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Chekwas Okorie: 70 feathers on the cap of a man of vision and character

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By Sunny Igboanugo

He struck gold more than four decades ago, when God blessed him with wealth, a lot of it. He was still a young lad on the second floor of life’s existence. At that stage, he would have hit the streets like many of his age, painting nightclubs and social events red with money or be junketing around the globe, especially when Nigeria was practically at the beck and call of the world, with countries on bended knees, begging them to come and spend their money.

But not for this Prince of Alayi, in Bende Local Government of Abia State. He had other noble and far more enduring fancies. This was captured in a burning desire, the same David, must have been imbued with while kitting up to do battle with Goliath.

At that stage also, it was wont for the older generation, to quickly dismiss and refer his kind as a child on whose head the patch of amniotic fluid was yet to dry. But if they did, they could have found out so quickly soon after that this was not just an ordinary child. For in no time, he became a member of the prestigious Elders Council of Ohanaeze Ndigbo, the pan-Igbo socio-cultural organisation.

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This particular one, was equipped with the tools needed not only to navigate through the maze of life’s vagaries and vicissitude, but the soap and water, with which to wash his hands clean enough to sit and dine with them at the elder’s table.

The trajectory of life for Chekwas Okorie, was one that saw him navigating through the shark-infested waters and contending the tempestuous wind, yet with eyes on the compass as the ship he captained headed to harbour.

Perhaps, very few people know or still remember that the political tide sweeping across the country today, has Okorie’s imprimatur somewhere in it. It was through him that Peter Obi, today’s political phenomenon cut his teeth on the turf, when he got the opportunity to run for governorship in Anambra State on the platform of the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA), which Okoria founded in 2002.

Like every visionary with eyes on the big picture, he had started small by founding a group named Nzuko Abia N’Imo, where the then indigenous people of Abia and Imo met to discuss issues of commonality amongst them and when Ebonyi was carved out from Abia and Enugu, the meeting expanded to Nzuko Abia, Imo N’Ebonyi.

It was at the success of that effort that he decided to expand the vision to include the entire Igboland, hence the formation of Igboezue Cultural Organisation, a powerful body that acted as a major think-tank for the younger elements of the Igbo people, as well as serving as the supply chain and footsoldier for Ohanaeze Ndigbo, the apex decision-making body of Ndigbo.

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As the leader of Igboezue, there was never any dull moment at the Zik Avenue office of Chel Waters Nigeria Limited, the head office of his company, where the young, debonair, forthright and outspoken Chief Executive Officer (CEO), combined his thriving business with daily engagements with various groups on how to advance the lot of the Igboman.

It was from that engagement that the idea of forming a national political party from the South East sprout out. The idea, Okorie, had severally explained, was to offer a platform for Ndigbo to meet their counterparts across the nation at the negotiation table to enable them get a fair share of the popular national cake.

That thinking and the subsequent effort put into its actualisation, eventually bore fruit, when APGA, was birthed on Saturday, June 22, 2002, ahead of the general elections the following year. This was after an initial failure to register the Peoples Democratic Congress (PDC).

It was Okorie’s vision that led him to bringing the late Ikemba Nnewi, Emeka Odumegwu Ojukwu, a man he had associated as a major ally and right hand partner. The idea was with Ojukwu’s name and influence, the party would garner the needed fillip to attract Ndigbo and thus galvanise it through the South East into the national arena.

Indeed, contrary to wide-held view that Ojukwu founded APGA, the party was actually Okorie’s baby. In fact, the formation of the party, retold the story of Noah and the Ark in a certain way, in that he was actually abandoned by many people, who never thought it would amount to anything at the time the journey was on.

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That was until he returned with certificate, which was handed over to him on that day by Abel Guobadia, National Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC). But despite the carnival-like activities and atmosphere that heralded its birth, many Igbo politicians still avoided APGA in preference to the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and the opposition All Peoples Party (APP), they believed had the levers of power.

It was Okorie’s persistence and power of persuasion that to led to the dragging of Ojukwu, who was actually not making any major headway in his APP into the new platform. With the handing of the APGA presidential ticket to Ojukwu on a platter, Okorie eventually recorded achieved his goal. For in no time, the party began to gain traction across the country, which led to the big wins in 2003. That was how Obi came into the fray, though he was declared the winner of Anambra governorship, three years after.

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In fact the process was in itself a hard work on Okorie’s part. For despite the fanfare which was evident when Ojukwu hosted Okorie and his team from Abuja at his number 4 Isi-Uzor street, Independence Layout, Enugu home, when they returned with the party’s registration certificate, seemed to have gone no further thereafter.

No doubt the Ikemba was visibly excited, which he displayed with a huge bear-hug he gave Okorie, which he followed up by ordering a carton of Moet Chandan, to be handed to the new party boss as a symbol of his appreciation, while hosting the team on that day. Yet, he still stuck with the APP, perhaps out of apparent political reality, until he was persuaded otherwise.

Elsewhere, the late former Vice President of Nigeria, Alex Ekwueme, who was equally enthusiastic, when he received Okorie’s team to bless the certificate, appeared too deep into the leadership of the PDP. Ekwueme, who was the arrowhead in its formation of the then ruling party, had twice failed to claim its ticket as the presidential candidate. Yet he seemed not moved with his misfortunes to leave the party.

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Even the Eze Ozobu, then President General of Ohanaeze Ndigbo, made his own efforts in attempt to ginger Igbo patronage of the party. Earlier, when the party’s certificate had landed in his house, the former Chief Justice of Enugu State, was so excited that he proclaimed on touching the document that he was ready to die at that moment, because he now had something positive to report to departed Igbo heroes like the late Owelle of Onitsha, Nnamdi Azikiwe, Michael Iyeonukara Okpara and others.

There and then, he had directed Ndigbo to troop en-masse to APGA as their party of choice. Indeed, so celebrated was the party among Ohanaeze and the Igbo leadership that Okorie was conferred with the Ogbatuluenyi Ndigbo, at the meeting of the body in Asaba that year where, again, emphasis was made on Ndigbo adopting it as their platform.

But then, the dream and vision were shared by few. But Okorie dreamt on. Just like the story of Joseph, the trajectory points to an unravelling. Just like the story of Joseph sons of Israel was full of ups and downs intrigues and mischief APGA has also witnessed its own fair share of crisis, part of which it is still suffering today.

But it was out of that set of events, strung together by God himself that Moses emerged to lead the people out of Egypt. Today, does the picture not seem similar. Does the story of Nigeria not appears like resemble that of Israel in the land of Egypt?

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Is the political struggle in Nigeria today not akin to the confrontation between Moses and Israel on the one hand and Pharaoh and Egyptians on the other? Are the intrigues not there – the hard-heartedness of Pharaoh the sufferings of the oppressed and the hopelessness? Are they not quite apparent?

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If indeed, God is planning to manifest Himself once again as He did to the freedom of the Israelites in the land of Egypt, if it is His plan to set Nigerian free from their oppressors, where would Chekwas Okorie be found in the whole story? Could he be denied the position of a Joseph who dreamt dreams and through whose dream God’s plan for his people was made manifest?

Like Joseph, he dreamt dreams, like Joseph, he was betrayed by his brothers and thrown into the prison by the evil deeds of Potiphar. But in all those trials and burdens, God still showed His hands and the reasons for them made clear.

Perhaps, it is still God’s plan divide the Red Sea of Nigeria to allow his people pass through the dry land. He might yet clog the chariots of Pharaoh and drown their charging soldiers in the sea that would return. Nigerians, to the last man, might look back to see as their traducers who refuse that they would never be free struggle with the red sea as it swallows them. They may sing songs of praises as Israelites sang as they to the Promised Land. If and when all that happens, historians would have to connect the dots and fix Chief Chekwas Okorie in his own place.

On this Monday, April 10, 2023, as friends and well-wishers, both at home and in the Diaspora, gather at the BMO Event Centre, Riverplate Park, 174 Ahmadu Bello Way, Wuse 2, Abuja to pay homage to the Ojeozi Ndigbo, who has just turned 70, only those who know the true story would put it in proper perspective.

Indeed, others would have other reasons to be at that party. Having climbed the biblical three scores and ten, who knows what else God is planning. For Ojeozi is a good man. Still in stable health, mind and spirit, there might just be something else to end his efforts with a crown of glory. But that decision lies with the Almighty, whose ways confounds creation. Happy Birthday, Ojeozi Igbonine!

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Igboanugo, a journalist, wrote from Lagos

Business

Rebranding, customer-centric policy, paying off – Berger Paints MD

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The Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer of Berger Paints Nigeria Plc, Mrs. Alaba Fagun, has ascribed the outstanding performance of the company for the financial year ended December 31, 2023, to the market appreciation of its rebranding, customer-centric policy, deployment of modern technology to ensure quality products and availability of strong human capital.

Despite the inclement operating environment, Berger Paints, a leading manufacturer of coated paints and allied products in Nigeria, has proposed a dividend of N231. 9 million for the 2023 financial year up from N202.9 million paid in 2022 and would be paying a dividend of N.80 kobo per share for its shareholders, subject to the ratification at its 64th Annual General Meeting (AGM), scheduled for Tuesday, May 14, in Lagos.

The dividend will bring the final dividend for the review period to N1 per share. At the AGM, the company shall seek ratification of payment of an interim dividend of 20 kobo per share, which amounts to N58.0 million.

Other performance indicators of Berger Paints include its profit for the financial year, which grew to N468,797 from N208,670 in 2022, and basic earnings per share, which jumped from 72 kobo to 162 kobo, an increase of 125 percent respectively.

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“Despite the myriad challenges in our operating environment, impacting both our business operations and the daily lives of our customers and team members, we achieved a remarkable 125% growth in our bottom-line figure compared to 2022.

A review of the company’s other performance indicators shows that its revenue hit N7.91 billion, an increase of 25 %, Year-on-Year, Operating Profit, N730.18, an increase of 84 %, and total assets, N6.61 billion, an increase of 20 % amongst others

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According to the Managing Director, the year 2023 underscored the enduring Nigerian love for vibrant experiences and Berger Paints rose to the occasion by exceeding customers’ expectations in the quality of products and service delivery. “With Berger Paints, you can never go wrong. Our commitment to customer satisfaction has been the bedrock of our success since 1959’, she added.

‘Throughout the year, we revitalized our corporate ethos by reshaping our brand. More than just a logo, our brand embodies a commitment to quality assurance and customer-centric values: Professionalism, Integrity, Innovation, customer focus, and Teamwork which helped us to achieve a strong position in the market’ the MD stated.

‘’Looking forward, we aspire to conquer the African market landscape with our products and services. Our dedicated team is poised to leverage resources efficiently, and innovate to deliver exceptional service to our customers,” explained Fagun.

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In March last year, Berger Paints took the Nigerian manufacturing sector and the financial market by storm, when it unveiled its new brand identity. The rebranding was prompted by the need to capture the younger demography especially those aged 25-45 to ensure business continuity and success.

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BREAKING: Why Ihedioha quit PDP *Weighs next political option

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Emeka Ihedioha, Governor of Imo State from May 29, 2015 to January 14, 2020, has finally ditched the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), the platform under which he became Deputy Speaker for eight years before he ran for the number one job in his state – one of the major outcomes of the current crisis in the nation’s main opposition party.

Ihedioha, announced his resignation in a letter to the ward Chairman in Mbutu, Aboh-Mbaise Local Government Area of the state, on Tuesday, five days after the National Executive Committee (NEC) of the party, citing his unhappiness with the way its affairs were being handled, which he could no longer live with.

An acolyte of Atiku Abubakar, former Vice President and two-time presidential candidate of the party in 2019 and 2023, it is believed that the position of former Deputy Speaker had to do with the inability of the PDP NEC, the second highest organ to deal decisively with the issues that have been beleaguering its leadership since the 2023 elections, in which it was split down the middle.

One of the issues was the failure of the party to take action against some renegades, who worked against Atiku in the last election, particularly the G-5, a group of five governors on the platform of the party before the election, led by Nyesom Wike, former Governor of Rivers State, now Minister of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT).

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The group, which also included Samuel Ortom of Benue, Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi of Enugu, Okezie Ikpeazu of Abia, whose tenures ended in 2023 and Seyin Makinde of Oyo, currently in his second and final term, had stood staunchly against Atiku on the ground that he did not support the removal of Iyorchia Ayu, as National Chairman of the party, since both of them came from the North.

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Against the backdrop that Wike and his group would be sanctioned with possible suspension or outright expulsion from the party, the NEC took a middle ground in what was not only seen as a slap in the wrist, but a victory for Wike against the Atiku camp, which had favoured full sanctions.

It is believed that this was what Ihedioha, was referring to when he lamented in his letter dated April 23, and delivered to the PDP headquarters on Tuesday, where he pointed out that he has no doubt whatsoever that his decision to quit was the right course of action, given that the party had deviated from its original character.

He wrote: “Since 1998, I have contributed my quota to the development and transformation of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) as one of the founding members. All these years, I have taken pride in the fact that the PDP is a party that will always look inward for internal reforms and provide credible leadership for the people, whether in power or outside power.

“I have had the benefit of serving and benefitting from the party at various levels. Regrettably, in recent times, the party has taken on a path that is at variance with my personal beliefs. Despite my attempt to offer counsel, the party is, sadly no longer able to carry out internal reforms, enforce its own rules or offer credible opposition to the ruling All Progressives Congress.

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“It is in the light of the foregoing, that I am compelled to offer my resignation from the Peoples Democratic Party effective immediately. While this decision was difficult to take, I, however, believe that it is the right one. Despite this resignation, I will always be available to offer my services towards the deepening of democracy and good governance in Nigeria.”

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It is however not certain where the former governor is headed, as one source is saying that he could be heading to the All Progressives Congress (APC), having helped Hope Uzodimma, the incumbent governor, who incidentally ousted him through the Supreme Court, in 2020 win his second term elections on the promise of a payback in 2027.

However, another source told Whirlwindnews.com.ng that the former Deputy Speaker, considered the ruling party too dirty and a no-go area to achieve his ambition, preferring the more popular Labour Party (LP) as the next destination.

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BREAKING: MAN celebrates, as Dangote crashes diesel price again

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Less than one week after Dangote Petroleum Refinery announced the reduction in the price of Automative Gas Oil (AGO), otherwise known as diesel from N1,200 to N1,000, the company, the first privately owned refinery in the country and one of the largest in the world, on Tuesday, moved further with another price crash this time with a reduction of N60, to bring the price per litre to N940.

It was also a day the company announced the decrease in the price of Aviation Turbine Kerosine (ATK), otherwise known as aviation fuel to N980 per litre, a move expected to further reduce the cost of air transportation, which has hit the roof and is now beyond the pockets of average Nigerians.

The price change of N940 is applicable to customers buying five million litres and above from the refinery, while the price of N970 is for customers buying one million litres and above, Anthony Chiejina, Head of Communication of Dangote Group, explained on Tuesday, saying the new price is in consonance with the company’s commitment to cushion the effect of economic hardship in Nigeria.

“I can confirm to you that Dangote Petroleum Refinery has entered a strategic partnership with MRS Oil and Gas stations, to ensure that consumers get to buy fuel at affordable price, in all their stations be it Lagos or Maiduguri. You can buy as low as 1 litre of diesel at N1,050 and aviation fuel at N980 at all major airports where MRS operates.”

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Informing that the partnership would be extended to other major oil marketers, he added: “The essence of this is to ensure that retail buyers do not buy at exorbitant prices. The Dangote Group is committed to ensuring that Nigerians have a better welfare and as such, we are happy to announce this new prices and hope that it would go a long way to cushion the effect of economic challenges in the country.”

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On April 5, the management of the company had announced reduction of the price of diesel from 1200 to 1,000 Naira per litre, the second time after initial reduction from the N1,700, the price stood at when the company commenced operation early in the year.

Nigerian President Bola Tinubu had also commended Aliko Dangote, President of conglomerate for the initial price reduction, describing it as an “enterprising feat.”

Reacting to the latest development, The Director General of the Manufacturers Association of Nigeria (MAN), Mr Ajayi Kadiri, said: “The decision of Dangote Refinery to first crash the price from about N1,750/litre to N1,200/litre, N1,000/litre and now N940 is an eloquent demonstration of the capacity of local industries to positively impact the fortunes of the national economy.

“The trickledown effect of this singular intervention promises to change the dynamics in the energy cost equation of the country, in the midst of inadequate and rising cost of electricity. The reduction will have far-reaching effects in critical sectors like industrial operations, transportation, logistics, and agriculture, contributing to easing the high inflation rate in the country; a lot of companies will be back in operation.”

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