By Mazi Ogbonna /
Most recently, in a private conversation with a politician who has been out of political favour for a while, he told me that what he misses a lot is the use of siren blaring escort vehicles(SBEV) when he moves about town. For readers who do not understand, SBEV is a security arrangement that allows VIPs same right of way as an ambulance or fire fighting vehicles. Often times too, security officers manning the SBEV also carry horse whips for flogging “ motorists who fail to clear the way or just anyone suspected as an obstacle(Recall that it was the mismanagement of such an incident involving governor Ohakim convoy and a Catholic priest that partly led to the lost of Imo State to APGA in 2011). In other words, his prime reason for wanting his senatorial position back is to satisfy his mean personal interests and not those of the voters. Unfortunately, this despicable siren mentality is the common denominator of majority of those occupying leadership positions in Igbo states. The way and manner they disobey traffic rules and trample on the rights of other road users is just the mirror image of the recklessness they apply in their representative role in political office. They see themselves as accountable to nobody, God inclusive. They do not even bother to think of what history will record about them as deceiving servants of the people. This is in sharp contrast to the leadership style offered by many of our past heroes, one of which is, late Dr. M.I. Okpara, the former premier of the defunct Eastern region. In appreciation of his selfless service to Ndigbo, his name has been immortalized through the naming of various public institutions after him. At Umuahia alone, three places go by his name: Okpara Auditorium, Okpara Square, Michael Okpara University of Agiculture, Umudike. In each of these public places/institutions, stands his imposing statue. Why did the founding fathers of Abia State recommend the erection of the images of Dr. M.I. Okpara in public places? Is it to serve as a mere decoration? No! Far from it. Every statue anywhere in the world is there to send a strong value- laden message to succeeding generations of the populace. As the statue of Liberty represents those values that really make United States of America great, so Ndigbo of Abia State desire to have proven leadership values as represented in Okpara written in marble so that aspiring leaders could imbibe them for the dethronement of the impunity associated with siren mentality. The statue at the University is there to instil those values to the young and old alike as they enter and leave that great citadel of learning.
Now, let's explore a bit of those values Okpara stood for as a leader which, most painfully, have been thrown overboard by the infiltrators of Igbo leadership positions.
As premier of the defunct Eastern Nigeria, Okpara applied the principle of “ you first taught” at Methodist College, Uzuakoli (unfortunately, that motto has been mutilated at the current sign post of the school). He devoted his time developing others to the extent that he had no time to build himself a mansion in his home village- a madness in vogue with current Igbo political leaders. In a pay back gesture for his love of others, he had his home in his village built by contributions from Ndigbo.
Vision, Equity and fairness.
While in government, he recognized the natural endowment of his region with rich agricultural elements and decided to base his development thrusts on it. Equitably, he instituted and distributed cash crop projects all through the region which eventually became cash cows for Eastern Nigeria. He sold same idea to other regions his conviction that Nigeria can only thrive on agriculture. Like a prophecy come true, Nigerian Federal government is today rolling out agric policies to substitute oil as the mainstay of her economy.
Thus, you find cattle ranch, Cocoa, Rubber, cashew and Palm plantations all over the region. Today, the areas where these projects are located are still living big on them. The largest source of palm kernel nuts add supplying the needed raw material for palm kernel oil extracting industries is Akwa Ibom with large expanse of palm plantations. The rubber plantations of Calabar and Ozu Abam supply rubber for local and export uses. In the area of industrial development and tourism, he set up the ENDC that saw to the building of airports and standard hotels in major cities of Enugu and Port-Harcourt; manufacturing of asbestos, cement( Nkalagu and Calabar), Michelin tires, petroleum refinery, ceramic products, shoes and well- maintained road network. He ensured there were standard palm oil mills in remote villages for processing of palm produce- the cash cow of the region.
Loyalty to his people.
When the civil crises that saw many ndigbo living in other parts of Nigeria being murdered , he stood firmly by his people to the last moment .
There is this saying that a politician and a rooster crow on what they tend to do and that while the rooster goes ahead to carry out his intention, the politician would not. Dr. M.I.Okpara was an exception. Compared to what goes on in the current Igbo States in keeping faith with the public , only Anambra and Enugu states leadership are near to that in payment of salaries and pensions as at when due. Same applies to prudent management of public resources.
Okpara knew that every leader must be held accountable to the people being led and also to God. He, thus, conducted himself in a manner that would not find him wanting on judgement day. Today, the people of the former Eastern Region are giving him passing grades in joyful nostalgia of his purposeful leadership whose results have outlived him.
The big question now is: Why would the current leadership not learn from this great man. What would the future generations or history remember them for?
The praise were worthy leadership values practised by Michael Okpara are what the public institutions in Enugu, Abia and Imo named after him are meant to teach the present and coming generations. In this context, I opine that it is a disservice to the unborn and aspiring leaders to rename Michael Okpara College of Agriculture in Imo state to Imo Polytechnics. Removing the name is like taking away the mirror by which every successive leader should self- appraise his or her performances for consistency in good guy governance delivery. This error ought to be reversed.
Ndigbo must come together and ensure that only those who can build on what people like Okpara started are the ones allowed into our government houses. The recent call given to the Abia State government by a protesting group of women in Aba to attend to Aba dilapidated roads is a silver lining.
Attempts by people of poor moral standing to lead Ndigbo in all spheres must be resisted in the same vigor they abhor discredited fellows from mounting traditional stools in their communities.