Barely 72 hours after President Goodluck Jonathan’s security aides blocked the Rivers State Governor, Rotimi Amaechi, from exchanging pleasantries with the President during a dinner at the Presidential Villa, Abuja, the duo met at the Port Harcourt International Airport on Saturday and embraced.
Shortly before departing Port Harcourt for Abuja after inaugurating a hospital in his hometown in Otuoke, Ogbia Local Government Area of Bayelsa State, the embattled Chairman of the Nigerian Governor’s Forum walked up to the president who shook his hands before both men embraced.
Although none of them made any public comments, they exchanged pleasantries briefly before the President eventually boarded his flight and departed for Abuja.
The Special Adviser to the President on Media and Publicity, Reuben Abati, told THE PUNCH that Amaechi was at the airport to see the President off in line with established protocol, pointing out that there was nothing unusual about it despite their seeming political differences.
According to Mr. Abati, protocol required that when the President is in any state, the governor or his deputy should be on standby to receive him on arrival and see him off when he is departing, adding that since the President was passing through Port Harcourt to Bayelsa State or back, it was expected that Amaechi or his deputy should receive or see him off.
On whether the development was an indication that the face-off between the President and the governor was over, the presidential spokesman denied the existence of any rift between them.
“Governor Amaechi was at the airport to see the President off. There is nothing unusual about that. It is the duty of a state governor to receive and see the President off when he visits a state. In the event that the governor is not available, the deputy governor carries out the task. This is part of protocol.
“In this case, anytime the President is visiting Bayelsa State, he passes through Port Harcourt and the governor receives or sees him off. There is no rift between the President and the governor in the first place,” Mr. Abati said.
Despite Abati’s denial, it remains an open secret that the duo have not had a smooth relationship in what observers see as part of the political scheming in the build up to the 2015 elections.
Although Mr. Amaechi has denied nursing any presidential or vice-presidential ambition come 2015, speculations are widespread that he is planning to team up with a northern candidate to contest against President Jonathan, whose body language suggests he plans to run for a second term of office.
The frosty relationship between Mr. Amaechi and President Jonathan came to a head when the governor contested and won the Nigeria Governors’ Forum election against his Plateau State counterpart, Jonah Jang, said to have been put forward as the choice of the president and the Peoples Democratic Party.
The PDP National Working Committee has since suspended the Rivers governor from the party, citing a petition written by the Rivers State chapter of the party against the governor for violating some sections of the party’s constitution.
While attending the presidential dinner in Abuja last Wednesday, Mr. Amaechi denied any wrongdoing, saying those supporting Mr. Jang, who lost the NGF election, to destabilize the NGF were undemocratic.