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Prodigious Amaechi and Transportation varsity

LAST week, President Muhammadu Buhari inaugurated the construction of the N18bn University of Transportation, Daura. The school, which is expected to be completed in a year and a half, will generate skilled manpower to “operate and maintain numerous railway infrastructure and services” in Nigeria, or, in other words, domesticate railway engineering. There is no question that the sector needs skilled manpower to run it, but whether it needs a separate university to do so is a different matter altogether. The president is, however, pleased with the decision to set up the university, does not mind its location in Daura, his hometown, and since the cost will be borne by the Chinese company building Nigeria’s standard gauge railway (though the devil is in the detail), it enables officials to beat their chests and cast any sceptic as a professional malcontent.Former Rivers State governor and currently Transportation minister Rotimi Amaechi is a powerful voice for the sector, and it is doubtful whether recent gains in the sector could have been as significant without him. He champions the sector, particularly the railways, with a passion that is infectious and unrelenting, to the point of convincing even the president to lend wholehearted support to the reinvigoration of the railways. But while the president has sometimes seemed aloof from the nitty-gritty of enunciating and executing difficult and controversial policies, in this case, the University of Transportation, Mr Amaechi, never one for verbal moderation, has been unrestrained, almost hysterical, and voluble.As governor, Mr Amaechi was brilliantly forward and paradoxically self-deprecating, and tended to create offense by his boyish, undiscriminating candour. As minister, his style has changed only a little, considering how he still manages to create offense with as much gusto as his unorthodox frankness can carry him. Few were, therefore, surprised that perhaps because he heads the Transportation portfolio he has decided to be reckless in the manner he takes ownership of the policies that pertain to the new university in Daura. Did he give the controversial idea of building the university in Daura a deep reflection as he really should? If it is assumed that he was substantially responsible for deciding the location of the school — which is doubtful despite his protestations — it is unlikely he did.All he volunteered was that he leaned heavily on the Chinese contractors to include in the contract a factory to assemble railway rolling stock in Kajola, Ogun State, and a university in the president’s hometown devoted to producing skilled manpower for the railways. If asked, Mr Amaechi would probably explain the economics of how the Chinese might write off the N18bn in their books. And he will do it in his predictably copious manner, for he is never short of explanations. Though he was not asked, but because he had heard snickers about the ‘brilliance’ that led to locating the university in Daura, Mr Amaechi responded with his characteristic causticity, dismissing the cynics and questioning their patriotism and altruism.Said Mr Amaechi: “We realised that education is key to the building and maintenance of all these infrastructures. I engaged CCECC. I insisted on the University of Transportation. Today, we are here for the groundbreaking ceremony of the university. When we sited the factory at Kajola, there was no noise; nobody debated about it; nobody abused us for it. Nobody influenced me to site this university here. Anybody who accuses me of being a sycophant; let me admit it in advance that I am a sycophant. And if you know the president very well, you will know that sycophancy does not sit well with Mr. President. Daura is in Nigeria. It is not in any other part of the world. It is not in Niger; it is not in Biafra; it is not in Mali; it is in Nigeria; so, what is wrong in siting a University of Transportation in Daura. I have no regret siting this university in Daura.”But he really should be remorseful. For even if sycophancy does not sit well with the president, as he implausibly argues, it certainly does not debar him, by his admission, from deploying that sickening tool. It is nothing to be proud of. But Mr Amaechi manages to revel in it, in fact suggesting without any hint of sarcasm that he was proud to be a sycophant. Sometimes Mr Amachi speaks and acts like a footballer who needlessly and inexplicably kicks an opponent, probably because, like they say in football, blood rushed into the brain. Politics has its own adrenalin, quite different from its aphrodisiac content. Once a politician experiences a rush of that adrenalin, he is liable to say, think and do anything, regardless of whether it makes sense or not. Since the minister is desensitised to the pitfalls of sycophancy, it is not surprising that he can’t see its evil or the damage it does to the polity. But sycophancy or not, it is strange indeed that the minister can also not see the ethical snare of locating such a project in the president’s hometown, knowing full well that Nigerians were bound to wonder what on earth had come over public officials who distort public policy in favour of selfish considerations.Contrary to what Mr Amaechi thinks, and regardless of wh ...Read more

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