A NIGHT FOR THE
ARISTOTLE OF ENUGU
culled from THISDAY,
November 26, 2004
Even the organizers of the event, in the wildest of their imagination, could
never have thought that that night, they had literally de-linked every other
part of Abuja, the Federal Capital Territory, of its creme-de-la-creme who make
the polity tick, and concentrated them in the Congress Hall of the NICON Hilton
Hotel. Nor could they have thought that an event which mirrored their plain
identification with the giant strides of the governor of their state, in t he
form of a civic reception, would turn out to be a showcase of what Enugu has
got, which is in short supply in a polity like Nigeria that is replete with
charlatans in high places - a highly cerebral chief executive officer of
So jam-packed was the hall with the who-is-who on the political turf, captains
of industry and curious passers-by who had heard the highly burnished story of
Chimaroke Nnamani's intellectual savvy and who had come to verify or disprove
it, that an enraptured guest beside this writer unconsciously muttered that if
all Nigerian governors were endowed with the likes of Nnamani, a change was
destined for the horizon.
The eleven Enugu National Assembly members, on Wednesday, November 10, 2004, had
organized a civic reception in honour of Nnamani at a ceremony that went beyond
the normal eating and drinking associated with such occasions. For the ceremony
was symbolic in many respects, both in timing and representation. Relating to
the former, Nnamani had said, when he began to speak, that he consistently, for
five years of his governance of the state, had flatly refused various entreaties
to be feted by various groups, even his own people, but consented to being
hosted by the legislators. This writer guessed that this was due, first to his
respect for them and second, to submit to the time
tested cliché of all works and no play being Jack's undoing as a dull boy. But
as the event would show, even while playing or unwinding, as the reception
normally should indicate, Nnamani was working in the precinct of Abuja.
More than any other thing, the symbolism of the occasion was the conviviality on
display between the state governor and the Abuja legislators. Anyone who
understands or remembers the recent grueling saber-rattling history of the
state, of the parceling of acrimony to the governor by the state legislators at
the National Assembly and the portrayal of government as being in constant dis-equilibrium
with its representatives, would understand the need for the present legislators
to advertise their comradeship with the state government. It was a scenario that
no true indigene or resident of Enugu would wish to recur. It was a moment of
illicit connivance that literally drew the Coal City State backwards by several
steps. As such, a civic reception of this colour is not only celebratory of the
newfound camaraderie, it was an acknowledgement that when both the government
and its elected representatives have a common goal, peace is its outcome.
Not one to indulge in vainglory, in spite of the need to advertise the
tranquility of the relationship between him and the Abuja legislators, Nnamani
had, earlier same day, used the opportunity of the gathering in Abuja to stun
the legislators on the silent revolution his administration daily brings to bear
on the art of governance. He had plainly invited them to the Maitama area of
Abuja, opposite the Ministry of Finance. On getting there, the legislators
beheld a mesmerizing spectacle that was beyond their imagination. A massive N920
million Liaison office that was almost at its 95 per cent state of completion,
stared at everyone. As they beheld the massive structure, expected to generate
millions of naira to the state in rent to banks and other corporate
organizations, Nnamani conducted the legislators round, replying simply to their
pleasantly surprising gaze into the magnificent building: To God be the glory. I
By 7 pm at the NICON this said day, it had become apparent that it was going to
be one of Nnamani's finest hours. The expansive hall exuded the panache of a
five-star hotel that it is. Chefs moved their wares gradually like a coyote
gliding home after a full day's meal. The Master of Ceremony, astounded by the
temporality of space and the way the expansive hall was slowly transforming into
a mole's hole, announced that anyone who hadn't got an invitation should leave
the hall. Yet, the crowd would not subside.
Dignitaries streamed in like a broken cistern and at about 7. 30 pm, the hall
was already bursting at its seams with the movers and shakers of government.
Chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Chief Audu Ogbeh was already
seated. So was his deputy, Austin Okpara, Liyel Imoke, Francis Arthur Nzeribe,
Senator Adeseye Ogunlewe, Nze Chukwu Ozichukwu, Anyim Pius Anyim, Alimi, lyiola
Omisore, Dora Akunyili, Frank Nweke etc. Then came the Chairman, Board of
Trustees of the PDP, Chief Tony Anenih, whose appearance crowned the glory of
the day. The gathering was such a roll call of eminent politicians that someone
beside this writer unconsciously muttered that they had come to endorse the
youthful governor. But, endorsement for what? I asked, but the man would not be
drawn into further talk.
The Igede dance was the dessert for a night that later turned out to be an
admixture of fun and intellectual speech making. As the traditional dancers
wriggled their waists tot he rhythm of a song that went on a journey into the
various projects embarked upon or completed in the last five years of Nnamani's
governance of the state, the symphony attracted everyone, including the
governor, who momentarily stood up from his seat on the high t able and got lost
in the midst of the dancers, rekindling t he old days of t he Enugu boy who is
in total attunement with the rhythm of his roots.
In a moment, Chief Ogbeh, who was slated to be the chairman of the day, spoke in
low tones with the people on the high table and he took his leave. It was only
when it was time for the chairman to make a speech that Nze Ozichukwu, who had
consented to be an emergency chairman, told the crowd that Ogbeh was about then
receiving visiting ambassadors of some countries in his house and had to race to
the venue. Ozichukwu corroborated what magical feat the people of Enugu had been
grappling with in the last five years by stating Nnamani's feats in governance.
The gathering was a challenge to leadership, he said; it was to celebrate
Nnamani's achievements and to be joyful of the future. "You're the best of
whatever achievement and excellence represent," he had said.
Thereafter, Senator Okoro took the podium and spoke at length on the sterling
qualities of a man he frequently referred to as "our governor". According to
him, Governor Nnamani was a man of valour and integrity, "our benefactor,"
stating that the National Assembly members from Enugu were at NICON to honour
his exemplary achievements.
Ogbuefi Ozomgbachi read a citation that encircled Nnamani' s cerebral make-up
and achievements, all underscoring the fact that he was a man whom fate had
roundly equipped from childhood for the arduous task of leadership. Almost
immediately, the governor was presented with a giant-sized certificate of honour
and as he handed over the portrait back to one of his aides for keep, a dance
galore to the inspiring traditional rendition of the local music began. As usual
with everything he does, Nnamani snatched the show like a lead dancer,
neglecting the discomfort of his suit as he did the dance the local boy style.
When he walked to the dais to pick the microphone, aloud thundering salute
greeted Governor Nnamani. Like a dew in the sun, the shout suddenly died down as
the people gathered waited with baited breath to hear from a man whose renown
was carved from his widely acclaimed intellectuality in a Nigeria where
governors of his hue depended on "it is a goal!" adulations to carve a niche for
themselves in the hearts of the people.
And so, Nnamani began a journey into what was a chip off his ex-tempore oratory
by quoting from James Bruce. Like every intellectual presentation, Nnamani began
with what looked like a "Statement of the problem," stating how, in the past
five years, he had not honoured any call to receive him, from any quarters. He
then delved into philosophy mixed with theology; how only little minds of a
little man attribute their life success to their power or capability. He had
accepted to be in Abuja that night, he said, not to celebrate but to give
testimony to what God has done. He then went poetic, comparing the hills of
Abuja with the hills of Udi in Enugu and the cleanliness of both cities,
submitting that the adventurous spirit of the Ndigbo is his sustaining power.
Like a poet gradually gliding to the denouement, Nnamani took the crowd on a
journey into his midas touch in Enugu state: To the welter of reforms that have
become the hallmark of the Coal City State, to the unparalleled developmental
projects which even the opposition party in the state recently acknowledged, the
brand new Enugu State University of Technology, the brand new Teaching hospital,
the dualization of Chime Avenue, the underground tunnel at Artisan, the judicial
headquarters project, the conference center, among countless others. "We try not
to celebrate them to avoid undue jealousy. What is going on in Enugu is beyond
rationalization," he said, making reference to a state at the bottom three in
revenue allocation but which is atop in development.
When Nnamani turned and saw Chief Anenih on the table, he took a trip into
yesterday, into a time when everyone had lost hope in the state due to the
poisonous typecast that those who felt they were God and could unseat him had
labeled him; how he and his aides came to Abuja literally going from office to
office evangelizing them on the falsity of his opponents' claims about him. "We
were subject to political elite who held the people hostage," he said and
thanked Anenih for believing in him at this critical time.
Nnamani stunned everyone by showing that he still has time to appreciate good
music, demonstrated by his mastery of R. Kelly's famous track, I believe I can
fly, stating that "all we ever asked for was to be given the opportunity to
dream" saying that he had already been demonized as someone who could not move a
pin and when they saw him moving the world, his traducers were amazed. He ended
by delving into Matthew 5: 14 which talked about a lit light that could not be
hid. As everyone gathered went home that night, the impression of the governor
that stuck was a man of excellence who had moved far beyond his time.
* Malami is a Kaduna-based journalist.