By Kammonke Abam and Tammie Edet Kammonke
Destiny is generous to him. He’s been propelled up the ladder of political leadership purely by providence. None of Liyel Imoke’s political successes is a matter of do or die. Things just add up together for him. All he does is maximize the opportunities created for him by God.
Incidentally, not much of his very rich life has been chronicled. Yet this is a man with incredible leadership qualities and who contributed significantly in shaping the glorious years of Nigeria’s return to democracy between 1999 and 2003. At 60, he has become even wiser and more endowed with leadership wisdom to give back to Nigeria. His is the case of the proverbial “old wine” which tastes better overnight. In Liyel Imoke, you find a leader that Nigeria so badly needs. Imoke has layers of fascinating leadership endowment that Nigeria needs to peel and harvest in its march to greatness.
At 60, things have come full circle for him. He has imprinted his name in the annals of Nigeria’s political history as a brilliant, visionary, constructive and focused leader. So many eventful incidents are wrapped up in these 60 years of his life. He’s seen the good, the bad, and the ugly of Nigeria. In all of these, God has helped him to weather the storms.
In 1992 at barely 31, he emerged in the national political leadership landscape as the youngest senator ever in Nigeria’s history. His tenure as a Senator was truncated by the 1993 military coup but since then, he has not looked back politically. In 1999 when Nigeria returned to civil rule, he teamed up with prominent Nigerians including Dr. Alex Ekwueme, Solomon Lar, Abubakar Rimi, Olusegun Obasanjo, Audu Ogbe to launch the People’s Democratic Party, PDP. He learnt a lot from these sages. Prior to this time, he teamed up with some of his close associates from Cross River State including Donald Duke, Gershom Bassey, Assistant Police Commissioner Ojoi of blessed memory, Hon. Emma Ibeshi, among others to craft the foundation of a glorious future for his beloved state, Cross River State. This foundation served as a blueprint for the future transformation of Cross River State.
At the tender age of 37, in 1999, he was appointed Special Adviser to the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria on Utilities and Chairman, Presidential Committee on Oil Minerals Producing Areas Development Commission (OMPADEC) and Chairman, National Electric Power Authority (NEPA) Technical Boards by President Olusegun Obasanjo.
In July 2003, Liyel Imoke was appointed Federal Minister of Power and Steel, and later appointed Federal Minister of Education overseeing two ministries at the same time; a feat which lent credence to his huge leadership capability. Imoke implemented reforms laid out in the Nigerian Power Sector Reform Act of 2005, leading to the establishment of the Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC), the Rural Electrification Agency (REA) and the unbundling of the National Electric Power Authority(NEPA) all milestones achieved under his leadership of the Ministry of Power and Steel.
Between 2007 and 2015, he served as Governor of Cross River State after his meritorious service at the national level. His eight years as Governor brought poignant transformation of Cross River State through a clear vision to bring governance to those who need it the most. He ran a strategically planned government, consistently building the capacity of his appointees and elected officials. He developed frameworks with inbuilt monitoring and evaluation for performance enhancement and sustainability. He used teamwork approach to governance. He does not see governance as his private enterprise, rather an institution that requires the cooperation of everybody as he believes everybody has something to offer.
Imoke’s life is a moving story of a man who lived ahead of his time, whom providence smiled at, and leadership thrust on, and in appreciation, gave his whole heart to the service of his state, nation and humanity.
At a very personal level, he has had close shaves with death and providentially cheated it several times. One of such times was when his driver dozed off while driving up the cliffy Obudu Mountain Resort and his car came down on a free fall and was divinely saved from somersaulting into the abyss by a stretch of embarkment he had just completed few months prior to this accident. A classic case of the Biblical principle of “a husbandman being the first partaker of the first fruits thereof”.
He is a man that is content. He is satisfied with the portion that God has allocated to him. He is an exceptional Nigerian. Unlike the typical greedy and opportunistic Nigerian politicians who crave opportunities to perpetuate themselves in elective offices, he chose to forgo the opportunity to return to the senate the second time in 2015 upon his exit from the office of Governor an opportunity most of his exiting Governor colleagues grabbed with their two hands.
Often described by his admirers as “cool, calm, and collected, Imoke is a very calculating and strategic leader whose patience and tolerance are legendary. His attitude to keeping erring staff is guided by the adage that “the devil you know is better than the angel you’ve not seen”. Occasionally, his persona is misunderstood and underestimated to the detriment of those who do so. He plays the underdog and those who think they can take advantage of him to trample on him soon discover that he is a tiger whose tail you don’t touch. Some people see him as a man of contradictions. For instance, he deliberately bends backwards (to the chagrin of his close associates) in matters that they think he shouldn’t; to get certain things fixed, and when everybody expects him to compromise, he stands his ground and fights like a bull. Imoke sees far ahead of many. It’s only a far-sighted man that will of agree to a détente with his supposed “enemies” when he is the one holding the head of a knife.
He’s one of the most profoundly brilliant leaders in the country. He always makes a deep impression on his listeners whenever he speaks. He holds his audience spell bound with his oratory power.
Imoke has a spartan disposition to limelight, yet he was often chased by the klieg light of the media and fame. He is a man whose life is denominated by humility, wisdom, and far sightedness; virtues that have placed him in the centre of the nation’s political puzzle.
He believes in the power of the Next Generation. That is the reason he initiated a leadership foundation for young people, The Bridge Foundation, which will bridge the generation gap in leadership.
He is a man loved by his party and respected by rival parties for his calm disposition and depth of political wisdom.
Like most people, Senator Liyel Imoke has been caught up in the drama of life’s struggles from birth but the difference is that he triumphed over them to be able to fulfil his destiny.
This is not merely celebrating another Nigerian with great political craftsmanship but also a recording of political history through the lens of the life of a history maker.
The other lesson from his life is that humility and meekness pays. He and his siblings are well brought up. He confessed to the strict disciplinary upbringing that shaped their lives. For instance, he never knowingly allowed an elderly person to look for him. He went to them as soon as he had an inkling that any of the elder statesmen want to see him.
Imoke is truly thoroughbred. That he is still standing prominently in the political space in Nigeria at 60, 29 years after his debut in the national political scene, speaks eloquently to the grace that God has endowed him with. As he marks this epochal birthday, July 10, 2021, we wish him 60 garlands of God’s blessings.
Kammonke Abam and Tammie Edet Kammonke both served as Special Assistants in the Liyel Imoke administration.
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