IMOKE AT 49: A LIFE OF SERVICE TO HUMANITY
If, as widely expected across political cycles, Governor Liyel imoke, seeks for and wins a second term in 2012, he would have been in the full swing of a charmed political career at age 50. This illustrious career got off the starting blocks in a very glorious manner. Senator Imoke was 31 when he was elected to the Senate of the Federal Republic of Nigeria under the defunct National Republican Convention, NRC during the botched transition of General Ibrahim Babangida, making him the youngest ever Senator in the Federal Republic of Nigeria. This dreamed beginning, and the success he made of it, virtually established him as a leader to reckon with in the emerging political culture in Nigeria then.
So, it was naturally in order when following the General Abdusalami Abubakar political transition, he became one of the foremost political leaders of the new democratic dispensation. Apart from being one of the founders of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, that has ruled Nigeria since 1999, he was and still is, the charismatic and inspirational leader of the party in Cross River State. He was solely responsible for the emergence of Mr. Donald Duke as Governor of the State in 1999. Again his wholesome support was critical to the success of Mr. Duke's second term bid in 2003. It was not only Duke who had the exclusive privilege of Imoke's grooming, scores of others with political dreams of their own, benefitted from Imoke's ardent desire to expand the political space to accommodate as many talented and skillful individuals as possible. Many of them ended up as cabinet members, aides, heads of parastatals, members of boards, and commissions, ambassadors and sundry other appointments.
Imoke himself was called to service at the Federal level where incidentally he started his career in 1991 as the youngest Senator in the annals of the Senate. This time round, President Olusegun Obasanjo appointed him his Special Adviser on Utilities. He also oversaw the winding-up of the erstwhile Oil Mineral Producing Areas Commission, OMPADEC, following the failure of this Commission to intervene in the developmental challenges in the Niger Delta region as it was mandated to do. Governor Imoke was appointed Nigeria's Minister for Power and Steel at the beginning of Obasanjo's second term in 2003. At a point, he doubled as Minister for Education, when the Ministry's then Minister, Professor Fabian Osuji, resigned over corruption charges, later realized to be political motivated.
Under ordinary circumstances, the Power and Steel Ministry is very challenging. Imoke became Minister of the ministry at a time when the nation was going through very dark days occasioned by the inability of the existing power stations to generate electricity to meet national consumption needs. It was left for Imoke to think out of the box to address this knotty issue. Imoke rightly reasoned that establishing Independent Power plants in the country should sustainably address the country's energy needs. Thus was born the National Independent Power Projects, NIPP, in the country. NIPP was a crucial part of strategic reforms initiated by Imoke to tackle the rot in the power sector. Others include the creation of the Nigerian Energy Regulatory Commission, NERC, to encourage private sector participation in power generation and supply. The formation of Rural Electricity Agency, (REA) to minimize the counter effect of profit-driven developments in the sector. Unbundling of National Electric Power Authority into 18 autonomous business units, manpower development within the PHCN structure, extension of national transmission grid to include Bayelsa, Jigawa and Benue States for the first time ever. Significantly, Imoke succeeded in doubling electricity generating capacity from approximately 1600MW to 4000MW in less than two years. Perhaps most important of his achievements in the sector was the enactment of the Power Sector Reforms bill.
In 2007, majority of State Governors were completing their second and final term in office. In Cross River State, there was widespread clamour for Senator Imoke to join the gubernatorial race. After much pressure, and initial reluctance by President Obasanjo to release him to answer the call of his people, Imoke eventually entered the race, won his party's primaries, and the gubernatorial election that followed, including the rerun election of August 2008.
Since then, in a breathless manner, Governor Imoke has carried out broad intervention in sectors critical to the evolution of Cross River State as an emerging economy in the sub-region. This new wave captures huge investment in education, tourism, health, environment, agriculture, infrastructural development, private sector led growth, including reforms of tax administration, social security, and the bureaucracy. These interventions have turned the fortunes of the State, and its people around. Placing them on a wealthy and prosperous plain. He has shown with his programmes that he is ready to take Government to those who need Government the most.
Imoke was well prepared to take on the challenge of providing leadership for Cross River State. Before the democratic exercise of 1999, he had several brainstorming meetings with a few friends towards the development of a blueprint for the future of Cross River State. This blueprint has been followed by the political leadership in the State since 1999. Now Governor Imoke is seeing to the vigorous implementation of this profound document of all-round development of the State.
Addressing his aides sometime in mid 2008, Governor Imoke made it clear that public office is a public trust, and that there was no higher responsibility in life than a call to service. This is Governor Imoke's enduring testament. In his public and private initiatives, he has lived a life dedicated to the service of humanity. His governmental programmes have a human face. He has a passion for human and physical development that evinces the character and determination of a leader who stands ready to live this clime better than he met it.
In providing strategic leadership for Cross River State, Imoke has pooled from the high-valued reservoir of experience and knowledge of a cross section of indigenes of the State. The Governor has constituted an Elder's Consultative Forum, a Strategic Advisory Committee and convened regular Town Hall meetings, to procure advice and solutions on issues relevant to the wellbeing of the State. These warehouses of knowledge, so to say, are also involved in the governance of the State, though in an advisory capacity. This gives a broad spectrum of stakeholders a say in the governance of the State. It is a laudable tribute to Imoke's diplomacy that he has forged a bond of unity and common purpose amongst all indigenes of the State
As a modern political leader, Governor Imoke does not pay lip service to the tenets of democracy. He believes in the supremacy of the will of the people, and the sanctity of the ballot. If the May 29 Democracy Day afforded him a forum to espouse his idea of democracy to the people, the Local Government primaries of the PDP in the State presented him with a litmus opportunity to apply free and fair procedures in the selection of Councillorship and Chairmanship candidates. This was largely attained with emergence of candidates through popular appeal. Imoke is not stopping there, he is going ahead to allow civil society and election monitors to oversight the conduct of the elections on August 18, 2010.
Urbane and articulate, pragmatic and prudent, Imoke has won several awards for his contributions to good governance, and sustainable investments on tourism, agriculture, and environment. Often described as press shy, Imoke is not given to razzmatazz. His achievements are imprinted in the hearts of the many whose lives he is transforming with realistic investment in areas that mean the most to them. The people have shown their appreciation and love for him in several ways; supporting his government and programmes, showing great understanding as the State weathers tough financial challenges, and generally urging him to seek a second term.
Governor Imoke has so much more to offer Cross River State and Nigeria. Rare is it to find a leader whose popularity cuts across all generations as Imoke's. As he garners more experience going forward, Senator Imoke is perhaps destined to serve Cross River State and Nigeria more, and offer his enormous talents and resources to the consolidation of democracy and developmental efforts in Nigeria.