Amidst controversies behind the “absence” of Nigeria’s Transportation Minister, Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi, at the Presidential Stakeholders’ Meeting for the South South Region which held in Port Harcourt on Tuesday, November 24, The Neighbourhood can confirm that the Minister was at the Government House, Port Harcourt, venue of the meeting, but left in protest over some “booby traps”.
The newspaper gathered that Amaechi left in protest when Rivers State Governor, Nyesom Wike, rather than take his guests to the Banquet Hall of the Government House, venue of the stakeholders meeting, decided to take Prof. Ibrahim Gambari, and other Very Important Persons, VIPs, to “Foundation”, the Governor’s official residence.
A source, who was part of the presidential delegation, gave The Neighbourhood an account of what he said led to Amaechi’s walk out.
According to the source, a senior appointee of President Muhammadu Buhari, who spoke with the newspaper in Abuja, on Wednesday over the controversy Amaechi’s absence has generated, leading to avalanche of attacks on the Honourable Minister on social media, Amaechi had arrived the Port Harcourt International Airport, Omagwa from Lagos and headed straight to the Air Force Base where the President’s Chief of Staff was expected to land. On arrival at the Air Force Base, Amaechi met Sen. Ita Enang, the Senior Special Assistant to the President on Niger Delta Affairs, and Dr. Ipalibo Banigo, Rivers State Deputy Governor, who were later joined by Sen. Godswill Akpabio, Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, in whose company were Prof. Kemebradikumo Pondei, Ag. Managing Director, Niger Delta Development Commission, NDDC, and Mr. Effiong Akwa, the Ag. Executive Director, Finance.
It was not long when Prof. Gambari’s flight arrived with the Inspector General of Police, Mohammed Abubakar Adamu, Director General, Directorate of State Security, DSS, Alhaji Yusuf Magaji Bichi, as well as other dignitaries. Because of the visit, Heads of security agencies, including the Rivers State Commissioner of Police, Joseph Gobum Mukan, were at the Air Force Base to welcome President Muhammadu Buhari’s envoy.
With airport ceremonies over, the convoy drove off to the Rivers State Government House but somewhere close to their destination, drivers in the convoy got a call which The Neighbourhood has confirmed was made by Emeka Woke, the Chief of Staff, Government House, Port Harcourt. The caller directed the drivers to drive down to “Foundation” when they arrive Government House, rather than the Banquet Hall where some dignitaries invited to the event were already seated. For those dignitaries not familiar with the protocol jargon in the Rivers State Government House, they were askance at what “Foundation” meant but those familiar with the jargon and nuances of that State House, “Foundation” stands for the governor’s residence. Because Rivers State Government House drivers could get a call on the telephone line, they always place their cellphones on the speaker mode. So, it was not difficult for the passengers to hear the instructions of he caller. As was directed, the convoy drove to the Governor’s residence unknown to the 76 year-old Chief of Staff to the President. The Neighbourhood was told by a highly connected government source that the presidential team had no inkling they were heading to Gov. Wike’s residence. It was gathered that the Federal ministers, now including Festus Keyamo, were surprised at the arrangement which this newspaper’s source said was against the protocols of the stakeholders’ meeting. “Similar meeting for the South East held at the Enugu State Government in Enugu and at no time was Prof. Gambari and others first taken to the governor’s residence. But in the case of the South South, a governor, for whatever reason known to him, cornered everybody first to his residence before going to the venue.”
When reminded that Gov. Wike opted for that to take the CoS by surprise over his(Gambari’s) birthday, the source insisted that the governor could still have thrown the surprise element on the Chief of Staff at the end of the stakeholders’ meeting. “Governor Wike could still have hosted the President’s Chief of Staff, and even others to the birthday ceremony well after the meeting. After all, you can’t force someone to eat or to come to your house. It was possible some of those guests were fasting and compelling them to your residence amounted to a violation of their religious obligation”, the source told this newspaper.
The Neighbourhood asked the source why Amaechi, who had reportedly complained against Gov. Wike’s option, did not go straight to the venue of the meeting, or drive to his private residence not far from the Government House, and could have been informed when Wike would have returned them to the Banquet Hall. His response was that Amaechi could not have gone to the Banquet Hall when the leader of the presidential delegation was at Wike’s residence. He also dismissed the suggestion of the Transportation Minister going to his residence to wait as he said that he would have committed same offence as Wike. “Amaechi was not against Wike organising a birthday party for the Chief of Staff to the President. No! But Amaechi is a stickler to rules. He was displeased that Governor Wike would breach the protocols of the Federal Government-brokered stakeholders’ meeting. For Amaechi, Gambari’s presence was equivalent to the President being present, and so, taking him to any other place outside the meeting venue was a breach of protocol and tantamount to disrespect to the President.”
The Neighbourhood contacted Kelvin Ebiri, Special Assistant(Media) to the Rivers State Governor, to respond to two issues the controversy generated. Due to the size of the chat, and to give him room to possibly respond satisfactorily, this newspaper sent him the inquiry through the whatsApp medium. There was evidence Mr. Ebiri read the questions few minutes after they dropped on his contact but declined any response. He had yet to respond as of the time of this story.