By James Eze
(This piece was written on the day of the chieftaincy conferment on the Obianos, but on popular demand, we are re-publishing it in order to also complement the cover story).
Today in Ado-Ekiti, the governor of Anambra State, Chief Willie Obiano and his beautiful wife, Dr Mrs Ebelechukwu Obiano, shall be honoured with chieftaincy titles by the Ewi of Ado-Ekiti, Oba Rufus Adeyemo Adejugbe, in his palace.
Governor Obiano will be conferred the title of Aare Amuogun of Ado-Ekiti, while his wife will go home with the title, Erelu Amuogun of Ado-Ekiti. Coming at a time when extremist politics and tribal bigotry have deepened the division between Nigeria's major ethnic groups, this event presents a glimpse of hope for the unity of the country.
If we must admit the truth, the last general elections did an excellent job of stoking the flame of the age old suspicions between Ndigbo and their Yoruba cousins. We heard open threats of possible physical confrontations between the two groups in Lagos that once again plunged the country into moments of anxiety. The spasms induced by that gale of bitterness have not quite left us. But happily, there are still some Nigerian leaders who are committed to forging and maintaining friendly ties across turbulent waters.
At the formal opening of the historic Centre for Memories in Enugu two years ago, the Obi of Onitsha, His Royal Majesty, Igwe Nnaemeka Achebe, had spoken eloquently about the filial ties that bind Ndigbo to the Yoruba. Igwe Achebe's account was steeped in ancient history and well-founded archaeological claims. Not surprisingly, his account has been corroborated by the Ooni of Ife, Oba Adeyeye Enitan Ogunwusi, who has repeatedly stated that Ndigbo and the Yoruba share the same ancestry. While some cynical people on either side have sniggered at these claims, they have yet to provide sufficient proof of the things that separate the Igbo from the Yoruba.
Happily, some forward-looking leaders have continued to interact and build enduring friendships across the Niger. For instance, Governor Obiano has always enjoyed a strong friendship with dignitaries across the country. Long before he became the governor of Anambra State, Obiano's friends cut across ethnic and religious lines around the country. His close friends consist of both serving and retired top military leaders, respected traditional rulers, well-known corporate titans, astute professionals and glittering celebrities in Nollywood and the Nigerian music scene. He has never been held captive by tribal prejudices or narrow parochial attachments. Obiano's strongest attachment is to excellence and merit. This is part of the reason why many years before he became the governor of Anambra State, Governor Obiano had been honoured with the title of the Otunba Atayase of Ilemeso-Ekiti by Oba David Adegboyega Oyewunmi (Fasemi II) of Ilemeso-Ekiti.
For those who may not know, Ndigbo have always enjoyed unusual friendship with the people of Ekiti State. Anyone who is familiar with contemporary Nigerian history will remember the extraordinary story of Col Francis Adekunle Fajuyi, the first Military Governor of the former Western Region. This Ado-Ekiti born soldier offered to die along with his guest in the reprisal coup that claimed the life of Major General J.T.U Aguiyi Ironsi, Nigeria's first military head of state, who was on a state visit in Ibadan on July 28, 1966, when the revenge coup plotters struck. There are different versions of the story of how Fajuyi had rejected all entreaties to stay away from the line of fire but refused because he couldn't stand hands akimbo while his boss was in grave danger. It is the stuff of legends and a repudiation of the claim that Ndigbo and the Yoruba cannot fashion a common front when pressed against the wall.
Against this backdrop therefore, Obiano will be walking in the shadow of history when he stoops to accept the title of Aare Amuogun in Ado-Ekiti today. As the governor of a prominent Igbo state, he also enjoys a strong friendship with the Ooni of Ife, Oba Adeyeye Enitan Ogwunwusi. In fact, the Ooni made sure that nothing stood in the way of his attending Obiano's second term inauguration in Awka in March, 2018.
All things considered, Governor Obiano is clearly the only political leader in the South East who has shown open commitment to building enduring bridges across the Niger. In a public life that is already fully laden with honour and recognitions, Governor Obiano has set himself apart from his peers. He holds an enviable record of being one of the few governors who won all the important awards and recognitions in Nigeria in less than three years in office. Obiano is a winner of the prestigious Zik Prize for Good Governance (2015); the Silverbird Man of the Year (2016); the Sun Governor of the Year; the Vanguard Newspapers Governor of the Year (2016); the New Telegraph's Outstanding Performance Award (2016); the Leadership Newspapers Man of the Year (2016); as well as the Best Primary Education Friendly Governor of the Year (2016), from the Association of Primary School Head Teachers of Nigeria (AOPSHON). Governor Obiano was also given a Certificate of Recognition by the Institute for Housing and Urban Development of the Erasmus University in Rotterdam, the Netherlands. The Catholic Church has honoured him with the title of the Duke of the Catholic Laity in Nigeria.
And in a rather interesting twist of irony, just before Obiano was sworn in as governor of Anambra Sate for his first term in office, President Barrack Obama had honoured him with the President's Volunteer Service Award in December 2013. In the letter informing him of the honour, President Obama had said, “thank you for helping to address the most pressing needs in your community''.
Interestingly, immediately after his swearing in, Governor Obiano had quickly addressed SECURITY, which was the most pressing need of Anambra State when he assumed office.
These are the things that have put Governor Willie Maduaburochukwu Obiano up for the honour in Ado-Ekiti today.
Afu dimkpa, afu ogonogo imi ya!