– Written by Eagle Okoro, an Umuahia-based public affairs commentator
It was a blissful Sunday, January 14, 2024. Certainly a day with a difference, epochal in the anals of the present Labour Party-led government in Abia State.
Yeah! The difference was about the personalities and institutions that converged on the imposing Mater Dei Cathedral, Umuahia as well as the very essence for the day’s thanksgiving mass, which was in honour of Gov. Alex Chioma Otti’s Supreme Court victory.
The roll call was a long one and included but not limited to the No. 1 Abia family, Gov. Otti and his resplendent, cool and ageless wife, Priscilla (a.k.a Onugu).
Others were Deputy Gov. Ikechukwu Emetu, the Speaker, Abia House of Assembly, Rt. Hon. Emmanuel Emeruwa, represented by his deputy, Rt. Hon. Okezie Meregini.
The rest were the state Chief Judge, Justice Lilian Abai, members of the Abia House of Assembly, Commissioners, Local Government Mayors and their Deputies, Service Chiefs and top government functionaries, among other dignitaries.
Expectedly, the seven long wings of the cathedral were filled to the brim.
And majorly, the essence of the mass, as the name implies, was to thank and appreciate God for the great thing He has done for Abia and lovers of democracy in Nigeria by affirming His word, which He spoke through the ballot box and Abia electorate, who settled for Dr Alex Otti over and above 17 other Governorship Candidates in the March 18, 2023 poll.
As usual, the Church liturgy commenced with the Bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Umuahia, Most Rev. Michael Ukpong, officiating and supported by a host of other priests, including the Chancellor of the Diocese, Rev. Fr. Henry Maduka, and the Provost of Madonna College of Health Technology, Olokoro, who doubles as Special Adviser to the Governor on Policy and Intervention, Rev. Fr. Christian Anokwuru.
Then came the moment of sermon by the amiable, calm, gentle-looking but blunt and no-nonsense Bishop Ukpong.
Characteristically, he chose to precede his homily with a brief remark about the governor and the achievements of his barely eight-month-old administration.
He underscored the fact that God gives victory and that the governor recognized that fact.
“This knowledge is important for the continuous success of the administration,” he said.
Speaking further, he said that he was not surprised that “God, through the Supreme Court, affirmed your election because He does not give blessings and withdraw the blessings.
“Don’t forget that the God, who has given you victory, will demand your stewardship.
“I must say, so far, the people of Abia are happy with your government,” he said.
Indeed, the last statement was the clergyman’s unassailable affirmation of the people’s unbiased assessment of the performance of the Otti-led administration since its inception on May 29, 2023.
There’s absolutely no gainsaying the fact that an average Abia person, both indigene and non-indigene, is truly happy and impressed beyond words over the current transformative projects, policies and programmes of the present administration in the state.
The Abia Chapter Chairman of the Nigerian Legion, Commander Ambrose Nnabugwu (rtd.), echoed the bishop’s impression about Gov. Otti’s performance in office, when he said that the impressive welfare package for his members by the present administration had not been experienced for many past years.
Nnabugwu, who led his members to mark this year’s Armed Forces Remembrance Day celebration also at the cathedral, said that posterity would be kind to the governor “for what he has done for the Nigerian Legion and the people of Abia.
“Today, workers’ salaries are paid on the 28th of every month and this is the first time in history to hear about the 13th month salary bonus for Abia civil servants.
“You can drive through the roads in Aba and Umuahia today with your two eyes closed because this government has fixed all the potholes,” he said.
And in a more explicit and incisive vote of thanks, the Chancellor of the Diocese, Maduka, thanked the governor for choosing to hold the thanksgiving service at the cathedral.
Maduka said that many Abia residents that believe in him, including a security man in his neighbourhood, had loaded their arms and only waited to pour out to the streets in protest, had the nation’s apex court ruled otherwise.
Continuing, he said, “You are the first governor with a First Class to govern Abia, so I expect that everything you do for the state as governor will be first class.”
He listed some commendable initiatives of the governor, which he described as first class, to include his resilience in the regular payment of workers’ salaries, embarking on massive road reconstruction in the major cities of Umuahia and Aba, among other landmark projects and programmes.
The cleric opined that by the governor’s outstanding performance so far, what was required to guarantee his seamless return to office for a second term was to sustain the tempo of work.
“You will not need to campaign for your second term. Your projects will do the campaign for you,” the diocesan chancellor said.
This pronouncement again seals the ambition of those who might be eyeing the Government House in 2027.
In the cleric’s candid and non-partisan opinion, there will be no vacancy in the Abia Government House in 2027. Period!
In a speech, the governor recalled how the governorship election of March 18, 2023 was contested, the overt and covert intrigues and the intervention of the Headquarters of the Independent National Electoral Commission and his eventual declaration as winner by the state Returning Officer and Vice Chancellor of the Federal University of Technology, Owerri, Prof. Nnenna Oti.
He also recalled the series of litigations and other hurdles that he sailed over and the final verdict of the Supreme Court that ultimately affirmed his victory.
Looking back at the whole unnecessary litigations championed by PDP and APC Governorship Candidates, Chief Okey Ahiwe, and Chief Ikechi Emenike, respectively, seeking to invalidate his mandate, he said in unmistaken terms: “My message is consistent.
“Don’t drag what is not yours. What is not yours is not yours.”
The governor also spoke of how he resisted the pressure to look elsewhere outside the House of God to seek for help, saying: “I told the people, who were struggling, oh you needed to go here, you needed to go there.
“They have gone to Okija, they have gone to Ivory Coast, they have gone to India and to Australia, you need to go.
“I said no, this is where I will come. But one thing I was sure was that my God was waiting for them everywhere to disgrace them.” And indeed the people were finally disgraced, disappointed and dejected.
The governor, whose speech was punctuated by intermittent ovations by the large and excited congregation, did not undermine the role played by the Church and the divine intervention in the entire process.
He said, “The Church prayed, this particular Church prayed. Nigerians prayed, Muslims prayed. It was as if it was another presidential election.”
And in appreciation of that simple fact, he further said: “As soon as we finished addressing the press in my campaign office, we moved straight into this sanctuary.
“What did we come to do? We came to thank God because we know that even before we started the journey, we came to this sanctuary to seek the face of God and He answered!
“So, the natural thing was to return and thank God and we returned and thanked God.
“Umuahia was agog, Aba was upside down. People hardly slept that day. I heard that every beer parlour in Aba served drinks free of charge.
“I was moved to tears on our way here, when an old woman, probably in her 70s, removed her wrapper and placed it on the road and was screaming and thanking God and actually praying that God could take her life because she had seen that thing.
“But I was praying against that and that she had to live long and see the fruit of the labour.
“So, it’s natural that after Friday, when the very long tussle that started from immediately after the election at Kano Federal High Court, where a judgment was given to stop the inauguration and Kano Court of Appeal, where our team of lawyers went to vacate the judgment stopping the inauguration and then the tribunal and from the tribunal to the Court of Appeal and then just two days ago at the Supreme Court, where God had spoken.”
It was, indeed, only natural to return to the sanctuary to say, thank you, God, just like one of the 10 cleansed lepers returned to show gratitude to Jesus Christ, after they were healed. (see Luke 17: 11 – 19)
In many instances, a lot of people always attribute their success and achievements to their personal initiatives, efforts and industry.
But in appreciation of the hand of God in his electoral and legal victory, the governor said: “We may have fought hard, we may have been resilient and may have worked hard but if God did not sanction it, it wouldn’t happen.
“And we have come here to thank God, thank the men and women of God, thank the children of God that are here and give you a little more job, which is that you continue to pray for us.
“Remember us in your prayers, day and night, and our commitment is that we will not disappoint you.”
And recalling his long-drawn struggle for power to liberate his people from 24 years under PDP slavery and captivity, he said:
“Yes, Fr Anokwuru was right. We started this journey in 2014.
“I heard clearly, even though I’m not a man of God, I’m just a little son of God, but I still hear from God.
“I heard clearly that a day like this had been prepared by God.
“But you know, when God speaks to you, he wouldn’t give you time.
“What you would be sure is that he spoke to you and for us as humans we are very impatient.
“A thousand years to us is just like a minute to God.”
For all Abia citizenry, it’s simply a period to give glory God that His message to his “little son” ahead of time that the weeping and lamentations of His own people had got to Him and that His promise to deliver them from the hands of their PDP oppressors and extortioners, using him as the governor and vessel of restoration and rebuilding of Abia, have all come to fulfilment in our lifetime.
And drawing from Fr. Anokwuru’s blunt remark, while ushering the governor to the sanctuary for his speech, millions of the good people of Abia (not only himself) would have been the most miserable, if Otti did not emerge victorious in the 2023 poll. The reason is obvious!
And it is instructive to underscore here that the governor did not gloss over the admonishment by the bishop, who said, “Now that every other obstacle has been removed, we have the right to get every dividend of democracy.”
Of course, this should be taken for granted because the man at the wheel came prepared, focussed and committed to deliver good governance to Abia and its good people to the glory of God Almighty.
Eagle Okoro, a public affairs commentator, writes from Umuahia