OHAKIM'S MANY MANSIONS
There is a house somewhere in Okohia, Isiala-Mbano Imo State. Situated some two and half kilometers from Anara, also in Isiala Mbano, it has all the attributes and trappings of a mansion. Built in the early 1990's, I guess, it is every inch, a modern homeowner's delight. It is a storey building.
It has a courtyard. It has two living rooms downstairs - one expansive, the other a modest reception center. It also has a guest room downstairs and a good master's bedroom upstairs. Yes, a good master's because I have entered it before - on the owner's special invitation.
I was there, the first time, sometime in September, 2004. I've been there several times ever since. The compound, which plays eternal host to this mansion, is large – as in being extensive, expansive. It has an amphitheater. It has a tennis court. You wouldn't be completely out of order, if you said it has a mini-parade ground. There are bush-bars-like structures that dot the yard, here and there.
Entrance to this mansion is something worthy of mention. It is a two-lane tarred road with a median, populated by flowers of variegated species, regularly manicured, groomed, weeded and watered. It has streetlights. The left side of the road has huge trees that provide shade from sunshine and I guess supply a stream of uninterrupted dose of oxygen. In addition, it has the multipurpose use as a shade for visitors' cars and humans who crave relaxation.
The right hand-side of the dualized entrance into this mansion is a thin boundary between the unfenced side of the compound and the compound of village neighbors who seem not disturbed by the stream of activities that now happen daily in their neighbor's compound.
With a huge gate that has an artiste's aesthetic imprimatur, you could be carried away, if this was your first time visiting! Soon after the gate, you begin to notice the works of other artistes, carvings and sculptures that make culture statements. One in particular tells a story of maybe, the original founder of the compound, say, a father, or grandfather. You notice that the owner of the place has culture sense - in abundance. He did not in the process of building a new, destroy the old, as you could easily decipher that the two (the past and the present) lay side-by-side in complementary augmentation.
The architects and engineers (with extensive brief by the owner, I reason) that did the landscaping and design, too, did a darn good job. The undulating topography of the compound, make the house look as if it placidly sits deep down, securely entrenched in a valley. When you walk in, it would first seem as if you were climbing a hill, which gradually leads through a slope and a terrain before you descend into that valley we talked about earlier.
When leaving, if you are of feeble feet, you could find yourself gradually (with little labor) climb out of a well German-floored environment hugged by well manicured lawns that oozed the scent of roses and queens of the night (if it's nightfall). There are attention seeking giant turkeys that daily, in giant strides, struggle with human beings for space and recognition.
The flowering plants are of multiple species. The exotic ones that do not resemble those commonly seen in these parts out-number those commonly seen. Its gardens are something else, as there can be no type of edible fruits you wouldn't there find. Avocadoes and guavas – the guavas produce huge bulbous fruits that tell the story of their place of origin. Eat one full-sized fruit of guava from the orchard and you're done for the day, food wise. There are, cashew, ube (local pear trees), even breadfruit (ukwa) trees that dot everywhere you looked at in the compound.
This village mansion we are describing, was built sometime in the 90s by a man named Ikedi G. Ohakim. He is the present governor of Imo State, Nigeria. Now follow me as we take a walk through Ohakim's other mansions - in Owerri and other parts of Imo. Every residential house on or off Douglas Road in Owerri is now a mansion. They have all the attributes present at Ohakim's earlier built mansion - at least beautification-wise. On Sam Mbakwe Avenue are many mansions as well. They now look every inch like the Ohakim mansion in the village.
Akanchawa area of the city is dotted with sparkling mansions as builders there make architectural statements laced in grandeur and beauty. The Musa Yar'Adua boulevard is something else and even Wetheral and other adjoining streets are kept clean and the lushness of the green grass are there for those with aesthetic senses like me to perceive. What of that boulevard that separates the state secretariat and the Imo House of Assembly? On both sides too are many mansions.
I cannot exhaust myself writing about the new Owerri made possible by its founders and enhanced by Ohakim's Clean and Green initiative. Every house in Owerri is now a mansion. Led by a beautification conscious leader, the people have taken beautification personal. The only question mark now is the roads. Because the rains were much this year, many parts have been washed away by heavy flooding. The people at the ministry of works have a lot of patchwork to do – now that the rains are over.
For sake of disclosure, I am from Osuh in Isiala-Mbano.
Isiala-Mbano is my LGA while Okigwe is my senatorial district. I must admit that sometimes, I feel green with envy hoping that Okigwe could swap position with Owerri. But that's not the reason I write this essay. I write because I have endured and have endured the barbs and jibes on Ohakim in relation with his Clean and Green campaigns which happens to be very pronounced in Owerri, knowing that what he is doing in Owerri comes natural to him.
I have endured knowing that Ohakim is not provincial. Provincialism is clannish. I have endured and empathized with him, knowing that the governor is doing in Owerri, what he does best – keeping his place of abode, (whether in the villa or in the city) as clean as possible (because he is godly). I learnt it from kindergarten - that 'cleanliness is next to godliness.' If Orlu were to be the state capital from where he operated, Ohakim would have done the same for Orlu. That is not to say that the governor has limited himself to the beautification of Owerri.
I write today because a number of writers have gone to town pooh-poohing Ohakim's penchant to make Owerri the cleanest city east of the Niger. They trash this initiative, trying to pin down Ohakim as a one city development-conscious Governor. They deride his concentration on Owerri, asking with tongue in cheek if Owerri is the only city in Imo. They even accuse him of neglecting his home district and city, Okigwe, in preference to Owerri.
It may be coincidental that he started this program first in Owerri. But if we be honest with ourselves, if not Owerri, where? Could he have gone to Okigwe to sign his predilection for cleanliness signature? Certainly, that would have been seen as clannish and a misplaced priority. It would have been misunderstood and been politically inexplicable. It would not have added any political value to his goals. Could he have begun in Orlu? That too wouldn't have been a politically sellable alternative. Orlu had recently seen a suffuse of government attention when its son sat at the helms of Imo affairs for eight solid years.
Owerri, thus, became the natural place for all the attention. First, it is the capital of the state. Second, (call it a political compensation for its people which might as well be the case), the people of Owerri, have been the most understanding of all the three provinces that make up Imo. They have sacrificed the most and gained the least, politically speaking. And if I may ask, would it be politically speaking completely out of place in future, for Ohakim to point to the infrastructural development of Owerri and its beautification as the most ambitious accomplishment of his administration?
Some commentators and or detractors get it wrong when they dub Ohakim's efforts in Owerri a one-item program and or a waste of money and effort. But this wasted effort is positively reverberating all over the nation and the world as a whole. Owerri, (by any yardstick), is the cleanest capital city in Nigeria. It was not so four years ago. It only used to be so once upon a time in the remote past, when another Okigwe son named Samuel Onunaka Mbakwe lived in Douglas House.
All Ohakim did and is still doing, is to do his little Clean and Green work, which he first experimented with his home at Okohia. There are no gimmicks attached. They are not politically driven stunts. Cleanliness and the love of aesthetics come natural to the man. Owerri is serene, calm and peaceful.
Forget the occasional accidental discharges, which people allude to when they want to talk down on the city. Owerri is fast becoming Nigeria's tourist haven. When you ignore this fact, you miss a lot. You are invited to come and see for yourself - you won't be disappointed!
Godson Offoaro writes from