By Ochereome Nnanna
I was unavoidably out of Lagos when Governor Ikedi Ohakim presented his three new books to the public at the Civic Centre in Victoria Island on Thursday, July 16, 2009. However, I can claim to be quite familiar with the intriguing story of this 51 year-old state chief executive who has the face of a schoolboy, especially his political odysseys which the books capture.
I am not hereby attempting a review of the books, as I have yet to read through them intimately for that purpose. But I am conversant with the messages they strive to portray. These messages are germane at this stage of our political development when, as we keep lamenting on this forum, we still suffer from the general poor quality of the individuals who command the heights of our public affairs.
The three books are entitled: The Courage to Challenge; Challenging New Frontiers and Pushing the Limits. While the first is a free-flowing narrative of his uncommon and miraculous journey to the seat of Governor of Imo State, the others reflect his words and actions on the said seat. The Ohakim story, especially as encapsulated in The Courage to Challenge is one worth telling or recalling because without the courage to challenge there will be no â€œmiraclesâ€.
Indeed, Ohakim and his friend and neighbour further South, Governor Chibuike Amaechi of Rivers State, are nothing short of â€œmiracle governorsâ€. These were young men who dared to battle principalities and powers that governed the affairs of Nigeriaâ€™s current ruling party, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), when the likes of former President Olusegun Obasanjo, retired Colonel Ahmadu Ali, Chief Ojo Maduekwe, Chief Olabode George and Chief Tony Anenih bestrode it like possessed pirates.
There was no democracy, and the only due process was the process that Obasanjo and his conclave of loyalists pronounced as such. Amaechi won the PDP primaries in Rivers State but Obasanjo described his victory as â€œK-leggedâ€ and gave the governorship ticket to a man who had been asked to withdraw for Amaechi, Sir Celestine Omehia.
In Ohakimâ€™s Imo State, the story was similar in a different way, if you permit the expression. Ohakim did not win the PDP primaries, far from it. It was Ifeanyi Araraume who won it, but Obasanjo and his men gave the ticket to Engineer Charles Ugwu.
The miracle in this race was that when Ohakim saw that this had turned into a game of cash-and-carry that he was no longer up to in the PDP, he decided to go to the Progressive Peoples Alliance (PPA), at least to be on the ballot.
Eventually, the PDP candidates burnt themselves out and the party decided not to field a governorship candidate, an unprecedented decision by a ruling party in the history of this country. At first, its stakeholders in the state were encouraged to back the candidate of the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA), Mr. Martin Agbaso when the courts threw Ugwuh out of the race.
The election became abortive and the stakeholders now shifted their support to Ohakim who, despite leaving the PDP, was still one of theirs.
Ohakim is a great fan of boxing legend, Mohammed Ali. Ali once described the courage to challenge in a different way. He said (and I am not quoting his exact words) just when you are all bruised and panting from exhaustion, that is the time to go for one more round. You never win by quitting, throwing in the towel.
That is not the only reason that winners are not quitters. Winners are not quitters because even the Holy Scriptures have affirmed that the race is often not for the swift nor is victory for the strong. It is usually for those who have the courage to challenge, stay the course and push the limits.
Even Ohakim was grossly intimidated by the amount of money his opponents were withdrawing from banks to throw into the same race he was engaged in. Some of these people were known acolytes of Obasanjo who sacrificed their sterling careers and public esteem to promote the former presidentâ€™s ignominious tenure elongation parodies.
If Ohakimâ€™s victory was a fluke, many avenues have offers themselves to ensure he was unseated. There were nearly 20 court cases challenging his election, none of which succeeded. Many media houses wrote libellous stories and most of them were dragged to court.
Almost all of them came back to apologise and settle out of court. He presides over a state where the PDP controls nearly all members of the House of Assembly. But his approach to coalition building and constitution of a government of state unity have been so effective that Imo State is one of the most stable in the country. With this stability, Ohakim can afford to see big visions and dream big dreams, challenging new frontiers and pushing the limits.
People who come to power the way Ohakim, Peter Obi of Anambra and Amaechi did can always look the elite in their states in the face and tell them to take a walk. All over the country, there is a new cult of cankerworm elites who wait patiently for the month to end and the federal allocation to their states to arrive.
Then they repair to the government house or local government secretariats to collect their shares. In Imo State, they used to call themselves â€œCity Fathersâ€. They took up rooms in Imo Concorde Hotel, with their jeeps and expensive cars parked in its grounds waiting like vultures for the month to end. Ohakim disbanded all of them and scattered all illegal siren-convoys.
In Anambra State, Obi ignores them. He does not stop their siren-convoys, but he does not give them the money. We are waiting for Obi to tell us his own story.
We want to hear from Fashola, Oshiomhole, Amaechi, Segun Mimiko of Ondo, Sule Lamido of Jigawa and even the Presidentâ€™s overnight son in-law in Bauchi, Alhaji Isa Yuguda. We also want to hear from Bola Tinubu and Orji Uzor Kalu, the story of their comprehensive conquest of Obasanjo.
We want to hear from the few who dared to challenge when the obstacle seemed insurmountable. Through his three books and many of his illuminating speeches, Ohakim is relighting the candle that went off in Igboland after the era of the founding fathers of Eastern Nigeria, Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, and Dr. Michael Okpara and Dr. Sam Mbakwe, came to a close without a smooth change of baton.
Owerri is assuming the status of the new intellectual capital of the South East.
This can only come from a man who still makes out time to write despite the tough schedule of governing a state.