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The Courage to Challenge

By Ikedi Ohakim

The tough decision
ONE did not need the power of clairvoyance to see that the PDP primaries in Imo would hardly throw up the best candidate and that the party itself may implode before the general elections in 2007.

Courage2Having done a critical review of this scenario, I, just like in 2003, eventually came to the painful conclusion that I needed another platform if I wanted to keep  my dream of serving my state as governor through a democratic process, alive.

This decision was literally made for me as my choices were quite clear: Join the bandwagon and try to beat the moneybags at their own game or leave the party and experiment my own idea elsewhere. I chose the latter option.

But making this decision was not as easy as just waking up and saying “I’ve got to go”. When my resolution to quit the PDP and withdraw from its primaries was communicated to members of my team, sadness understandably descended on the camp.

Having toiled day and night with me trying to sell our own brand of politics of ideas against that of naira and kobo, this amazing brigade of young men and women, fired by ideals rather than a quest for power and position, could not understand why they had to quit midstream when, to them, our chances were good. I could understand their anxieties, though.

How were they going to, for instance, go out and face the poor traders who had eagerly contributed their widow’s mite at our countless stops at the markets or village squares, telling them a vote for us was a vote for the restoration of public schools?

That they should never trust anyone who hands them naira notes at campaign rallies. That such people would go into office with a hunger to recoup million folds that which they had given away. I had to continually re-assure them that we were only changing course, not the cause.

The decision to leave the PDP was all the more painful, especially given that I was one of the founders of the party, and through the years, I had made incalculable contributions in terms of materials and ideas, along with others of course, to make it the big, strong and popular party it had become in the state and around the country.

But in the end, I was ready to let all these go. I honestly do not believe that any trophy is worth any exertion not based on honour and integrity. For me, politics is sacrifice. Sacrifice only happens when in pursuit of an idea or substance borne out of a conviction.

Certainly, my convictions do not include politics without principle. The PDP we built had been hijacked by people who played by a different set of rules. And I knew where I was on that score. I could not play by those rules. In any case, I did not even have cheap money to throw around at the bazaar that the process had become. Yet I would not give up the cause and run.

I believed that I had earned the respect of my people through honest and selfless work and that these credentials were the best bargaining chips I had and needed to put on the table before them to consider me worthy to serve them in an even higher and more important capacity as governor.

I am not a newcomer to politics. The last twenty-five years of my adult life had been devoted to service to my community, state and nation and I am convinced beyond doubt that power is best earned, not bought. I first nursed the ambition of serving my people in an elective office in 1991on the platform of the National Republican Convention (NRC).

Chief Evan Enwerem, who I eventually supported and campaigned for, won the ticket of the party and went on to win the general elections and become governor in 1991. He appointed me Commissioner for Commerce and Industries in his administration between 1992 and 1993 when that dispensation was terminated. Earlier, my community, Okohia in Mbano, had voted me the national president of its very powerful town union at a relatively young age of 25. I held that office for nine years. Following this rare privilege, I had been conferred with the chieftaincy title of Ochinawata (he who governs at a young age).

At the risk of sounding immodest, I also have a popular market in Anara community in Imo State named after me in appreciation of services I rendered to that community. The traditional ruler, HRH Eze L.A.D Agbugba, was one of the oldest of his stock in the whole country and Anara is one of the largest communities in Imo State in terms of population. Years back, the town was steeped in internal conflict that had lasted for over twenty years.

Many of the prominent sons and daughters of the community had steered clear of the community because those who had attempted to reconcile the feuding parties in the past  had died mysteriously in the process. The town had, therefore, stagnated in terms of development. In spite of the fears expressed by my own relatives, I decided to get involved in the conflict.

And after forty-seven peace meetings and conferences which I hosted at my own costs at my Burma Retreat country home, the feuding parties buried the hatchet and embraced peace. The process of resolving the Anara conflict lasted a year, between 1992and 1993.

Amazed at my tenacity in pursuing the course of peace in their community and impressed by the selflessness of my efforts, especially as I hail from another town and could have looked the other way like many others, the traditional council of chiefs of Anara met and conferred on me the traditional title of Omeudo (the peacemaker) and also decided to rename the town market after me. I chose to tell this story today, not to be applauded or to attract adulation, but to show that, for me, service is a natural calling, and to underscore my belief that respect can be earned and not bought.

The Billionaire’s Slugfest
Before I made the decision to leave the PDP and pursue my dream elsewhere, I had done a lot of critical thinking and situational analysis. I figured that to run for the PDP primaries, matching the moneybags naira for naira, I would need at least two billion naira, going by my survey. As a marketing person and with the strategy I had designed, I would have pulled off the same feat with about N1billion. But here was my thinking: Even if I had that kind of money, I would use it to establish a micro-credit scheme for the youths of Imo State!

I reckoned that throwing all that money into a primary election would be a waste of vital resources that could be otherwise used to better the lot of the people. I also figured that even after all that expense, one may not emerge as party candidate, especially as one would have submitted himself to the same base methods of seeking power.

Finally, I admitted to myself that I was not among the richest contestants in that duel and if it all came down to money like it was turning out to be in the state, I could not fight against such billionaires as Tony Ezenna, Chairman of Orange Drugs, Festus Odimegwu, former Managing Director of Nigerian Breweries Plc, Hope Uzodinma, an oil magnate, and Ifeanyi Araraume, trader/senator for the governorship ticket of the state.

  Alhaji Tafawa Balewa, one of the men who superintended over laying the foundation stone for the Nigerian nation   Nelson Mandela, after spending 27 years in prison for standing up against apartheid, he went on to become the first black president of his country in 1994
Alhaji Tafawa Balewa, one of the men who superintended over laying the foundation stone for the Nigerian nation                                     Nelson Mandela, after spending 27 years in prison for standing up against apartheid, he went on to become the first black president of his country in 1994

I was determined to run for the general election, not just the primaries. I was resolved not to allow the error of 1999 repeat itself. That year, I had contested for the senatorial ticket of Okigwe District on the platform of the PDP. Although I officially won the party primaries running a campaign founded on ideas and not gold and silver, I lost to the intrigues of party elders. The man who miraculously was named the party flag bearer used to be the chairman of All Peoples Party (APP), the rival party of the PDP in the state.

I filed a petition with the PDP electoral panel in Abuja. After the committee’s consideration, it was resolved that the ticket was duly mine. I have this stated in black and white. But by the time we arrived Owerri, we were told that the date for the fielding or replacement of candidate had expired. That was how I lost the ticket. I still wanted to fight for my ticket but sentiments soon set in. Pressures were mounted on me from many quarters to support Araraume since he is my kinsman. And because I was not desperate for power, I decided to honour those who approached me and accede to their request.

This time, I was determined not to fall into the trap of the power cabal. I had seen the signs of their activities and although I knew it would be a tough call, I was ready to fight back.

I have never been one to shy away from a challenge, especially when I believe in what I am fighting for. I must have inherited this trait from my father, Maxwell, and he, from his own father before him, Ohakim Emeaso. These two men before me and many others of my heritage have been known to stand up for what is right even at the risk of their discomfort or their lives.

My grandfather, Ohakim Emeaso, was a great man by all the standards of his time. He was a big land owner, his land running into hundreds of acres; a big farmer with endless stretches of cultivated land sown all around the town and yam barns that spoke to his wealth.

He owned the entire land area popularly called Uhualoka. Emeaso had a large family, with seven wives and so many children no one bothered to count them. And because of the vastness of his estate, the abundance of his farm yield and the size of his family, Ohakim Emeaso was one of the most respected men in the town. He was a “big man”. He enjoyed near royal status.

Ohakim Emeaso was also a tough and stubborn man. When the whiteman came and invaded the town and everyone was surrendering to his authority, Emeaso refused to pledge his allegiance. He refused to accept the whiteman’s rule and opted to fight him instead even at great risk to himself, his family, wealth and estate. He could have parleyed with the British who were looking for local leaders to execute their indirect rule policy.

This arrangement would have ensured that he kept his wealth and still retain the respect of his people. But Emeaso believed that the white man’s occupation of his ancestral land was wrong, and he refused to negotiate with what he was sure was wrong. He fought the white man, risking all he had accumulated all his life, and lost nearly all. He lost his seven wives to that struggle and lost more than half his children. But stubbornly, he refused to give up and give in to foreign occupation.

My grandmother, Ada Ohakim, was his last wife. She was the daughter of Ezeala Odugboro, a well known wrestler and warrior from the neighbouring town of Umuokpukpara, now Ezihe, who offered his daughter to my grandfather in marriage as a tribute to his courage and valour in standing up against the white man.

My father, Maxwell, was no different from his father, Emeaso. He believed in the principle of one-man-one-wife, having embraced Christianity and been baptised in the Anglican Church. But for several years after he married my mother, the couple remained without a child.

Pressure came from everywhere in the rural town of Okohia in the 50s for him to take another wife, not the least from my grandfather who married several wives himself. The old man could not understand why a man should stick to one wife when he could have as many as he wanted and even boost his standing in the community by so doing.

It was more mystifying to him that my father remained committed to his marriage in spite of its childlessness. He brought pressure to bear on his son, threatening him with all that is frightening, but Maxwell would not budge. He believed that standing with his wife was the right thing to do, and that was precisely what he did. In time, his wife became pregnant and I was born. My mother was to go on to have two other children, my sister, Ngozi, and my brother, Emmanuel.

Real men stand for something and stand up for what they believe. There are people who would call this courage.
Courage is to stand up for what one believes in, even in the face of challenges that may sometimes include danger and threat to one’s life. Change is never made by men who stand back, stand down or stand away. It is made by men who stand up!

It takes courage to follow your conviction when people do not share those convictions even if they believe in the views. Nobody thought my chances with my new party, the Progressive Peoples Alliance (PPA), were bright, even if they believed in me. But for me, the PPA held a lot of attractions. One, I realised that its manifesto is youth-oriented and progressive in its entirety.

I found the leader of PPA, the then governor of Abia State, Chief Orji Uzor Kalu, to be a practical and charismatic leader in his own right. Indeed, we both had come a long way together. Before the PDP was formed in 1998, Kalu and I had formed Igbo United Congress, IUC, alongside some other prominent Igbo sons.

He was the national president while I was the vice president. IUC was one of the groups that coalesced into All Nigeria Congress, ANC, which transformed to PDP in 1998. At the PDP, I was a member of the National Finance Committee which Alhaji Abubakar Rimi headed then as chairman.

So, here was I now in the PPA at the eve of the general elections, ready to square up against the governorship candidates of several other parties, including the PDP, which I had spurned because of its unacceptable tactics of choosing its candidate. Here was I now, ready to try out my politics of ideas and ideals against that which I had rejected as politics of bread and butter.

True, the positive influence of certain historic forces cannot be denied in the flourishing and eventual success of our quest: we were in the right party at the right time; a time when the people had grown tired and weary of the old and rustic ways of elite politics which excluded the very people that the politicians sought to serve. But even more important in this success perhaps were visionary ideas, critical thinking and planning plus physically draining and mentally exhausting hard work which we invested.

It was about the courage to challenge the status and to stand firm in ones belief. We must not fail to share our testimony with regard to making hard choices in split seconds several times or taking other countless strategic steps without the luxury of time right from the moment we hit the streets on PDP’s platform in 2006 and when providence changed our course and directed us to nest with PPA. The uncommon things we did that undoubtedly helped create the coalition and a new brand uncorrupted by the carnalities of money politics, helped us win thousands of supporters silently and eventually the election.

Before we joined the PPA, the party was less regarded in Imo because of its newness. Those running the affairs of the party in the state were looked upon as paperweights by so-called political big wigs and political observers alike as was the case with the PDP in Imo State in 1998. We brought in our own structure and started to motivate members to work.

The resources we would have used to run for the primaries in PDP were invested in propagating the PPAin the state. Prudence was our watch-word in disbursing the funds we had. Instead of spending money on purchase of fancy vehicles to donate to so-called “godfathers” from ward to state levels, we chose a cost-effective option of leasing the vehicles and drivers for the period.


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