Businessman and politician Prince Tonye Princewill hosted a motley audience of professionals at Freedom Park to mark the birthday of the former governor of Rivers State and current Minister of Transportation, Rotimi Amaechi who turned 54 on Monday, May 27.
The occasion was one-of-kind for Amaechi who is better known in the political quarters. Jilting the conventional glitz and glam of birthday celebration for a reading session and poetry performance, Princewill and Hon. George Tolofari alongside other friends of the Minister of Transportation showcased an Amaechi who is every inch a literature buff.
This comes as a surprise to those who are familiar with the man better known as Lion of Niger Delta but the compere, Jahman Anikulapo, a literary icon himself recounted to the audience that Amaechi was one of the few governors in the country whose love for literature is very admirable. He told the audience how Amaechi supported the Rainbow Book Club which started advocacy programmes in 2005 to draw attention to the importance of reading to personal and national development. His unwavering stance to that cause fetched Port Harcourt, the capital of Rivers state the distinguished honour of the U.N.E.S.C.O World Book Capital City in 2014 while he was still in office. But the biggest reveal came from Princewill who described the avid reader Amaechi embodies.
"Most people don't know about the literary side of Amaechi, they only know about the controversial side of him. But he has a strong literary side to him. Amaechi can read three books at the same time. Usually when he finds a novel he really likes, he buys several copies for his friends. He is a fan of books. Part of the reason he is a fighter is because he is knowledgeable having read so many books about how things are and how they are supposed to be. That has somehow evoked a rebellious spirit in him so when you see him reacting certain ways, it is because of the import of the knowledge gathered in books."
For the reading session, Woke Soyinka's 'The Man Died' was chosen for two reasons. First, like so many in the literary world, Soyinka is considered the father of literature and Amaechi is no exception. The other reason being that the novel which was written by the professor during his incarceration at the peak of the Nigerian Civil War is a product of his experience as a fighter of the people, a role which Amaechi played during his governorship days where he curtailed the reign of terror and brigandage in Rivers.
The book however was not the only thing the organisers got right. The reading panel comprised individuals from different walks of life who have in one way or the other encountered the visionary politician. They include prolific environmental rights campaigner and art promoter Sir Newton Jibunoh; author and poet Reginald Ofodile; veteran actress, Joke Silva; publisher of men lifestyle magazine Modemen, Abubakar Tafawa-Balewa; and corporate entrepreneur Rick Nwanso.
Amaechi has in one way or the other affected their lives and they didn't hesitate to tell the audience. Newton recalled how Amaechi defied the harmattan weather and drove all the way from Port Harcourt to Asaba to attend his summit. To him, this was an exceptional example of altruism. The occasion was a way of repaying his kindness since they have not seen each other for a long time. Tafawa-Balewa recalled the many times he has sat with the Minister, picked his brain and realised the distinguished intellectual he was. Thus, it wasn't a surprise that he has graced the glossy covers of his magazine more than once.
Though the initial plan was to stick with 'The Man Died' but Silva brought a twist to it when she vocally dramatised a section of Wole Soyinka's 'Ake'. Her performance received a loud applause. Being that the Minister's birthday coincided with a Children's Day celebration, there were echoes by members of the audience for children to be equipped with books for both personal and national development. While Amaechi was in absentia, his friend and ally, Hon. George Tolofari rained accolades on him, highly impressed by how the former governor has reached the echelons of power.
"Amaechi may have not been born great like a child with a silver spoon but he has worked very hard to be who he is today and that is why we are celebrating him. Before he assumed office as governor, shortly after we left the National Assembly, myself and a few friends wanted to throw him a surprise birthday party and we were begging people to join us. But they turned it down, because at the time Amaechi was embattled. Nobody wanted to identify with someone they see as a failure. Only his few friends that believed in him. Today, I'm delighted that it is a national event for this young man."
With the generous flow of drinks and other refreshment, it didn't matter that Amaechi was not there in person or is yet to write a book. What was more instructive was that he is a fighter of the people and a staunch supporter of the Nigerian literary world.