Character and the Leadership Question: The Ihedioha Paradigm


By Oke Epia
Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives, Rt. Hon. Emeka Ihedioha,

CON, can be spotted easily in a sea of heads. His trademark green cap

ensures that. But it is not the colour of his cap that has made him

unique. The peculiarity of his personality as embedded in his strength of

character, legacy of achievements and vision in public office is what has

set him apart. He has etched indelible footprints on the sands of time

since emerging on the public scene over two decades ago. This is a

statement of fact. Yes verifiable facts as different from opinion or mere

But where is Ihedioha's strength of character? Before I address this

question let me put the question broadly: wherein is the politician's

strength of character in a country where the political stage is seen to be

fouled by the antics of the players themselves? So if the broad perception

of the average Nigerian politician by the general public is swathed in mud

and dubious accolades at best, where then is the strength of character

being attributed to Ihedioha who is by every means a politician? Except it

is accepted that there are exceptions to the rule, this line of reasoning

is permissible within the prism of the fallacy of generalization and the

reflex mentality of the mob.
There are politicians who have stood out from the crowd. And it is not

because they were devoid of foibles nor had careers lacking in setbacks.

In the First Republic, national heroes like Chief Obafemi Awolowo, Sir

Ahmadu Bello and Chief Nnamdi Azikiwe, all of blessed memories among

others readily come to mind. In the Second Republic, governors like late

Chief Sam Mbakwe, Chief Lateef Jakande, and late Chief Solomon Lar, among

others are icons of that epoch. From the Third and Fourth Republic through

contemporary times, we have had fine politicians of heroic acclaim across

the length and breadth of the country. We have had those who came, saw,

and conquered. This is not an attempt to canonize Ihedioha. Rather, it is

an effort to open our eyes to the rising star that the deputy speaker is

and strengthen the optimism that because of politicians like him, the

political space can be perceived in a positive light. Now back to the

question. Wherein lay Ihedioha's strength of character?

To answer this question, there is need to examine the content of his

character. And this will be done with empirical evidence to buttress my

earlier assertion that the deputy speaker has etched indelible footprints

on the sands of time. In terms of courage and tenacity of purpose as

worthy character traits, Ihedioha is not to be found wanting. Since 1992

when he first got appointment as a Press Officer to the Senate President

through to when he worked as Special Assistant to former Vice President

Atiku Abubakar in 2001, he has maintained streaks of diligence and

purpose. As a man determined to get to the top by dint of hard work,

commitment and loyalty, he served his principals conscientiously and in so

doing, positioned himself for higher calling. His elevation in the ladder

of public service obviously bred in him a vision of politics as a service

to the people. Within this period, Ihedioha also cultivated traits of

political activism as he played in terrains strewn with landmines in the

heady days of military dictatorships. Remarkably, he joined forces with

progressive elements in the Peoples Democratic Movement (PDM) to fight for

and eventually achieve civilian democracy for Nigeria. Thus by the time

he contested and won election into the House of Representatives in 2003 to

represent Aboh Mbaise/Ngor Okpala federal constituency of Imo State, he

was already thorough-bred in the art of politics and had fully formed a

vision of public service as a vehicle to improve the lot of the people.

With a clear vision propelled by political experience and combined with a

sound knowledge of the needs and demands of his people, Ihedioha quickly

moved to address the developmental challenges of his constituency. But

before I address this, it is needful to note his trajectory in the House

of Representatives since his first term till date. As a first time member

of the House, he landed the chairmanship of Marine Transport, a committee

usually reserved for ranking members. This on its own attests to the

political dexterity of Ihedioha who had garnered wide contacts and network

throughout the country in the preceding period of his political career.

The political brinkmanship and sagacity of this Mbaise-born politician was

further attested to by his emergence as Chief Whip of the House during his

second term as well as being able to in spite of several odds, become the

Deputy Speaker of the House. Being in such prominent positions in the

federal legislature and being able to leverage on contacts and goodwill

among colleagues contributed in placing him in some vantage position to

cater to the needs of the electorate who gave him successive mandate. And

he did not fail to take advantage of this for their benefit. Projects like

solar electricity, roads construction and resurfacing, schools renovation

and water works are some of the results of his intervention in the

constituency and throughout Imo State. There have also been

empowerment/skills acquisition programmes for the unemployed, indigent and

vulnerable segment of the population. Thus from his first term (2003-2007)

through his second and current term in the House of Representatives,

Ihedioha has recorded meaningful and measurable impact on the lives and

living conditions of his constituents and Imolites generally. He has

facilitated hundreds of projects and programmes that touch their lives

directly. For instance, he has attracted no fewer than 16 water projects

to the constituency; over 20 completed and ongoing road constructions,

rehabilitation and resurfacing projects spread across the entire Imo

State, some of which run into billions of naira including the

Owerri-Umuahia road, Chokoneze-Mbutu-Logara road, and the Okpala-Igirita

road, among others; electricity projects including installation of 132

KVA/33 sub-station at Aboh Mbaise, 15 MVA/33KVA at Mbutu, and 1×15 MVA

33/11 KV transformer and injection sub-station at Umuneke, Ngor Okpala,

and distribution of transformers to several communities, among others. I

can go on and on but suffice to say that the point intended here is the

fact that for Ihedioha, public office is a call to render service to the

people. On this, he has creditably demonstrated a defining strength of

Another area where the deputy speaker has shown strength of character

relates to integrity in public office. A terrain such as the federal

legislature that is littered with the proverbial banana peel is one that

can test a politician's integrity and sense of tact to the full. To be in

the House of Representatives for over ten years and occupy sensitive

positions including his current office as deputy speaker without a stain

on his name is certainly no mean feat. Especially so when his deputy

speakership places onerous responsibilities on him like the task of

coordinating the constitution amendment by the House of Representatives.

As Chairman of the Ad-hoc committee on the Review of the 1999

Constitution, the deputy speaker bears the heavy burden of ensuring that

the House comes up with credible and germane amendment proposals that

resonate with the yearnings and aspirations of the generality of

Nigerians. The level of success recorded in discharging this burden must

be measured by and mirrored against the process and product of the

amendment exercise piloted by Ihedioha. And the consensus out there is

that the constitution amendment outcomes achieved by the current 7th House

of Representatives are courageous, noble, far-reaching, and incisive such

that they present a viable template to get Nigeria out of the woods if

eventually adopted by the Senate and State Houses of Assemblies in

concluding processes of the amendment. A total of 71 clauses were

successfully amended covering several nagging issues that have clogged the

wheel of national progress. These include granting of full financial,

administrative, executive and legislative autonomy to local government

councils in the country; making the following rights- right to free basic

education, right to a favourable environment, right to free primary and

maternal healthcare services and right to basic housing- listed under the

fundamental objectives and directive principles of state policy

justiciable; removal of immunity for the president, vice president,

governors and deputy governors against prosecution in criminal cases;

resolving indigene/settler dichotomy; and plugging loopholes in government

expenditures; budgetary reforms among other salutary amendments. These

amendments have resonated very well with Nigerians as many stakeholders

have been pouring profuse praises on the House of Representatives. This

was achieved because the process adopted by the Ihedioha committee placed

premium on Nigerians as owners of the constitution and offered them the

opportunity to dictate the changes they want in the constitution through

the peoples public sessions mechanism whereby the Ihedioha committee

organized quasi-townhall meetings in all nooks and crannies of the country

to allow for grassroots inputs. This resulted in a transparent,

accountable and inclusive process ever recorded in the history of

constitution making in the country. In effect, Nigerians themselves

dictated the changes they want in the amended constitution and the House

simply kept faith with their wishes. To pull this kind of mammoth and

slippery exercise through requires courage, integrity and persistence, all

traits of a strong character possessed by the deputy speaker and brought

to bear on the work of the committee.
From the foregoing, it is incontrovertible that Ihedioha has shown

strength of character over time. He has recorded solid achievements in

public service. As he turns 49 years today, he is still available to do

more in the public interest. Like Albert Einstein said, he has tried not

just to become a man of success but rather, a man of value. Happy birthday

Mr. Deputy Speaker sir!
Epia is Media Adviser to the Deputy Speaker, House of Representatives