By Mazi Omife I. Omife, MON
When my friend and I were going to the Polo park the day NPP held its governorship campaign rally for 1983 election, we did not expect to see a big crowd. The real reason we went was just to see Jim Nwobodo whose popularity in Enugu then was legendary and far more than any other Igbo politician then, except Zik of Afrika. Jim was then campaigning for a second term in office.The reason we did not expect to see a big crowd that day was because the NPN held its own rally the previous week at the same venue which featured all NPN timbers and calibers across the country.
Then President Shehu Shagari and his vice Dr Alex Ekwueme were there.Alhaji Umaru Dikko was there. Dim Emeka Odumegwu Ojukwu was there.Chief C. C. Onoh was there.Chief Austin Ezenwa, Agbalanze Abagana, was there. Dr Chuba Okadigbo was there. Professor Godwin Odenigwe,Dr K. O. Mbadiwe (Agadagbachiriuzo), Dr John Nnia Nwodo, Sir Joe Nwankwu, Chief Patrick Nwakoby, Chairman of First Bank, Chief Mbazulike Amechi, Igwe M. N. Ugochukwu ( Abilikete Umunze), Chief R. O. Nkwocha ( Ide Enugwu Ukwu),Chief Mike Okoli (Eastern Shop), Senator N. N. Anah (leader of so called Authentic NPP), Mark Okoye, Dr Mike Ogbalu, Chief Vincent Ikeotuonye (who decamped from NPP after his kidnap saga),Chief F.G.N. Okoye, Igwe John Umenyiora (UNICO),Chief B. B. O. Emeh name them. Every NPN bigwig was there, including the “Black Scorpion” of the Nigeria-Biafra war fame, retired General Benjamin Adekunle, who was the NPN front man at the podium. The crowd was so large, which was perhaps what moved the Nigerian political wordsmith, Dr K. O . Mbadiwe to declare the NPN rally of that day as “operation earthquake”.Given the huge crowd at the NPN rally, we least expected to see anything near the size of NPN rally at the NPP rally.
However, we were wrong As we approached Polo Park in our Volkswagen from the All Saints Cathedral side of the park, we were caught in an immovable traffic gridlock as a result of a mammoth crowd that surged to enter the polo park from all directions. We were forced to drive downside of Abakaliki road to park our vehicle, only to face another uphill task gaining entrance into the park because of the sheer number of people struggling to enter the park. We could hear thunderous ovation of “Jiiim! Jiiim!! Jiiim!!!” from the arena, signaling the arrival of then Governor Jim Nwobodo and his group of young progressive Governors to the venue,; about seven of them, adorned in white mini danchiki uniform and bush caps. That was the magic of Jim Nwobodo’s popularity and charisma those days.
Soon after their arrival, Jim took the microphone; “Mbe agaba! Aja mbene!!” the crowd roared in response.”Mbe agaba! Aja mbene!!” “Ga ga ga ga!” “Aja Mbene!” “Ga ga ga ga!” “Aja Mbene!” The mammoth crowd could not allow Jim Nwobodo complete the song as another thunderous ovation of “Jiiim!, Jiiim!, Jiiim!” rent the air. The song had become sort of the signature tune in NPP political rallies .He took out his trade mark white handkerchief from his side pocket and waved at the crowd, beaming with his famous infectious killer smiles. The more he waved and smiled, the louder the crowd roared “Jiiim!, Jiiim!, Jiiim!” ….
In his speech, Jim told the massive crowd of supporters that he was going to defeat his NPN rival, Chief C. C. Onoh (Aninefungwu) one thousand times. And that one thousand Bishop Eyitennes could not stop NPP from winning the coming election. So nobody should entertain any worry. Mr Bishop Eyitenne was the then controversial Anambra State Commissioner of Police who had a running battle with Jim Nwobodo’s men, late Senator Fidelis Okolo and Chief Anike Nwoga in particular and the Road Safety Corps outfit.As Jim climbed down from the podium, his commissioners, all look-alike in their stunning attire like their leader, which made them look as if they were all from the same mother, followed him, led by the State chairman of then NPP, Chief Guy Ikokwu, the party secretary, Chief Frank Oloto.It was a full compliment of Jim’s commissioners, including: Barr. Mrs Uche Ofia-Nwali,Dr. Edwin Onwudiwe, NPP Senatorial candidate and former commissioner for health,Professor Sydney Mgbejiofor, one of the NPP Senatorial candidates who replaced Senator B. C. Okwu after he defected to the NPN,Senator Chukwuemeka Udenze,Rob Iweka, Attorney General and commissioner for Justice Thom Chigbo, Commissioner for Information and others. Also in the entourage were Mike Okeke, NPP Director of Information, Fidel Odum, Eddy Onyia, Chief Press Secretary to the governor who replaced Chris Eluemuno, Anike Nwoga, NPP Youth wing chairman and many others.
As it turned out, after the election, NPN defeated NPP. Most people were shocked. Enugu Coal city became a ghost town, as a hushed silence descended upon the erstwhile vibrant city vibrating with excitement of widely anticipated NPP victory.Everybody was stunned. Perhaps, this was what informed Zik’s famous statement in reaction to the NPP loss: HISTORY WILL VINDICATE THE JUST. Nobody expected Jim to lose that election and few people believed he actually lost.But then, Jim’s orchestrated loss did not deny the fact that his achievements as the Goveronor of old Anambra State, from 1979 to 1983 outweighs what all other governors of the South East put together have achieved for the Igbo people from 1999 to date. The record is simply overwhelming and the list inexhaustible. Just the ones I can remember.• Established of Anambra State University Science and Technology, Enugu Campus, now Enugu State University of Science and Technology (ESUT); Awka Campus, now Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Abakaliki Campus, now Ebonyi State University (EBSU); Government Technical College Oko, he upgraded to Oko Polytechnic; College of Agriculture Igbariam, now Anambra State University; College of Agriculture Ndi-Ufu Ikwo, now Alex Ekwueme University; College of Education Eha-Amufu, College of Education in Anambra State.• Established over 500 new community secondary schools.• Built Anambra State Television, Channel 50 Enugu and Onitsha.• Built Eastern Plastic Emene.• Built Sunrise Floor Mill Emene.• Built Anambra State Vegetable Oil Product (AVOP) Nachi.• Built Aluminium Industry in Ohebedim.• Built Building Material Industry in Ezeagbo.That was not all.• He Upgraded Nnamdi Azikiwe Stadium to International Stadium.• He resuscitated Adada Rice Mill in Uzo Uwani. • He resuscitated Oghe Cashew Industry• He resuscitated Hotel Presidential• He resuscitated Ikenga Hotel Enugu• He built Ikenga Hotel annexes in Nsukka, Abakaliki and Awka.• He built Nike lake Hotel.I am not yet done.• He Constructed water plant complex in Ezeagu and reticulating of the water to Enugu and Abakaliki.• He built Trans-Ekulu Housing Estate and 33 Housing Estate in Onitsha.• He electrified all Communities in the old Anambra State.• He awarded scholarships to indigent students and brilliant students in tertiary institutions in Nigeria and in the Diaspora. • He introduced bursary award to Igbo students other tertiary institutions in Nigeria.• He construction or reconstructed roads in every part of old Anambra State. • His demonstrated optimal generosity to widows and widowers.• He built collective residents for people with health Issues, more especially people with mental problem and incapacitated people abandoned by their people. • He made sure that no beggar or destitute was found on the street of Enugu or anywhere in the old Anambra State. Somebody help me remember others please.All these and the ones I cannot remember now he did in four years as the Governor of old Anambra State. How can we liken it with what we are experiencing today from our Governors since 1999 till date. Eziokwu, ndi Igbo no na nsogbu.