By Okechukwu Eke
In March 2023, Nigerians across several states will be marching to the polls to elect who will govern their respective states as Governors and Members of their States’ Houses of Assembly. Going by the timetable released by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), political parties have from April 4 to June 3, 2022, to conduct their primary elections to elect candidates that would fly the flags of their respective parties in the coming general elections.
In Abia State, the people have maintained an undying love for the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), which has held sway since the dawn of the fourth republic in 1999. Therefore, the PDP is the party to beat in the coming elections in the state. This point explains the attraction for the party’s ticket, as close to a dozen aspirants have indicated an interest in flying the party’s gubernatorial flag in the forthcoming elections.
The incumbent governor of Abia State, Dr. Okezie Ikpeazu, has his preferred successor. Coincidentally, popular opinion appears to align with his choice of a successor as Ndi Abia seem to endorse his selection of Professor Uche Ikonne.
Popularly known as “Ọnyé Nkúzí” – the teacher, Professor Uche Ikonne cuts the same image as the other African who bore the same name, President Julius Nyerere, known as “Mwalimu” – the teacher. Both stand tall compared to their contemporaries. But, while both dedicated their lives to imparting knowledge in the classroom, Prof. Uche Ikonne etched his name in gold as a medical practitioner of repute, an astute professional, a tested administrator and a passionate Onye Abia. He spent most of his adult life living and working in Abia state.
The word on the street is that while political jobbers lobbied for public office, Ọnyé Nkúzí busied himself developing Nigeria’s human capacity at the Department of Optometry of the Abia State University (ABSU). As Head of the Department of Optometry, Prof. Uche Ikonne rallied the staff and students through self-help efforts to construct a building comprising lecture halls and staff offices. Today, the “Vision Hall” stands in that citadel of learning as a testament to the vision, uncommon leadership qualities, and tenacious fighting spirit of Prof. Uche Ikonne.
As the reward for hard work is more work, the political leaders in Abia state prevailed upon Prof. Uche Ikonne to leave his perch at the university to rescue Abia State Polytechnic from ruin. As one who has dedicated his adult life to the service of the state, Ọnyé Nkúzí responded in the affirmative to the call to serve.
While the Rector at the Abia State Polytechnic, Ọnyé Nkúzí increased the internally generated revenue of the institution and ensured that the institution promptly paid its salaries, pensions and gratuities. He reduced the cost of governance and indebtedness by plugging financial leakages, lobbying for increased funds, and ending unnecessary allowances corruptly being paid to the management staff of the institution to the detriment of the majority of the workers.
In terms of infrastructure, he built a new entrance gate for the institution and tarred the road from the school’s gate to the campus. He achieved these feats using the direct labour of the staff and students in adherence to the Michael Okpara philosophy of “Ịbú ányị danda.”
Like the say, a goldfish has no hiding place. Accordingly, his university colleagues and Abia state leaders prevailed upon Prof. Uche Ikonne to succeed Prof Chibuzo Ogbuagu as the seventh substantive Vice-Chancellor of Abia State University. As a result, Ọnyé Nkúzí assumed office on the first of December 2015 for a five-year tenure that ended in 2020.
During his five-year tenure as the Vice-Chancellor of Abia State University, he worked assiduously with his colleagues to increase the university’s ranking in Nigeria from the 93rd position to the 27th position out of 160 universities, as reported by the Daily Post newspaper on April 21, 2021. As a result, the institution also emerged as the second-best state-owned university in Nigeria during Prof. Uche Ikonne’s tenure.
At Abia State University, Ọnyé Nkúzí initiated and established the engineering and pharmaceutical faculties. This process involved a long, arduous process through the Senate, the National University Council, and the disciplines’ relevant regulatory and association bodies. This uncommon feat involved recruiting relevant academics and staff to run these new departments. Again, Prof. Uche Ikonne displays the ingenuity and doggedness that have marked his career. These values are encapsulated in his mantra that success comes from “Ákọ́, Ụché, na Ọ́kwúkwé.”
The team with the best players always wins. Ọnyé Nkúzí understood this point and reinstituted the practice of retaining the best graduating students from his university as lecturers. Ọnyé Nkúzí was able to reinstitute this laudable initiative because, as an excellent fundraiser, he was able to find the funds to pay the new lecturers. Part of the funding came from an ingenious contract renegotiating with retired university professors to free up funds to employ at least three graduate assistants per department. “Ákọ́, Ụché, na Ọ́kwúkwé.”
As the Nigerian aphorism advises, “follow who know road.” This maxim must have guided the Abia State leaders when they, once again, invited Prof. Uche Ikonne to join the gubernatorial race to build on the remarkable foundation PDP has set in the state. Ndi Abia appear to concur with this view as the Abia State governor’s office is not a place to learn administration or how to get things done. It should be a place for people who have proven their administrative mettle to solve the state’s more enormous challenges. As Luke 16:10 states, those faithful in little things will be faithful in large ones. These are the thoughts that would occupy the minds of the delegates as they cast their votes in the PDP Primaries. They will weigh the aspirants and choose someone who has proven his ability to get big things done with little resources. That calculation will most likely settle with Prof. Uche Ikonne, Ọnyé Nkúzí. His profile resonates with the street where he is also referred to as Uche Ndi Abia. The best we can ask for is “Uche Chukwu mee”, knowing that “Uche Ndi Abia bu Uche Chukwu”.
*(Okechukwu Eke is a public policy analyst in South Karelia, Finland)