By Emeka Mamah
CHIEF Okechukwu Itanyi,National Commissioner in National Communications Communication, NCC, served as deputy governor to Senator Chimaroke Nnamani between 1999 and 2007. In this interview, Itanyi, who will be 50 years on November 16 and shares the same birthday with the first President of Nigeria and Owelle of Onitsha, late Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, debunks the notion that deputy governors idle away in office and how their (Nnamani/Itanyi) Administration started well but ended badly by wasting the last four years in office fighting perceived enemies and how he managed his boss at difficult times and why he fell out with him in their last days in office. Excerpts:
How did you grow up?
I was born into the family of late Hon. Edmund Azoronnia Duke Itanyi and Madam Regina Itanyi, both of them business people. My father was of course a politician of note also. He was the Majority Leader, in the old Anambra State House of Assembly during the defunct Nigerian People’s Party, NPP led by Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe. My childhood was very interesting because my parents were well to do. I can remember that we had the only television set in our street at Onitsha and I went to the best primary school in Onitsha, the Santa Maria.
That early part of my life was very interesting and full of very pleasant memories. Of course, the Nigeria/Biafran civil war broke out and we took flight and that period was not one of my very good memories, because we lived in people’s houses. We were refugees in our own land but because of my father’s resourcefulness, we had access to food. Of course we also had relief materials. After the civil war, we came down to my home town in Ukehe, Igboetiti local government, Enugu State where I completed my primary school. That part of my early life was also very pleasant because I also had the opportunity to mix with relatives, friends and associates. I also had the opportunity to know my family history and move around my home town; get to know my dialect very well.
From there, I went to the Dennis Memorial Grammar School, Onitsha, Anambra State, where I had an interesting secondary school and then moved to the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, UNN, where I read Animal Health. At UNN, I had an interesting social life. I was the Chief of Party of Beta Sigma Fraternity; a social group and I also had the traditional title of Onowu of Isa village. From UNN, I moved to the Ohio State University, USA where I had another first degree and Masters in Business Administration. After that, I had a short stint with a consulting firm and came back to Nigeria to join the banking industry. I spent about eight years in the banking industry before setting up my own business.
However, one thing led to the other and I found myself in politics. I believe that I went into politics because I wanted to fill a vacuum. When my father passed on and his friends and associates felt that the vacuum he left should be filled by me and that was how I went into politics, ran for the House of Assembly under the Democratic Party of Nigeria, DPN and won but that election was cancelled. I also ran for the local government chairmanship of Igboetiti under the then All People’s Party, APP, and lost and the former Governor of Enugu State, Chimaroke Nnamani picked me as his deputy.
I will say that my eight years service as Deputy Governor was interesting, challenging and fulfilling. It was an interesting period for me; being the number two citizen of Enugu State and playing my role positively to contribute to the improvement of the welfare of our people. It was challenging because it was a very difficult period for me; managing the governor and other stakeholders was very difficult for me. This was because the governor had his own likes and dislikes and personally, I like to be open_ minded. I like to associate with both friends and foe but of course, the governor drew the line between his friends and foes and this was difficult for me to manage. And of course, we also had many shortcomings and successes. I believe that those shortcomings overshadowed our successes. After that of course, I went into private enterprise again and in August last year, the President appointed me as an Executive Commissioner in the Nigerian Communication Commission in charge of stakeholders management and that is where I am presently.
The communications industry is another interesting and challenging sector because, presently, it is one of the major players in the economy and. The potentials are huge and I believe that I will have the opportunity to contribute positively in taking the communications industry to the next level. The plan right now is to see if we can move into fixed telephony because, presently, we have achieved success in mobile telephony and we want to see if we can move into fixed telephony to provide Nigerians with land lines; provide fibre connections to homes and other consumers and increase the broadband access for Nigerians and at the end of the day, improve the quality of telecommunications services at affordable rates.
How do you feel at 50 and sharing the same birthday with the late Zik of Africa?
I believe that this is the time for reflection and introspection. It is not the time to throw parties or engage in all kinds of frivolous activities. It is an honour to share the same birthday with the great Zik but I also believe it is providence that I was born on the 16th of November, 1960, the year of our independence. To a large extent, it has influenced my life quite a lot. I am a very loyal person; I am committed to whatever I decide to do and I believe in team work and comradeship. Whenever I am in an association, I try as much as possible to live up to expectations by contributing my own quota positively; so I believe that these are the attributes that I share with the great Zik. The great Zik was a very loyal person, committed to whatever he believed in and pursued his goals to the point of whatever was his target. So, to that extent we share the same attributes.
Those who knew your father well said he was an extrovert but you seem to be an introvert. What would you say is the reason for this?
You are right. My father was an extrovert. He was a very social person but I am more deliberate than my father was. I am more introspective than my father was; I take my time to take decisions than my father did. I am a more reserved person than my father was but I believe that this is what I got from my mother to an extent. I also believe in thinking things over; being pragmatic about things and about events. But I believe that my father was really very successful in his life style. He achieved quite a lot, not minding the fact that he had limited education and that he came from a humble back ground. He easily made friends, succeeded in his businesses because it was easy for him to engage people and make friends.
You said that your duty as former deputy governor of Enugu State was to manage the governor who was your principal and other stakeholders. To what extent did you succeed in managing Governor Nnamani?
It was very difficult because, as I said earlier, Dr. Nnamani always drew a line between his likes and dislikes and if you cross that line, you had a problem. I am not that kind of person. I do not have a thin line between my likes and dislikes. I like to keep an open mind. If you are my foe today, I believe that you can be my friend tomorrow because anything can happen in this life. If you are my worst enemy today, you can be my best friend tomorrow. I like to leave it at that and because of that I did not really feel that I should go all the way to engage the so_called opposition of government. I strongly believe that they were indigenes of Enugu State and they should be accorded their own dues or respect, especially, the elder statesmen like Jim Nwobodo, Ken Nnamani, Okwesilieze Nwodo among others. They deserve respect because if I get to that level, I would like to be given my own dues; some respect. But that did not happen when we were in government and I felt that that was wrong. So, that led to my coming up with ways and means to manage the governor because whatever you do, Nnamani was the governor and the chief executive of the state. Of course, I also had to manage all the other stakeholders, in and out of government so that it would not look as if I was fighting the government. To that extent, I tried as much as possible to be a stabilizing factor in that government and also tried as much as possible not to be the problem but the solution to most of the problems that came up at that time.
Do you think that you succeeded in the task you gave to yourself?
I did because if I decided to fight the governor as witnessed in other states, we would have been worse off than we were. I felt that my major responsibility was support the governor in whatever he did and of course, to advise him if I felt strongly about any issue, which was what I always did. I always advised him on a personal note and never did that in the public. Even at the state Executive Council, I never advised him in the presence of the other members of the Exco or in that setting but whenever I felt strongly about an issue; I went to see him personally to advise him. However, whether he took my advice or not is another issue altogether. So, I believe that I did the much that I could to stabilize that government and to make sure that the government improved the welfare of our people.
What is your take on the general belief that most deputy governors idle and that as deputy governor you were under utilized?
I was very busy in that government (laughter). You might not believe it but most of the functions that we had, I represented the governor in such meetings. I came to Abuja more than the governor did to attend official functions. In the state, I still went to more functions than the governor did, of course, to represent him. I also had my own personal commitments that I had to attend to; so I was a very busy man. Sometimes, I would leave my house that is the Deputy Governor’s Lodge in the morning and would only have time to come back for a late lunch and off I went again to a series of government functions. Sometimes, I had functions from morning till mid_night. So, I was very busy. Maybe, people felt that I was not useful but I believe I was very useful to that government and the facts are there on the ground to show that I was very busy and contributed quite a lot to the success of that government.
So would you say deputy governors are properly utilised in the country?
It actually depends on the governor and the setting. Most of the deputy governors are being utilised fully because some of them had specific responsibilities assigned to them. Those who do not have specific responsibilities have other responsibilities like; representing the governors at official functions which are numerous. If the governor decides to keep a Deputy Governor busy, he will be very busy. And even if the deputy governor is not busy officially, I believe such a deputy governor has all things to engage himself. On a personal basis, he can create opportunities to keep himself busy. The Deputy Governor has a lot of opportunities to keep himself busy.
You fell out publicly with Nnamani during the 2007 governorship race where you were an aspirant under the People’s Democratic P, PDP against his wish. What really happened?
We fell out because I gave him a condition, and that was that he should handover to my zone which is Enugu North and that if he did not handover, then I would contest. I gave him the option to handover to any person he wanted to in my zone; it did not have to be me and that if he failed to do that, then I would contest. That was the basis under which I contested and of course after that, we fell apart.
Have you been on talking terms?
Since then, we have not really talked much. We have talked on a few occasions. He called me to congratulate me on this appointment and I appreciate that. As far as I am concerned, what happened between us wasn’t personal. I had my own plans and he had his plans for himself and whether it worked out for him or me I cannot say. I believe we don’t talk often but we have a cordial relationship. I have not seen him physically since we left office but if I see him tomorrow, I will greet him warmly because, we were in office for eight years. He was the governor and I was his deputy and as far as I am concerned, we should have a cordial relationship or maintain a cordial relationship.
Have you called him on your own?
I called him once to find out how he was doing and that was it.
If you met Nnamani what will you tell him or how will you engage him?
Well, I will find out how he is faring. I see him from time to time on the television at the Senate and I also read about him on the pages of newspapers, so basically, my interest would be how his family is doing and how his children are doing or how he is even doing personally. Apart from that, I think everything about Chimaroke Nnamani is really public, because he is a public figure.
You said your administration achieved many positive things and had negative developments that overshadowed the positive achievements. What were the positive achievements as well as the negative things that overshadowed them?
In our first four years in government, we achieved a lot. We built a number of hospitals or renovated them. We provided water to the people of the state and I think we invested in education and health sectors as well as infrastructural development like roads and so on. During our second term, I believe that we lost focus because instead of empowering and developing the state, we started fighting many people for no just cause. I am not that kind of person. Rather than fight, I would rather build bridges and that threw us off in our second term.
That of course led to increased insecurity in the state which led a lot of people not to visit Enugu State anymore because, they felt insecure.
However, I believe that this should not have been the case. We should have built on the successes we recorded in our first term in office. We probably lost that opportunity and like I always say, time waits for nobody.