By Iwara U. Iwara
To different people, Okoi Ofem Obono-Obla represents different things. I believe that while his haters are in no short supply, those who are awed and admire his fervent disposition to pursuing lone causes are equally in no short supply too. But then, what he has come to represent over a long period of time is far from being shameful and boldly places him among a fading corps of men sworn to battles for the weak and defenseless. As he clocked 49 years of age just days ago, I have freely elected to say a few things about and around him, conscious of the simple fact that he deserves more claps than the whips that relentlessly go his way.
In Ugep, Yakurr Local Government Area of Cross River State where he comes from, long before he walked his way into our state and national psyche, he was known as “Okoi Advocate”. The “Advocate” sobriquet laid bare his legal disposition and kick started in him a relentless fight against people and institutions constantly drawn to serial abuse(s) of the people and their resources. He was not afraid to be effortlessly brave and showed clearly that he was impatient with the monkey who wouldn’t let another monkey swing on the branches.
The Okoi I know would bury himself in endless research to dig up facts and put same in the public domain. It was not a paid for job, but plain activism driven by an innate desire to see things done properly. He has refused to be bullied into silence by several administrations in Cross River State and continues to point us all to the warped dispositions of the many ‘poli-trick-cians’ who daze us with their poisonous swagger. As recent as a few months ago, agents of the present administration in the Cross River State orchestrated and circulated articles of falsehood against Okoi; even claiming that he killed his brother and used the late man’s certificate to gain admission into the University of Jos to study Law. So that those agents look for more ingenious ways of spending miserable time, it is important to address this issue once and for all because this lie was first peddled by a prominent but fading politician in Yakurr and our government agents seem to have embraced it in shylock desperation.
If he killed his brother, the society he comes from would have snuffed life out of him, long ago and the matter would have been closed. What these people allude to exists only in their imagination and this is the truth.
His unflinching support for and believe in Muhammadu Buhari, Nigeria’s President is trademark Okoi. Many of us would have abandoned Buhari’s ship after several electoral defeats were thrown at him, but Okoi stood by his principal with no eyes on any diadem but with a firm believe in the abilities of Buhari. It should amaze us that rather than commend him for this, the army of haters and detractors especially from Cross River State, throw pebbles at him; others said he was licking Buhari’s boots, and another group said he was claiming a personal relationship with Buhari, that was not there. It was with all of this in the air that an amazing thing recently happened.
On Gov. Ben Ayade’s invitation, Buhari arrived Cross River State to perform the groundbreaking of the Super highway to be constructed from Calabar to Obudu. Flying Air Force One with Buhari that eventful day was Obono-Obla and as the plane touched down at the Margaret Ekpo Airport in Calabar, Okoi emerged from the plane, dazing his detractors and confining them to only whispers and market gossip. Those detractors who were not at the airport had to later see on the internet, pictures of an immaculately dressed Okoi, sitting on Buhari’s right hand on the VIP stage in Nsan, Akamkpa. Nitwits don’t sit with the likes of Buhari and Okoi can NEVER pass for a nitwit.
On his Facebook wall the other day, at some point I lost count of the happy birthday posts that streamed in. Friends and admirers struggled to outdo each other in sending heartwarming messages. Those messages were not politically motivated but induced by Okoi’s genuineness, candour, the many legal fights he has picked up for many and the simple fact that in all, God has made him who he is and no man can undo what God has done. I celebrate him because the Cross River State society cannot thrive on yes-men alone; we must have people around who can positively challenge our intellectual pot bellies and prevent them from guzzling the resources of our commonwealth. We must refuse to let people like Obono-Obla be insulted by government sign-posted agents who preach nothing but falsehood and use state funds to buy up space in the national media to put a good man down.
Okoi is definitely no saint, like all human beings created by God, he has his low points but those low points do not diminish him. I cannot also say that everyone must agree with his way of doing things, but then we must all be reminded that a man who tries to shake an iroko tree always ends up shaking his privates.
Our God at home and abroad will guide, protect and keep Okoi. God will also touch the hearts of his haters to see beyond the soaked plates of garri before them and then, government people will work at doing the right things so that Okoi can focus on being 50 next year, tending his gray hair and holding court on his father’s verandah in Ugep, where plenty of us stop by for those stormy interactive sessions with him and a cross section of our people who want explanations for everything including why Ayade has “taken the road away from them”, “what he wants to do with the school Imoke built in Ugep”, “why and why and why”. Our prayers have been answered, now and forever more.
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