He was born into a strict Christian family where discipline, respect for elders and fear of God were taken seriously. At a tender age, his mother conscripted him and his siblings into Scripture Union where their spiritual lives were shaped. Though his father wanted him to become a medical doctor, he ended up as a lawyer. Eze Chikamnayo, who is an aspirant for the Abia State House of Assembly shared his life’s journey with Charles Ajunwa and Ahamefula Ogbu
Can we know how you started or was it a sudden flight to prominence?
I studied variously at National School, Isu Njaaba, Imo State then moved over to Eziama High School, Aba, where I graduated from secondary school. At Eziama High School, I was talented to the extent that when we decided to choose subjects, then there was nothing like junior and senior secondary, it was five years but you specialise from class three; either science or arts, it was a herculean task. I remember coming home to my dad and asking if is should go for sciences or arts. When he brought out all my report cards and discovered that I had excellence in both; he now threw the question back at me and said, if you had done badly in any area, I would have said go to the other but because you had almost 90 and above in all the subjects, I will find it difficult, I will ask you, son, to choose. So, I asked what he has always wanted me to do and he said, well if you become a doctor I wouldn’t mind so he tilted my choice because I loved my dad so much that I always wanted to make him proud. So I tilted to the sciences and chose all the science subjects and added Geography to make it nine.
So the way God would have it, even though I was the science and laboratory prefect of Eziama High School, the youngest at the time, I was doing very well in the arts. At a time I participated in a national essay competition organised by the National Museum in Aba and I came tops and they gave me a very beautiful novel by Better M. Clay. Those days we used to read all the novels; James Hardley Chase, Pace Setters, different sets. It was my first honour, they wrapped it up with cash prizes and it was glorious, I took it to my dad and told him I won a prize in the whole of Aba Zone, that competition was for all secondary schools in Aba.
While I was winning competitions in the arts, I was also representing my school at science competitions organised in the wider Imo State then, Abia State wasn’t created then. I remember we went to government college, Owerri, myself, Abubakar Haruna and Isaiah Orji to represent our school at Government College Owerri in science competitions. We manufactured fire extinguisher using sodium metals and our school came tops. So, it was wonderful times, we were competing then as young people so we were not competing on how to smoke, rap or belong to cult or fashion, we were competing on who will come first in class, represent the school in the next competition, represent his family well or whose father will come for the next award ceremony. Abubakar Haruna was a Muslim, his father was a police officer posted to Aba then, but we slept in their houses, in the quarters where they lived and they came over to our houses and passed the night despite the fact they were Muslims and we are Christians, it was never an issue; I remember we competed, read together and it became difficult for us growing up to see Nigeria being partitioned into Muslims and Christians and to be friends you have to find out their faith; to cohabit you have to find out of what tribe and clan one is from. Those things were some of the shocks I experienced outside my secondary school because in our secondary school we had Muslims and Christians and we related without inhibitions.
I was also in the Scripture Union (SU), my mother took us there and was wonderful in her influence on my moral life. In those days, SU represented the Pentecostal movement and it was not popular among the orthodoxchurches. I remember my mother and some of her colleagues were ostracised from the Methodist Church for daring to go to Scripture Union where people spoke in tongues and where people evangelised and shared the gospel freely. My father was not happy about it, he was a lay preacher in the Methodist Church and his wife belonging to the Scripture Union at that time was like his wife belonging to something obnoxious. They were holy in their lifestyle and did not tolerate sin at all, they did not acclamatise with what other churches did, they were pure in their pursuit of righteousness, my father was not happy because my mum took us to SU but then she had her way and we were brought up in SU, went to youth camps where we were given sound moral teachings.
There are four foundations in life, you have the mental foundation, the spiritual, physical and social foundation, these four must grow simultaneously otherwise you will be a skewed human being. While you are pursuing your mental foundation, it is good to be in school, to know all of the knowledge one can look for, that is the mental foundation you are building but what of the spiritual foundation? Most parents these days only build only the mental foundation of their children without building the spiritual foundation and that is why we have lopsided youths who are sound and intellectually excellent but morally bankrupt and bereft of any moral standard.
My mother ensured that she provided that spiritual leg by taking us to the SU and giving us the moral foundation. My father gave me the mental equipment for life by taking me to school, making great sacrifices to pay my fees. Apart from my father, one of my aunties more or less adopted me as a foster son, the late Ugoeze Dorathy Okorocha. She took me all the way through school, helping my father to pay my fees and helping me all the time. The physical foundation is the exercises people are doing today and the social foundation is being part of the community, age grade, development groups and clubs. People should always watch where they are on these scales to know how they are developing in society for a balanced life.
What do you think eroded the cohesion among groups in Nigeria unlike what you saw in secondary school?
Selfish primordial primitive considerations of exploitative adults are what is taking us down the slope as a nation. When you want to talk about a person as Hausa, Igbo or Yoruba, always remember that before you became a Christian or Muslim, you were first of all a human being and if only we can treat each other at the level of humanity, our world will be a great place to live in. I have never seen somebody that rejected love, goodness; those times when you enter plane and you meet people, if you smile at them they will smile back at you, if you give a small assistance even in helping to carry your luggage, they are grateful, if you go further to pay their fares, they feel a further sense of obligation, that is human being for you as humanity cuts across all religions and tribes. A human being is like a mirror, what you show the mirror is what it brings back to you. Goodness begets goodness, frugality begets frugality, what you mete out to others they will mete out to you. When I grew up and saw the manipulative use of religion and clan and tribe, over time I began to realise that they are mischievous well-articulated manipulations of adults. We should be sober as we are going to account for our mischievous use of religion.
There is the notion that intelligent people are stubborn, were you a stubborn or pliant child?
I wasn’t on any of those extremes. I wasn’t pliant or stubborn, I was in between. I wasn’t a young man that would go out of his way to do things to show disobedience to adults or parents like I said earlier, my mother took care of that when she took us to the SU, where we imbibed the love of God and obedience to parents. Sometimes as an adult now, I will want to do a certain thing and a scripture pops up on my mind to check that, it is from what my mother inculcated in me even as an adult even when I have not revisited it in a long while. I wasn’t stubborn, arrogant, pliant, but I used my intelligence though. Every young man in a way has this element of stubbornness, I merely exercised mine creatively.
Can you remember any particular punishment due to this combustive attitude in trying to explore the world?
I can’t remember but, on several occasions, I was punished for over succeeding because sometimes they will say do this and I will do that and try to go the extra mile and in doing that, incur the wrath of my colleagues. Sometimes the reprimand of my superiors who will say we asked you to do this and you went further now everybody is no longer comfortable.
What are those traits that you have transferred to your children?
I see creativity in my children, they don’t go with the crowd. So, standing out in the crowd is what I think my children have inherited from me. My son went to university to study Political Science, he is very intelligent, but he is now one of the best photographers in the country and he owns a studio. Initially, I wanted to put a stop to what I considered a deviation from what he told me he wanted to do but I reminded myself that I set out to be an optometrist and ended up being a lawyer. Sometimes, much as you want the children to follow a particular mould, you must put a small expansion joint and allow for linear expansivity. You must give room for creativity, the instinct of the child, to go where his talent and passion leads him. There must be a meeting point between talent and passion and when a child does, he shows his star.
How did you feel as a father when your daughter emerged as one-day governor of Abia State?
I didn’t expect it as I didn’t know she had entered into any type of competition, because my daughter attends a boarding school and from the school, they take them to various competitions as directed by their proprietress. I didn’t know, so I was then just coming out of the burial of my mother. After the burial, I was preparing for my call to bar and on my way to Abuja my wife called me that Joy my daughter was needed in Government House, Umuahia, so I said by who, what for? She said she would find out. Twenty minutes later she called to say it was the school and that they had an award. I said award for what because if the school wins an award why can’t the teacher or proprietress go. She still didn’t understand so she forwarded the number to me.
About two hours later a certain number called me that he was an aide of the governor and told me that there was a competition among secondary schools in Abia, both private and public and the students did not submit their names, they were given identification numbers and they wrote essays and took other oral tests. They discovered that the number that won came from Intellectual Giants so they sent the number to the school and the students that represented the school was brought forward and it was discovered that my daughter had the number that came first. They did it in a manner that extraneous influence was reduced. They said the price was that who came first becomes the one-day governor of Abia State. Then it dawned on me on the enormity of what she had achieved. The next day, I got a call from the governor who asked of my whereabouts so I told him I was at my call to bar and he said well, I just handed over to your daughter as one-day governor of Abia State and on a lighter note, that those things I used to ask him to do, I should ask my daughter to do them for me.
I was very happy but unfortunately, I couldn’t attend because while she was sitting on that red seat as the governor, I was on my call to bar. It was a great feeling, a coincidence that the day I was realising my dream of becoming a lawyer, my daughter was sitting as the governor of Abia State. December 12, 2017 will go down in the annals of my family as the greatest moments of our lives.
So would you say that was your happiest day in life?
I have many happy moments but that was one of the happiest days of my life.
What do you consider the downsides of your life?
The downsides of my life are that up till today, I still suffer from over succeeding in life. If you give me a position and my knack for excellence and perfection comes in and I do it so well. The small time I have, I still find conspiracies of people of no memorial trying to pull me down, blackmail or push me out of the system.
Any particular instance?
So many. When I did Ugwu Abia 2000, the governor of Abia State came to the stadium, I brought Sunny Okosun, Liz Benson, KOK and Pete Edochie; it was the biggest and best festival that ever happened in tourism in Abia. It was streamed live on NTA and those days, it was rare. One Patricia Anaria from Federal Ministry of Tourism went back with the tapes from Abia and made her recommendation and that’s how Abuja Carnival started, it was inspired by Ugwu Abia 2000. Phillip Effiong, former second in command to Ojukwu came to the programme on my invitation and went back and called some of his friends and told Cross River you may not have oil, why not go into tourism and from there the former governor of the state took a cue, Tinapa started and Calabar Carnival started but it was a tragedy that the man who inspired all of these evolutions was punished for over succeeding because, after the festival, when Orji Uzor Kalu gave us only N4 million for the seed capital of that festival, we invested it in a project account and carried out the festival. He gave me and the exco an applause, everybody was happy. About a month or two later when the mother came back from the U.S., some people said they were not carried along and before you know it, a lot of rubbish started erupting. That was the first shock I had in life that you could do so well and get punished for it. Since then, I have had pockets of such experiences.
You were the youngest commissioner to be appointed in Abia State, how did you manage to achieve that feat?
To the glory of God, I became a commissioner at an age much less than 30 in 1999. First, I was Commissioner 1 in Abia State Civil Service Commission, then I became Commissioner for Special Duties, Abia State Government House and then I was promoted to full cabinet commissioner, Commissioner for Information, Culture and Tourism in the first lap of our democratic journey in 1999. Attaining that feat I will attribute first to my Lord and saviour Jesus Christ, the Almighty God who directs the affairs of men. Secondly, I will attribute it to dedicated and focused followership. I hear that some young people are trying to be legislated into positions of leadership.
I am a lawyer and there is nothing wrong in the passage of laws and legislation but I want to share my experience with young people and say that the best way to become a leader is to learn how to follow dedicatedly and selflessly for a period of time. Everything you are going to do is to be based more on recommendation than on qualification, young people should never forget that because most times when issues about you will be discussed you may not be there to present your qualifications but people will be there to recommend you based on their personal experience with you and when they want to do this recommendation they will be looking more at the content of your character than on your paper qualification because, at that early age, nobody will say that I was overqualified or so qualified to be made a commissioner.
But I was highly recommended first by the then Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Dr. Elekwa Chinwogbo, now late. He was the chairman of Reality Organisation at the time Orji Kalu was trying to become governor and I happened to be the local government coordinator of the organisation in my local government Umunneochi. I was the youngest coordinator, a youth of less than 27, and because of the zeal I brought to bear, the quality I delivered in every assignment I was given, the dedication, the commitment that Chinwogbo saw in me, he had no hesitation to recommend me as commissioner in the civil service commission. He, indeed, recommended me first as cabinet commissioner but for the reason of local politics, I couldn’t clinch that position so he insisted that this material was too good to be left out of the scheme of things. So he got me into the Abia State Civil Service Commission as Commissioner 1.
True to his recommendation, not long after I assumed office as Commissioner 1 in civil service commission, God’s grace upon my life helped me to showcase my qualities and the governor then noticed it and brought me into the cabinet bearing out Chinwogbo earlier recommendation. I will advocate that our young people should work more on their character than on their paper qualification. The constitution of Nigeria has never really barred the youths from participation, after all, what we have as basic qualification is school certificate and most Nigerians get their school certificates at a very young age of less than 20, so House of Assembly has always been school certificate, governorship is still school certificate so it is not really the age that is stopping us, it is the capacity, content of our character, level of competence we show in the little assignments we are given because the Bible says if we are not faithful in little you will not be counted worthy of much.
So, how did you go into politics?
My foray into politics has been a mixed grill, a blessing and an experience. I have been largely successful, I have served every government from 1999 till date. I was commissioner with Orji Uzor Kalu, even after the Ugwu Abia episode, Orji Kalu still reemployed me as Director of Information for his presidential campaign, I worked with Alhaji Alhaji, Secretary to Government of Kano State, he was the Director of Orji Kalu Presidential campaign and that’s what people do not know that even after trying to vilify me, he still came for me when he needed a competent hand to handle his presidential campaign. I came on board and led opposition to his government that worked with Abia Democratic Alliance, Onyema Ugochukwu, Ojo Maduekwe, Vincent Ogbulafor, we spearheaded the opposition but when that opposition collapsed by consensus, between the Abuja forces and T. A. Orji, we all came back and ended up becoming a Special Adviser to T.A. Orji and again, he thought I could do better and made me Commissioner for Information which I did for five years till the end of his government. Then I wanted to go to the State House of Assembly, I was qualified and highly recommended by my people but political jealousy came in and a lot of local demons contributed in denying me the ticket which was one of the shocks in 2014. Now, I am back here after my Law School after my LLm programme, I went to ESUT to do Masters in Law; the goveror graciously appointed me the Political Adviser; he felt I have the knowledge despite my age to give him sound political suggestions, that’s what I am doing now while making another effort to go and represent my people of Umunneochi at the state House of Assembly.
Why do you want to represent your people?
Because my people need quality representation, they need committed and experienced representation. There are times in the history of a community when you don’t need to experiment, you need experience to speak for you and I believe I have been blessed by God for a moment like this, and I have age on my side, I have sound political experience of over 20 years, I have sound intellectual understanding of the dynamics and I have a network of friends from all sections of Abia State. There is hardly any office I will enter in Abia State that I will not be called by my first name, so I need to leverage on all these advantages to accentuate the actualisation of the interest of my people.
What is the agenda you are taking to the State Assembly?
The agenda is people empowerment, not just youth, women empowerment. Empowerment is very important for sustainable growth, I believe in the human resource capital more than any other resources. Nigeria is lagging behind in the comity of nations because of our overt unconscious preference for infrastructural development ahead of human development. When you develop infrastructure, it grows old and is in dire need of repair and it goes back but when you develop human beings, they develop and sustain the infrastructure. Look at our country, we have good roads that were built in the 60s, some of them lasted for 10-15 years then went bad and we went back to them again but do we have the human beings commensurate in equipment to the amount we have put on the physical infrastructure? Do we have trained engineers who can on their own sustain themselves through the field of engineering? If we have 100 people that read Engineering in the university only about five are practicing, the other 95 are doing things that are in no way related to Engineering. If we have 200 Computer Science students that graduate from a school in a year, only about two or three out of the 200 are doing things related to computer Engineering. You see a young lady, what did you study? Computer Science, you bring a lap top and place in her front, she is unable to operate it yet she is a graduate of Computer Science. All she ended up reading in the university is the history of who founded computer, IBM, processors, what is a keyboard, what is a processor. You go to our nursing schools, all those who graduated from nursing schools are unable to practice in hospitals, even those trained as auxiliary nurses are able to handle a patient better than them, so some of them needed to go to a nursing school after graduating with a nursing degree they still go to school of nursing to learn the practical aspect of the work. Those are the pitfalls of our development effort. We must look at human beings, how do we give people the type of empowerment that will enable them to sustain themselves? Look at it this way, I think that is the direction Governor Okezie Ikpeazu is going.
Before now, there was a government that gave people shovels and headpans as empowerment for the youths, probably that government thought that all our youths would end up as artisans. Another government came in and gave them cars and some of the youths took the cars, after aggrandising themselves they sold off the cars and ate the money. In this current efforts at empowerment, we have about 17 skills acquisition centres churning out people in different skills. When you give people skills they can practice, you are not only empowering them, you also give them the capacity to positively affect other people. I will go for people empowerment, the things I can attract to my community that will bring back the cottage industries, cassava processing, farm settlements that will take people away from the handout mentality that is becoming a norm in our society.
How do you unwind?
I unwind by writing. I have so much I want to write about, but I have very little time so any time inspiration strikes me, I pick a piece of paper and write. Outside of that, I have little or no time