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Positive people

By Donu Kogbara
THIS column frequently criticises Nigerians who pollute our society, do their jobs lousily and are nasty pieces of work. Today, I am in a cheerful mood (for a change!) and am going to concentrate on Nigerians who are getting it right professionally or politically or within the contexts of their personal lives.

Igali as Chief of Staff: Jonathan’s positive change

PRESIDENT Goodluck Jonathan has, in the past, been accused (by me and many other commentators) of hiring people who are incompetent and/or unpleasant to fill important positions. But I don’t know ANYONE who is complaining about his recent decision to make Ambassador Godknows Igali his Chief Of Staff.

Igali, a former Ambassador to Sweden and former Permanent Secretary, is a seasoned, polished and highly intelligent public servant.

But I’m not applauding his appointment purely on the basis that he has a big brain, relevant experience and an impressive CV because Nigeria is full of people who have big brains, relevant experience and impressive CVs. Igali’s solid academic qualifications and appropriate career credentials are, therefore, not what make him special.

The thing that makes Igali stand out from the crowd of senior personnel who populate the corridors of power is his excellent character.

He is widely acknowledged as one of the most outstandingly decent men to emerge from  the Niger Delta. He is loyal to his roots but detribalised, pragmatic but principled, humble but self-confident, creative but down to earth, relaxed but rigorous and strong but compassionate. Furthermore, he somehow manages to combine a wonderful sense of humour with immense seriousness.

Igali’s presence in the Villa will greatly enhance Mr. President’s image and effectiveness. And I salute the Commander-in-Chief for having the foresight to recruit such a safe pair of hands. With Igali at his side, he can sleep soundly.

Last but not least!

Kudos to Dame Aleruchi Cookey-Gam JP, a onetime SSG and Attorney General of Rivers State who is currently the Administrator of the Greater Port Harcourt City Development Authority…for receiving the title of Ibifriwangibo (Achiever) from His Royal Majesty, the Amayanabo of Opobo Kingdom.

Dame Cookey-Gam (an Ikwerre native) is linked to Opobo via her late husband, Architect Roland Cookey-Gam. And the thing that strikes me most forcibly about her in-laws’ eagerness to honour her is that it is unusual.

Since many Nigerian women are despised by their husbands’ people, no matter how successful they are (and Dame Cookey-Gam is a consummate professional), I think it is fair to say that she must have been an exceptionally good wife, mother and friend to the people whose son and brother she married.

So bravo to her…and also to my darling sister, Lela, who turned 50 last weekend and has so often been the shoulder I cry on, the staunch supporter who dashes me cash when I am broke and the cement that holds our family together.

While Mr President and various governors were being inaugurated in Nigeria, I was in London celebrating this landmark birthday with Lela.

And the reason I’m in such a sunny frame of mind at the moment is that we had an absolute ball at a party that can only be described as fantastically uplifting. And I hope that you will all  join me in praying that my kind, clever sibling lives another 50 years.

A shining example

A girlfriend who works for the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency, NIMASA, has nothing but praise for her new Director-General, Mr Ziakede Patrick Akpobolokemi, and has just told me a nice story about him.

Apparently, Akpobolokemi recently decided to go overseas for a short training programme. So his staff organised estacode (a foreign exchange allowance that government officials get to cover costs like hotel bills while they are abroad).

But the trip had to be cancelled at the last minute because the foreign embassy to which Akpobolokemi had applied for a visa did not deliver the visa on time.

Most Naija VIPs would’ve hung onto the money. And nobody would have batted an eyelid if Akpobolokemi had done so. But, much to everyone’s amazement, he insisted on returning the estacode, which amounted to thousands of dollars.

We definitely need more men like him in the system. But Nigeria has a way of frustrating those who possess integrity; and I hope that corrupt elements do not begin to regard his laudable honesty as a threat.

A welcome rapprochement

I WOULD like to commend my Governor, Rotimi Amaechi, for finally making peace with his former mentors, Dr Peter Odili and Justice Mary Odili.

Amaechi spent a large chunk of his formative years as a member of the Odili household and was treated like an adored son and trusted political heir until a bitter difference of opinion pushed them into different camps.

Because of this rancorous rift and the dramatic legal tussle that ensued, Amaechi’s de facto parents were not there when he was eventually sworn in as governor in October 2007. And it saddened me that they did not witness his first moment of glory at close quarters and with proud, joyful hearts.

Some Rivers people hate Odili with a burning passion and angrily told me off whenever I expressed the view that Amaechi should, as the younger person, do everything possible to patch up this quarrel. And some of these detractors constantly urged him to completely forget about the predecessor he once loved.

But I can be very sentimental. Whatever Odili’s faults may be, he and his family were very good to Amaechi for a very long time. And I’ve always felt that the tensions that have kept them apart in recent years could never be as significant as the emotional bonds that kept them together for a couple of decades.

I like to think of their longstanding closeness as an ocean…and of their dispute as a mere drop in this ocean. And I was pleased when I heard that Amaechi had resolved this issue and that the Odilis were there during his second moment of glory…when he was sworn in to serve a another gubernatorial term last Sunday.

Congrats to Amaechi for having the maturity and generosity of spirit to get over this hurdle. Congrats also to the few people around Amaechi – Nyesom Wike, his Chief of Staff, for example – who did not maliciously pour fuel on the fire when hostilities were raging because they realised that our state would be a happier place if folks who had once been friends could become friends again.

As for those who are not part of this reconciliation and feel betrayed because they stood by Odili when he and Amaechi were on bad terms: I am begging them to please forgive and forget and look forwards rather than backwards.

This, by the way, is an appropriate time to hail Amaechi and Justice Mary Odili for their recent elevations to the Chairmanship of the Nigerian Governors’ Forum and Supreme Court. I am sure that they will both perform magnificently.

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