ALL HAIL JIM AT 70
An eminent colleague and friend was the first to text and correct me when the first part of this tribute hit the newsstands last week. Fred Chukwuelobe, and others, including Hon. Dom Obiekie, a one-time Speaker of the (new) Anambra State House of Assembly reminded me that Jim was not the only executive governor of Anambra State in the Second Republic as I had erroneously stated. They are right that the late C.C. Onoh was also an executive governor of the state, having served just for three months, between October 1 and December 31, before Gen. Muhammadu Buhari's tanks extinguished the Second Republic and herded the politicians, including Jim and Onoh, into Kirikiri.
The short-lived Onoh era might have escaped my mind because it only appeared as a footnote to the four year reign of Jim Nwobodo in that it also marked a period of rancor and erasure, if not desecration, of the four year-reign of style and joy by Jim Nwobodo. However, the Onoh interregnum and its aftermath has helped to throw light on Nwobodo's personality as well as on his philosophy of politics, not as a do-or-die affair, but rather as a means of serving the best interests of the people. While I do not wish to dwell on what should be an 'aside' to this tribute, I nevertheless note that it is curious that while Onoh might have constituted the greatest political irritation to the man he rigged out of office, Nwobodo had turned around to show love and honour to Onoh at every point in his life, to the extent that he literally became Onoh's chief nurse as he ailed, having been largely denied of the warmth of his immediate family. In fact, Jim almost became the chief mourner when the old man passed as the chairman of his burial committee, to ensure that adequate honour was shown him.
It was not only in politics without bitterness that Jim excelled, he also excelled in politics with a purpose. Because he governed a people who had education as their primary industry, Jim had concentrated on educational development as no other had. It was during his reign that educational institutions grew in leaps and bounds to the extent that the military administrations that came after him, especially that of Emeka Omeruah, begged the communities to put a stop in construction of more educational institutions and rather turn to industries. The slogan of his government: 'Schools don't give jobs; industries do…'
That slogan said a lot of things about the Jim Nwobodo administration. Jim was unprecedented in the number of industries which he established and expanded. He did not set up those industries for showmanship, but to provide jobs for the teeming school leavers and economic opportunities for other members of the society. You can easily imagine the number of our people that got jobs at AVOP Vegetable Oil plant, at the aluminum smelter companies, at the Premier Brewery, as well as at the numerous thriving industries that dotted all the crannies of the state. Today, people shake their heads as they drive past those places that have been abandoned and become overgrown by weeds. You now know a part of the story why crimes abound.
He had set up the first state university because Anambrarians had started to feel like orphans as their teeming candidates were being shut out from the federal institutions which cited 'quota' as reason. He did not set up just any type of university; he set up that with a science and technology bias because he knew that their products would cater to the do-it-yourself proclivity of the Igbo mind. No wonder that it was from there that great feats were wrought in computer science, metallurgy and other areas of endeavour. Even the college of education which he also set up in Awka was later to metamorphose into a full fledged university. Not to talk of the other colleges of education and polytechnics that have became subjects of great foresight. When one considers the numbers of students being absorbed by these institutions these days, at no cost to the component states, as they have mostly been taken over by the federal government, one starts to doff hats for Jim.
The wish to balance the interests of his people and to remain faithful to the legacies and dreams of his icons have informed the nature of Jim's public undertakings, but have also put him in trouble. He has tried to follow closely on the footsteps of the Great Zik and has often earned the wrought of those who have hated Zik's guts and foresight. In the 1950s, Zik and Sir Louis Odimegwu-Ojukwu had set up the African Continental Bank (ACB) to help the people with the financial capacity to start businesses which would in turn empower other people. For that, Zik got into trouble with the colonial masters who set up the famed Foster-Sutton Commissioner of Enquiry which, in spite of suborning some close associates of Zik at the time, were unable to establish a prima facie case of criminality against him, principally because they feared a political backlash.
In setting up the Savannah Bank, Nwobodo had also hoped that his bank would be able to empower fellow Nigerians and had suffered a harsher fate. For no reason which Olusegun Obasanjo has been able to utter in public till today, he shut the doors of the thriving bank, laying waste hundreds of jobs and deposits of Nigerians in that institution with the largest branch network in the country. Understandably, Jim and his well-wishers continued to battle until two years ago, when the wheels of justice ground to the point where it had no other alternative or justification than to ask Jim to reopen the gates of the bank after a total devastation has been done to the assets and psyche of its owners, shareholders and depositors.
But as Obasanjo and his ilk must have since realized, like a cork, the Igbo spirit can never be pushed under the waters of hatred. He shut down the airline, banks and oil businesses of Dr. Orji Uzor Kalu in Nigeria, but today they have become larger elsewhere, manuring the economic growth and prosperity of other lands. Very soon, Savannah Bank will rise from its ashes too assume its place among the great financial institutions of the world. That is the promise we proffer to Obasanjo and the other Igbo haters of this world.
If Jim has stayed on in politics, it is not because, like the opportunist politicians who see politics as an end in itself, he has not hoped to gain anything personal from it; but rather to stay relevant enough to serve and represent his people. That was the whole essence of his going into the Senate where he always stood on the side of issues that are relevant and important to Nigerians in general and his Igbo people in particular. He had also sought the presidential slot in 1979 and seemed to have upset many Igbo people who had felt that he was pouring sand into Alex Ekwueme's gari.
It is not for me to state Jim's reasons for exercising his rights alongside Ekwueme, but I do know that at a public function in November 2008 at Abuja, Nwobodo had promised to explain to Ndigbo and the world why he did what he did. For some of us, such an explanation is not even necessary as it is clear that one of the greatest banes of Ndigbo in the present and past politics of Nigeria is that in their extreme emotionalism, they chase shadow instead of substance.
And if our people would start to embark on deep thinking in politics instead of the nzogbu nzogbu approach, and place Jim and Ekwueme side by side, on account of the hard facts on the grounds and on the basis of solid political achievements and legacies left by both men on the polity, many would have difficulties in claiming that Ekwueme has a greater claim to the leadership of Ndigbo than Jim. Moreover, I have been amply instructed by Dr. Chuba Okadigbo, my teacher and mentor that, 'In politics, what is important is not who is best qualified, but rather who is most acceptable'.
Having said that, it is only for Jim to explain himself on some of questions that are still begging for answers from Nigerians. The sooner he does. the better