Amaechi’s Alleged N96bn Saga: Risks of APC Losing 2023 Presidential Election

Amaechi’s Alleged N96bn Saga: Risks of APC Losing 2023 Presidential Election

The 2023 presidential election is fast approaching and the ruling party will want to consolidate on the achievements of President Muhammadu Buhari eight years tenure by winning the next presidential election. However, the risk of losing out on that mandate, among the many challenges facing the party at the moment, has been compounded by the N96 billion saga of one of the ministers of this administration in the person of the Minister of Transportation, Hon Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi. The Supreme Court's announcement of ruling on the long legal battle between the minister and the Rivers State Governor, Ezenwo Nyesom Wike, (on May 27, 2022) on the probe of the minister’s financial activities during his tenure as the governor of Rivers State poses a serious threat to the party’s image come 2023.

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Amaechi’s Alleged N96bn Saga: Risks of APC Losing 2023 Presidential Election
Rotimi Amaechi
Source: UGC

In December 2014 when the governorship candidate of the Labour Party (LP) in Rivers State, Tonye Princewill, accused the then incumbent governor of the state, Rotimi Amaechi, of selling the state’s assets and using the fund accrued from the sale to finance the activities of the All Progressives Congress (APC), no one thought that in 2022, the dust raised by the allegation wouldn’t have settled. It has even become a case that the Supreme Court has fixed for May 27, 2022, for its ruling on whether the state government should go ahead and probe the said fraudulent activities of Amaechi or not. Mr Princewill in his submission then alleged that the over $800 million realized from the sale of the assets was never lodged into the coffers of the state government as reported by Premium Times. He was quoted as saying: “money changed hands but the accounts they entered were not necessarily Rivers State government’s officially operated accounts.” He added that: “In one instance approximately $400 million changed hands over an asset that could easily be worth twice that. Why the secrecy?”

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As expected by many, Governor Nyesom Wike of Rivers State on June 19, 2015, inaugurated a commission of inquiry headed by Justice G.O. Omereji. The seven-man probe panel was to look into how 96 billion naira was allegedly withdrawn from the treasury of the state government and how it expended it. Also, the commission of inquiry was to look into the lawful and otherwise, sales of valuable assets of the state. Governor Wike had in several fora insisted that the commission was set up to seek clarifications on actions of the former government because his predecessor Rotimi Ameachi failed to give him a handover notes which should have contained actions of his government on matters such as the status of the power assets of the state, the Olympia Hotel among others. Ameachi failed to appear before the panel, rather he headed for the Court of Appeal to appeal the judgement of the High Court in Port Harcourt delivered by Justice Simeon Amadi which asked the commission to go on with its investigation.

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Speaking on the need for Amaechi to appear before the probe panel, in September 2018, the Rivers State government through its commissioner for information, Emma Okah, said Rotimi Amaechi has a case to answer over the alleged sales of gas turbine stations belonging to the state government. He alleged that the Amaechi administration used 112 billion naira to fund political activities of the APC. He further alleged that the sale of the power stations to Sahara Energy belonging to Tonye Dele Cole and diversion of the proceeds to fund political activities of the APC was the reason Amaechi’s administration abandoned so many uncompleted projects and owed many salaries and pensions to workers before he left office in 2015.

In response to the allegation against him, the minister of transportation, Rotimi Amaechi said he spent most of the money he received as governor of Rivers State from the sale of some of the state’s assets on running the government, particularly in paying contractors. Quoting him as reported by he questioned: “Are you saying that as a governor we cannot spend over $200 million (about 80 billion naira) to run the government; to pay the contractor?

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If that is the case, why is he (Mr Amaechi) running from one court to the other seeking to stop a probe of his sales of the valued assets by the Rivers State government? If he as the then governor of the state can spend “over $200 million to run the government; pay contractors” why can’t he also be able to defend his actions? But like the popular Igbo proverb which says that “a toad does not run in the daytime for nothing.” Amaechi seems to be fully aware of the consequences of opening that can of worms and wouldn’t be any party to the probe panel. He vowed never to appear before the panel, insisting it was instituted to nail him. According to him, “Why I don’t want to appear before the panel is because the panel is illegal. There is a law on how to set up administrative panels. The governor (Wike) has not complied with the law; when he does, I will appear. What he said to the panel is ‘go and find him guilty’ and you say I should appear?

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The premise upon which he and his counsel, led by a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Lateef Fagbemi, to stop the probe is because it was aimed at witch-hunting and embarrassing him due to his political differences with his successor. Again if that is true, the simple question to the common mind is what embarrassment is contained in giving an account of your stewardship as a governor if truly there’s nothing worth embarrassing in the whole drama of the sale of the assets towards the end of his administration? Why take the pain of appealing the judgments already delivered by the High Court of Rivers State and Court of Appeal to the Supreme Court if he has no case to answer the probe panel?

Interestingly in 2007, it will be recalled that former Governor Peter Odili and Abiye Sekibo, who initially had misgivings about the commission of inquiry set up by Amaechi and headed by Justice Kayode Eso still testified before it to prove their innocence. Could he (Amaechi) had set it up to witch-hunt them and feared that karma was about taking its toll on him now? He should for the sake of posterity humble himself and go give an account of his financial activities as a former governor; he owes that duty to the people of Rivers State and Nigerians in general. If Nigeria is a country where government office holders are appointed based on merit, due diligence and antecedents, Amaechi shouldn’t be holding a political office today where he has very salient questions to answer his state. As of May 27 approaches, we wait to see if he has questions to answer or be applauded for choosing not to be accountable. We wait…

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