Willie Obiano: The Quintessential Bridge Builder

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Chris Egbuna

A stanza in the old Nigerian National Anthem embodied the thoughtful and timeless line: “Though tribe and tongue may differ in Brotherhood we stand”. Part of the versed profundity of the aforesaid line is in it striking an unmistaken chord with our unending quest for oneness as Nigerians. To foster the desired national cohesion and unity, there is a compelling need for Nigerians to always forge a common front and extend our bonds of friendship and brotherhood beyond the confines of our ethnic geography. It is in this light that the epochal event witnessed recently in Ado-Ekiti, the historic capital of Ekiti State, fondly dubbed the Fountain of Knowledge, in direct acknowledgement of the State’s prodigious production of professors and other academics, could be viewed. It was the conferment of the esteemed chieftaincy titles of Aare Amuogun of Ado-Ekiti on Chief Willie Obiano, Governor of Anambra State and Erelu Aare Amuogun on his dutiful and dynamic wife Chief Mrs. Ebelechukwu Obiano by the Ewi of Ado-Ekiti Oba (Dr.) Rufus Adeyemo Adejugbe (Aladesanmi 111).

The selection of Obiano by the revered Ewi of Ado-Ekiti is both fortuitous and well deserving. Obiano has been remarkable in strengthening the bonds of friendship and brotherhood in an otherwise fractured polity. He remains one of the best examples of a modern bridge builder, resisting the temptation for cheap political gains. His was the lone voice in the Eastern wilderness urging the people to embrace national unity and shun sectarianism. At the height of recent electioneering, he had clamoured for a better appreciation of the bonds of brotherhood and urged his brethren in the East to be so guided in their choice of a President. For him, bridge building that speaks to our being our brother’s keeper goes beyond rhetoric. It is a sine qua non for a better Nigeria.

Generally regarded as a humane, farsighted and committed leader, Obiano is very cosmopolitan. It could not have been otherwise for his education and work history show a man at home in every part of the country. Ironically, Obiano today presides over the affairs of a vital component of the Nigeria nation; Anambra State, which has as its motto: “Home For All”. Needless to say that Obiano has spared no effort in ensuring that Nigerians from every part of the country and all walks of life feel at home in Anambra State. He has also ensured that the widely travelled “Ndi Anambra” find comfort and succor in every part of the country where they reside. The tumultuous welcome that heralded his arrival at Ado-Ekiti, to receive the chieftaincy title, by both the Anambra community in Ekiti State and the indigenes was clearly indicative of his wide acceptance.

Despite criticisms in certain quarters, chieftaincy titles have remained a bulk walk for the truly accomplished. Indeed, the conferment of chieftaincy titles by notable traditional rulers in Nigeria has remained, in the main, a major index of sieving and recognizing high achievers in the society. It is partly in this light that the conferment of the chieftaincy titles of Aare Amuogun of Ado-Ekiti on Obiano and Erelu Aare Amuogun on his wife could be viewed as a further attestation of the potency of chieftaincy titles as effective recognition platforms for encouragement and appreciation.

Beyond the deserved recognition of Obiano’s astuteness as a leader and the giant strides that signpost his administration, the Ewi of Ado-Ekiti by this rare recognition has helped to further strengthen the age long relationship between the East and the West of Nigeria. This latest gesture by the revered monarch, as deserving as the recipient is, points to collaboration with a difference. It is a desirable collaboration that should be encouraged in the contemporary Nigerian political space and sustained in the cultural landscape. More than anything else, it gives practical expression to the most sought after cum cherished ideal of “Hand Shake Across the Niger”.

Handshakes generally signify good tidings, comradeship, fellowship and friendship. For it to be effective, it has to be pre-planned, measured and conveys warmth and radiate affection between the co-operating parties. The concept of Handshake Across the Niger speaks to co-operation and unity of purpose. It is anchored on the imperatives of de-emphasizing the things that divide the people of Nigeria and emphasizing the things that unite us. Its philosophical underpinning rests on collective goodwill and finds practical expression in our national motto of Unity and Faith, Peace and Progress. More importantly, it is wont to rekindle a rich past and enhance the prospects of a reassuring future.

The Ado-Ekiti conferment is also significant in many other ways. Remarkably, the Ewi exercises sovereignty over a domain that sired the late Lt. Col. Francis Adekunle Fajuyi. The immortal Fajuyi gained martyrdom on July 29, 1966 when he stood by his boss and guest Maj. Gen. J. T. U. Ironsi till death. In a treatise entitled: Handshake Across The Niger: A Necessity For Mutual Growth And Development, Alban Ofili-Okonkwo, a profound thinker and easily one of the outstanding strategists in Nigeria today, stated that it is clearly beyond dispute that what happened between Fajuyi and Ironsi rates far above a Handshake; it measures beyond a union between a man and a woman whose vows are “until death do us part”; It speaks to abiding friendship as well as to rare honour and to human dignity.

Nigeria, at present, appears to be at a crossroad. It is in this regard that the concept of a Handshake Across the Niger becomes very germane to our collective efforts for national re-birth and unity. Oba Adejugbe has set the pace in this regard by honouring a truly outstanding leader from another tribe. Obiano, a quintessential bridge builder, is not new to awards nay honours. A multiple award winner and beneficiary of strings of accolades and chieftaincy titles, he was in December 2013, awarded the President’s Volunteer Service Award by President Barack Obama of the U.S. In 2015, he won the prestigious Zik Prize for Good Governance. In 2016 Vanguard Newspapers named him the Governor of the Year. Also in 2016, Leadership Newspapers acclaimed him Man of the Year. Ditto Silverbird television and Sun newspaper among others. Evidently, the latest honour done to Obiano by the respected Ewi of the ancient kingdom of Ado-Ekiti is essentially homage to greatness. And greatness remains an attribute, which harbors, as a main ingredient, remarkable achievement that translates into even development and ensures for the great; immortality.

Indeed, Nigeria’s greatness will be accentuated by the collaborative efforts of its various nationalities and people toward ennobling ideals and common objectives. Globally, the general trend towards greatness has been concerted efforts towards togetherness. Not even the recent recourse to Brexit has dampened the zeal among Europeans to be “ stronger together” (apologies to Hilary Rodham Clinton). Indeed, the cherished concept of the world as a global village still shores up its relevance not only in a world bounded together by communications technology but one that places premium on the universality of our common existence and the recognition of the truly deserving. Herein lies the importance of the recent recognition of Obiano by the Ewi of Ado-Ekiti.

*Egbuna, a Developmental Analyst, lives in Nnewi.