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Okezie Ikpeazu at 51: Tribute to a People’s Governor

Ojo Maduekwe

Image: The author, Ojo Maduekwe

It’s been nearly five months since I joined the Abia State Government as a media aide to Governor Okezie Ikpeazu. During this period I have come to see that indeed, power has the ability to corrupt. Being a Special Assistant on Media to the governor means that I am one in many branches of the administration, and so people accord me respect as if I were in a position to make decisions that affect their lives.

The truth is, from the kind of personal requests I get, many think I do. On several occasions I have been approached to assist in getting a job with the government and have sometimes been asked to “help me talk to the governor” like I and my principal dine on the same table every day.

I am no more referred to as Mister or the prefix Mr attached to my name, rather I am called Honourable and the prefix Hon attached to my name. Sometimes others prefer to call me Onye Ishi, which in English translation means ‘one who is the head’ or in Pidgin English, Oga for short.

This pretentious show of respect does something to those whose idea of self-worth is attached to public perception about them. It corrupts their mind to think of themselves as powerful. They become pompous knowing that people think of them as having the power to control their lives.

If mere appointees can sometimes fall for this delusion, then imagine what can happen to a governor who in actual sense wields the power to affect people’s lives. Instances abound where Nigerian governors, both past and present, and some governor-wannabes act in a power-drunk manner.

Governor Ikpeazu, from all account, is different. So far, his act as governor has all been in tandem with his personality. People who knew him before he became governor say that the trappings of political office have not made him arrogant. Haven matured in age before becoming governor, I don’t see this new elevation impacting negatively on his humble personality.

Aside the need to have security details as the number one citizen of Abia, Governor Ikpeazu is more accessible than many lesser politicians. When not preoccupied with issues of governance, he picks his calls and replies his messages himself. He is also an attentive listener. After the first introduction, on two occasions where I needed to see him, he’s recognised me and called me by name. This was done without any re-introduction.

During a discussion with some of my colleagues on the nature of politics and some Nigerian politicians’ do-or-die approach to the practice, one of us remarked: “Gov does not play dirty politics like most politicians do”. Coming from a colleague who spends a great amount of time with our boss, this statement reminded me of the August 2 INEC office fire incidence in Obingwa LGA, and the oppositions failed attempt to blame the ruling PDP in the State.

Many observers who followed his emergence, first as the governorship candidate of the PDP before winning the election will find it hard to ascribe desperation to Governor Ikpeazu. He was never desperate to be governor, and from the other party’s incessant use of propaganda to influence narrative at the Tribunal, any reasonable person can tell who is desperate.

I once had a conversation with a staff at the Government House who said with a feeling of surprise that she can count the number of times Governor Ikpeazu visited his predecessor. If you’ve ever worked in the corridors of power, you’ll understand the significance of what the lady said.

It is believed that to remain in power, one must be close to the seat of power, or at least loiter at the corridor, and for this many people do anything, such as dressing like the governor. Some others follow him around during inspection of ongoing projects just so that the camera can capture them standing right behind him when he delivers his speech.

For many, this is not only free publicity but a bragging right. There’s something being seen with a governor does to one’s status. It fuels the Onye Ishi culture, which in itself is not borne out of respect but purely rent-seeking, where the one extending the accolade hopes that the receiving Onye Ishi would share some of the ‘bread’ gotten from the corridors of power.

The root of this trend lies in the uneven distribution of the State’s resources and Governor Ikpeazu’s vision of diversifying the State economy would go a long way in eradicating or mitigating this dehumanising trend, so that the commonwealth that was previously in the hands of a few Onye Ishi’s in politics can be accessed by a vast majority of Abians; people who like the governor, want to see Aba take its place as Nigeria’s SME capital.

His is a government by the people, of the people and for the people. Abians on their own freewill elected him governor; every Abian has equal access to the government; and ultimately, the Ikpeazu-led administration is for the people, as can be seen from its people-oriented projects.

During the State’s second press briefing on October 1, Governor Ikpeazu said that the aim of every project that his administration embarks upon is “to reduce poverty, unemployment and enhance prosperity of our people”. Earlier he had said: “we will return Abia back to the winning ways”. Before the infrastructure decadence that enveloped the State, Aba’s economic potentials had more attraction than the allure of power in Umuahia.

Governor Ikpeazu is bringing back the good old days. Through his actions as governor, he is leading by example. The one who is supposed to be the biggest of the Onye Ishi’s instead started by dropping every unnecessary accolade and has repeatedly asked to be judged by his works and how they affect the lives of Abians who elected him to serve them. In100 days and counting, Governor Ikpeazu is living up to this expectation.

A few achievements are a pointer to this new reality: the State is active on 31 road construction sites; the Education for Employment (E4E) programme has been launched to create an army of employable youths that will be needed to work in the industrial clusters being created. In the area of agriculture, according to Governor Ikpeazu, there are plans to make agriculture “exciting” so that Abians can “see the tomorrow in Agriculture”.

Every of the government’s policies are centred on Abians. The State is rising on the back of a liberated people whose entrepreneurial spirit will make Abia “the premier destination in Nigeria, West and Central Africa; for investors, shoppers, workers and tourists”. This is the Ikpeazu-led government’s ultimate aim: “to uplift the lives of Ndi Abia”.

Today, October 18, as Governor Ikpeazu marks his 51st birthday, Abians to whom he’s always put first are glad to refer to him as their governor.

•Maduekwe is Special Assistant on Media to Governor Ikpeazu

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