While this essay’s main aim is to discuss the import of Okechukwu sobriquet, which the Imo State governor gave to the then APC presidential candidate in the heat of the 2015 elections campaign and its relevance to the struggle of the Igbos for political emancipation. It will not be out of place to refresh the reader’s memory on the significance of Governor Okorocha’s endorsement and significant contributions to the victory of General Muhammadu Buhari in the 2015 elections. This is expected to lay to rest any quiet debate on who is the most acceptable political leader of the Igbos at the moment.
Since 2003 when General Muhammadu Buhari staged his aspiration to become a democratically elected Head of State, the Southeastern part of the country has remained a most difficult terrain for his sturdy political machinery to penetrate. Apart from not having a good media outlet that could sell his candidacy to the Igbo people of the Southeast, Buhari’s major problem in his three earlier attempts at becoming President is that there were few top Igbo leaders who were ready to stand up for him and possibly help him sway appreciable Southeast voters to his side. The few who stood up for him, either failed to muster the required support from among the grassroots or did not deploy the right rhetoric in selling their candidate’s beautiful and people oriented manifestoes. The result remained constant, as he continued to register pathetic outing in all the Southeastern States, especially in Imo State, where in 2011, he registered one of the lowest votes any frontline presidential candidate in Nigeria has ever gotten in a general election. This is not because the people of the Southeast hate the man who is more respected for his steely integrity and discipline than any other thing, but mostly, because the marketers of the no-nonsense, austere and highly disciplined Spartan had continually failed to find ways to sell him to majority of Igbo electorate.
In politics, the best marketers are those who can market themselves, or put differently, those whom the people believe in. How best do we know a politician who can market him or herself, than that politician who had at one time or the other won elective positions for himself or those he supports, through mass mobilization built on grassroots based structures, media campaigns, propaganda and the goodwill he enjoys from among the people? In the 2015 general elections, General Muhammadu Buhari’s most important victory in the election was not just his declaration as President-elect of the Federal Republic, but the fact that he was able to break into the Southeast by garnering more than 25% of the votes cast in Imo State. This achievement in Imo State is especially significant, considering that Governor Okorocha was the newest convert among Southeast political leaders who had always or at one time or the other given their support to the retired General and former military ruler.
In 2003, the current Minister of Science and Technology, Dr. Ogbonnaya Onu was a staunch supporter of Buhari’s presidential ambition and a leader of the All Nigerian Peoples Party (ANPP), yet, both the ANPP and its presidential candidate did not make any significant inroad in the entire Southeast, including, Chief Ogbonnaya Onu’s Ebonyi State. The situation was the same in 2007, when Buhari also emerged the presidential candidate of the ANPP. In 2011, the Congress for Progressive Change (CPC), with Buhari as its presidential candidate had top politicians like Chief Emeka Nwajiuba, Dennis Aghanya, Uche Ezechukwu, Sharon Ikeazu, Osita Okechukwu, yet, the party was literally walked over in the 2011 general elections, as it failed to clinch a single elective position in the entire Southeast during that election. With the foregoing, it is safe to conclude that Governor Okorocha’s support for Buhari’s presidential ambition in 2015, was the single most important game changer for the Daura born army general. This is considering that governor Okorocha’s influence and acceptability goes beyond the Southeast.
The choice of Okechukwu as a name for General Muhammadu Buhari is not just a political strategy gotten very right, but also a philosophical and prophetic statement deeper and more impactful than any book of strategies that may have been written for the then presidential candidate on how to win not just the votes but also the trust of Ndigbo.
Okechukwu is a given name in Igbo, which means; ‘God’s share’ or in another sense; ‘God’s settlement’. The name which is usually given to male children in Igboland, is mostly used to communicate the joy of the parents at receiving a male child who they expect to be heir to their estate. Some of the male children who are given this name are those born after many years of bareness or after the parents might have had many female children without any male child. The arrival of the male child in the latter situation is seen as a special blessing from God, to ensure that the parents’ share or place in history is not wiped away.
In adopting ‘Okechukwu’ as a name, Governor Okorocha did not only succeed in selling Buhari to the Igbos as a friend but also as a brother and an instrument through whom God is bringing the political share of the Igbos to them. The intelligent and politically tactical governor understood the much premium placed on names by the Igbos, hence, his idea of choosing a name that best suits the situation while promising better deal for the Igbos in the future.
For a people who have suffered untold persecution in the hands of successive federal governments, since the creation of Nigeria, and more especially since the advent of the fourth republic, Okorocha understood that selling a Northern candidate to the Igbos will be a most difficult task, not because, the Igbos hate the North or its politicians, but because the Igbos feel that time is due for them to have one of their own become President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. Also, Okorocha also understood that the Igbos will give their support to any candidate who has the interest of the Igbos at heart and who would provide the Igbos not just the opportunity to produce one of their own as President but also use his powers as President to ensure that all Nigerians are treated equitably, in the area of infrastructural provision, political appointments and other perks of federal power. Okechukwu can also means equity and fair play. God is not partial, and in sharing, He ensures that every person and every group get what is theirs.
Okechukwu as a prophecy has not fully manifested, as the Igbos are still being treated like second class citizens in today’s Nigeria. However, all hope is not lost that things will take shape for the better in no distant time, as the same man who sold General Buhari as ‘Okechukwu’, is still unrelenting in his drive to ensure that the Igbos get what is due to them, in the present Federal Government. Governor Okorocha has continued to reach out to the President on issues that concern the Southeast, as he would not want to be seen as a liar by his people. While there are indications that the President is seriously looking into the concerns raised by his chief campaigner in the Southeast, the Igbos will not be convinced by anything less than concrete evidence that their concerns are the concerns of the President.
There cannot be any doubt that the Imo Governor who is also the chairman of the Progressives Governors Forum has done and continues to do his best towards ensuring that the President gets reasonable support from among Southeast voters. With the number of high ranking individuals, Owelle Rochas Okorocha has been able to attract into the APC fold in the last one year, there is no doubt that the five Southeast States will vote for the APC come 2019, if the President gives the Igbos a reason to believe that he is treating the Igbos as equitably as he should.
Thousands of appointments are expected to be made into the boards of Federal Government Agencies and Parastatals, and it will provide an opportunity for the President to show what he thinks about the Igbos. Subsequent appointments by the President will certainly provide an opportunity to redress some of the concerns about the tilt of federal appointments, which a good number of people believe have not favored the Southeast.
Okechukwu Buhari is not just a name, but a prophecy by Owelle Rochas Okorocha that conveys the expectation of majority of Igbo people and which they expect the President to bring to reality through a deliberate and concerted pursuit and implementation of policies that are equitable and address the many years of political and governance neglect suffered by the Igbos in Nigeria.