I have met him twice in open platforms, notably at one of the Osasu Igbinedion gigs around 2018. Rotimi Amaechi is a likeable guy. He shoots straight and is a dependable ally to have on your side in a battle. In one of those gigs, he took on Nigerian youths and proved to them that they were not different from the oldies they condemn. He assured them that he was once in their shoes – broke, angry, and opinionated. He also pointed out some of the failed experiments where youths in government have failed woefully. Amaechi was hard to disprove. He is a truth teller, who fights with all the weapons in his arsenal if and when the need arises. I saw in him something I had been taught on one of those executive movements at London Business School – Mindful Leadership. Professor Goffee, Author of ‘Why Should Anyone be Led By You?’, impressed on me in 2008 that it is valid, nay very important, for a leader to be comfortable in his skin, to bare it all out often and not act like he dropped from the skies, unblemished. “A leader must acknowledge and show his own vulnerability, perhaps his humanity, with tact’, he would often say. Amaechi is – unlike many so-called leaders in our sphere – not a fake. He is a proper ‘pitakwa’ guy. With his successor Nyesom Wike, they have shown the world that you have to be crazy to lead Port Harcourt and Rivers State at large. Only that Rotimi is just a little calmer than Nyesom.
Anyone who studies and analyses Rotimi Amaechi may be able to draw an inference between the traits I have tried to paint above, and his successes in this lackluster Buhari administration. Whereas some powerful people in this government can only speak about their powerlessness and how they were totally caged for 8 years even as they seek to govern the nation for another 8, Amaechi is one of the few who could be deemed to have shown some result. The rail sector reform and tangibles is still – in spite of setbacks – the cardinal achievement of this government. Nigerians saw the coming to fruition of the Abuja-Kaduna rail, Lokoja – Itakpe, as well as Lagos to Ibadan, with developments being quite advanced along the Kaduna-Kano and a few other routes. We had become infrastructure deprived as a people and even the enlightened and well-traveled amongst us felt grateful at being able to get on some of those services. Amaechi’s remarkable doggedness also showed in the way he was able to bulldoze his way with Buhari, leading to the unbelievable ouster of super-connected Hadiza Bala-Usman who had been at loggerheads with him, and even the open tiff with Buhari’s Chief of Staff, Ambassador Ibrahim Gambari, and his daughter. Amaechi is a no-holds-barred pugilist, which could be a plus or a minus.
But this is where my praise of Amaechi ends. Upon the launching of some of those services, the defects and inadequacies became apparent. For the first many months, the Kaduna-Abuja route was just a haven for touts who manipulated the ticketing system, made life hell for passengers, screwed up everything and pocketed hundreds of millions of Naira every month. When this got to a head, with customer frustrations and the minister being called out, some reforms were put in place, online purchases were enabled and the service generated at least N200 million extra revenue every month, even though the touts and unscrupulous railway workers still managed to get people on board after pocketing monies that should have accrued to government. Given that then entire railway network was financed with loans from China, one wondered why the minister and those in charge of the rail system specifically, could not have tried to figure in many of these lapses even before launching. At this age and time, it is inexcusable to try and run the rail system with much slackness like we are in the olden days. The Kaduna-Kano route was positioned as largesse for Buhari’s people, like some favor he is doing northerners especially when the road became impassible due to security challenges. Of course, with such a mindset, the entire structure was apparently unsustainable.
But the more debilitating failure occurred with the bombing of the Kaduna-bound train on the 28th of March, 2022. That incident, and its aftermath, revealed that there are gaping holes to Amaechi’s bravado, and lapses in his competence. The Chinese-financed rail system was/is hanging on a thin thread and all of those who had patronized and praised that achievement – including yours truly – had naively handed over their lives to Amaechi’s half-done strategy. Amaechi had told the press at the scene of the dastardly bombing at which 8 people were summarily killed, 26 others shot and wounded and 167 people – including children – were kidnapped, that that kind of situation shouldn’t have happened if his proposal to secure the trains and passengers had been approved. As usual with Amaechi, he said so in vivid terms. Hear him:
“We knew what the problem would be. We knew we needed to have digital security equipment, we told them that’s what we needed, we applied for it… If we had that equipment, you’ll see nobody on that track for Christ’s sake. And I warned that lives would be lost, now lives are lost… we don’t know how many people have been kidnapped, and the cost of that equipment is just N3bn. The cost of what we’ve lost is more than N3 billion, we’ve lost track, we’ve lost locomotive and coaching, we’ve lost human beings, and the equipment that would’ve prevented that is just N3bn. To fix that equipment now, to fix all the things on that track would cost us more than N3bn. And now even the things we wanted to buy and we said give us approval to buy, we didn’t say give us money; at the time we asked for it dollar was N400, now if we’re going to buy we’re going to buy it at N500. When you come with sincerity to the government and your colleagues and people around you are stopping you it is annoying.”
It so happens that the ‘colleagues’ that Amaechi referred to here, was headed by the Vice President, Yemi Osinbajo, alongside whom Mr. Amaechi is running for President in 2023. Amaechi made the first move, by declaring on the 9th of April (12 days after a dastardly incidence which for me is worse than the Chibok kidnappings which the APC capitalized on in 2015 to ride into government, and which was internationalized to damaging proportion. At least nobody was killed in the Chibok invasion, for starters), and Osinbajo declared two days later on the 11th of April 2022. Neither of them acknowledged the evil that befell the nation, the lives lost, the poor folks in the hospital – some of whom could have died of gunshot wounds, or the dozens kidnapped by those crazies from Hell. This matter has not let my mind because I am not a flippant character. I think that the victims and their families have been abandoned by Buhari’s government to their own devices and fates. And the international community too, has not seen any need to amplify this because it somehow does not fit into their usually sexy narratives. For God’s sake mere toddlers are involved this time!
I believe that Chief Amaechi should not be running for anything presently – not even round a stadium to show how fit he is. He should be contrite and still trying to protect our rail investments and the lives and properties of those who would dare to ride those coaches. Rather than abandon governance like the other electees and appointees have now done in Buhari’s government, Amaechi should hunker down and show Nigerians that he has their lives in mind and is a responsible officer – that is if he doesn’t just summarily resign as would people with dignity in other nations. Even in Africa, from Egypt to Ethiopia and South Africa, ministers resign even for mere train accidents – not even avoidable and preventable terrorism acts where so many lives have been shattered permanently. The government did not even send anyone to witness the burial of beautiful Dr Chinelo Megafu in Lagos on the 21st of April 2022. I have not seen such level of mindless irresponsibility, but nothing is beyond Buhari’s vacuous, blind government to which Nigerians must swear ‘never again!’.
Amaechi should be explaining to Nigerians why he didn’t represent the memo and proposal after Osinbajo’s FEC meeting had stepped it down. He should be explaining why he did not put up any other alternative arrangements to protect the lives and properties of Nigerians. He should be explaining why he did not properly risk-manage our rail system and protect billions of dollars which he had signed as loans to China and for which they have lien on Nigeria’s assets. This was a contentious issue at some point and he was the one that chested out and defended the lien issue. How can he leave Nigeria swimming naked and mortgage the wellbeing of our children unborn? I don’t know if Osinbajo should have reminded him about the matter though, because all of them should care about the lives of the people. We have learnt that a contract of N3.8 billion was presented by Amaechi on the 21st of September 2021 but was stepped down because the company had no prior experience in that field. In fact, why did Amaechi wait till September 2021 (just over 6 months ago), to TRY and protect a rail system which had been functional for years now. Should the security of the rail track not be integral to its launching in the first place? So, what did Buhari launch in 2018? A rail track exposed to anyone who wanted to do hanky-panky? As a General in the Army, should Buhari not have asked questions? I think what manifests is the sheer laziness that permeates Buhari’s government. It is not ‘by force’ to be president, but rather than getting fresher by the day and displaying pictures of yourself picking your teeth, the presidency of this country should be for those who are prepared to sleep for 3 hours a day or even not at all. These guys have governed as if they are totally oblivious to our problems.
And please, Lion of Ubima as you are usually called, what is the meaning and utility of a surveillance system in these matters? In a country where you have to stop that same Kaduna train to allow cows to pass the track or where you regulate the speed because of cows. There is also a point where the train needs to stop for 15 minutes to allow the one bound in the opposite direction to pass. Surveillance? When you surveil what about rapid response? How rapid can the response be? Criminals and terrorists strike with lightning speed as we have seen. These ones even had many of their allies on board. We are now hearing that nobody may be able to board trains anymore without their National ID Cards. But that is a project around which we have failed as a nation because we just are not ready to have accountable identity management. In the north of Nigeria, only a few people have complained about the incursion of Chadians, northern Cameroonians and Nigeriens, and indeed all sorts of crazy characters as far as Sudan, Mali, Senegal and where else. We have had a sitting president sine 2015 who once complained “what is Boko Haram!?’ when his election was postponed by 2 weeks by the Jonathan government, but who ended up hitting the ground like a wet rag, making many Nigerians regret the day he was voted in. Buhari, being a Katsina man, whose native Daura is pretty close to the border, knows these extant issues but simply does not care. He is one of those who sees himself as closer kin to those guys, than he does to Nigerians who gave him a mandate, through their votes. Look at us now?
I listened to the discussion between Amaechi and Governor El-Rufai. Trust Nasir, he simply debunked Amaechi’s hypothesis about surveillance for the reason I adduced above and proposed that what is a need is a military command somewhere in the middle of the track line. But we have seen these guys rout military commands pretty easily. And how quickly can you deploy soldiers to rescue people as they are being attacked? Mind you, these kinds of things take time to eradicate. The first time I rode to Kaduna on that train, I saw as some policemen marched some bad boys who had been arrested and put on the train. Upon enquiry, I learnt that the boys sat on the train track around Kubwa, forcing the train to stop. Perhaps the drugs they smoked even made them wait to be arrested by the policemen attached to the train. I said to myself that these trains were sitting ducks. I posted this on Facebook too. In America, it took decades to stop train hijacks, which peaked during the Great Depression of the 1930s. I have been saying that Nigeria has always been in an economic depression even as those who run this economy continue to delude themselves. Are we ready to face decades of train hijacks and derailments with the attendant deaths? Riding the Lagos-Ibadan train, I even saw more hazards, from the security and human angles. One of the trains recently crushed a deaf woman who remained on the tracks as the train approached. Imagine being deaf and not knowing where to stay! Through Yaba, into Agege and parts of Alakuko/Alagbado where that train passes through there is too much of human interference. Thousands of people are on the train tracks permanently and nobody knows who is who. Before launching that route, could those environments not have been sterilized? There is even too much filth on the tracks and it looks like it is a dumping ground in some parts – especially at the Lagos end. I wouldn’t be proud to take a foreigner on that route. Are we waiting for a disaster on that route too?
And here is my opinion about securing the train tracks. It is borne out of my own experience. The only way to secure train tracks is by mass employment and engagement of communities. A government that has lost legitimacy amongst its people will find this hard to do, especially a government that deludes itself as it is permanently disengaged from reality. The communities around the rail tracks will have to protect the assets that belong to everyone. You will have to incentivize them. But you cannot rely only on this. You have to expand the railway police and every inch of the track is checked and guarded at all points in time. I once had a stint in that sector in London. As a master’s student, I studied and took an exam to be a Protection Master, to earn a few bucks and survive. I discovered that every night, after the train service is ended, welders and all sorts of artisans working for contracting firms, fan into the London Underground and ensure that every track is in perfect shape. Tens of thousands of workers are so employed. That is why London never sleeps. As some are closing millions of others are resuming work. So, each time I hear rail tracks are vandalized in Nigeria, I just know it is because we are not ready to invest in employment that creates order, safety and tranquility in our country. As a PM (Protection Master), my bit for the while I lasted before the bitter cold entered my brains and sent me packing, was between West Ham and Stratford, one of the longest stops on the Jubilee Line. Many of those running things in Nigeria simply do not have the requisite, real, on-the-ground experience. If you started going abroad with government money, being picked up by limousines at airports, and driven to posh hotels, you will never know how their systems really work. I am however not saying this is what happened with Amaechi. I just know he should not be running anywhere now. We need results. We need changes. We need assurances. We need value for money. We need to protect human lives and national assets. And we need to protect the loans that we have contracted in the names of our unborn children.