for instance, for the Ministry to identify Abuja-Kaduna railways and to set for itself a deadline for the Commissioning of that project in 2016. Those who argue that that project was 75% completed only beg the issue. I dare to say so because for the previous administration which was seeking re-election, if the issue around the completion of that railway was as straightforward, that administration would have completed the project and earned a political mileage from that. Today, we all can also see and evaluate the level of advancement and achievements made by NIMASA, NPA, NRC, Shippers Council in Nation Building. These are all evidence of well-coordinated supervision, motivation, and support by a progressive and committed superintendent (Team Lead).

As I mentioned, another factor that might have worked in favour of the Minister, perhaps, was the fact that he had been a Governor, who not only did exceptionally well in terms of infrastructural development but also knew how to drive growth and development. Between 2008 to 2015, the period when Amaechi held forth in Rivers State, the State was described by both national and international observers as “huge construction site”, with the construction of over 200 Health Centres, 3 Hospitals, 500 Primary Schools, 9 Secondary Schools etc, all state of the art, and went on at the same time. These were outside the Roads (including a dualised network 1500km of roads, 23 bridges, 2 major flyovers, 2 interchanges, etc), Agriculture (including rehabilitation of the over 30,000 hectares of Rivers State Oil Palm plantation -moribund RISONPALM, the Songhai Farm, over 2,000 hectares of Banana Farm at Tai; commercial-scale Fish Farm at Buguma, etc), Waste Management, Entertainment infrastructures all of which went on simultaneously.

Within the period as Governor, Amaechi also ramped up the 350 Megawatts (MW) total capacity generation assets investment commenced by the former administration in Rivers State from its previous 70MW (20 percent in 2007) to a record high of 77 percent, and injected another brand new 360MW, leaving the State with about 700MW in 2015. By so doing, he raised the bar for Rivers State as the Highest Independent Power Generation in Nigeria, second only to the Federal Government.

Amaechi’s Security Architecture for the State was also second to none, as the State became a Security Model in the country: kidnapping, armed robbery, cult-related activities all reduced to less than one percent. Under his watch, Rivers State established and set up an integrated Security Network, with a central Command, Control, Communication, Computer and Intelligent (C4I), a 24hours Camera System that watched over Port Harcourt City. And to close the final loop, the Rivers State Government had ordered for the delivery of two Civilian Security Bell Helicopters before he exited from Office in May 2015. The slogan in his time was, Rivers State where “you sleep with your two eyes closed”.

The incredible thing about Amaechi and his commitment to development is his zeal to personally oversight the process. As the Governor of Rivers State, he knew the exact locations of almost all the project sites in the State. He would spend every opportune time driving around Rivers State on the project inspection tour. At the project sites, you heard things like “call Commissioner for” Works, Education, Health, Agriculture, etc. The next you would usually hear was, Commissioner… “what you told me is not what I see on the ground. Let us meet here in 30 minutes. When you arrive call me”. Off, he went to another site. His approach and drive for delivery left the entire State and Contractors with the myth that Amaechi usually rode on power bike all alone just to inspect projects, and even at night.

THISDAY’s commendation of Rt. Amaechi as Minister of the Decade is monumental, but not totally strange to those who knew Rotimi Amaechi or lived in Rivers State, because that is the kind of footprints that they have always known him to leave. For instance, Rt.Hon. Amaechi holds the unbroken record as the first, and perhaps the only, Nigerian to have served as Speaker of a State Assembly for 8 years and during which there was no known frontal conflict between members or between the Legislature and the Executive, yet laws were passed and policies made that promoted the principles of checks and balances amongst the arms of Government.

As Governor, Amaechi’s vision and achievements in Rivers State were groundbreaking, trailblazing and unprecedented. One of his major strides was in the Education sector. Upon assumption of Office, He declared State of Emergency on Education in Rivers State and from a near-ground-zero, he lifted Education Infrastructure and Standard to a state where Rivers State became a reference point on Education Development in Nigeria, and twice, it won the UBEC Award for Best State in Education Development. At a time when other Governors were ceasing Local Government Councils’ Funds, Amaechi Administration saw the situation differently. He rather took over from the LGAs the Payment of Salaries of Primary Schools Teachers to curb the issue of nonpayment of salaries and to increase worker motivation; And to boost teacher-pupil ratio, a little over 13,000 teachers were employed in one single process. He understood the role of Education and Human Capacity building in national growth and development. Thus, by the time he left office, he had records of over 3,500 Rivers State indigenes and residents sent all over Europe, America, Asia, etc to acquire knowledge in ICT, Medicine, Science, Engineering, etc.

Amaechi’s efforts in governance received international accolades and endorsements, especially what was referred to as “unprecedented development” in Rivers State. No sooner, his efforts in improving Education was recognized by UNESCO, and in 2012, Port Harcourt City was voted, WON and declared “World Book Capital 2014”, and became the first City in Sub-Saharan Africa to win World Book Capital, beating 10 other contenders including cities like Oxford, Moscow, Lyon etc. His development strides in Rivers State were also noticed and acknowledged by the United Nations. He was thus appointed into the Board of Directors of the United Nations Institute for Training and Research (UNITAR); and subsequently recognized and honored as a Passport carrying Ambassador of the United Nations.

Amaechi also made remarkable achievements in Urban Renewal and Modernization of Rivers State, including Port Harcourt and its environs. By 2010, Amaechi had completely upgraded and reviewed the over 40-years old Port Harcourt City Masterplan, including the expansion and integration of new frontiers of the city; which he referred to as the Greater Port Harcourt City. His efforts in Housing Development, i.e. the Rivers Government/First Bank of Nigeria over 1000Units Rainbow Town Estate; the Trans Amadi Estate, etc were later to be acknowledged, after he left office, by the United Nation World Habitat, as Rivers State Government was consequently honoured and bestowed an Award “for providing AFFORDABLE HOUSES and DEVELOPING HABITABLE CITIES as well as providing BASIC AMENITIES in Rivers State, Nigeria.”

Amaechi is tenacious, passionate and always committed in his drive for the development. He is like a golden fish in that “sea of development”. Indeed, those who knew Amaechi’s drive were not at all surprised that THISDAY Newspaper spotted him and his modest contribution to President Buhari development efforts and agenda and that the ordinary Nigerians voted him the Minister of the Decade.

Let me conclude by congratulating the Honourable Minister of Transportation on this auspicious Award and hope that he will not relent in his drive and zeal in nation-building; and let me say many thanks to President Mohammed Buhari for the opportunity given to the Minister to be part of this great team, driving national development and growth at this time.

Mr Mohammed wrote in from Jahi district, Abuja. He can be reached on: [email protected]

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