From Magnus Eze, Enugu
With the primary elections of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) slated for June 26, to choose the party’s ahead of the November 6 poll, a frontline aspirant, Dr. Obiora Okonkwo, has taken the last two weeks to traverse the local government areas.
For Okonkwo, the Meet-the-Delegates tour turned out a harvest in March. March is usually the beginning of the planting season. But while others were beginning to clear bushes preparatory to cultivating their land, Okonkwo was out there harvesting seeds of the goodness he sowed in the heart of the people long before others started bush clearing.
Touring Onitsha North, Onitsha South, Ogbaru, Ayamelum, Oyi, Anambra East and Anambra West local government areas in the Northern senatorial zone; Ihiala, Ekwusigo, Orumba North, Orumba South, Nnewi North, Nnewi South and Aguata local government councils in Anambra South senatorial districts and his home base of Idemili North, Idemili South, Awka North, Awka South, Anaocha, Njikoka and Dunukofia local government areas in the central district, Okonkwo came into the embrace of an ecstatic PDP faithful. Those who received him comprised the statutory delegates, local government and ward executives as well as strategic stakeholders, who now form the bulk of a partnership he has created for the good of the people and the wellbeing of the party.
The ecstatic reception at each of the meetings was like the people had finally seen one whose name evoked hope. Men, women and youths sang and danced to Ogene beats as they hailed Okonkwo, popularly called Dikeora, for stepping into the governorship race. Except for the PDP family at Ogbaru, which received Okonkwo with giant size fishes harvested fresh from the rivers, almost all the others presented him with either a cow, giant ram or goat accompanied with masquerade performances and dance.
Okonkwo did not expect the reception. “I was thinking we were only coming here to meet with the PDP family, but here I am before a carnival which the delegates prepared to receive me and my team”, he told reporters. His bullish team, led by John Okigbo, a scion of the Okigbo dynasty of Ojoto, comprised of many astute political leaders and opinion moulders in the state including Lady Goody Ogbogu, Chief Williams Obiora, Prince Azubuike Ilo, Chief Stephen Ibegbu popular as Omelora (Woodpecker). The team also had Chief Joseph Udekwe (Ochiagha), a very influential political leader of Anambra North senatorial district, who, like the Akwaeke Nwafor-Orizu political dynasty of Nnewi, treated Okonkwo to a very elaborate public reception with dance troupes and Ijele masquerade. Speaking in Umuleri and Miata-Anam, Okonkwo promised that Anambra North will become a new construction site in the state if he emerged the governor.
It also had political leaders from Nnewi, Orumba, Ihiala and Ekwusigo from Anambra South zone, as well as youth leaders from the three senatorial zones led by the youthful Chukwuma Ezeafulukwe, who see in Okonkwo, hope for their future. Together, the youths said Okonkwo is an inspiring role model who is using his accomplishments as a highflying entrepreneur to inspire youths to ‘dream big, think big and work for the biggest.’
“Dikeora is someone we see as a role model. He is not a perennial politician. He has another address and has grown that address long before he moved out to seek our votes to lead Anambra. His story inspires us. Many of us dream of becoming like him. Many of us want him as our role model. That is why without even asking us to join him, many of us voluntarily joined him and agreed to work for his success because we know that our youths will be the better for it once he takes over Agu Awka”, Samuel Amobi, a youth volunteer on his team said.
Okonkwo pulled his audience through. He addressed them in fluent Igbo language rarely mixing it with English. He wowed the audience at every of the stops with deep understanding of Igbo proverbs, idioms and jokes. He was masterly in their usage proving in the process that his years of education in Russia, where he obtained his first degree, Master’s degree and doctorate, did not alter his understanding and usage of his Igbo language. He was severally interrupted by applause and torrent of songs by women who were captivated by his analysis of the situation and the solutions he proffered.
For instance, he told the audience, at different locations, that the bane of Anambra’s development has been poor leadership. They agreed with him. He argued to their conviction that it was for poor leadership that the state has failed to realize it potentials. He put the blame for lack of development at the local government level on poor leadership vision which he said made past leaders to cripple the local government system and divert their statutory allocations from the federation account. His solutions: to conduct local government elections within the first year in office and also ensure that local government allocations are paid directly into local government accounts for management by an elected local government leadership. It was good news for the people as the last local government elections in the state were held in January 2004. The people yearn for participatory leadership, at the local government level, which Okonkwo has promised them.
He said this would enable local governments build roads, construct schools, open up markets, pay workers’ salaries as at when due and engage in meaningful development while the state government focuses attention on bigger issues.
“It is for lack of leadership vision that state governments grab local government allocation and deny the local councils of development. For us, the state government will focus on bigger challenges and allow the local councils to function independently.”
He regretted that several Anambra people in the Diaspora who are willing to come back and invest in the state have not done so because of poor leadership, but added: “I am in touch with them. I know what they plan to do in Anambra once we get into power. They are ready and waiting. I can only assure you that the flurry of investments into Anambra will make it the envy of all other states; and that is what Anambra State is supposed to be. Our human capital is second to none in the world and we will leverage on that to change the narrative on our state”.
Okonkwo urged the people to guard against handing power over to people who have no track record of personal achievements as private individuals. The different audiences, who were happy to note that Okonkwo has never worked to earn salary from anyone since he returned to Nigeria from Russia, but has, for more than 30 years, been in private business where he created jobs and employed thousands of Nigerians, also heard that the task of creating jobs to absorb the army of unemployed youths in the state cannot be entrusted to persons who have only earned salary all their lives.
“You don’t learn how to create new jobs in Government House. That place is not where you learn how to develop human capital. It is not a place to learn how to harness human potentials. You must have done this somewhere else and then use government as a larger platform to expand it.
“You can’t give what you don’t have. You can’t create jobs if you have never created one before. You can’t empower people if you have never empowered people, independent of government”, he said reminding them that “you don’t give a luxurious bus driver an airbus to fly”.
He gave tips on a welfare package he would unveil for senior citizens and vulnerable people in the state. According to him “my government will impact on every life in the state, even the forgotten and abandoned. I am not saying this as what I may do. No, I say it as what I will do because I have been doing so in my private capacity. The governorship seat will therefore be a larger platform to reach more people across all parts of the state”, adding that Awka, the capital city will be visited with an avalanche of infrastructural projects that will transform it into a worthy state capital.
The Okonkwo ‘Meet-the-Delegates’ train has been described more as a carnival by stakeholders who at different places endorsed his candidature for the primary election. Stakeholders who spoke to Daily Sun said no other aspirant in the race engaged the delegates like Okonkwo did “so, they should not be surprised when he wins the primary”.
A ward executive of the party in Aguata, who did not want his name in print, said Okonkwo has run a very well-coordinated campaign and gave every delegate from the ward to the local council level the opportunity to hear him. “He is the only one among all the aspirants that has addressed all the delegates”, he said adding, “I don’t know if others intend to do the same but he is the only one who has been able to assemble all executives of all the wards in every local government area including the executives of the party in the LGAs and stakeholders and addressed them. This is no longer about talking to the ward or local government chairman and then telling him to talk to others. No, Dikeora addressed all of us directly and we are happy with him.”
Another stakeholder also extolled Okonkwo for having remained a loyal party member and worked to make sure that the PDP in Anambra remained united and intact. “Since he has not disappointed us by jumping from party to party and has remained with us all these years, we will certainly not disappoint him”, the ward official added.
Others who spoke in similar vein urged PDP stakeholders and statutory delegates to beware of the antics of those who dump the party once they fail in any bid to get elected.
From comments by people at the various meetings, it is obvious that the pendulum is swinging pointedly at Okonkwo. June 26 may just be his day.