Recently, former Vice-President of Nigeria, Dr. Alex Ekwueme celebrated his 80th Birthday. The ceremony marking this anniversary was held at Okpara Square in Enugu Metropolis. The occasion was reported to have attracted personalities from all walks of life.
However, it was reported in last week’s story in Punch Newspaper and in some Owerri based tabloids that the occasion among other things witnessed an alleged fracas involving struggling of seat between government officials from Imo and Anambra states. There have been different versions of what transpired.
The Nigeria Punch Newspapers of Sunday 21 October, 2012 titled ‘Okorocha Punches Gov. Obi’s aide’ reported the event thus;
‘The eccentric Governor of Imo State, Owella Rochas Okorocha on Saturday punched a protocol officer who refused to allow him sit on a chair reserved for the Anambra State Governor, Mr. Peter Obi, at the 80th birthday celebration of former vice president, Chief Alex Ekwueme, in Enugu. The incident occurred 20 minutes before most of the invited guests arrived.
‘According to the report … the sofa seat was reserved for the host Governor, Mr. Sullivan Chime and Obi. The Deputy Governor, Mr. Sunday Onyebuchi, represented Chime who is still out of the country. The protocol officer, Mr. Ifeanyi Onukuba, who works with Obi, was shocked at Okorocha’s action and before he could recover from it, a police officer attached to the Bomb Disposal Unit in Anambra State, Mr. Felix Alumona, pushed Okorocha when he was removing the tag bearing Obi’s name from the seat.
‘Okorocha’s Aide de Camp, Gabriel Onu, immediately pounced on Alumona, hitting and tearing his uniform, while other security details attached to the Imo governor joined in the scuffle. Sensing that the matter was beginning to attract people, Okorocha quickly waded in, saying, “Hey, please stop the fight! Let us not fight over an ordinary seat. I will share the seat with Peter Obi.” Minutes after the fracas, Okorocha’s aides grumbled saying, “Why is it that anywhere we go, they always reserve a special seat for Obi. Is Okorocha not the leader of Ndigbo?” When Obi arrived, he squeezed himself in the couch, sitting between Onyebuchi and Okorocha’.
Responding, to an investigative report by SouthEastNigeria.com, an Enugu based reporter for the Nation Newspaper came forward with the story that he witnessed the saga under review and confirmed that the story was not as reported by Punch.
Reacting the Media Assistant to Governor Okorocha Mr. Ebere Uzoukwa narrated his own side of the story as thus,
‘while Governor Okorocha’s protocol team and security detail were trying to secure a seat for the Governor after he had felicitations with dignitaries, Governor Obi’s Protocol Officer exhibited unruly behaviour as he sat tight next to Ebonyi State Deputy Governor in desperate bid to secure that particular seat for his boss who was yet to arrive the venue while Governor Okorocha was still standing. At last, the issue was resolved amicably and the young man vacated the seat without quarrel’.
The Imo State Commissioner for Information Mr. Chinedu Offor was quoted to have also written a letter to Punch Newspapers alleging that the publication was ‘one sided and designed to ridicule the office and person of Governor Okorocha’ and consequently demanded the paper to write a rejoinder to the story.
However, without prejudice to what was the motive behind the story, I have taken time to investigate deeper into what really happened and I give kudos to my sources who obliged me the opportunity of getting at it.
HOW IT ALL STARTED
The occasion as stated earlier was the 80th Birthday Anniversary Celebration of Former Nigerian Vice-President Dr. Ekwueme which was held at Okpara Square Independence Layout in Enugu city. Investigations shows that the Protocol Department of Government House Owerri and some security details attached to Governor Okorocha went to the event arena ahead of the Governor to make prior arrangement for seats. Reports have it that initially, plastic seats were arranged for all Governors who were to attend the occasion. It happened that officials in Enugu later brought a sofa seat for the host Governor i.e. Governor Chime of Enugu who was to be represented by his Deputy. Unfortunately, the chairman of the occasion arrived before the Enugu State Deputy Governor and went straight and sat on the sofa seat. It was said that all entreaties made on the chairman of the occasion to vacate this seat met deaf ears as the man insisted on sitting on that sofa seat. Being defeated, officials from Enugu went and brought another sofa seat for the representative of the host Governor.
This time around, this second seat as reported, was big enough to accommodate three persons. Officials from Enugu and Anambra states agreed that this second sofa seat would be for the host Governor and Governor Obi as Chairman of South East Governor’s Forum. The Deputy Governor of Enugu State who represented Governor Chime at the occasion arrived and sat accordingly. However, Governor Okorocha arrived the occasion before Governor Obi and went to sit at the sofa. The protocol officer from Anambra wanted to stop Governor Okorocha from sitting at the place but he was prevented by some security personnel.
As reported, around ten minutes after Governor Okorocha had settled on this ‘controversial’ sofa seat, Governor Obi arrived at the event and was conveniently accommodated in the same seat with both Governor Okorocha and Enugu State Deputy Governor.
A lot of people have been reacting differently to the story. Some see it as a politically motivated ploy to ridicule Governor Okorocha while others see it as inability of the Protocol Department of Government House Owerri to secure a seat in advance for the Governor. Another group also say that it was out of over zealousness and lack of co-ordination of some government protocol officials that caused the stir while some say it was a flaw on the people who organized the event for Dr. Ekwueme it as lack of inter-state coordination of workers. Another set of people also came up with this unfounded claim that the treatment or alleged treatment or ‘denied treatment’ or ‘no treatment’ meted to the Imo State Governor was because the Governor did not contribute to the money allegedly agreed by all the South Eastern states to organize the event.
As an Imo man, I was not happy that my Governor was reported the way Punch did. This is because the Imo State Governor is an epitome of Imo State. He is Imo State personified and an insult to him I see as an insult to the entire Imo State. We may disagree or criticize Owelle over some of his policies we think do not agree with our thinking. That we feel is an obligation for the development of our state. But this does not mean that we should take any insult to our governor like no man’s business no matter whose ox is gourd.
The media personnel of the Imo State Government have tried to debunk the story accordingly. But I feel the reply of the Imo Government officials to the above saga does not contain enough details. If some one has told a story which one thinks he/she has a better version of the story, I think it is professionally expedient that while putting the records correct the other version of the story be also told. In this write-up, I will not like to air my own opinion. My concern today is to put the records the way I got them and leave my readers to air their views on the matter.
Written by: Emperor Iwuala