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How did Soludo discover Dr Ibezim?

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CHUKWUMA Charles Soludo, the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) candidate in the November 6 gubernatorial vote in Anambra State, has right from primary school, been noted for uncanny brilliance, but hardly did any person expect him to choose Dr Onyeka Ibezim, a medical doctor with expertise in public health, as his running mate when he announced the selection on June 30. Dr Ibezim was not among those speculated both in the mainstream and social media. Still, when he was announced to be the deputy governorship candidate, the whole of Anambra State went agog.

“For those of us from Eastern Nigeria,” says Valentine Ntomchukwu, a lawyer, political scientist and the first Anambra indigene to serve as Deputy Inspector General of Police, “it is reminiscent of how Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe, Nigeria’s first president, chose little known Dr Michael Okpara, the Minister of Agriculture and Production, to succeed him as the Eastern Nigerian premier in 1959, over and above such prominent persons as Dr K. O. Mbadiwe”.

The retired DIG notes that Dr Okpara went on to do a splendid job, thus confirming Zik’s uncommon foresight. Okpara’s emergence as Eastern Nigerian premier is now considered one of Zik’s remarkable legacies because under the former’s leadership, Eastern Nigeria became one of the world’s fastest growing economies up to 1966, when a military coup ended Nigeria’s First Republic. The region excelled in manufacturing, tourism, education, agriculture and mining, among other sectors.

Ntomchukwu also states that Professor Soludo’s choice of Dr Ibezim, a medical doctor like Dr Okpara, is reminiscent of Dr Alex Ekwueme’s emergence as President Shehu Shagari’s running mate in 1978. “Everyone was expecting Alhaji Shehu to announce such a well-known name as Dr JOJ Okezie or Dr Mbadiwe as the vice presidential candidate, but he opted for little known but exceedingly brilliant Dr Alex Ekwueme, Nigeria’s most successful architect”, recalls the foremost security and intelligence consultant based in Abuja. “Dr Ekwueme was to emerge one of the greatest true statesmen Nigeria has ever had”.

It says a lot about the quality of Soludo’s running mate that he holds as many as three portfolios in the Governor Willie Obiano administration, yet his pictures are not everywhere in the media. Dr Ibezim is the Special Adviser to the Governor on Indigenous Medicine and Herbal Practice, working with traditional doctors as well as with medical and pharmaceutical researchers to develop and modernise traditional health practices. He is also the Executive Director of the Anambra State Action Committee on HIV/AIDS which has worked assiduously to contain the prevalence of these twin sexually transmitted diseases. Dr Ibezim is, in addition, the Managing Director of the Anambra State Oxygen Production Plant in Awka, a facility conceived by Governor Obiano but which he implemented. The plant produces 200 cylinders of oxygen daily, and they are distributed free to not only state government health facilities like primary health centres but also the federal government-owned Nnamdi Azikiwe University Teaching Hospital, Nnewi.  A COVID-19 patient consumes between six and 10 cylinders daily. The oxygen is also used in the treatment of Lassa fever which occurs in some parts of the state intermittently.

The establishment of this plant in August 2019, remains one of the most significant attainments of the Obiano administration, even though it is not well celebrated. Established a year before the COVID-19 pandemic, the plant stands as a testimony to the vision and commitment of the state government. While many states in Nigeria, as around the world, were struggling with oxygen availability in the worst days of the pandemic which led to several deaths, Anambra was spared this tragedy. Not to be forgotten is that Dr Ibezim is a member of the Anambra State COVID-19 Case Management Team which has done an impressive job of mitigating the pandemic in the state. Yet, such a person with an impressive record is no household name even though his elder brother and look-alike, The Most Reverend Dr Alexander Ibezim, is the Anglican Bishop of Awka Diocese and also, the leader of the whole Anglican Church in Anambra State because he is the Archbishop of the Province of the Niger. “The younger Ibezim is a silent and smooth operator”, says The Venerable Amaechi Okwuosa, Managing Director of the Awka Capital Territory Authority.

So, how did Soludo discover Dr Ibezim? “It all boils down to Professor Soludo’s outstanding brilliance”, according to Oliver Ikueze, a retired school principal who in the late 1970s and early 80s taught the teenager that would become the Central Bank of Nigeria Governor in 2003. Ikueze taught Soludo at Uga Boys High School, in Aguata Local Government Area in Anambra State. “Charles”, recalls the septuagenarian, “is arguably the most brilliant student I ever taught anywhere in the decades I served as an English and Literature tutor after graduating from the University of Nigeria, Nsukka. I have followed his progress with great interest. I am by no means surprised that he became a globally respected economics professor, nor was I surprised when he unleashed a revolution which brought the Central Bank of Nigeria into global reckoning. He sees ahead of most people and is exceedingly thorough”.

Sources close to the erstwhile CBN governor disclose that rather than capitulate to various vested interests within Anambra State and beyond who wanted one candidate or another as his running mate, Soludo beamed his searchlight quietly on each recommended person. He asked a lot of people in the party and in government and various communities to give information on each person without disclosing the purpose. It was a rather an informal exercise, so those giving the information were frank in doing so.

In the words of Frank Ndu Ndibe, a Lagos-based legal consultant and indigene of Amawbia, Anambra State: “Very few persons can be successful deputy governors or vice presidents. That’s why many governors quarrel with their deputies and presidents don’t trust their deputies, as in the case of former President Olusegun Obasanjo and ex-Vice President Atiku Abubakar or General Sani Abacha and General Oladipo Diya.

“Personal integrity, record of achievements, intelligence, buying into the governor’s or president’s vision, being a team player and being humble matter”.

This writer understands that the APGA standard bearer interviewed the candidates and asked extensive questions, the way American presidents scrutinise those they want to appoint into their administration.

“He submitted three names to the party’s leadership which approved the list, and he subsequently announced Dr Onyeka Ibezim from Mbaukwu, in Awka South Local Government Area, his running mate”, reports a party executive who doesn’t want his name in the media because he has no mandate to speak to the press on this issue.

Various sources within APGA and the Obiano administration have confirmed the above account of how Professor Soludo selected Dr Ibezim, a knight of St Christopher in the Anglican Communion, to be his deputy.

“The magic of this painstaking process”, argues Chief Handel Okoli, a founding member of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), who served as President Obasanjo’s Senior Special Assistant, “is not only in Soludo’s thoroughness but also, and more importantly, in the lesson for other candidates in the November 6 governorship election in Anambra State.

“In fact, every gubernatorial or presidential candidate in Nigeria should henceforth, follow the example which Professor Soludo, a well-acknowledged pacesetter, has set for us all”.

Chukwube is former Chief Press Secretary to an ex-Anambra State governor.

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