One thing that is striking about Governor Chibuike Amaechi of Rivers State is that he is a fighter.
He is also never afraid to bare his mind on any issue.
As a fighter, when President Olusegun Obasanjo denied him his Peoples Democratic Party governorship ticket with the lame excuse that his candidacy had a “k-leg”, Amaechi did not fold his arms and leave everything to destiny. He went to court and fought the matter until the court declared him the authentic candidate of the PDP and therefore the winner of the 2007 election. When the wife of President Goodluck Jonathan tried to use presidential powers on him, Amaechi refused to be intimidated, even with the President joining in the fray.
When the chairmanship election of the Nigeria Governors’ Forum held last year, he used his connections and skills to ensure that the candidate favoured by the President and the PDP did not defeat him.
He has ensured that the Rivers State House of Assembly is solidly with him to foreclose any attempt to impeach him. When the heat from the PDP became unbearable, he pitched his tent with the opposition All Progressives Congress. No day passes without him taking shots at the Presidency or the PDP.
He has also consistently protested the loss of some oil wells to Bayelsa State, which has affected the amount of money Rivers State receives monthly as allocation. He continues to allege that the loss occurred with the influence of the President, who is an indigene of Bayelsa State.
Since Amaechi is a fighter for justice and a man who never condones injustice, I had thought that within his two terms of eight years as Rivers State governor, he would have used his good offices to ensure that the injustice of the abandoned property was wiped away from memory.
For those who don’t know the history of the abandoned property in Rivers State (especially in Port Harcourt), when the Nigerian troops took control of Port Harcourt during the Nigerian Civil War, the hinterland Igbo fled northwards. When the Nigerian troops took over Aba, the Igbo people continued to run back. The same thing happened after Umuahia, Owerri, etc, fell to the federal troops. From the northern part of Biafra, it was the same story when the federal troops captured Nsukka and Enugu. In the western side of Biafra, when the federal troops captured Onitsha, Obosi, etc, the people fled deeper into Igbo heartland.
Many of these people became refugees. Only some parts of the present day Anambra State were not captured before the surrender of Biafra. The refugees were sheltered either in camps or in their friends’ houses until the end of the war in January 1970. All over the world, during a war, once a town is about to be captured by enemy troops, the inhabitants flee for fear of retribution. The massacre of civilians in Asaba in October 1967 was a sad example of what hate-filled troops can do to a conquered city if its citizens fail to flee.
After the war, the Federal Government came up with the No-victor No-vanquished policy as well as the three R’s: Rehabilitation, Reconciliation, and Reconstruction.
The Igbo licked their wounds and went back to their stations in different parts of Nigeria. Those who got back to Rivers State (and a few other parts of Nigeria) got a rude shock awaiting them. The property they sweated to acquire or build had been confiscated as “abandoned property.” Abandoned property in one’s country? It sounded like a joke. But curiously, it stayed. Nigerians coveted and confiscated their compatriots’ property and carried on as if nothing happened since 1970.
If I were a beneficiary of that abandoned property injustice, I would take some actions to free my name from it. If it was willed to me by my father, I would look for the original owner and discuss two possibilities: Either pay him an agreed sum as the cost of buying the property or an outright handover. Even if the present cost of the property is N20m, but I am able to raise N5m, I would plead with him to accept it. Alternatively, I would hand over the property to him, ask for his forgiveness for wrongly keeping his property for over 40 years, and ask him and my pastor to jointly pray for me and my family for the years of injustice.
However, it is shocking that indigenes of Rivers State have sat on this injustice for over four decades in silence. Some have even justified it. I have not heard any Rivers State indigene, including the so-called human rights activists, condemn this grave injustice or mount a campaign against it.
Nobody knows how many of the direct victims of this injustice died of heart break seeing their countrymen use the power of government to unjustly confiscate property they laboured for years to build under the pretence that the property were abandoned. There were stories of people in some parts of Nigeria who looked after their friends’ property throughout the war, and when the war was over, they not only handed such friends back their property, they also handed them money collected as rent during the civil war. But in Rivers State, landlords who had lost their capital returned after the war to the rude shock that they had also lost the only property they were banking on. They had to become shelterless, watching another occupy the house of their sweat. The cries of anguish of such men should not be under-rated.
Many of the victims have since moved on. Many took it as they would take a case of fire on their house or goods. They may have acquired more property than what they lost in Rivers. But the Rivers State Government needs to make restitution for the abandoned property for the sake of the state. Rivers, as a predominantly Christian state, knows the effect of forcefully converting another’s property to personal use. The eighth and tenth commandments strongly condemn that. Also, when Abraham was given a land for free, he rejected it and insisted that the land must cost him something. How much more forcefully confiscating another’s property and converting it to your use, sleeping in it and praying in it for 44 years!
Rivers State should either start a programme to return the property to the original owners or pay each owner a token in lieu of the property. That would be a milestone in ensuring that the scars of the Civil War are healed. On August 14, 2008, Nigeria ceded the oil-rich Bakassi peninsula to Cameroon for the sake of peace, despite that Nigeria had laid claim to it for decades.
Even though all past governors of Rivers State had not done this, Amaechi will be writing his name in gold if he initiates it. If he contemplates such an action, naturally, the hawks in Rivers State will rise in protest. But that should not be surprising: when Frederick de Klerk initiated the process of ending apartheid by releasing Nelson Mandela, many of such people told him that it was a suicidal move, given that it would end the rule of the Whites and even de Klerk’s rule. But he was not deterred by such appeal to class advantage.
For a man whose name “Chibuike” means “God is (my) strength,” Amaechi should lean on the power of God and do the right thing on the abandoned property injustice. If he does it, many God-fearing, justice-loving indigenes of Rivers State will rally round him. But will Amaechi muster the courage to right this wrong? Only Amaechi can answer this.