It was a big surprise the poor widow least anticipated. Since the sudden passing of her loving husband, the celebrated journalist/columnist, there was one reality Madam Pini Jason had no doubt come to accept: the elasticity of man’s care and the fickleness of solidarity when the chips are down. As she must have observed from the diminishing number of her late husband’s friends still standing by the family as time began to roll by.
Her highly respected journalist husband died in 2013 of complications arising from a surgery. But not a few associates would attest that, even before then, he never really fully recovered from the shock from a bitter experience in 2011.
So, Madam Jason’s emotions could then be imagined last year at the third memorial of her husband having his former boss, Chief Ikedi Ohakim, among the few of her late husband’s closest associates that showed up at the family compound in Mbaise, Imo State.
At the end of the modest ceremony, the immediate past Imo governor came over and slipped something into her hand: key to a brand new car!
For the widow, the significance of the car gift could not have been lost. It obviously counted more not because of the promise of comfort to her family, but the comforting feeling that someone still remembered the dependants Pini left behind. Surely, greater is he who kept our back when we are no longer in a position to repay than he who abides showily in our presence.
By that gesture, Ohakim only acted true to his character: fierce loyalty to friendship.
I knew him long before he became governor in 2007. His attitude towards me never changed throughout his four years at Douglas House. We grew even closer after he left office in 2011.
Four other qualities, in my view, define the quintessential Ohakim: community spirit, love of ideas, courage of conviction and grace under duress.
He was barely 25 years old when he helped a cluster of communities in his native Mbano in Okigwe broker lasting peace after decades of bitter conflict. For that, the clan elders came together and decorated him as the “Ochinawata” (the boy king).
Politically, his defining moment would be PDP governorship primaries of January 2007 when moneybags took over the arena. Unwilling – well, maybe unable – to match others cash for cash, Ohakim sensationally announced his withdrawal from the race and then resignation from PDP in protest. He decamped to PPA. As a parting shot, he left a scalding statement: by selling the party ticket to the highest bidder, party leaders were setting Imo PDP on the irreversible path to perdiction.
That turned out quite prophetic barely three months afterward. Before the election, the moneybags had only succeeded in cancelling each other out in an orgy of legal warfare, eventuating in the national leadership controversially announcing withdrawal from the governorship polls in Imo altogether.
So, Ohakim became the “consensus candidate”. The stone the builders had rejected became the cornerstone.
With his instinctive taste for politics of ideas, little wonder that Ohakim was soon able to assembly a team dominated by professionals to drive his vision for Imo among whom were Pini Jason and Dr. Ethebelt Okere saddled with the task of framing and driving his public communication.
Like every mortal, Ohakim no doubt made his own mistakes and stacked up powerful enemies along the way. But one thing even his most implacable political foes cannot deny was his passion to make Imo better. It is perhaps a measure of his tenacity that Owerri was adjudged the “cleanest city in Nigeria” by the Federal Ministry of Environment within eighteen months that Ohakim’s bold “Clean & Green Initiative” was floated.
A city once defined by filth and foul smell transformed overnight.
The ultimate test of the strength of Ohakim’s character however came in the heat of the gritty battle for Imo’s political soul in April 2011. As the collation of results of the April 26 polls peaked, a tie began to crystalize. But that of critical Ohaji-Egbema was still being expected. Ohakim’s Situation Room remained confident, buoyed by the figures already telegraphed by their field agents there.
Suddenly, the magic began. The returning officer bearing the tally indicating wide-margin victory for Ohakim was waylaid few streets to the collation center by some gunmen and whisked to a popular hotel in Onitsha, Anambra State.
Sensing a plot to deny them victory, the hardliners in Ohakim’s camp pushed for war, unwilling to go down without a fight, counting on the power of incumbency and “federal might” as a PDP state. But, faced with possible loss of his crown, “Ochinawata” never lost his character. He considered it beneath him to sanction his supporters to go out on streets and engage Okorocha’s “forces” (euphemism for the battalions of rough necks) imported into Imo. He could not understand the desperation for power if the real intention was service.
Eventually, he lost the polls, but not his values.
“Ochinawata” turns 60 Friday, August 4. Happy birthday in advance to my big brother, my friend.