Tribute

The death, at the weekend, of the Minister of State for Labour and Employment, James Ocholi, his wife and son, is one sad development too many, writes Shola Oyeyipo

“In Blessing Fatima Ocholi I have seen the benefits of being married to a woman, who loves God. She not only came into my life when I had nothing but all through by her prayers and steadfast support she became one of the pillars of my success as she partook in the challenges of my professional pursuit.” The late Minister of State for Labour and Producivity, James Ocholi was quoted to have said of his wife in an article about his life history. But painfully, he died along with her and their son.

Not a few people in the political and legal circles suffered very rude shock Sunday, when the news filtered in that Ocholi, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria; his wife, Fatima Blessing and their second son, Joshua, lost their lives in a ghastly motor accident along the Abuja-Kaduna expressway.

The late Ocholi was one of the few Nigerians, who made the list of President Muhammadu Buhari’s ministerial nominees and who eventually became minister. He is from Kogi State and was expected to contribute to the success of the Buhari administration in no small way. But with his untimely death, such a resolve to make a difference has been eclipsed automatically.

For whatever it was worth, Ocholi’s death is a big blow to the Buhari administration. And that much President Buhari acknowledged in his condolence message, when he stated that Nigeria lost a “key component of the change agenda,” with Ocholi’s death. This would simply translate that Ocholi shared the dream for change in Nigeria.

Until his death, Ocholi was a renowned legal luminary, who earned the esteemed and highly coveted SAN title. He was a quintessential professional-turned politician. He opted to join politics out of his passion to do things differently. He contested and lost the Kogi State governorship election in 2011 on the platform of the defunct Congress for Progressive Change (CPC).

Born November 26, 1960, Oholi, who was the second child in a family of six, attended Ochaja Secondary School, Agada, Kogi State. He hailed from Dekina Local Government area of Kogi State – one of the strongest political bases in the state. Though he lost his mother at a young age, he worked hard to see through his education and eventually won a scholarship from the then Benue State Government to study Law at the University of Jos.

He graduated from the Nigerian Law School in 1986 and was admitted to the Nigerian Bar the same year. He became a public counsel between 1987 and 1988 in the firm of D. D Peter Achimusi in Idah, Kogi State before he started his private practice. He was decorated with the title of SAN in 2007 and was the chairman, Disciplinary Committee of the Abuja chapter of the Nigeria Bar Association.

Ocholi was appointed Deputy National Legal Adviser of the APC between 2013 and 2014 and was the Kogi State Coordinator of the Buhari/Osinbanjo Campaign Organisation in the 2015 presidential election.

During his ministerial screening by the Senate, Ocholi made significant impact on Nigerians with the way he articulated his ideology. The late lawyer and politician was actively involved in the merger process that brought the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN), the All Nigerian Peoples Party (ANPP), the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) and his CPC together to form the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC). He was a crucial ally of President Buhari and a strong member of the Christian Businessmen Association of Nigeria.

At close range, Ocholi would easily strike anyone of his unquenchable passion for a better Nigeria. It is particularly what explains why like others, he also remained attached to the President Buhari dream of being president and the change agenda. He was also a benevolent individual who was renowned for his philanthropist activities.

A devout Christian, he was a member of the Full Gospel Businessmen’s Fellowship International and became the pioneer president of the Ankpa Chapter, Kogi State.

During his electioneering, his plans for the state as encapsulated in his electoral manifesto was a robustly packaged developmental agenda targeted at catapulting the state out of poverty. It was embedded in human capital development and infrastructural development of the state. He was particularly disenchanted by the moribund state of the Ajaokuta Steel Company, which he feels is capable of putting the state on the global map of rich states.

Despite the fact that he was not a moneybag, he committed his money, time and passion into pursuing the governorship dream of his state. Though he lost, it was not because he was not qualified for the job but more because he was not a conventional politician. He had no godfather. As at the time he contested, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) was ruling Kogi State and it had very strong grip of the state’s body polity at that time.

In fact, during the June 2015 general election, he contested for the APC gubernatorial ticket at the primary election, but lost to the late Abubakar Audu. He was believed to have been compensated with his ministerial appointment in 2015 due to his commitment to the party and his ability to deliver on the APC promises, where he was assigned.

Though he did not become governor of his state, those who admired his political orientation and philosophy were elated, when he was named among Buhari’s ministers; not just for the elevation but because it was expected that it would grant him the avenue to vent his capability to admiration of Nigerians and the glory of Kogi State.

Unfortunately, all the hope, passion and expectations that Ocholi was going to contribute to Nigeria’s growth, particularly in the Ministry of Labour and Productivity have vanished with his death. What he stood for has been succinctly captured in the way many of those, who spoke about him had described since his death.

President Buhari described him as an “accomplished and patriotic Nigerian, who was keen to accept the call to service at a time his country needed him.”

The president who spoke through his spokesperson, Mr. Garba Shehu added that within the few months Ocholi was in office, he had already begun to distinguish himself through his commitment and dedication to his portfolio.

“The entire country mourns the loss of this great man, who has sadly left us when we needed him the most,” he said.

There was no better way the Kogi State government could show that his death was shocking and painful than the call for three days of mourning – though not necessarily non-working days of mourning, the people of the state are expected to reflect the loss the state suffered with his death during the period.

In his condolence message issued on Sunday, Governor Yahaya Bello of Kogi State, who joined other well-meaning Nigerians to mourn him stated thus: “The late Ocholi was a pragmatic, dynamic, humane and brilliant law officer, who was known around the world for his dexterous approach to legal and political issues and one of the most unswerving constitutional lawyers Nigeria has ever produced,” the governor said.

Though a member of the PDP, the immediate past Deputy Governor of Kogi State, Mr. Yomi Awoniyi also expressed shock and pain at Ocholi’s death in a statement signed by his media aide, Mike Abu. Awoniyi described it as a “cruel irony that Barrister Ocholi who had strived to avail the state and the country of his skill and experience has been taken away when the long pursued opportunity has finally arrived.”

He described Ocholi’s death as a “corporate loss to Kogi State and a monumental loss to Nigeria,” and appealed to the state and federal government, family and friends to accord the surviving members of Ocholi family the maximum support in recognition of the worthy life and service that the late minister represented before his sad death.

One important thing is that his death has been trailed with a long list of mourners, which include members of the Federal Executive Council, governors, senators, members of the Coordinator of the Buhari/Osinbanjo Campaign Organisation, legal luminaries and several other Nigerians. Everybody has one good comment to pass about the late minister.

The President, Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), Mr. Augustine Alegeh (SAN), regretted that Ocholi died along with his wife and son, stating that, “The late James Ocholi was a devout Christian, a perfect gentleman, an astute legal practitioner and a member of the National Executive Committee of the NBA, who dedicated his life in selfless service to the nation and humanity. Little wonder, he was appointed an Honourable Minister by President Muhammadu Buhari in recognition of his modest achievements and sterling qualities.

“He contributed immensely to the growth and development of the nation during his short stint as the Honourable Minister of State for Labour and Productivity.

“The NBA commiserates with the entire Ocholi family, the government and good people of Kogi State, the federal government as well as all Nigerians on the unfortunate demise of this illustrious son and a great achiever for whom hard work, integrity and philanthropy were articles of faith. Whilst we mourn him, we should take solace in the fact that he lived an exemplary life here on earth and left behind a legacy of statesmanship and enduring love for humanity.”

If truly the dead can see and hear, no doubt, Ocholi would have seen that his good qualities were noticed by the people around him and where the dead cannot see or hear, those living can begin to understand that what is done whilst still living is the mirror with which everyone will be viewed when they are no more.

He had five children: Ojone Peace, Aaron Enojo jr, Joshua Eb‘ojo (who died in the accident), Uyo Blessing jr and Ele Excellent.

Quote

The late Ocholi was one of the few Nigerians, who made the list of President Muhammadu Buhari’s ministerial nominees and who eventually became minister. He is from Kogi State and was expected to contribute to the success of the Buhari administration in no small way. But with his untimely death, such a resolve to make a difference has been eclipsed automatically