April 21, 2024

My IPOB turbulent moments under Ikpeazu — Apollos, Ex-gov’s spokesman

My IPOB turbulent moments under Ikpeazu — Apollos, Ex-gov’s spokesman

•Says being CPS made him public enemy
•‘Those after my job planted spies to monitor me’

He stubbornly abandoned his training where he was enrolled to learn automobile repairs to become a newspaper vendor and against all odds, went back to school to pursue his dream. That’s the grass-to-grace story of Enyinnaya Apollos, the former media adviser, Chief Press Secretary, and personal assistant to the immediate past governor of Abia State, Dr. Okezie Ikpeazu. While sharing his experience working as the governor’s spokesperson, Apollos reveals that managing information during the Indigenous People of Biafra, IPOB, protests was the most turbulent moment for him. He also reveals how those who were after his job planted spies to monitor him. Excerpt:

What’s the experience like from being a journalist to a public servant?
I would rather start by sharing my experience on how I became a journalist because I didn’t know I was going to become a journalist. When I joined my father in Port Harcourt, he enrolled me in a mechanic workshop to be trained in vehicle repairs at Elechi Beach. I stayed for one year and four months in the mechanic workshop and I told my father that I didn’t want to become a mechanic, that I would want to further my education. My father told me that there were no plans for me to further my education.

Somehow, I was stubborn, and during the period I was pushing back and forth, my father died. I decided to join my uncle, Dee Elijah, who was a newspaper distributor, in the job. I later became a vendor myself. So while I was selling newspapers, I picked a serious interest in becoming a journalist so that people would also read what I write and vendors would also sell newspapers I contributed in writing. To achieve my dream of being a journalist, I had to also abandon my vendor job for further education. I got admitted to study Mass Communication at the Federal Polytechnic, Oko in Anambra State. While in school, I picked interest in writing for campus publications.

When I was done with my Ordinary National Diploma, OND, in December 2006, I went to Lagos in January 2007 for my one-year Industrial Training (IT), and luckily for me, I was offered the opportunity to do my internship with the Nation newspaper through Sam Omatseye who took me to the newsroom and handed me over to the then Group Political Editor, Mr. Gabriel Akinadewo. While in the Nation, Mr. Gabrial picked serious interest in me and mentored me.

By the end of my internship in December 2007, Mr. Gabriel asked me to join him at a new newspaper that was about to be unveiled and I accepted the offer. That’s how I became a reporter with the Nigerian Compass Newspaper in 2008. I became a full-fledged journalist, that is, from being a trainee with the Nation newspaper to gaining employment at the Compass. I was later transferred to Abuja from Lagos and while in Abuja, I became the Judiciary correspondent, and later, the National Assembly correspondent.

Greatest Achievement
In 2013, I left the Compass and joined the Union Newspaper. Just like Mr. Gabriel, my new boss, Mr. Emma Agu, was also interested in seeing me succeed. He was always encouraging me to do more. So for me, being in the newsroom was one of the most beautiful things that happened in my life because it gave me the opportunity to meet those that I would ordinarily not have met.

The joy of achieving my dream of becoming a journalist is something I will never exchange for anything. In fact, it’s the greatest achievement for me that from nowhere, I became what I had wanted to become after I stubbornly told my father that I didn’t want to be an auto mechanic.

So, how did you find yourself in government?
Well, sometime around 2013, when I was still at the National Assembly as a correspondent, Hon. Uzo Azubuike, who was representing Aba North and Aba South Federal Constituency, told me of his plans to run for governor of Abia State in 2015 and asked me to join his team. So we started working for the realization of his gubernatorial aspiration.

However, sometime in January 2014, he withdrew from the race and requested that we support Dr. Okezie Ikpeazu. He said Ikpeazu was going to be the next governor. Then, I didn’t have a personal relationship with Dr. Ikpeazu but I had a senior friend, Chief Raymond Aliga, who was very close to him. It was Aliga who introduced me to Ikpeazu as a journalist from Obingwa based in Abuja. After I was introduced to him, Ikpeazu asked that I join his team.

Joining Politics
Each time they came to Abuja, they would call me. In one of such visits, Ikpeazu asked me when I would be relocating to Abia and I told him that I would get back to him. So after that encounter, I went to the office and informed my boss, Mr. Emma Agu, that I would be relocating to Abia to join a governorship aspirant. Emma said: “Appolos, I don’t want to lose you because you are one of our best hands.

So, write your resignation letter and give it to me. I will not submit it. If your principal fails to pick his party’s ticket, come and have your job back, and if he picks the ticket, I will submit your letter.” I did as he requested and left Abuja for Abia in February 2014, and by May, Ikpeazu’s name had become very prominent in Abia, everybody now knows about him. When it was obvious that he was going to win the primaries, Emma told me that he would turn in my resignation letter to allow me to concentrate fully on the campaigns. So that’s how my job with the Union newspaper ended.

Corridors of Power
By October 2014, Ikpeazu became the PDP flag bearer after winning the party’s nomination. By then, I doubled as his personal assistant and media assistant. By 2015, he was elected the 4th executive governor of Abia State and that was how I found myself on the corridors of power. However, I didn’t immediately become the Chief Press Secretary when he was sworn in. I continued working with him as his assistant because, on his ground, he preferred me to be around him. So, first, I was a personal assistant/media assistant to the governorship candidate and later, personal assistant, Chief Press Secretary, and Special Adviser to the governor. I was his CPS for three years. After the 2019 election in which Governor Ikpeazu was reelected, he appointed me as his Special Adviser on Media.

How was your experience as a CPS/Media Adviser to the governor?
It was a wonderful experience. Like I said, I started as a PA to the governor but about one year in the life of that administration, the governor appointed me as CPS in June 2016. One thing I will not fail to tell you is that at first, I didn’t understand the politics office but as a journalist, I knew I would always navigate doing my core professional demands of the job. However, the politics and political interests of people I would like to describe as political tag-along were intriguing. I was lucky I had someone like Hon. Aniekan Umana, who was one of the longest-serving commissioners in Akwa Ibom State. We had known each other before I got into government. He is like an elder brother to me, very dependable and very helpful.

Immediately Umana heard I had been appointed the CPS, he called me and said: ‘So you have finally taken this thankless job? I will tell you one thing. The only person that will want you to succeed in this job is your governor. Every other person will want you to fail so they will take your job. So be careful and ensure that you do not do anything without the approval of your principal.’ So when he counselled me, I took it very seriously because he was speaking from experience. My former editor, Mr Gabriel also called and advised me to be careful and always seek the consent of my boss before taking any action. Luckily for me, I must tell you, I had unhindered access to my boss. So the issue of getting approval from him was an easy one for me.

Public Enemy
Nevertheless, being a CPS to the governor attracted lots of enemies you don’t even know. You will also become an enemy to some professional colleagues and political hangers-on. Because your name is always on the news, they assume that this person is close to the governor and, therefore, should be very rich. For them, you must answer when they call, meet all their financial demands, and solve all their problems. So that alone attracted a whole lot of negative energy. A lot of people who are close to you are not necessarily close to you because they like you or want you to succeed, they are close to you because of the office you occupy. It’s all about what they would gain.

One laughable experience was when someone close to me, a senior friend in the administration, planted people around my office to spy on me. I didn’t know until one of those he planted confessed it to me and told me to be careful. But that senior friend is someone I could vouch for that he would be watching my back. You will also encounter colleagues from outside the state who would want to show you that they have access to the governor or to create the impression that you are not on top of your job. However, in the midst of all of that, I was able to navigate and pull through because I had unrestricted access to my principal. So I was always close to him. The experience is very weird in some sense. Of course, in life, you experience both the good, the bad, and the ugly.

Did you ever advise your principal on something, and he refused to take your advice and it backfired?

There are certain things that you would give professional advice and it would be turned down but you will still carry out what has been agreed even if it backfires. It is still your principal’s decision even when you have suggested it. It is his discretion to say yes or no to your advice or suggestion but that is why you are there because some of the things that they want you to take to the public will be raw, but as a newsman, you know how to take it and package it to the public with the right language and appropriate channel.

Can you take us through your most difficult moments while in office?
I came into office within the period that my principal was removed by the Court of Justice Okon Abang. It was a very turbulent time for me. Another time was during the IPOB protests and Operation Python Dance. It was a trying period for us. The IPOB protest was at its peak and it was difficult to manage information flying around the space including fake news and false alarms. For example, somebody would call you and say, ‘CPS, where are you people now? They are killing people somewhere. What are you people doing?’ and I would have to call the relevant people to check. So, if you are not on top of your job or you don’t relate to people from all walks of life, it would be more difficult. So, that was the most trying moment of my life as the governor’s spokesperson. Managing information at that time was a challenging one. I am glad we pulled through.

You vied to represent your people as a lawmaker in the 2023 polls, what motivated you and what was your experience?
It was my right as a citizen and I decided to exercise it. However, there were pushes from people who felt that I had what it takes to represent Obingwa West in the Abia State House of Assembly. It was a very keenly contested race, but everything went bad immediately it was discovered that NASS members excluded statutory delegates and gave only the three-man delegate powers to vote at the party primaries when they were enacting the 2022 Electoral Act.

Again, when President Buhari refused to sign the amended Electoral Act, a very close friend of mine at the PDP national secretariat called me and said, ‘If you are not in charge of the three-man delegates, don’t spend your money.’ By then, the three-man delegate for the party primary had been selected and I had no input. It was going to be a wasted effort for me, so I decided to walk away.