Rivers shall overcome

I was hooked unto CNN all through Saturday night up to the early hours of Sunday morning. It has become a major habit of mine. While my part of the world is wide asleep, my eyes usually dart here and there; my ears open and smart in an effort to pick as much information as I can get by daybreak.
So, trailing the news, watching movies and writing when I can at this time of night, has turned a prime pastime as a result. Some with a knowledge of medicine and certain tendencies would say outrightly I suffer from insomnia. Can’t really say I blame them.
Victims of insomnia, I am told, seldom sleep. But I do sleep perfectly well when my mind isn’t focused on work.
This would mean I haven’t done anything, anything under the sun either as a professional or a political animal to murder sleep as Shakespeare wrote. That is by the way.
Somehow, a piece of news emanating from South Africa caught my fancy. It was the story of a Nissan vehicle assembly plant which is ensuring a huge capital inflow into an evolving economy, a story depicting the transfer of much needed technology, the creation of wealth and job opportunities.
It was not actually the story  of the South African breakthrough that got me thinking as daylight approached.  It was the missed opportunity as result of a period in time that our people passed through; the realization that a State and not the country had passionately set out  at the time to get Nissan to build an assembly plant in Nigeria; that put me in a reflective mood.
Of course, the State in question was Rivers. I still do not know how Rotimi Amaechi, Governor of Rivers State as he then was, came to know about Nissan’s plan to invest in Africa.
Given what is playing out in South Africa, Amaechi had a world view which suggested he was pretty well informed about events, especially of economic matters outside Nigeria.
Severally, Amaechi reached out to Nissan; several times Nissan officials refused to come to Rivers State out of fear of the kidnapping of foreign nationals that was taking place in the Niger Delta.
On one occasion, Amaechi led a team of Rivers government officials to Lagos to meet with representatives acting on behalf of Nissan. I was part of that delegation. That meeting took place somewhere at Victoria Island.
The perception of the Niger Delta wasn’t the best at the time. Our region enjoyed a negative image like no other part of Nigeria. In reporting the region, the press didn’t help matters either.
Those investors agreed Rivers had the right attitude to business; agreed Rivers was dealing frontally with the security threats; agreed it had the right rating when it came to transparency and the ease of doing business; but wondered what would happen if militants from neighbouring states were to dash into Rivers to target their investment. They also wondered what would happen if there was no continuity, and the wrong set up people seized power.
Huge sums of money running into billions of dollars aren’t easy to come by. They are products of hard work. Those who are blessed with great wealth, guard same jealously.
Despite what was a setback in the negotiation
with Nissan, the Rivers leader whose vision for Rivers State was ahead of its time remained focused and determined to put his people on the road to speedy development.
So, he turned his attention away from the burden created by militancy to the idea of a Rivers State  beyond hydrocarbons, and attracted investors to take advantage of the agricultural potentials of the State.
He equally threw energy into developing a greater Port Harcourt masterplan and dug deep into laying appropriate foundations for the provision of infrastructure across the State.
The State flourished. Not only were businesses owned by the State reactivated through what turned out to be effective public private partnerships,  Rivers money flowed into Rivers pockets.
The rebirth of Pabod Breweries, Presidential Hotel and Risonpalm are worthy examples of the administration’s hardwork. The advent of Spar, the Songhai Farm, the banana farm, the modern schools and health centres demonstrated what a great vision can do in the lives of a people.
Looking back now, Amaechi’s plan to persuade Nissan to invest in the Rivers economy; to cultivate a partnership that would be mutually beneficial by getting the company to establish a vehicle assembly plant would have taken a lot of people out of unemployment.
It could have led to the cultivation of specialised skills among certain workers,  created a huge market and made the State less dependent on oil and the Federation Account.
For me, it would remain proof of the rare insight Amaechi was blessed with as a leader, his love for the people who gave him a mandate to govern them and the resolve he had to transform the State.
There were people, somewhere along the line, who constituted themselves into stumbling blocs. They had oil wells belonging to Rivers State moved to other states.
Court rulings up to the Supreme Court which held rightly that those assets belonged to Rivers State were ignored for political reasons even when an agency responsible for the adjustment of boundaries accepted it had made an honest mistake.
There have been moves to diminish his contributions to the commonsense revolution that brought change to Nigeria; efforts to portray him as a failure in his home state; and attempts to paint him an image of an intolerant dictator.
It hasn’t been easy, but the man has held on to his views and beliefs, warding off plots and counter plots spurn by an army of swarming opponents against him.
Yet, across Nigeria, across Rivers State, there are many who have been drawn to him. They include those who see the contributions that he is making in the rail sector; those who witnessed the good work he did as Governor of Rivers State; and those who simply appreciate his fearlessness.
No matter what his opponents say, leaders like Amaechi who have cultivated a spirit of nationalism and patriotism as well as love for the masses should be  appreciated.  To say that such men are infallible is to miss the point. They are human too and so, are prone to human frailties.
As one American statesman put it, if men were to be angels there would be no need for governments.
We may have slacked in our attempts to advance as a people, as a State, but the vision that men like Amaechi have ably put on the front burner convinces me that it is not over for Rivers State.
Rivers State shall rise again. To change the destiny of the State, all hands must be on the plough if we the people are to till the soil and eat of the fat of the land.
Our common growth lies in collaboration,  cooperation and understanding. It lies in a structured plan that every government that comes must key into.
To get past this point,  we do not require to have legacy killers in our midst. Such persons are taboos  in our spirited march towards the promised.
Let us therefore resolve to have leaders who appreciate their place in history, leaders who understand that politics is a developmental tool instead of a pathway to totalitarian control which encourages dictatorship.
We shall overcome like the South Africans did over Apartheid and climb new heights which hopefully would take us to the finish line.
Finally, we may not have realised the ambition to get Nissan to open an assembly plant in Port Harcourt, but the future which is to come belongs to those who try hard enough to change the circumstances that they met just like Amaechi tried to do.

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