From Magnus Eze, Enugu
It was a declaration like no other. Even journalists who came to cover the event said it was more of a carnival of acceptance than a declaration. The crowd was impressive and ecstatic as Dr. Obiora Okonkwo, a prime governorship hopeful of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) for the November 6 election in the state, flanked by his amiable wife, Gina, rode gallantly into the embrace of the leadership of the party at its Udoka Estate Secretariat in Awka, amidst cheers and drums of triumph from several support groups, friends and associates many of who, spurred by the joy of the moment, declared to join the party in support of Okonkwo more popular as Dikeora.
The day began for Okonkwo unlike every other day. As early as 6am on that historic day, Monday, March 1, his country home in Ogidi, Idemili North area of the state, had been taken over by a crowd of supporters who said they came so early as to wake him and ensure that he left his house early enough so as to keep the date with PDP leaders and stakeholders at the Awka secretariat. The supporters’ drum and flutes kept talking and speaking to him. They told him that they would not stop until he drove out of his home to fulfill his appointment with destiny. And he did.
His arrival at Udoka Estate, Awka caused vehicular traffic; and emerging from the motorcade, Okonkwo was ushered into the waiting embrace of the leadership of PDP in Anambra State with drums and dance. Every member of the State Working Committee was present to receive him. PDP members of the Anambra State House of Assembly were also present to welcome him. Other party stalwarts were also seated by the time he arrived. Many friends and associates had also flown in from Lagos, Port Harcourt, Abuja and other cities to add colour and show solidarity with him. But unknown to even the party leadership, many of the people who sat in the crowd, were people who had made up their minds to join the PDP because Okonkwo was declaring his intention to contest for the governorship. For them, there would not have been any reason to identify with the party except for Okonkwo.
One of them, Mr. Chudy Ezeaku, told journalists that “I decided to join the party after reading his (Okonkwo) profile. I am encouraged that we have someone like him offering to lead our state. I am attracted by the fact that in almost 30 years, Okonkwo has worked to create wealth and never at any time earned salary as a paid worker. Rather, he has been paying others. This means that he knows what to do to make things better for us the youths”.
Those same lines resonated when Prince Azubuike Iloh addressed the audience. He told the party leadership, and all listening, that Okonkwo’s entrance into the governorship race has altered the dynamics, adding that his becoming the flag bearer after the primary election strategically places the party in pole position to reclaim Government House, Awka. He said that though everyone in the race is qualified to aspire, only Okonkwo satisfies the need of the party for an aspirant that has the capacity and capability to win the election. “Not everyone who is qualified to contest in an election has the capacity to win”, Iloh, who is more popular as Ise na Ise, reminded the party leadership.
Chief Williams Obiora (Ichie Ajilija), who addressed the party leadership before Prince Iloh, also said that the task ahead was a contest between capacity to deliver on expectations and capacity to make promises. He said that Obiora Okonkwo has risen beyond the level of making promises but now at a stage in his life where delivering on expectations has become his trademark. “Many of us were not even aware that he was working to deliver United Nigeria Airlines. One morning, we all woke and saw a new bird in the sky adding to the growth of our national economy. We have come here to you, to ask that PDP breaks away from its past and drives in a new direction where it will work with people with proven track record of deliveries on expectation”, he said.
Adding his voice to the cacophony of solidarity message for Okonkwo, Dr. Chinedu Ekwealor reminded the audience that the future of the state holds more expectation for youth engagement through job creation and strategic development. He said Okonkwo is in a position to alter the statistics on youth unemployment in the state as having created jobs since he returned to Nigeria from Russia where he had his higher education, he was better positioned to understand the demands of job creation than one who has been a salary earner.
“What I say to Ndi Anambra today is that we must not make the mistake of jettisoning the opportunity to break away from the past where salary earners promised to create jobs for our youths. You cannot entrust a salary earner with the task of creating jobs because he has never created one and does not know what it means to do so. The person who is better positioned to create jobs and engage the youths is one who has been doing so, effortlessly, with personal resources”.
At this point, Okonkwo took over the podium and wowed the party leadership and the crowd with songs of praise and thanksgiving to God before speaking to his 10-point agenda for the complete overhaul and development of Anambra State. Starting from social welfare to cater for senior citizens and the most vulnerable among the people, Okonkwo said that his administration, if given the opportunity, would focus on core policy directives in economic development with jobs, revitalization of education with focus on human capital development, planned urbanization and urban renewal (including a brand purpose-built new state civil service secretariat within two years), improved access to basic healthcare with emphasis on preventive healthcare, diaspora engagement (with so many Anambra sons and daughters in the diaspora ready to invest in the development of Anambra with him as governor), rebuilding the ethical infrastructure and poverty eradication through manpower development and capacity building.
Not only did he speak to these points, Okonkwo also introduced some members of his team as the brains behind successes recorded by past administrations in other states in the areas of security and investment promotion, urban renewal and new cities development. He further shocked the people when he declared that his approach to security will include “conventional and non-conventional” means. The applause that followed was deafening.
It indicated that he had said what the audience was waiting to hear. Okonkwo came prepared. He already has a blueprint which he said would be unveiled to Ndi Anambra in the next few weeks at what he called ‘Manifesto Night’. “What I have presented to you here is like the executive summary of our plans which is contained in a 21-page document. That document will be unveiled and presented to Ndi Anambra in the next few weeks at my Manifesto Night. But to give you a snippet, it is titled ‘My Project for Ndi Anambra”.
Okonkwo ended the address with the assurance of victory for PDP on November 6. “What I assure you is that if we get the ticket, we shall run an unprecedented campaign such that our victory will be so overwhelming that our opponents will come forward, one after the other, to attest that indeed, they were cleanly and clearly beaten”, he said.
Ending his address with more songs of praise which the audience all stood to dance to, Okonkwo yielded the podium to the State Party Chairman, Chief Ndubuisi Nwobu (Obuka Awka), who reeled out the aspirant’s consistent and unflinching support, financial and non-financial, to the PDP over the past several years. He disclosed, to the applause of the audience, that Okonkwo has even fulfilled the financial obligation placed by the party leadership on all aspirants.
“Less than 24 hours after the State Exco agreed that every aspirant will pay N5m as administrative fees to the party while going to buy the expression of interest and governorship forms at the headquarters in Abuja, I can confirm to you that he has responded.” For many in the audience, that showed organisation, purpose and seriousness.
However, he told Okonkwo and his crowd of supporters, that no aspirant will be preferentially treated. “All must go through the same process”, Nwobu said, adding that “what I promise all that are in the race is that we shall deliver a highly transparent primary election which everyone will be proud of”.
For Okonkwo, it was the beginning of a journey that actually began soon after the last governorship election in 2017. As at 2018, Okonkwo had consulted widely and interacted with strategic stakeholders in the state, across party lines, on his aspiration. He began to move towards Government House Awka at a time when many said it was “too early” to do so. But like military buffs say, you go to war at peace time so that at war time, you will be at peace. Okonkwo is entering the Anambra governorship race fully prepared. He already has his governance template laid out waiting for the fruition of his gubernatorial bid.