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October 3, 2007 - December 2, 2007



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Ezekiel Malami

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 government.

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 digress.

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.



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