Date Published: 10/23/09
AMAECHI: TWO YEARS OF HOPE, PAINS IN RIVERS By AKANIMO SAMPSON
GOVERNOR Chibuike Amaechi of Rivers State, one of Nigeria's key oil and gas producers, is marking the second year anniversary of his rise to power on Sunday, October 25, 2009 against the backdrop of teetering hope and widespread despair in the state.
Besides the ''I Believe'' aka the Rivers Success Movement, Amaechi's political machine, citizens of the state had and are stilll having high hopes for a new Rivers. Their hope first set in, in the wake of the landmark ruling of the Supreme Court, which ousted Celestine Omehia, from power on October 25, 2007. The sack of the Omehia cabinet and the initial suspension of the move by Amaechi to level the waterfronts helped to fuel popular support for the new administration.
But the ban on ther ubiquitous commercial motorcycle taxi, the removal of ''illegal structures'' by the Amaechi demolision squad, threw the state in a state of despair. Some trouble-makers even went as far as spreading the rumour that Amaechi was targeting the Igbo people. And, current offensive at the waterfronts by the demolision squad is fuelling ethnic tensions with the Okrika people, a major Ijaw clan, insinuating that the governor wants to flush them out of Port Harcourt, the state capital, with a view to paving way for continued Ikwerre domination.
With the uproar over the waterfronts yet to die down, the political camp of the former governor, Dr. Peter Odili (May 29, 1999- 2007) returned to the trenches with a renewed battle to abort Amaechi's tenancy at the Government House, Port Harcourt..
At the moment, opnions are differing about the future prospects for enduring political peace in Rivers, given the unfolding antagonism between the Odili and the Amaechi blocs. There are even fears that Rivers would once again fall into violent chaos. And, going by the approaches of the two contending political forces, there is hardly any concerted effort by them, to keep citizens' desires and aspirations high on their agenda.
There is even no robust debate between the gladiators of the two camps on changing governmental procedures in several core areas like how to harmonise programmes of development with other sectoral and cross-cutting policies.
Just in case they pretend not to be aware, the political sovereigns of Rivers would like to know from their eminent political potentates how the state should improve the machanisms for funding development actions and broaden the funding base; provide capacity building so that those in the rural areas can be involved and grasp the issues better, become actively involved in planning process, and help improve the impact of activities at the grassroots; establish reference points that will allow policy and economic decision-makers to measure future developments.
However, while much has changed since the exit of Odili as governor of the state, a huge amount still needs to be done. For instance, the state needs to get beyond the usual rhetorics of ''we have planned or planning, government has earmarked, the matter is receiving top attention...'' and take concrete action to create the conditions where wealth can be redistributed, bring an end to extreme poverty and hunger, universal access to primary education, the promotion of gender equality and women's independence, reduced infant mortality, improved maternal health, effective means of combating the scourge of HIV/AIDS, malaria and other illnesses.
Rivers people can make their state a more humane place through changes that build respect for everyone's human dignity and encourages peace through sharing solidarity and equality. They also need to push for hard-hitting policies that will enable their government to manage the state's wealth so that everyone benefits from it.
As it was last year, friends and political associates of the governor would joined him first, in a church service to thank God again for the landmark judgment and for guiding Governor Amaechi to take some radical decisions.
Within the two years of dominating the affairs of the state, Amaechi has shown himself as a daring governor and one who is desperate to breakaway with the inglorious legacy of May 29, 1999-October 24, 2007. For those who were in Rivers during the Odili regime, the state was widely perceived as Czarist in its political temperament.
The socio-economic development momentum of the Alfred Diette-Spiff and the Malford Okilo years, got stalled during the eight years of Odili’s czarist Rivers.
Amaechi came at a time socio-economic infrastructure were decaying and insecurity at its zenith. The young leader is pursuing ambitious road network projects, upgrade of existing education and health facilities as well as building new ones of standard. But, the execution of some of the road projects are questionable. The commendable fly-over at Eleme is being marred by the poor job at the bus-stop end. As a result, the beautiful grass that was planted by government along the highway has been desertified by vehicular pressure.
The administration has been scoring itself pass mark in the education, health sectors and even on road construction and compulsory savings. To date, the administration has saved up to N17billion for the state. By all imaginable standard, in an era where graft is the in-thing, the young leader should be commended on this front. But self-glorification is the least of the worries of the peoples of Riovers. As one of the key oil and gas-procuding states in the Niger delta, the mass of the people find it difficult ro unravel why they should wallow in object poverty.
For all the other oil-producing states, not only Rivers, the eradication of poverty and not just reduction of poverty should be their goal. The gulf between the rich and the poor is broadening. The poor are increasingly being driven far below the poverty line while the rich are becoming much more richer.
The magnitude of poverty in Rivers nay the Niger Delta, continues to be immense. More than three-quaters of the citizenry are living below the poverty line of less than one American dollar a day.
And so, the Amaechi administration still has a long way to go. At least, on bridging the gap between the opulent few and the impoverished millions.
The administration should not allow the poor to remain perpetually dependant on micro-credit.
Besides, the poorest of the poor have remained excluded from micro-credit. For instance, street beggars are still a shameful sight in Port Harcourt , the state capital.
Though the administration is trying to make Rivers better than they met it, it is, however, our well considered view that special attention is needed for poor peoples' education, training, health, access to employment and resources as well as participation is governance.
We believe that transparency, accountability and participation in political decision-making will have a direct effect on the level of fairness. Transparent and participatory decision-making also makes a positive contribution to a state’s investment climate.
Furthermore, it seems to us that the Amaechi administration economic thinkers may not have come to terms with the fact that economic growth is not necessarily linked to raising people’s living standards. Institutional and economic reforms have to come hand in hand with a broad-based participatory democracy.
For now, the economic outlook of the Amaechi administration, for all its upbeat projections, tends to offer only a broad view of economic prospects on the state. It appears, it does not predict the possibility of broad based growth or how the individual Rivers man or woman will benefit. ENDS