After several attempts to win the American presidency, Abraham Lincoln made an unusual appointment during the selection of his cabinet that startled not only his party but also the nation. His choice of Edwin Stanton as Secretary of War drew the ire of not only his party and ardent supporters but also a sizeable spectrum of Americans. Of course, they were right to express such indignation and disgust at Lincoln’s ‘mistake’. Stanton was one of the strongest and fiercest critics and opponents of Lincoln during the latter’s campaign for the presidency, and so didn’t deserve the position, they reasoned.
When news filtered out to the streets that Stanton was being tipped as a cabinet member of the new administration, one of Lincoln’s aides came over to his back and asked him in a whisper why he was appointing this ‘irritable and irascible’ Stanton to such a lofty position in a time of war, Lincoln replied: ‘But I have searched all over the nation and I found him to be the most suitable for the job.’ In truth, Stanton may not have been the most suitable for the job, only that Lincoln wanted to demonstrate that there should not be any bitterness in politics. Lincoln was thus teaching the world a lesson in statesmanship, humility and forgiveness. That magnanimity of spirit was all that Lincoln needed to transform a zealous foe to an ardent friend. And of course, Stanton didn’t disappoint, he proved to be the most successful Secretary of War during those turbulent years of America’s history!
But how does this story of Abraham Lincoln and Edwin Stanton fit the bill in Ebonyi? In several ways, I dare say! Last week, the governor, Chief Martin Elechi announced the Health Minister Prof. Onyebuchi Chukwu as his successor. He was adopted as a consensus candidate to fly the flag of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in the February general elections, after several state-wide consultations of stakeholders in the state. By his choice of Onyebuchi, Elechi was telling us, like Abraham Lincoln, that he has searched across the state and ‘found him to be the most suitable for the job’. And indeed he is, really.
When we look back to 2010 and take a promenade along the frontiers of history, no one in Ebonyi state would have thought this miracle unfolding before our eyes possible. By then, Chukwu was the Chief Medical Director of Ebonyi State University Teaching Hospital. He took his trade mark—which has been hard work and integrity—along with him and transformed what was then perceived as a rural hospital into a first class teaching hospital in Nigeria that drew many renowned surgeons in different areas of specialization from across the country to Abakaliki. But somewhere along the line, when he was revelling in this standing ovation, his enemies went to work and sowed tares while he was deep asleep. From then, one thing led to another, certain things didn’t add up and Chukwu was relieved of his position by the governor.
For mortals of little faith, that was enough to break one’s spinal cord, even when sinewed with hope. But not Chukwu! As my mentor Professor Egwu U. Egwu used to say, “if one door does not close, another would not open”. Thus, what Chukwu may have thought then as a bad omen was a ladder, if you like, Jacob’s ladder, to see angels bedecked in golden robes, to a future that promises vistas of freedom and fame and flush.
By choosing Chukwu from the southern part of the state upon all the pressures and preachment from his kinsmen that pointed otherwise, the governor has demonstrated beyond doubt that his desire for peace, justice and equity in the state is not a fluke. When he was elected governor in 2007 and he took up the name “Ocho Udo”, none of us really understood the full meaning, and I dare say, not even his people, until now. Only Elechi knew that he who searches for peace must come with clean hands. He must insist on equity and justice and the accommodation of others no matter how overwhelming their interests may be, for peace to reign.
Elechi understands very well the delicate tripod on which the state stands. He understands that no matter how hard we may try to balance the geopolitics in the state by giving a sop to Cerberus in form of appointments and contracts to the southern end of the state, the state cannot stand or balance on an even ground when one stand of the tripod is missing. That is the import of the governor’s decision.
I am not trying to sound sycophantic, but I must say that the greatest thing that has happened to Ebonyi state, apart from its creation, is the fact that a person like Elechi is governor at this time in the state that the drums and clamour for power shift to the south is upbeat. I doubt if any other governor would have been so magnanimous.
What Elechi has done is to roll away the stone. In ecclesiastical circles, the stone is a metaphor for anything difficult, an impossible thing. It was the same stone that the invalid at the Pool of Bethesda saw in his spiritual compass that prevented him from jumping in to get his healing when the water was stirred until he encountered the Master. When Jesus was crucified and buried, his disciples who did not yet understand that the Messiah must rise again became despondent. And that was how we were. But early in the morning on the third day, the story changed. Mary Magdalene and the other women went to anoint Jesus’s body in the grave and asked among themselves: ‘who shall roll away the stone for us?‘
Of course that was the same question Ebonyians in the south asked when the state was created. And because they could not find an immediate and ready answer, their spirit waxed cold. But years later, Elechi came to the scene and said to them: ‘I will, I will be that angel at your point of difficulty to roll the stone away so that you may enter’.
Many of us may not understand the thrust of what the governor did until later. What it means is that Elechi has set a precedent in the leadership equation in Ebonyi, how power should be shared among the three component zones. It is not only for the convenience of today but for the goodness of tomorrow as well, and what he has done can never be upturned again unless someone is inviting anarchy in the state. The struggle for the creation of Ebonyi state could not have been in vain, that’s the point Ocho Udo wants to flesh out. Akanu Ibiam, Offia Nwali and other worthy compatriots risked their lives struggling for the creation of the state as a prelude to the end of marginalization we were subjected to, and we cannot after the creation subject a section of the state to that inhuman and degrading status. That is the point Elechi made by choosing Onyebuchi Chukwu, period.
Elton Trueblood said that it takes a noble man to plant a seed for a tree that will someday give shade to a people he may never meet. By rotating power to the south, Elechi has planted the seed of unity and love. Our duty, and the duty of our children and their children and all those yet to come that will fall heir to this noble ideal, is to water this seed so that it can grow to become a giant oak that can give shade and rest to any one from the north, south or central that may come under its panoply.
I have a word for our brothers in the north and central zones. They should support our governor’s choice. Those that may be aggrieved by this turn in events should lay down their arms and work for the realization of Ocho Udo’s dream for Ebonyi. Needless to say, some members of the party who may have had eyes on the seat and now feels that their dreams have been truncated should understand that there is love in sharing. Democracy will survive in Nigeria when positions are zoned to accommodate varying interests and ethnic groups. Anything otherwise will sow seeds of discord and turn to an Icarian adventure.
Like I posted on my Facebook wall, Ebonyi is working! Ebonyi is setting the pace in Nigeria. We set the pace on how to handle Ebola. We dug into the trenches, contained the rampaging virus upon its billows and blizzards and within 42 days Ebola disappeared from our shores. It disappeared so fast so that today, America is coming for us to teach them some basic lessons on how to contain the disease. And now, Ebonyi is setting another pace in a different and complex stanza and frontier on leadership, which is a smooth and seamless transition of power to a minority. We don’t believe in do or die politics. We believe that what is good for the geese is also good for the gander, and so we rotate power from one zone to another for equity, fairness and justice. We do this because we believe in our creed, which is Salt of the Nation. Like the living water, we must never lose our taste. Let the doubting Thomases come to Ebonyi and taste and see the love and brotherhood and sisterhood that radiates in the heart of every Ebonyian. Like the Jamaicans would say:
“We know neither east nor west, neither north nor south but we are one and indivisible people united in the quest for a better future for ourselves, for our children and for all those that inhabit our boundaries.”
God gave us Ocho Udo, and Ocho Udo is giving us Onyebuchi Chukwu. May God bring to pass these meditations of our hearts. Amen.