By Sam Hart
Power, they say, corrupts and absolute power is supposed to corrupt absolutely. Whoever coined that phrase has never met Okezie Victor Chibuikem Ikpeazu, Ph.D, the 4thelected Governor of Abia State. Or how else can you explain the fact that someone will be exposed to absolute power for one year and remain untainted?
There are very few places one can be exposed to absolute power like when you hold political office in Nigeria. From the phalanx of stern-faced, gun-wielding security agents of different branches to the retinue of protocol officers who take over your life to fawning aides who want to force you to believe that the only reason why the sun is still shining on them is because you said so. It takes a lot of self-confidence and a steely personal constitution not to get carried away and get swept up in the bubble.
Dr. Okezie Ikpeazu has been Governor for a year now. Not a jot has been removed from his person since he assumed office. He drives his security and protocol aides crazy on a daily basis by his mode of movement. Against all persuasions, he has refused to drive in a bullet-proof car. His reason – he wants to be able to wind down his glass and wave at his friends when they wave at him while driving by. Bullet-proof car glasses are heavily tinted and thick. They cannot be wound down. He feels removed from the people when he is inside one. Thanks but no thanks. The man will just come out of the house, hop in the car and zoom off leaving everyone scrambling after him looking for where he entered. Such exasperation!
Security and protocol procedures require that before a Governor moves anywhere, there will be an advance team of security details to reconnoiter the location and shut down human and vehicular movement. Then protocol officers will take over the residence or location to be visited and take full charge of everything. This is done well in advance of the Governor’s take-off from his base. Upon his arrival at even a private residence, the movement of the owners of the house are restricted, the keys to the lavatory is seized and the front door and all entrances and exits are manned. It is not out of place for relatives of the Governor’s host to be locked out of the house until the Governor leaves.
You can’t try that with Governor Ikpeazu. No prior notification of where he wants to go to, no prior warning, no advance protocol and security procedure. He wants to visit Ide John Udeagbala, simple. He hops in his car and drives to Ide Udeagbala’s house. You people should keep your procedure to yourselves.
Most Saturdays, you will find Governor Ikpeazu playing football with his friends from the Eastern Ngwa Country Club and later, at his village in Umuobiakwa having drinks with his friends and relatives. No protocol, no procedure. Just a regular Joe enjoying the company of his kinfolk.
Upon assumption of office, he decreed that he not be called ‘Your Excellency’ positing that only God in heaven deserves such appellation. That in itself has created a new challenge. To make matters worse, he has shunned all Chieftaincy titles so do not be surprised when you come to visit the Governor and you hear somebody call him ‘Okezie’. His aides have had cause to request a number of people to accord some respect to his name but the man on whose behalf you are worrying has not betrayed any concern at all at such familiarity.
Governor Ikpeazu does not hold court with his officials and aides, he holds consultations with them. Every meeting is a brainstorming session. Discussions are held regularly instead of orders being issued. Issues are debated and reviewed with a consensus reached instead of directives being handed down. It is a government where every view is welcome, an administration where every shade of opinion is accommodated. Nobody working with Dr. Okezie Ikpeazu feels like a serf or courtier. Not a voice has been heard raised at any time publicly or privately in the last one year. It has to be his nature. Surely, you cannot pretend for that long.
He has shunned every trapping of his office. He travels with his Personal Assistant and Aide-De-Camp only. No large retinue of aides. His convoy is Spartan and minimal, his living conditions even are below-par. For the past one year, he has been living at the Abia State Governor’s Lodge at Aba, a 3-bedroom colonial mini-duplex which was hitherto used for stop-over refreshments whenever the Governor comes to Aba for any function. It was never intended for sleep-overs as it simply has no such befitting facilities. Alas, this is where Dr. Okezie Ikpeazu has chosen to call home in the last one year. Aba needs urgent attention and he has decided to reside in Aba so that he can personally attend to the needs of Aba.
Or how do you explain a phenomenon where the Governor has written to the Vice Chancellors of Michael Okpara University of Agriculture and Abia State University, the two Universities in Abia State asking for slots to be lecturing on guest basis in the Faculty of Biochemistry?! He has decided to devote one Friday per month to this endeavour. He has at several fora described himself as a chronic academic who intends to head back to the University as soon as he finishes his tour of duty as Governor. If we doubted him before, he has silenced us.
Dr. Okezie Ikpeazu’s greatest achievement in the last one year for me is in the efforts he goes to to infuse humanity in his actions and decisions. Roads are great. Hospitals and school ate fantastic but all these pale in comparison to the human element of development.
He has slashed his salary in half and I am personally aware that the bulk of his allowances and votes are shared amongst a long list of people who daily beseech him for one need or another. He launched the Friends of Abia School Adoption Initiative (FASAI) through which he is adopting and rebuilding schools from his own personal funds while encouraging his friends to do the same.
October 18 is his birthday. There is a standing decree. Do not place any Newspaper Advert for Dr. Okezie Ikpeazu celebrating his birthday for according to him, those things are not a show of love. Instead, use that money to renovate one thing or another in any school of your choice or meet a need in the school. A full page colour advert costs N600,000. That amount can sink a borehole and provide water in a school where the children have to go to nearby bushes to defecate.
During the last children’s day on May 27, 2016, Dr. Okezie Ikpeazu asked the Abia State Universal Basic Education Board to carry out an assessment and select the best teacher in each of the 3 Senatorial Zones of the State. To the teachers, such recognition was enough motivation to work even harder but the Governor had other plans. As he was going to the stadium to attend the Children’s Day event, he went with 3 vehicles and handed one each to each of the selected best teachers in the zones. The teachers came to the stadium in public transport but drove back home in their own cars. The message to other teachers is clear – your reward does not have to wait for you in heaven. You can get some of it while here on earth. Teacher productivity in Abia State has since picked up by that gesture.
It is now obvious that those who get carried away and corrupted by power either diluted or absolute lacked personal convictions in the first place. For them to get carried away by power means that they are easily blown by every wind of doctrine. If you are firmly rooted in your humanity, nothing should be able to change you. That is the message I have gleaned from closely observing Dr. Okezie Ikpeazu in the past one year as he navigates the ship of governance in Abia State.
I recommend Dr. Okezie Ikpeazu to power-watchers and scholars in Nigeria and beyond. He is a different species. He is a case study. He is a test-case of the inviolability of character and a strong personal constitution. He is a role model.
Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely… those who lacked character in the first place. Alas, it is not a statute of general application. It is not cast in stone. It is the norm. Wherever there is a norm, there is an exception. Okezie Victor Chibuikem Ikpeazu, Ph.D is the exception to that saying.
Op–ed pieces and contributions are the opinions of the writers only and do not represent the opinions of Y!/YNaija
Sam Hart ([email protected]) wrote from Umuahia.