Remembering Colonel Lambert Iheanacho : A Tribute

By Opara Chinedu

Colonel Lambert Iheanacho’s reputation preceded him during his lifetime. His name walked ahead of him and so, long before meeting him, one would have at least heard that within Imo and Ngor Okpala, at least.

Those who knew him well would tell you that he was a man of integrity, disciplined, straight forward and trustworthy. That he was not your average Nigerian politician. They would go ahead to sum up their assessment by telling you his words were his bond. When i first time heard those “unnigerian” descriptions of a politician, they really didn’t strike a chord in me. Like an average Nigerian i believed that seeing was believing.

And one day that happened. I had a personal encounter with him and it completely changed my perception of him. I had just completed the seven months left in the three years tenure of my late predecessor, Hon Cajetan Iwe – may his soul continue to rest in the bosom of God – as councillor for Logara/Umuohiagu Ward in Ngor Okpala Local Government Legislative Council, and returned home to find something else to do.

But, no sooner had i returned than individuals and groups from both communities started mounting pressure on me. They all had one agenda, which was to convince me to contest another term since i didn’t enjoy full tenure. Based on the rotational agreement in my ward Umuohiagu was billed for take over from Logara but, here were people, Umuohiagu indigenes inclusive, coming to bait and tempt me with the intention to lure me into contesting again.

But, i said No and stood my ground. My body, soul and spirit rejected that agenda and I told lobbyists it was Umuohiagu’s turn and that i already have a candidate, Clement Obi Nkwocha to support and that there was no going back.

At the time this happened i never broadcasted what transpired but, walls they say, do have ears. Somehow, Colonel Iheanacho who was PDP apex leader in Ngor Okpala heard the story. But, he neither called me nor, physically discussed the issue with me. He simply kept it to himself, perhaps waiting for the right time to appreciate the gesture.

Then one day, that unexpected and unsolicited appreciation came. Colonel Iheanacho singlehandedly made me the Secretary to Ngor Okpala Local Government Area in the Chief Sabinus Okere (TPM Obike) Transition Committee. That was the second transition management committee constituted by the ex Gov Ikedi Ohakim. The first one was led by late Chief Fidelis Ude from Upe Autonomous Community.

That rare gesture made me completely align myself with proponents of Colonel’s character, principles and integrity. Here is a position i never for one day personally, through proxy, representation or, through any other means sought for but, which was given me on a platter. I was not even at the meeting in which the appointment was made and I can remember clearly that Colonel didn’t know me very well then. In fact, i am sure it was that action of mine that brought me fully into his consciousness. Prior to that I was among those at the lower rungs of the ladder in the party, and those of us in this class were largely seen and not heard. It was obvious therefore, that i lacked the contact, influence and weight to fight for that position and truly, it never ever crossed my mind to lobby for the office knowing it would be an exercise in futility. Yet i was chosen ahead of those who may have lobbied for it.

In Nigeria’s murky political waters it was only a man of unimpeachable character and principles that could have taken that decisive action. Only a forthright leader of integrity, who is out to promote collective good ahead of personal or group selfish interest could have done that. Only a man keen on leaving legacies on the sands of time for present and posterity remembrance would have opted for such decision that had no remote, immediate or, future benefits. It was certainly only a man sworn to promoting and appreciating good and disciplined conduct with a view to motivating his followers to be selfless and always seek collective good for the overall interest of his people and humanity could have done what Colonel did. And beyond powerfully drumming home his rare qualities, that action completely changed my view of politics and politicians.

Hitherto, i saw that game as a dirty game where men and women of conscience and morals are scarcely found. But, Colonel’s master stroke changed that and more than that, it also me a student of humane politics or politics with with human face.

Looking back it seems to me too, that the man took that step also as a strategic, deliberate step to discourage do or die politics, and disregard for elective offices agreements which had started gaining ground at the local, state federal level then. At the time i bluntly rejected those overtures, some of councillors who enjoyed full three years stint and whose wards had sharing agreement like mine had already declared for second term. At the local and state level politicians were also routinely and brazenly jettisoning agreements and naturally, such actions were generating much heat and tension at every level. Of course, leaders in the mould of Colonel Iheanacho who deeply worried by such untoward tendency sought ways and means to enthrone sanity and discipline. They were keen on ensuring that the right things were done no matter whose ox were gored. Thus, their adoption of the carrot and stick strategy.

The fiercely contested 2011 Imo governorship election provided another window into the man’s uncommon attributes. Being the apex leader of Ngor Okpala he was PDP’s number one in Ngor Okpala. So, he represented the council in leadership meetings at the state level. During electioneering, he also led other leaders of the council in negotiation with aspirants ahead of party primaries and also with candidates prior to general elections. The essence of those parley’s were essentially to get those concerned to commit to making concrete
agreements that to some extent could be enforced when the eventually emerge victorious. That was then. Today, leaders enter agreement with office seekers for themselves and their families and cronies!

In the build up to aforesaid election he led the leadership of the party to negotiate and reach some agreements with the PDP candidate then, Gov Ikedi Ohakim. However, as we later learnt when the election spilled into a supplementary poll, Chief Ohakim believing he would carry the day with or without Ngor Okpala had breached some terms of the accord.

Unfortunately for him, that election was stalemated and supplementary poll ordered in Ngor Okpala, Mbaitoli,and Oguta Local Government Areas. Ohakim was literally trapped and so came back on his knees sweating and begging for a second chance.

But, a no nonsense Colonel would have nothing to do with him again. People close to the then APGA candidate Owelle Rochas Okorocha on getting wind of the disagreement and knowing the mans nature quickly alerted him. Without any ado Okorocha rushed to Upe, Imerienwe and promised Ngor Okpala heaven on earth.

William Shakespeare the world renown bard told us there is no art to find a minds construction on the face. This timeless truism was what transpired between ex Gov Okorocha and Ngor Okpala. He humoured the leaders and the people with attractive and tempting promises and they innocently fell for them.

But, it later dawned on them and indeed, the council that Okorocha conned us. He practically reneged on every agreement made and that led to the severance of links with him and Ngor Okpala political leadership that reached agreement with him, particularly, the apex leader.

Because the Nigeria political system thrives on the bad and the ugly, the man’s spartan kind of political leadership later came under attack.
Actually, his leadership had been under attack right from the start, from elements who saw his style as alien to this shores. They couldn’t understand why he was running a classless, open door policy where virtually every issue was openly discussed and decisions popularly taken. Even, when some meetings were high level, the man would always come back to brief his people. He ardently believed that politics is a collective business. In our political parlance we say it is ” let us go,” and not “let me go” business. Unlike some leaders who preach but didn’t practice what they preached, he preached and practiced it to the hilt.

As we should expect, those rooted for zero sum politics being in majority, and boasting of enormous war chest eventually outweighed the moralists, and torpedoed his leadership. Of course, i have to add here too that advancing age and accompanying health challenges played their own part in his exit.

It is an open secret that Ngor Okpala politics has taken a turn for the worse since he exited the top. There is no more defined leadership structure. Everyone is now a leader and as the sage Chinua Achebe quipped, the falcon can no longer hear the falconer and the centre can longer hold. Greed, the mad crave for relevance and power, “if it is not me, then it should be nobody else” and lure of filthy lucre are some factors responsible for this ugly state of affairs.

Sadly, those that would have taken up that mantle
of leadership are even the biggest culprits in the outlined vices. And so, lacking the moral authority they are perpetually finding it difficult filling the shoes left behind by the likes of the iconic leader.

At the moment, politics in the area has degenerated so badly and dangerously that people are now killing for power and leadership.

It could even get worse in the coming days and years ahead looking at realities on ground at the moment. But, as a patriot and developmental politics proponent, i wish and pray we don’t get to the precipice. This is why i am reminiscing on the life and times of the last field commander of Biafra army, Colonel Lambert Iheanacho, the soldier intellectual and political moralist who passed on recently.

He is dead and interred but, his legacies will live on, while we pray for leaders like him to spring forth in Ngor Okpala, Imo State and Nigeria!

May his soul and that of other departed good leaders like Dee Sam Mbakwe continue rest in peace. Amen!

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