Three notable indigenes of Anambra State have in the last few days joined their maker, but the people and government of the state are celebrating them rather than mourning their departure.
The first, according to a statement by Don Adinuba, Commissioner for Information and Public Enlightenment, is Dr Chukwuka Sunday Polycarp Okongwu, former Minister of Finance, former Minister of Economic Planning, former Minister of Cabinet Affairs and former Minister of Petroleum Resources as well as former Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Finance and Economic Planning in old East Central State.
Next is Chief Guy Ikoku, a veteran lawyer, political activist and chairman of the ruling Nigerian Peoples Party (NPP) in the old Anambra State during the Second Republic of 1979 to 1983 who was to lead another political party to victory in 1998 when the country was returning, once again, to democracy in 1999.
The third, Mrs. Helena Okoye, was the mother of Dr Ifeanyi Eric Okoye, pharmacist, founder and chairman of the Juhel business group and also the mother of Dr Francis Okoye, a former member of the State House of Assembly.
Each of the deceased departed in his or her 80s and, more importantly, was accomplished and fulfilled as an individual.
Okongwu, 87, remains exemplary as an Anambra indigene and a public servant. A journalist and broadcaster who received postgraduate degrees in economics in the 1960s from Boston University and Harvard University, he was a worthy son of a worthy family.
His uncle, Dr Joel Okwunodu Okongwu, was the first Igbo to earn a doctoral degree in education and followed it up by establishing a high school in his hometown of Nnewi, today known as Okongwu Memorial Secondary School.
Dr Chu Okongwu’s competence as a technocrat was such that even when he disagreed with the Commissioner for Finance on policy matters in the 1970s, East Central State Administrator Ukpabi Asika, an outstanding intellectual, often ruled in his favour. No wonder he was going to serve as a minister throughout the Ibrahim Babangida administration from 1985 to 1993, despite the frequent cabinet changes.
His book, Nigeria: An Anatomy of a Traumatized Economy with Some Proposals for Stabilization, enjoyed rave reviews on publication in 1986. This is in spite of the fact that it is laden with statistics and its language technical in most parts.
It says a lot about his moral integrity that throughout the long years he was a minister, Okongwu could not afford to build a house anywhere. President Babangida, in appreciation of his uncanny service to the nation, had to build a residence for him. He was truly a worthy ambassador of Anambra State.
Chief Ikoku, 85, was a scion of the Ikoku family of Oba in Idemili South Local Government Area. Better known by the sobriquet of Omenife, Chief Ikoku grew up in Port Harcourt where the father displayed amazing entrepreneurial skills. He later travelled to London to study law up to the master’s level.
No sooner he returned to Nigeria than the political crisis of the era reached a crescendo. Ikoku could have returned to the United Kingdom to enjoy the bright lights of the city when the Civil War erupted in 1967, but he chose to stay behind and rough it out with his people who were under bombardment.
He brought so much clarity to political issues when he was the NPP chairman in old Anambra State in the Second Republic and demonstrated the same critical leadership quality when he emerged the chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in Anambra State in 1998 and consequently led the party to victory. But the conduct of a number of the party’s chieftains, including the grossly unfair treatment to former Vice President Alex Ekwueme, who practically founded the party, led to his exit from partisan politics.
Chief Ikoku remained a key activist for the rest of his life. He championed the Igbo cause with fervor, driven by his passion for justice and equity.
Mrs. Okoye, 87 from Agulu in Anaocha Local Government Area, is mostly remembered for the strong values she instilled in her nine children, the values of education, hard work, integrity, fear of God, humility, leadership as service and dedication to the common good. These values are well reflected in her children. Take the third child, Ifeanyi, who, in spite of founding and running some of the most successful firms in the Southeast, remains humble. Dr Okoye is not only accessible to everyday folks whom he empowers tremendously in their numbers but relates to them as their equal. He and his Juhel group will make a rewarding study in responsible corporate leadership.
Dr Okoye is a shining practitioner of the Aku Luo Uno or Think Home philosophy of the Anambra State administration. The number of firms he has established in various sectors in the state which employ many professionals and pay their taxes in the state are worthy of emulation. He is a true son of his family.
Governor Willie Obiano has already called the Okongwu, Ikoku and Okoye families to commiserate with them over the deaths of their esteemed members. In the same manner, the Anambra state governor-elect, Professor Chukwuma Charles Soludo, has sent condolence messages to the bereaved families, asking them to bear the losses with equanimity.