Saturday, May 23, 2009

Remembering Sam Mbakwe

This Day/All Africa

Lagos — On Thursday, 23rd April, 2009, at the Aso Hall of the sedate and serene International Conference Center, Abuja, many Nigerians, in their numbers, from all walks of life gathered to pay homage to the memory of Chief Sam Mbakwe, PhD, the first Executive civilian Governor of old Imo State, whose high standards of performance in office have remained till date the benchmark for measuring service delivery in public office in the South East of Nigeria.

The occasion was the 2nd Sam Mbakwe Memorial Lecture and public presentation of his authorized biography, "Weeping for the Sunrise", authored by Tobs Agbaegbu, an eminent journalist with the Newswatch magazine. In attendance were very high profile personalities from both the private and public sectors. The traditional institutions and academia were also not left out.

From the robust attendance and the arrangements put in place, the organizers were obviously meticulous and methodical in the conception and execution of the project. It couldn't have been anything less, given the accomplishments of Sam Mbakwe as a charismatic leader, statesman and patriot who was held in very high esteem by Ndigbo and in deed all Nigerians.

A roll call of who is who on the occasion included but not limited to the following: Amb Raph Uwechue, the President General of Ohaneze Ndigbo; Dr. Sam Egwu, Honorable Minister of Education who represented President Yar'Adua; Governor Isa Yuguda of Bauchi State; Owelle Rochas Okorocha; Alhaji Isyaku Ibrahim; Prof. Maurice Iwu; Chief Ben Obi, former Vice Presidential candidate of Action Congress; Hon. Emeka Ihedioha, Chief Whip of the House of Representatives; Senators Chris Anyanwu and Annie Okonkwo; Dr. Ihechukwu Madubuike, former Minister of Health who also served as Commissioner for Finance under Mbakwe; Dr Eddie Iroh, former Director General of Federal Radio Corporation of Nigeria (FRCN); Eze Cletus Ilomuanya, Chairman, South East Council of Traditional Rulers and Eze Ibe Nwosu, the Ezeigbo of Abuja.

From the academia came Prof. Fred Onyeoziri, Political Adviser to the PDP National Chairman, Prince Vincent Ogbulafor, who also doubled as the book reviewer and Ambassador Joseph Ayalogu who delivered the 2nd Mbakwe Memorial Lecture. There were other prominent dignitaries too numerous to mention for lack of space.

One striking observation on the occasion, regrettably, was the conspicuous and disturbing absence of all the Governors of the South East, particularly those of Imo, Abia and Ebonyi which were part of the old Imo which Mbakwe governed. Also embarrassing was the absence of his colleague Governor then, Chief Jim Nwobodo, who presided over the affairs of the old Anambra State.

Similarly, no explanation could be given for the absence of former Governors of the Igbo-controlled States, some of whom were known to have interacted closely with Mbakwe when he was alive. Also missing in action were prominent political actors from the zone who had been privileged at one time or the other to hold high political offices. They include the likes of former Vice President Ekwueme, Chief Ken Nnamani, Chief Adolphus Wabara and Chief Anyim Pius Anyim, all of them, former Senate Presidents.

I would have also loved to see on the occasion a personality like Ikemba Nnewi, Chief Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu, a very close ally of Mbakwe both of whom with Ekwueme provided a robust leadership for the Igbo delegates to the 1994/95 National Constitutional Conference in Abuja. In addition, Mbakwe served under Ojukwu in Biafra as the Administrator of Okigwe Province.

It is equally disgusting to note that none of the members of the so-called Progressives to which Mbakwe belonged in the 2nd Republic made an appearance on the occasion. The Solomon Lars, Abubakar Rimis, Balarabe Musas and the Jerry Ganas just to mention but a few were no where to be found within the precincts of the International Conference Center. This is not comradeship enough!

The worst culprit, however, was Chief Ikedi Ohakim, the current Governor of Mbakwe's home State of Imo who was supposed to be the Chief Host on the occasion. No excuse for his absence would be tenable, the low level delegation he sent, notwithstanding. Even the delegation led by the Commissioner for Agriculture, Chief Longers Anyanwu, made no commitment in support of the Mbakwe initiative. This is really a pity.

Mbakwe was a Nigerian patriot but an excellent Igbo man with excellent credentials. In matters that concerned the welfare interests of Ndigbo, he never wavered. Prior to his emergence as a Governor in the Second Republic, he had already made a name for himself as a crusader for justice, equity and fair play. He stuck out his neck to fight against the illegal confiscation of Igbo property in Rivers State, which the victorious Federal authorities in the Civil War, in collusion with the new local overlords in Port Harcourt, termed and confiscated as abandoned property.

During his governorship in the Second Republic, even though he found himself in opposition to the ruling National Party of Nigeria (NPN), he constructively engaged the Shagari administration to the extent that he was able to attract many federal projects to Imo State. When it was ideal for him to cajole, he cajoled. When it was convenient for him to humor the powers that be, he humored them tremendously. When it was necessary for him to weep, he wept.

Hence, those in opposition derisively called him the weeping governor. But he had many federal projects to show for his "weeping". Some of the projects included the Federal University of Technology, Owerri (FUTO), federal intervention in the Ndiegoro flood disaster in Aba, the release of the abandoned property in Port Harcourt and payment of compensation on those that had been alienated and approval for the construction of Imo Airport in Owerri.

In all ramifications, Mbakwe was an outstanding political leader who stood by his people. I recall with nostalgia during my student days at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, when Mbakwe, at the instance of the Political Science Department came to the campus to deliver a public lecture titled "The Challenges of a Governor in A War Affected State". It was vintage Mbakwe that catalogued the entire infrastructure in Imo that was destroyed by the federal troops.

In the lecture which was laced with humor and wisecracks, Mbakwe gave graphic details of the decapitated infrastructure and their locations. He also reminisced on his role as a combatant during the war. He kept the students spellbound as he regaled his audience with his war exploits and the various sectors in which he fought to prevent the total annihilation of Ndigbo by the federal forces.

He repeatedly called on the NPN-controlled Federal Government to declare the Igbo areas devastated by the war, a disaster zone so that the region could attract special funding for the reconstruction of crippled infrastructure.

It still beats my imagination that the memory of such an outstanding patriot who served with distinction should be treated by his own people with such contempt. My heart bleeds that just only five years after the passage of this icon, our people have turned their back on him and the values he stood for. Igbos should rethink. A society that does not honor or appreciates the contributions of its heroes, for me, has not gotten its values right.

A situation in which we are fighting for a space in Nigeria, commonsense demands that we get our priorities right and put our house in order. If the memory of a great statesman like Mbakwe would be so callously treated by the people he had stood by all through his career, we may be sending the wrong signals that fighting for the public good is not an ennobling virtue.

After the exit of Dr. Michael Iheonukara Okpara (Premier, Eastern Nigeria 1959-66), the trail blazer who pioneered the infrastructural revolution in the East, arguably no other leader in Igboland can rank with Mbakwe in terms of concrete achievements.

It is instructive and ironic that the only Governor present on the occasion was Isa Yuguda from far away Bauchi State, Northern Nigeria. Those who call themselves our leaders in the South East should search their conscience. Sam Onunaka Mbakwe's memory deserves a better treatment. I congratulate Tobs Agbaegbu, through whose efforts the memory of Mbakwe is still being kept alive.

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