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Annie Okonkwo: Media honours for philanthropic democrat

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AS THE Senator, representing Anambra Central Senatorial Zone at the 6th Senate, Annie Okonkwo moved the motion for urgent intervention against erosion menace in the South-East, his constituency’s interest spoke volumes. “Mr President, if the Senate fails to act and erosion menace continues to wipe away some of our homes and communities, then history will hold us responsible.

But if the Senate acts on the urgency of this motion, then history will be kind with us,” he said. Senator Okonkwo is a man of history. He has a reputation for trust, integrity, hardwork, and dedicated commitment to the common good.

  Senator Okonkwo goes beyond political terrain to look after the welfare of people, even beyond his immediate constituency, a spirit he has maintained over the years. He has contributed immensely to the growth of Nigeria’s economy and provided jobs to several thousands of people through his various companies and their numerous subsidiaries.

  The Ojoto, Idemili South Local Government Area born business mogul is a man lofty in ideals, barrier breaker, a reformer by attitude and a democrat by habit. He believes in courage as more important than fear and that insight from hindsight must guide individual foresight to make meaning out of life. These virtues powered his ability to build from a significant scratch, a conglomerate in Nigeria, which goes to confirm his vision.

  Before venturing into politics, Senator Okonkwo first made his mark in the business world. He is a successful businessman, an entrepreneur of international reputation, and an exceptional philanthropist. He sits atop a conglomerate whose business interest covers oil and gas, telecommunications, commodity trading, real estate development, manufacturing and general commerce employing over 7,000 people.

  Popularly called Agunechemba meaning ‘‘the guardian of the people’’ Senator Okonkwo was born on May 23, 1960, in Ojoto. He started business at Aba, Abia State, in a modest way from a retail shop which he used to trade after school.  A  man who knew what he wanted, he ventured into business at an early age and has done remarkably well. Through hard work and tenacity of purpose, he built his vast business empire. 

  He holds Advanced Diploma in Marketing, University of Lagos (1994 –1995), Advanced Diploma in Commercial Law and Practice, University of Lagos (1995-1997) and Advanced Diploma in Management, Harvard University, USA (1997-1998). People have described him variously as a man of uncommon destiny and remarkable character.     

Propelled by such grace in business, resolve for a more extensive space of service to the people was a call he heeded, and politics became a passionate vocation. It didn’t surprise people that in what measured as his first electoral victory; he won the election of a vigorously contested delegate against intimidating heavyweights, to the then Social Democratic Party (SDP) National Convention in 1992, at Jos, Plateau State that ratified the nomination of the late Chief MKO Abiola as its Presidential candidate. The feat was a daring achievement for an aspirational young man of his age then.

  Senator Okonkwo showed high resilience and courage in overcoming extreme business vicissitudes. It was this same courage and resourcefulness that he adapted in handling his political quest at the regrettable annulment of June 12, 1993 presidential election, which dampen the spirit of many. He joined the United Nigerian Congress Party, (UNCP), the leading party in General Abacha’s transition episode. He quickly consolidated as a progressive stakeholder and popular contender in Anambra State.

The distinguished Senator never lacked space nor suffered a decline in his zeal to actualise politics of unfettered inclusion and internal party democracy, where ideas and capacity flourish without impediments to free choice, as the fundamental virtue flag.

  Before the Fourth Republic in 1999, Senator Okonkwo was again a rallying force and factor in the formation of Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) that won the Presidency and all the elections in South Eastern States of Nigeria.

  He was appreciatively elected a Senator of the Federal Republic of Nigeria under PDP. He spared nothing to nurture between 2007 -2011. While in that Senate, Sen. Annie Okonkwo, aside membership of foremost committees – Upstream Petroleum, Police Affairs, etc., was the Vice Chairman of the Committee on Environments and Ecology.

As a proven builder of consensus and gifted enabler of platforms, his legislative contributions and exploits were groundbreaking as the most decorated voice against erosion disasters and severe environmental displacements in the whole Nigeria and the South-East particularly.

  His skills for lobby leveraged his intense charisma that ensured bills were enacted, appropriations made, and funds released for life-saving remediation across board. So spread and elastic were his developmental projects in Anambra Central Constituency, that almost a decade after, the yearning that he deserved to go back remains a constant nostalgia.

  To ensure the improvement of electricity, in 2009, Okonkwo distributed 15 units of transformers to communities in Anambra Central Zone. Enekwesumpu area, in Nkpor; Electrical Market, Obosi; Odume Layout, Obosi; Eke Awka Market; Motor Spare Parts area, Nkpor; Oba; Nnobi; Nibo; and Awka were some of the communities that received transformers from Senator Okonkwo.

  Senator Okonkwo attracted several other constituency projects such as modern library/ internet centre at Okpuno, Awka, Modern Library Centre at Nkpor, construction and renovation of 15 primary schools across the senatorial zone, construction of classroom blocks and water boreholes in Ojoto Girls Secondary School, the supply of hospital equipment and pharmaceuticals to Ojoto Medical Centre, the PHCN power distribution substation in Ojoto, renovation of a school in the seven local government areas of the constituency.

In a mid-term evaluation of Senators in May 2009, ThisDay noted that he had sponsored a bill for the federal government to make essential commodities accessible and affordable to Nigerians, and a bill to establish the Nigerian Citizens in Diaspora Commission.

In 2013, when the spade works for the coalitions that brought the ruling All Progressives Congress, (APC) into life, his dependable shoulder of strength for high responsibilities was a ready choice. He was the interim Deputy National Chairman, for the entire South of Nigeria, a position next in succession to the National Chairmanship, in case of resignation or absence, since the Presidency was zoned to the North. His contributions and sacrifices in those near impossible foundations of APC was an open page in stamina that saw the eventual defeat of an incumbent president and a contestant, in Nigeria’s political history.

Today, Senator Okonkwo is preoccupied with a new political necessity, critical to our evolving governance architecture. He advocates that government gives youths more prominent roles and space to lead; the opportunity to grow in all cadres of leadership development as done globally, to prepare them as real owners of our current age, no longer tomorrow. 

  The inevitability of that ideology played out at the 2019 general elections, through a massive reinvigorated platform, same as in Social Democratic Party, SDP, where he started his political experience at the age of those he now mentors, creating a platform to empower them, knowing they will be shut out in the dominant parties. The youths had access to explore and develop capacity; a remarkable and self-actualising political contest apprenticeship which had his son as a candidate by choice too. Today, they are all better prepared to benefit the nation.

  Senator Okonkwo is a true democrat, he advocates the best representation at any level but thinks that the Southeast deserves the Presidency in the spirit of fairness, urging all political parties to field Igbo candidates in 2023. “It has come to a stage where the major political parties should consider people from the southeast. It is not about resources but equity. The time has come for the southeast to produce the president. In the south, it should be micro-zoned to the South-East because the South-West and South-South have ruled for eight years and six years respectively,” Okonkwo said.

  Agunaechemba is a visionary and highly focused person, who loves charity, a trait he shares with visionaries like Bill Gates, who chose the path of the “School of Life” translating vision into practical application to the benefit of humanity.

Senator Okonkwo’s philanthropy, commitment, and service to humanity have affected thousands of lives in Anambra State and beyond through his Agunaechemba Foundation. The core focus of the foundation is poverty alleviation using the instruments of skill acquisition and training, small and medium enterprises financing, security gadgets donations, materials and cash gifting to churches and individuals, besides scholarship scheme for quality education.

A man honoured with many traditional titles for his contribution to humanity, besides his title of Agunechemba Ojoto, he owns the traditional titles of Onwa of Oba, Dikedioranma of Aguluzoigbo, Okosisi of Nri, and Ojelu Igbo Ozi na Obosi.

  He is a recipient of many local and international awards including Dr Kwame Nkrumah Award for Excellence in Enterprise (WAIM), National Productivity Order of Merit Award [NPOM], EMRC Euro Market Brussels Leadership Award in Recognition of exemplary leadership by Leadership Watch.

  Others include International Business Leadership Award by News Agency of Nigeria and Eminent Persons Hall of Fame Awards by Nigeria Newsworld Fame Achievers Award.

Senator Annie Okonkwo is married to Lady Chinyere Okonkwo, a woman he describes as complementing him. They have six children.   

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