The governor is at his ease, as always. Even in the 5 a.m. glare of the vast white tiled waiting room in Abuja Airport, he is immaculately dressed in a blue three-piece suit offset by a red silk tie. Assistants, drivers, security personnel, and advisers hover around in suspended animation, hanging on every word of the oga, or boss.
The oga is Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi, governor of Nigeria’s Rivers State, the man who sits atop most of the more than 37 billion barrels of proven oil reserves that lie under the serpentine waterways of the Niger Delta. At 48, he is a tall, well-built man, every inch the statesman from his gold-faced watch to his measured charm. We wait for his private jet to be readied for the flight to Port Harcourt, the seat of his government and the hub of the delta’s oil industry.
An official portrait of Nigeria’s President Goodluck Jonathan in his signature black fedora—his visage appears in nearly every public space in the country—glowers down at us. It has reason to: On Nov. 26, Amaechi and four other governors defected from the president’s ruling People’s Democratic Party to the opposition All Progressives Congress in one of the biggest upsets in Nigerian politics in recent years.
The feud between Jonathan and Amaechi has been building for the past few years, dominating newspaper headlines in Nigeria. What the “rebel governors” stand for, aside from opposing Jonathan, is unclear. As one commentator lamented, “Mainstream Nigerian politics continues to be an almost ideology-free and policy-free zone.”
Ideology or no, Amaechi is a politician to the bone. In 2007, he won his party’s primary and saw himself as rightful heir to the governorship of Rivers State after his mentor Peter Odili stepped down. On the eve of elections, however, allegations surfaced that Amaechi had amassed a personal fortune of $150 million through graft and corruption while he was speaker of the state government. His name was taken off the ballot. Furious, he formed a new alliance of convenience with alleged militant groups and had the election results overturned in court. He has been in power ever since.
As the governor of one the country’s wealthiest regions, it’s not surprising that Amaechi’s ambitions are the subject of much speculation. Many suspect that he is angling for the vice presidency in the 2015 national elections. His aspirations, along with his leadership of the coalition of rebel governors, make him a bellwether for the political and financial fortunes of Africa’s second largest economy.