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You are here:Home>>Strategic Research & Analysis>>Gov. Amaechi’s Acceptance Speech on Vanguard ‘Person of the Year’ Award
Wednesday, 10 April 2013 14:32

Gov. Amaechi’s Acceptance Speech on Vanguard ‘Person of the Year’ Award

Written by Gov. Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi

Excerpts from Governor Amaechi’s Acceptance Speech on the Occasion of his Conferment of Vanguard ‘Person of the Year’ Award at the Weekend in Lagos.


Whatever may have happened to our institutions in recent years, the Nigerian media remains one of the avenues of hope in a troubled land. Our media may not be totally insulated from the moral and ideological crisis that wracks our society. But it has a history and heritage of being compulsively adversarial to negative authority. That is its redeeming feature. More importantly, our media culture has an inbuilt self -cleansing mechanism. All media that have been established to champion specific individual, partisan or divisive causes have died a natural death. So, I believe that our media is inherently nationalistic.


While thanking the Vanguard Media group for the generosity of this award as "The Person of the Year", I want to ask their permission to pass on this plaque to the people of Rivers State to whom it rightfully belongs. As an individual, I could not possibly have made the contributions that have been catalogued in the citation for the award. Our actions are only a response to the yearnings of our people.  I am an errand boy on a mission designed by my people and the burdens they have borne for decades.  My team and I are their servants and their mandate remains for us a sacred trust.


Our understanding of the responsibility of government is that the people who voted for us to exercise power and authority on their behalf are entitled to certain basic inalienable rights. The Fundamental Objectives and Directive Principles of State Policy in our constitution clearly spell out the minimal obligations of government to the people. These include the right to education, to the protection of their lives and property, to health and to decent and respectful treatment without any form of discrimination. For everyone in political leadership, this ought to be the definitive job description.


Ideologically, I remain skeptical about the growing tradition of awards and recognitions in our society.  This system singles out individuals and consecrates them into mini deities as “Man of the Year”, ‘Woman of the Year” etc. When we adopt this stance, we tend to ignore the truism that the ordinary people are the real driving force of history. Let us amend that to say that the real engine of history and development is the combined energy of the people and an enlightened leadership. Let us never fail to recognize the heroic import of the small roles of our everyday people.


It is the small transporter at Iddo Motor Park who for more than two decades has moved goods and persons from one location to the other in our country not caring about the religious faith of his passengers. It is the market woman in Diobu who toils everyday to keep the flow of small essential goods in the market in return for a chance to send her kids to a local school.  It is the village teacher in a bare classroom in Degema who is dedicated to ensuring that the next generation of Nigerians acquire knowledge and build a better society.


It is the doctor in the rural health centre in Ahoada whose primary dedication is to serve humanity by saving lives, one life at a time. It is the soldier in Maiduguri who has to brave the wrath of an enemy without a face in order that Nigeria remains united and peaceful. The list of uncelebrated heroes and patriots is long. But their contributions are immense.  I dedicate this evening to them as well.


This is not to exclude the upper echelons of our society who are contributing their quota in creating jobs, running viable honest businesses or even the clergy of all faiths who face the daunting task of convincing the many that God still deserves to be worshipped in a trying time.


Each time I read or hear commendations of our work in Rivers State, I look out also for the dissenting voices of criticism. Both are complementary. I am grateful to those who acknowledge the difference we have made in our brief encounter with power and authority. I am even more encouraged by the voices of those who draw attention to our imperfections.


I never envisaged that after a little over five years in the service of our people, we would have built all the roads that require to be built, We were never deceived into thinking we would have provided all the schools and hospitals or empowered all our people economically.  The idealism in my education sometimes drives me to dream of banishing all our problems overnight.  But I now realize that the end of development challenges would be the end of history as well!


In Rivers State, we have narrowed our gaze to what we consider the strategic sectors of development. We are driving education through the raising of standards, modernization of infrastructure and curricular in order to provide the well educated work force and responsible citizens to drive tomorrow’s economy. We are driving health through an integrated three-tier approach (primary, secondary and tertiary) that brings quality health care to the doorstep of all our citizens so that they can actualize themselves. We believe that power needs to be available 24/7 to drive existing enterprises, attract new investors and encourage innovation.


We may not have achieved all that we aimed for. But there is tangible evidence that we have embarked on the right course. I believe the foundations that we have laid today will guide those who come after us towards the realization of the genuine entitlement of our people to a good life in a free society.


The challenges that we have been grappling with in Rivers State are similar with what the rest of my colleagues and the Federal Government face. I realize that Nigeria is very much work in progress. There is still so much to do to make up for lost time, for wasted years and lavished opportunities. Our highways remain unsafe. Some of our urban neighbourhoods are dangerous. Our schools and colleges rank among the worst in the world in terms of standards.


Our physical environment remains unhealthy. Our army of unemployed youth grows by the day. Our institutions of governance continue to degrade incrementally. These and other challenges are the defining signposts of our present and clear indicators of our future.  These are also some of the defining tests of our democracy and the context for each of us to defend the mandate that our people have entrusted us with.


I am glad that with the help of our media, there is an increasing awareness of these challenges. At Federal and State levels, efforts are being made to address these challenges. But the enormity of it is overwhelming and more daunting than our best efforts. And available resources.


As a federation, our union remains imperfect.  The drive for fiscal federalism should not abate if we are to fully realize our economic potentials. The present situation in which we governors troop to Abuja every month to pick oil royalty cheques cannot endure. We need to challenge our people to tap the diverse resources with which we are richly endowed to deliver development to our people. Accordingly, the greater resources of the federation should devolve to the states because they are the direct and immediate level at which Nigeria makes sense to the majority of Nigerians. In the areas that touch the people directly and affect their daily life such as security, infrastructure, education, health care, affordable housing, transportation etc., I believe the federal government should excuse itself. The Federal center is too far from Nigerians to be held directly accountable for lapses in the provision of things that touch the daily lives of Nigerians.


The Nigerian Governors Forum, the trans partisan platform of all our governors, which I still lead, has taken definite positions on most of these issues as well as other urgent constitutional matters.  These positions are based on patriotic commitment to the principles of true federalism. They have nothing to do with personal projects or the politics of immediate convenience. And so, we remain resolute in upholding the underlying principles of our convictions within the ambit of legality and constitutionality.


The NGF remains a forum for the exchange of ideas on governance, for effective peer review, for mutual assistance and capacity enhancement among governors irrespective of party or region.  As governors, what binds us is the common interest of our peoples for rapid development, not competition for political supremacy or space. The NGF was founded on the principle that in a federation, the states cannot be vassals of the center but centres for the articulation of reciprocal obligations.


In the course of running the errands defined by the condition of the Rivers people, I have also come to realize that it is not just enough to aim at building shiny new structures. We need to urgently address the scandalous inequality that is tearing our society apart. We must also aim at building a fair society. A fair society is in my view one in which access to opportunity is not limited by class, position or wealth. Our people need a society in which the son or daughter of the janitor who excels in college has as fair a chance to access available opportunities as the daughter of a senator.


Those of us who make the laws today are mostly children of the poor farmers and artisans of yesterday. But regrettably in most cases, we are using our elevated positions to shut the doors of opportunity on the rest of our compatriots. In the process, we make our families and ourselves the targets of desperate inequality and scandalous deprivation and create the insecurity and instability that haunts us. Those of us who lead today have a duty to engineer the national society away from this path of conflict and crisis.


Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi is the Executive Governor of River Sate, Nigeria.


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