Nigeria’s transportation minister, Rotimi Amaechi, has said he did not join politics because he wanted to ‘solve Nigeria’s problems.’
Mr Amaechi, who has held political office since the return to civil rule in 1999, said unemployment, one of the age-long challenges of Nigeria, pushed him into politics rather than the zeal to serve.
“I didn’t join politics because I wanted to be a leader or because I wanted to solve Nigeria’s problems. I joined because of unemployment. I also believe there is a part that grace played in it,” the Punch quoted the minister as saying in an interview.
Mr Amaechi, a graduate of English Studies and Literature from the University of Port Harcourt, had his first major political break in 1999 when he was elected as a member and then speaker of the Rivers State House of Assembly under the platform of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). He was re-elected to the position in 2003.
In 2007, he contested and won the party’s governorship ticket even though Celestine Omehia was declared the party’s flagbearer. The PDP won the election and Mr Omehia was sworn in as governor.
Mr Amaechi challenged Mr Omehia’s candidacy before a court and was eventually declared the rightful candidate of the PDP and winner of the April 2007 governorship election in Rivers State. He served twice as the state governor under the party before his defection to the All Progressives Congress (APC) in 2013.
He currently serves as Nigeria’s minister of transportation, a position he has been occupying since 2015.
While recounting his political journey in the interview, Mr Amaechi lamented the poor representation of the people by political officeholders.
He said the poor have never been properly represented by the government whether it is the current administration, which he is part of, or the ones before it.
“The poor are still here and I doubt if they would ever go away. What happens is that the elite – whether the capitalists or socialists – must manage them in such a way that they can be provided for,” he added.
While Mr Amaechi condemned the representation of disadvantaged Nigerians by the political class, he has, at least on one occasion, used his office to deny disadvantaged Nigerians opportunities they would have otherwise benefited from.
PREMIUM TIMES revealed how Mr Amaechi and some top officials in the current administration cornered scholarship slots meant to be open to all eligible Nigerians.
The controversial railway scholarships were offered by China Civil Engineering Construction Corporation (CCECC) to sponsor over forty Nigerian undergraduate students in Chinese universities to study railway engineering. However, only candidates nominated by the transport minister and other government officials were granted interviews and made the selection list. Otherwise qualified candidates, who had no godfathers, could not benefit from the scheme.
Mr Amaechi, in his defence, defended his action. He said Nigerians should not question the selection process but be happy that CCECC offered to train people to take over from them.
Nigerian youth in politics
Also in the interview, the transport minister highlighted some of his betrayals by “young men, who God used one to help rise in politics” and the challenges of young people succeeding in Nigerian political terrain.
He said to make headway in the ‘gerontocratic’ Nigerian politics goes beyond prayer, fasting, and hard work.
“They also need to be bullish. Don’t just accept that it’s not your right. Rather, assert and protect your rights. Also, it is important to be at the right place at the right time,” he said.
“One has to be a hard man to survive the betrayals in Nigerian politics. Imagine someone you used to sleep on the same bed with and have given both financial and political assistance to selling you out because of his ambition,” he said in a seeming reference to his successor as governor of Rivers State, Nyesom Wike.
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