Saturday, 31 March 2012

Video: My Taxi Driver! Rotimi Amaechi and Rivers State Development. Kayode Ogundamisi

In January of 2012. I was scheduled to interview the president of Nigerian Trade Union Congress Peter Esele in Port Harcourt Nigeria.

On my way from Port Harcourt Airport I noticed a nicely built primary school, just 20-minute drive from the airport. I simply concluded it was one of the emerging privately owned schools. Most Nigerian public schools are grimly run and facilities left to rot, in most states of the Nigerian Federation, pupils are left to study under the tree and under extremely harsh conditions, most of the schools are derelict.

About 36 minutes into my Port Harcourt Airport- Hotel Presidential journey. I saw another identical primary school; trust the sceptic in me concluding that a private school proprietor must be making a hell of money out of super rich Nigerians.
As we steered towards hotel presidential I saw yet another identical school, I no longer could hold back. I simply asked the airport Taxi Driver if he had an idea about the private individuals behind the well constructed schools, he looked at me strangely, now his time to pay me back for ignoring his attempt at engaging me in a conversation at the beginning of our trip.

With pride he delayed the answer; rather he decided to question me. “Oga where you come from” he asked, unmmmmm I hesitated, did not know if to tell him I live in London or just say I am from Lagos. Now being embarrassed that I ignored his initial entreaties for a chat, I chose the later and also chose to reply in pidgin English so he could see that I am like him, “Na Lagos me I dey live o!” I finally half blurted out, “Hia Lagos people!” he exclaimed, stressing the G in the Lagos. Raising his right hand and in a circular version over his head and snapping his fingers as he said “God forbid I no fit live for that una Lagos.”

Noticing that he was holding to the price of revealing the brain behind the schools I was enquiring about, I decided to black mail him by saying “One day poor people pickin go fit attend the fine fine school wey I see so” He took a glance at me trough the rare mirror and announced proudly.

“Oga those school wey you see so, na Rotimi Amaechi na him build them”

He further stressed that the schools are public school and replicated across Rivers State, in fact he proudly announced he had 2 of his children in the schools, government responsible for school uniforms and books, and that the primary schools I just saw are “child’s play” compared to facilities in Rivers state secondary schools. (I could not independently confirm if it is replicated across Rivers State as I had less than a day to stay in Port Harcourt) well replicated or not I must go inside the schools and see things for my self.

After my interview with Peter Esele I asked him if he had contacts within the Rives State government. I told him about the schools and that I would like to have access into the facilities. I wanted to be sure what I saw outside is replicated in the interior. Esele cheerfully linked me with a contact that facilitated my access not just into five different schools but also a specialist health facility that was being constructed in a poor area in Port Harcourt.

To say I am impressed with what I saw would be an understatement, but we have to put things in perspective, Rivers State is a oil rich State with almost unlimited access to oil revenue, and it should not come as a surprise that the state governor is able to put in place such excellent facility, but in Nigeria. Standards are different, expectations are so low that an attempt by a government to fix an existing facility is celebrated, to Rotimi Amechi’s credit one would argue that we also have oil rich Bayelsa State, the current Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan was governor and his only achievement as highlighted by the man who took over from him Timipre Silva is an abandoned 4 start hotel, and Bayelsa is a shadow of development even after Silva was forces out of power by President Jonathan.

I made the video recording in January and it is now March 31ST. Each time I try to edit the video for my blog. I get bogged down with uncertainty, how is it possible releasing the video and the Rivers State government not claiming a PR victory, well I finally decided it is not my duty as a blogger to keep a story simply because it will probably raise the profile of one of the public officers I see as a part of the Nigerian PDP cabal, sure I have reservations about Rivers State Governor Rotimi Amaechi, his demolition of water front areas has been well criticised by local Non Governmental Organisation’s and Amnesty International.

Rotimi Amaechi is also one of the hawks within the ruling Nigerian Peoples Democratic Party who championed the removal of oil subsidy. Observers also accuse him of high handedness and running a government devoid of transparency. I also recall Rotimi Amaechi profligacy with the purchase of a 2nd helicopter claiming the earlier one he bought was too small. But it is difficult to fault him when it comes to initiating developmental projects, it is not certain if the projects spread to the nook and crannies of Rivers State especially the rural areas, it would be misleading to commend a government simply based on projects located in state capitals.

I have learnt from the “Babatunde Fashola is working” charade in Lagos. True Lagos did undergo some positive change in the governors first term in office, but rural Agege, Alimosho Ajegunle and others are yet to feel the impact of the “Fashola is working”. Only the people of Rivers, especially those in rural area can determine if the Port Harcourt development is a charade or evenly spread across the state.
Another issue worth looking at would be the costs of Governor Rotimi Amaechi’s projects, how transparent are the bidding process? That is also one angle the River’s State government should look make available to the public. Publishing names of susses full contractors, funds spent on capital projects and benefits accruing to the under class.

In the Rivers video you will see a specialist hospital project and I will leave my readers and those who may view the video to judge for themselves, if we can have such facility replicated all over Nigeria for the poor in our society, we would have taken a small but mighty step towards progress. Rotimi Amaechi would write his name in gold if the hospital I saw is truly for the masses of Rivers State and accessible to them irrespective of status and class.

Rivers State hospital project is impressive and one would hope his government would replicate same in other parts of Rivers State especially the hinterlands and Riverine areas.


That Rivers state still rank high in failure rates in National Examination proves development goes beyond excellent buildings, something must be missing in service delivery, it is therefore important that the government takes a close look at the quality of education impacted on students, training of teachers, rigorous review of the educational sector can make that possible.

I observed that even though some of the Rivers State student and staff are studying and teaching in what in my opinion is the best educational environment in Nigeria. The quality in terms of how they speak and expressing themselves still fall bellow standard. Note that in the 2012 JAMB result Rivers State came top on the list of states whose candidates where involved in examination malpractices, the government should therefore not sit down and fold its arms thinking that by providing first class facilities in schools the job is done.

The task to make those excellent facilities relevant should start now and I can see a bright future if the government takes criticism on board and strive to do better. I hardly commend public officials as I believe they should not be thanked for doing their job, but it is a step in the right direction by the Rivers State government and my hope is that every state will use Rivers State model as a standard in the educational and health sector, it will also work better if public officials work toward good governance so that when a child leaves a well built school environment, he would return home to a clean neighbourhood and be free from the impact of bad governance.