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Chekwas Okorie: Tribute to a great Onye Igbo

By Sunny Igboanugo on 23/03/2016

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Ask any Nigerian what makes success. The answer is likely to be the number of houses, probably in every city in Nigeria and abroad, the line-up of exotic cars, yachts and private jets, and other items of opulence money can buy. Add that to fat bank accounts in local and foreign currencies and then, lavish lifestyles and loud engagements. That’s the picture that will most likely evolve. Don’t bring anything that suggests ideas and how to grow it.

In fact, it is a thing of joke that one educated, wise man full of ideas had gone to an event where millions were flowing from donations of moneybags, and pledged to give his “moral support.” One of the organisers, probably an illiterate chuckled derisively – moral support opusara okpogho ole? (how much is morals support worth?).

But elsewhere, ideas rule the world. Were that to so in Nigeria, people like Chief Chekwas Okorie, Oje ozi Ndigbo nile would be playing at the heart of national activities and discourse today, whilst drawing all the national acclaim and respect from his compatriots, like is done in saner societies across the globe.  

Beyond being a veritable mouthpiece, speaking for Ndigbo, a people he has shown tremendous love, and indeed given all from his youth, were Nigeria a fertile ground where ideas could be grown and allowed to blossom, he would have since been snapped up to serve a nation, very much in need of ideas, rather than confined to regional demands.

One of the most resourceful, fearless and forthright Nigerians alive today, he has on many occasions lived up to this name in the most unique and crucial manner. I could recall that hot afternoon at the Enugu Airport, where many Nigerians watched in awe the sordid spectacle of Nigerian Prisoners of War (POW), being exchanged for their Camerounian counterparts. It was in the days when the late General Sani Abacha was at his worst brute self, when Nigerians were living under the fear comparable only to the Hobbesian era, of jungle life of survival of the fittest, where life was short brutish and nasty.


While others who watched with him, spoke in whispers, and practically ran away from reporters, Okorie’s voice was loud and resonating, describing what he saw as the most miserable and lethargic army ever. Abacha’s army? But that was the vintage Okorie. Many thought he was dead meat. But nothing happened.   

Very few people still recall how the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) came about. For the convenience of the hounds who have seized the party and appropriated its patrimony, they whimsically attribute its formation to the late Ikemba Nnewi, Chief Emeka Odumegwu Ojukwu. So, you are likely to hear them drum it – Ojukwu’s party. Yet, to those who know and want to stand by the truth, APGA, was not only Okorie’s brainchild, but a baby he nurtured to some form of maturity, before it was kidnapped in the manner only reminiscent, in recent times, of the Ese Oruru saga.

It was an interesting, but factual story that epitomises how ideas, nourished by consistency and tenacity could grow from nursery to maturity. From Nzuko Abia n’Imo, pursuing a common interest for the people of then newly created Abia and Imo state and later Nzuko Abia, Imo N’Ebonyi, when Ebonyi came on board, he moved to form the Igboezue Cultural Organisation. It was from the success of this group as one of the most vibrant and sustainable bodies within the larger Ohanaeze Ndigbo, the umbrella organisation of all Igbo bodies, that APGA drew its breath.

Aware that Ohanaeze was made up of Igbo people from divergent socio-political leanings, and therefore forbade direct engagement into partisan politics, APGA became necessary against the backdrop of the regional bent other political parties assumed at the turn of a new political environment in the country, with the opening of another democratic space. Before the birth of APGA in 2002, Okorie, had formed the Peoples Democratic Movement (PDM), which was denied registration after two attempts, 1996 and 1998.

The formation of APGA, elicited such an emotive sentiment. Even the Ikemba was sucked in. Many had never seen the man they believed had the heart of a lion that emotional as on the day Okorie, on returning from Abuja, where he received the APGA certificate, drove in a motorcade to his Number 4 Isi-Uzor Street, Independence Layout, home. What could make a General in Ojukwu’s ilk drop a tear? They saw it that day. After inviting Okorie into his arms for a bear hug, Ojukwu pointed to a carton of Moet champagne as a symbol of his appreciation. But the emotion was to spread the more. Justice Eze Ozobu, former Chief Judge of Enugu State and then National President of Ohanaeze, whilst also receiving the certificate in his home, openly declared that he was now ready to join his ancestors, because he now had the confidence to tell the likes of Michael Okpara and Nnamdi Azikiwe, that their labour was not in vain, as a new Igbo leader had emerged. All these were capped, when Ohanaeze, at its general meeting in Abakaliki, that year, unanimously conferred the title of Ogbatuluenyi (one that killed an elephant) on Okorie.

There is no telling that this overt sentiments could have elicited some form of jealousy from within and even trepidation from outside, which led to the plot that has thrown the party into a state of anaemia today, a plot, which started shortly after its resounding success in 2003, where it is believed to have won the entire governorship elections of the five states of the South East, though, denied it by the powers that were then..

Many believe, APGA would not have been in its current sorry state today, had it been allowed to grow at the pace Okorie was taking it, when he was in charge. Yes, the Ojukwu factor, was a masterstroke. But that was also his doing. At the time Okorie invited Ojukwu to take up the father-figure role in APGA, the disagreement between the Ikemba and many Igbo leaders was already at its peak, to the extent that the leadership of Ohanaeze, craftily schemed him out of any role in the burial of the late Owelle of Onitsha, Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, in 1996. APGA, therefore presented a veritable platform for the Ikemba to remain connected to the grassroots, his main base. Okorie ensured that not just for the sake of APGA, but a consummation of long-standing relationship of loyalty and solidarity to the former Biafran leader.

It was not just a healthy filial relationship, but a symbiotic partnership that saw Okorie doing the legwork and providing the ideas, which Ojukwu sold effortlessly to the people. That was how the APGA message spread to parts of Nigeria and even beyond, to many parts of the world, wherever an appreciable number of Igbo people existed. Before the fire was literally put out, APGA, had already transformed into a movement, whose message was burning in the heart of virtually every Igbo man.

How many times did the Ikemba raise Okorie’s hand to declare to Ndigbo that any time they looked for him and did not see, they should be confident to deal with him as his anointed replacement? In one of the occasions, Ojukwu had made the same declaration holding the current Nigerian President, Muhammadu Buhari in his left hand and Okorie in his right. Doubtlessly, such a show of deep emotions and confidence must have flowed from the shared vision, burning passion for the good of Ndigbo and the robust ideas to drive them.

Born on 19th March, 1953, the prince of Alayi, in Bende Local Government Area of Abia State, and eldest surviving son of the late Eze Edward Okorie Emerih, the Igboji of Alayi, who reigned from 1960-1978, marked his 63rd birthday, Friday, March 19, still looking strong, still bristling with his ideas. A peep into his manifesto as the presidential candidate of the United Progressives Party (UPP), last year, attests to this.

Though the drums were not rolled out, having just buried his mother a fortnight earlier, the gale of sentiments that greeted the man that wants to be addressed simply as Ojeozi Ndigbo (the people’s messenger), was an indication of how his message is not only spreading, but resonating among people.

I join many more to say Happy Birthday. May the candle never go off in your heart, O je ozi.




Posted on March, 23 2016

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