By Edward T. Dibiana and Uche Nworah, Ph.D
Many Nigerians may seemingly be familiar with the Nigerians in Diaspora Commission (NIDCOM), a federal government agency that oversees the multidimensional engagements of Nigerians in the Diaspora, with the objective to protect their interest and also harness their potentials to ensure meaningful contributions to the development of the nation.
But what they may not likely know is that the initiative that birthed this increasingly impactful commission, headed by Hon. Abike Dabiri, came out from the fertile mind and foresight of late Senator Annie Okonkwo, who represented Anambra Central Senatorial District in the senate between 2007 and 2011.
As a business mogul and an experienced legislator, Senator Okonkwo had identified the socio-economic benefits of evolving a strategic policy thrust that would engender more productive synergy between the Nigerian government and Nigerians in the diaspora.
And in order to give life to this idea, Senator Okonkwo sponsored a Bill entitled “Establishment of the Nigerians Citizens in Diaspora Commission”, which came later came into existence as NIDCOM.
His time at the senate was evidently very eventful, as he served at different Senate Committees, such as Upstream Petroleum Resources, Police Affairs, Environment (as vice-chairman), and Agriculture. He later contested for the governorship of Anambra state in February 2010, but lost to the then incumbent, Peter Obi, the presidential candidate of the Labour Party (LP) in the last general elections.
But apparently, either in victory or in defeat, Senator Okonkwo had always exhibited a remarkable sense of sportsmanship and philosophical worldview that doesn’t give oxygen to politics of acrimony or calumny, which may be identified in some sections of the Anambra state political ecosystem.
Since his recent home calling, by his creator, those who had engaged him in the past, in political pugilism in his home state, Anambra, either in senatorial or governorship elections, have continued to underscore his positive lifestyle, rooted in decency, love for family and community, sense of propriety, humaneness and unblemished character, that’s not tainted by vagaries of business or politics.
For instance, a chieftain of the All Progressive Congress (APC’s), Senator Chris Ngige, former Minister of Labour and Employment, who is one of Senator Okonkwo’s former political opponents, in his condolence message, hailed his political sportsmanship, as a man who detested politics of bitterness and showed good character in his conduct and utterances, in and outside public office.
Ngige described him as a strong and dogged politician with whom he fought many political battles and fierce contests, the most memorable being the three-dimensional fight for the Anambra Central Senate seat between himself, the late Senator and late Prof. Dora Akunyili in 2011. And even though Ngige won the election, Senator Okonkwo didn’t hesitate to call to congratulate him in the spirit of laudable sportsmanship.
Also the presidential candidate of the Labour Party in the last presidential election, Mr. Peter Obi, who also contested Anambra state governorship election with Okonkwo, gave further insight into Okonkwo’s positive politics as he disclosed how the late Senator supported and contributed to his campaign before the presidential election, in spite of the fact that he wasn’t a member the of Labour Party.
According to Obi, “Distinguished Sen. Annie Okonkwo was a veteran of Nigerian politics. Despite not being a member of the Labour Party, he was one of the strongest pillars of support in our journey to a New Nigeria. He provided very invaluable advice and immeasurable support during our vigorous campaigns around the nation.
“He persuaded his son, Hon. Uchenna Okonkwo, who was in another party then, to join the Labour Party, where he contested and eventually won a seat at the House of Representatives. After the elections and the subsequent declarations, which we are challenging in court today.
“Sen. Annie Okonkwo did not relent but remained steadfast in his efforts and commitment towards a New Nigeria. When I heard that he was sick, I travelled to the United States to visit and spend time with him,” Obi disclosed.
The All Progressive Grand Alliance (APGA) leader and Governor of Anambra state, Charles Soludo, has also eulogised him as a prominent son of Anambra who has paid his dues serving the state with dignity.
The renowned philanthropy of the Ojoto, Idemili South Local Government Area – born business tycoon, Senator Okonkwo, deservedly earned him the traditional titles of ‘Okaka Ojoto’, and ‘Agunaechemba Idemili’ (strong man of Ojoto and the Lion that defends the land of Idemili, respectively).
If there is any minute regret the late Senator may be taking to his grave, it would likely be not living long enough to symbolically handover the baton of representative leadership to his son, Uchenna, who was recently inaugurated to represent Idemili North and South Federal Constituency of Anambra state in the House of Representatives.
But Uchenna would be consoled by the fact that his dear father had the grace to shepherd him into that leadership path to continue the legacy of service to his people.
He described his late father as a leader with tireless efforts and passion for creating positive change, who would forever be remembered and cherished by those who had the privilege of working alongside him.
“His kindness and generosity touched the lives of many, leaving an indelible mark on our community.
“His legacy will live on through the countless lives he impacted and the causes he fervently championed,” he said.
Hon. Okonkwo said further that his father dedicated his life to public service, championing the rights of the people he represented with unwavering commitment and integrity.
According to him, Sen. Okonkwo was an accomplished politician, a loving husband, father, and a grandfather who left a legacy of service, leadership, and love.
Late Senator Okonkwo, who bestrode Nigeria’s business and political circles like a colossus, was a loving husband to his wife, Chief Lady Mrs Chinyere Okonkwo, and caring father to his five children.
From a small family business in Aba, in the old Imo state, trading in cosmetics and other items, he built a conglomerate, that employed over 7,000 people. His firms include, Reliance Telecoms, Clemco Industries, Modern Communications (Satellite TV Network), MacClemm Marketing Communications, Sunflower Nigeria, Pentagon Oil and others.
The amiable Agunaechemba
will be laid to rest on August 30, at his country home in Ojoto, Anambra state.
Dibiana, a Media Executive and Nworah, Ph.D, an Adjunct Professor of Marketing wrote from Abuja.