THE MICHAEL OKPARA CENTENARY PROJECT

0

Saturday comment2

The essence of the project is the imperative of returning to the good old days of patriotic, quality and selfless leadership, writes Chuks Akamadu

As far as I can remember, my first reasonable acquaintance with the late Dr. Michael Okpara legacy and the essence of preserving it was in 2004 – I think – when my late uncle and mentor, Chief Bob Ogbuagu drafted me in midstream as a part of Michael Okpara Memorial lecture Series for that year – and unfortunately, I’m not sure another held subsequently.

The lecture series was conceived, in the main, to be an annual tribute to the cherished memory of Dr. Okpara as premier of defunct Eastern Region and, in a most functional sense, serve as an intellectual platform to stimulate robust national debates and conversations around good governance and quality leadership. Overtime, the yearly dialogue fermented to become an annual interrogative ritual that, more or less, evaluated and passed damning judgments on contemporary leadership – cutting across the three tiers of government.

On ground to join late Chief Ogbuagu to see that year’s lecture through were Chief Matthew Mbu, Prof. Joe Irukwu, Chief MCK Ajuluchukwu, Prince Okey Nwadinobi and the late premier’s son, Chief Uzodinma Okpara, all of whom save for Prince Nwadinobi I was meeting for the first time. I was, for want of a more fitting adjective, fascinated by the demonstrable profuse passion and zealous commitment of those illustrious Nigerians some of whom were icons in their individual rights to the Dr. Okpara memorial project. If you call them “faithful disciples”, you wouldn’t be wrong, because they truly were and the reason for the gathering of stars must be worth it – I had secretly surmised. 

That useful exposure of mine some 15 years ago invites me to revisit an elaborate chat I had with late Chief Sam Okwulehie, another ardent follower of the late premier who served as Mayor of Umuahia under the latter’s watch. It had been his 90th birthday anniversary celebrations and I had seized the opportunity to ask him what it was about the Dr. Okpara phenomenon, and Chief Okwulehie had graciously obliged me. Every word he uttered sounded as though it dropped from late Chief Ogbuagu’s tongue. His gesticulations, the emotion and strong sentiments he repeatedly betrayed were in no material way different from those of his co-disciple – late Chief Ogbuagu.

In his somewhat exhaustive submission, one thing that struck me the hardest was that the Dr. Okpara portrait he was building verbally had vision, service, rare intellect, strategy, planning, compassion, humility, patriotism, modesty, discipline, hard work and diligence as essential elements. If Dr. Okpara was all these wrapped in a single pack, it then became understandable why he was thought to possess an uncommon magic wand in his days as premier. It also explains substantially why his disciples stayed faithful to their creed many many years after his demise.

For here was a man who approached governance with clear vision, remarkable foresight, clinical precision and an eye on history! Dr. Okpara called his political philosophy “pragmatic socialism” and indeed through an ingenious, well-choreographed, economic blueprint raised the bar of infrastructural development across the defunct Eastern Region which comprised Abia, Akwa Ibom, Anambra, Bayelsa, Cross River, Ebonyi, Enugu, Imo and Rivers States.   

Dr. Okpara was a prudent manager of men and materials that made merit the hallmark of his leadership recruitment model. That was why he could accept Chief Okwulehie’s recommendation of the Obubra, Cross River State-born Dr. Samuel Imoke (1912-2015) for nomination as minister of education; it was for same reason that he had the presence of mind to bring late Chief Ogbuagu on board to head Eastern Nigeria Development Corporation (ENDC)…a regime of square pegs in square holes, that is!

Unlike in today’s Nigeria where elected governors – and presidents alike – now develop “their areas” whilst their successors are accordingly expected to develop “their own areas” when they come to power, as Dr. Okpara was, through the ENDC, establishing a Pepsi Cola Plant in Onitsha, a shoe industry and a textile mill were springing up in Owerri and Aba respectively just as the Calabar Cement Company was being completed. Port-Harcourt was not left out. It was within same dispensation that an industrial estate was conceived and delivered in Trans Amadi area while the Alfa Plant for plywood production berthed on Eastern Region’s shores. History also has it that it was the provision of abundant public utilities by Dr. Okpara’s administration that attracted both Michelin Tyre and Glass factory to the soil of Eastern Region. Those of us who were born in the 1970s met standard, well-paved roads, pipe-borne water flowing from taps in individual rural homes and uninterrupted power supply. What is more, Presidential Hotels Enugu and Port-Harcourt still stand tall today as some of the signature hospitality statements made during the era under review.

Dr. Okpara’s legacy of aggressive industrialization and even development can further be seen in his establishment of Adapalm Ohaji in present-day Imo State and several farm settlements spread across the defunct region. Likewise, Modern Ceramics Industry and Golden Guinea Breweries Umuahia are also eloquent testaments of Dr. Okpara’s unmatched industrial revolution. And to think that his administration accomplished all these with proceeds from palm produce, one cannot but appreciate the genius in this man who served his people, chose not to serve self and family to the point of being unable, by election, to build a hut for himself and family in his ancestral home of Ohuhu, Umuahis in today’s Abia State.

Here is the reason Dr. Okpara’s kinsmen and women, Ndi Ohuhu, living in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) in consultation with Ohuhu sons and daughters (home and abroad) have approached the finish line of their elaborate preparations to commemorate, posthumously, the centennial birthday anniversary of Dr. Michael Iheonukara Okpara, GCON (1920-2020) come next year. The essence being to matter-of-factly engage our present-day Nigerian leaders, at all levels, on the imperative of returning to the good old days of patriotic, quality and selfless leadership.

 

 Akamadu, M.IoD is

President, Ohuhu Welfare Union, Abuja