Nigeria Matters

An Open Letter to Governor Rotimi Amaechi

Dear Mr. Governor,

I am writing this letter to you because of recent comments you or your representatives made about certain issues concerning our beloved state, River State. A couple of weeks ago, you raised alarm over the request by certain persons in the state who wanted you to share the common wealth with them. Presumably, these were, and are, persons who are steeped in the tradition of illicit government patronage. I read the article after it was posted on an Internet-based forum, and commended you for your courageous decision to deny their request. I was not alone in commending you. In fact, my salutary remarks about your wise decision were preceded by those of Mr. Alagoa Morris, a very courageous community activist, a man who has a reputation for straight talk. Mr. Morris’s regular and courageous interventions on behalf of the common man and woman have been nothing short of remarkable, especially when they are considered in the light of the very difficult and dangerous environment in which he operates.

Mr. Governor, I highlight Mr. Morris’s courage and community activism to underscore the point that people are not always antagonistic to those in government. When a government is people-oriented, when it is acting on behalf of everyone, in particular, the least amongst us, the people rejoice. But when a government is all about the brazen looting of the common wealth, the people are disenchanted. They suffer. In our part of the world that often means living in absolute misery. If Mr. Morris continues with his courageous community activism, I will definitely nominate him for CNN Hero of the Year. Already, I have taken the decision to feature a fictional version of him in my subsequent literary works, the way, for example, Ken Saro-Wiwa features, albeit in a not-too-flattering manner, the journalist Peter Okwute as a character in Pita Dumbrok’s Prison.

But Mr. Governor, this letter is not about the courageous Mr. Morris; it is about you and our beloved state. In a recent newspaper article, you were quoted as regretting the fact that Dr. Peter Odili, the ex-governor, was not at the church service that you held to celebrate your one-year anniversary in office. You went further to call him your mentor. No man can, and should, be denied the right to choose his mentor. In your case, Mr. Governor, it is indeed a fact that Dr. Odili is in large measure responsible for your meteoric rise in politics. While you cannot escape this unpleasant truth, you can at least save the suffering people of our beloved state the very real possibility of another regime of massive corruption, assassination of political opponents, bloodletting, and wholesale ruination of every institution and service that we hold dear to our hearts. Look at the example of the Rivers State University of Science and Technology. Eight years of Dr. Odili reduced that institution to a haven for blood-thirsty cultists. Its infrastructure collapsed. Its best and brightest professors fled to other institutions in the country, or left the country altogether. There was a time when some of us who aspired to a life in the academy outside the shores of Nigeria saw that institution as a place where we could, at least offer our services free during the summer months when we are not teaching at our institutions in the United States and elsewhere, to make a real contribution in the lives of our people. Today, when we entertain such thoughts, we think of institutions in other parts of the country or in sub-Saharan Africa, where the need for highly trained manpower is very dire. That is the sorry legacy of the ex-governor.

Mr. Governor, even as you were regretting the absence of Dr. Odili at your anniversary service, you were spitting fire over a former foot soldier of the ex-governor, Mr. Ateke Tom. I take this to be both an inconsistency in character as well as doublespeak. You and I know that Mr. Tom could not have been where he is today without the ex-governor. In large part, Mr. Tom is a creation of the ex-governor. So, it seems to me that you are engaging in a questionable interpretation of justice by bemoaning the absence of the ex-governor at your anniversary service, while threatening fire and brimstone on his ex-foot soldier. Mr. Governor, that is simply disgraceful. It is not right. It is not justice. It is a troubling use of power, namely, make nice with the powerfully connected godfather, but go after his unconnected ex-foot soldier.

Mr. Governor, please remember how you came into office. You have been quoted as saying that the Supreme Court ruled in your favor because the Constitution states that when people vote, they vote for the party and not for the individual. Surely, Mr. Governor, you don’t believe that canard. If indeed the people vote for the party and not for the individual, then, surely, the need does not arise for the party to present a candidate for the purpose of election, since all that the party has to do is to present itself, and be voted for, after which it could collectively discharge the duties of the office as a party, or through its appointed representative, who it could remove from office any time it pleases, because it is the one that the people elected, not its representative.

No, Mr. Governor. In arriving at its ruling, the Supreme Court took an extraordinary decision to salvage an extraordinarily disastrous situation. In giving the ruling it gave, the Supreme Court could not have said that it was privy to the disaster that was Rivers State, since that was not the matter before it. And even if that was the matter before it, the man behind the massive destruction, looting, and bloodletting in the state was not on trial. He was not a party to the case; it was his surrogate, Mr. Omehia. And even if Dr. Odili was part of the case, the Supreme Court could not have brought up his role in the wholesale ruination of the state, because, again, that was not the matter before the Court, and to make such comments about him will amount to demonstrating a “bias” against him.

Nonetheless, outside of their official role as arbiters in the temple of justice, the members of the highest court were also ordinary citizens. They saw the carnage that was going on in Rivers State. It would have been unconscionable for them to turn away their ears from the cries of the beleaguered people of a state experiencing the spasms of death. To give relief to the people, then, the Court delivered a judgment that, on the surface, does not make any sense; but, on greater examination, makes all the sense in the world. In other words, to get to the heart of the matter of the highest Court’s judgment, one must first get behind the mere appearance of it and the indelicate footwork that is the premise of the judgment.

Furthermore, Mr. Governor, while I concede to you your right to mourn the absence of the ex-governor at your anniversary service, I cannot concede to you my right to vehemently disagree with you on the matter. Aside from the eight years of carnage and massive corruption under the ex-governor, the ex-governor was a major player in the cold-blooded destruction of a man, who was father, friend, and mentor to me, the late Mr. Justice Melford Dokubo Goodhead. What was my late father, mentor, and friend’s crime? He refused to allow the political destruction of the Social Democratic Party’s local government council chairman in Dr. Odili’s local government area. In affirming the simple moral and legal fact that Mr. Rufus Ada-George, then governor of Rivers State, and Dr. Peter Odili, then deputy-governor of Rivers State, could not be accuser and judge in their own case, they used the system to destroy a name that he had suffered severe deprivation and made tremendous moral and courageous sacrifices to build.

The official verdict was that he died of colorectal cancer, but he would still be alive today if they had not dealt him such a false and treacherous hand. I still remember the conversations I had with him after his hemorrhoids returned. This was a time when he was busy trying to extricate himself from the false charges against him, and even though he was suffering unimaginable pain, he would not allow himself to be admitted at the hospital. He had to go again and again to Abuja to defend himself. And he surmised that if the panel, set up by the General Sani Abacha government, issued him a summon to appear in Abuja, and he failed to show up, members of the panel might say that he had something to hide. He told me that he wanted to finish with the case before he checked into a hospital. And, so, again and again, I urged him to get himself admitted in the hospital, and again and again he refused. By the time he was forced to go to the hospital because of renal failure, cancer had spread from his colon all the way to his esophagus. Yes, my younger sister and step-mother told me that Dr. Odili, who had become governor of the state, was willing to send him abroad for treatment; but, Mr. Governor, was that not medicine after death? Was that not the application of balm after a deadly wound had been inflicted? My proud father, who would not take bribe to pervert justice, who lived a morally courageous life, died with his reputation and health in tatters.

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