Saturday, 6 January 2018

The Avatar and his Mecca By Azogor Ideba

|06 January, 2018|Azogor Ideba

Senator (Barr) Liyel Imoke CON is unarguably one of the most influential (if not the most influential) political figure in Cross River today.

Born on 10 July 1961 with an inherited political gene (recall his father late Dr S.E Imoke a renown first republic politician) Liyel Imoke practiced law in Washington, D. C. and Lagos between 1982 and 1992. Imoke won election into the Nigerian Senate in 1992 at the age of 30 and later delved into business and legal practice after the botched 3rd republic by Gen Sani Abacha; between 1993 and 1999, he was a Managing Consultant at Telsat Communications, Lagos; Executive Chairman of Value Mart Nigeria, Lagos, and Executive Director of Trident Petroleum and Gas, Lagos.

In 1999, he was appointed a Special Adviser on Public Utilities by President Olusegun Obasanjo and became the Executive Chairman of the Special Board charged with winding down the Oil Minerals Producing Areas Development Commission. Imoke was Chairman of Technical Board of the National Electric Power Authority and later the minister of power and Steel as well as the supervising Minister for Education from 1999 to 2007. As minister of Power and Steel, he implemented reforms laid out in the Nigerian Power Sector Reform Act of 2005, which led to the establishment of the Nigerian Energy Regulatory Commission (NERC), the Rural Electrification Agency (REA) and the unbundling of the National Electric Power Authority (NEPA).

He went on to become the governor of Cross River State from May 29th 2007 to May 29th 2015, a period that saw monumental rural transformation in the state.  Within this period (1999-2015), Imoke was able to build himself into a compact political brand and a force to reckon with in the politics of the country.

His ascendancy and relevance in today’s political configurations can be attributed to sheer wits, determination, passion, selflessness, rare political savvy and sagacity coupled with a nationalist spirit.

Imoke like other Nigerians who can match his political resume, is a sage imbued with enormous intellectual faculty and an exceptional management and development acumen which have seen him accomplishing many successes. And of course, he is a perfect family man, a devout but detribalised Christian, a strategic thinker, solution architect, future architect and a team player.

His contributions in founding the Peoples’ Democratic Party, what is known as the Modern Cross River and the evolving democracy in Nigeria further testify to the stuff he is made of. Perhaps the reason they call him the (political) Avatar. 

Although calm and soft spoken but very cerebral; unassuming and humility personified but when he roars, the jungle rumbles.

Presently said to be on sabbatical but can a sabbatical that is frequent with politicians besieging his Abuja and Calabar homes every other time for audience with the avatar (which they always got) still be referred to as sabbatical?

Sabbatical is for those who do not know that patriotism runs in Imoke’s veins. Sabbatical is for those who do not know that Imoke was ‘born to serve’.

Point blank is that you are welcome at Imoke’s house any time any day, politics or no politics; sabbatical or no sabbatical. For me, Imoke’s sabbatical is akin to the term ‘working recess’ often used by the Legislature.

Now, you can understand how politically grand and cerebral Imoke is. To him, there is no political boundary, neither is there any humanitarian boundary because they do not exist. 3 things matter most to Imoke. They are the people, service and humanity. 
 The first day of every year is sacrosanct to the Imokes’ besides the fact that it marks the beginning of a New Year world over. Why Senator Liyel Imoke decided to set a significant day as this aside continues to beat ones imagination given that traditionally as first day of the year it ought to be marked with family and close friends perhaps to relax and relish experiences of the year past and reflect on the prospects and expectation of the new Year.

But the former governor of Cross River State, in what could be described as abstract wisdom marked this day with not only family and friends but also with political associates from far and near.

What first began as an esoteric adventure as early as the year 2000 with only a handful of friends and associates later grew in leaps and bounds to accommodate visitors from across the state and beyond.

His immediate family members and very close friends who hitherto did not understand why Imoke would open his doors wide open to strangers on a day supposed to be enjoyed introspectively, became uncomfortably apprehensive. Of course some felt outsiders were coming to share in what they felt had become a right and privilege. It became a bitter pill to swallow at the time, but it took an Imoke and time for them to understand that the schedule of the day had been adjusted to entertain all and sundry without usurping their so called ‘right and privilege’. The initial frown and side grumblings gradually faded away.

Imoke's country home in Itigidi, Abi Local Government Area of Cross River is a beehive of activities every first January. It is a day the political avatar receive visitors both political and apolitical and spends time with them discussing, wining and dining. On this day, Imoke found time to discuss with everybody. And of course people’s fortunes turn around on this day after meeting the Imokes (Husband & Wife).

As early as 7:am on the day, the quiet dawn of itigidi community was usually shattered by mass movement of human and vehicles. The mood was usually charged and you could find excitement on the faces of the locals who looked up to the day with great hope and expectation bearing in mind it was the Imokes’ day of charity. Not too long,  different dances and cultural troupes, widows, women and youth groups and indeed all manner of people would throng the roads in what would seem like an exodus. All roads led to the Imokes’ country home.

Across the state, as a politician (with some exceptions), you were either on your way to Itigidi or preparing to the hit the road. In cross River, the first of January was reserved for the Imokes; always a gathering for the ‘who is who’ and the down trodden in the society; an atmosphere for reunion and conflict resolution. The mood was mostly enthused with fraternal affection and excitement. Everybody came and left satisfied. Different groups and personalities waited for turns to meet with the hosts, however long it would take. It was usually a waiting without a dull moment. So waiting was never a problem.

While Liyel Imoke initially began the day with attending to kith & Kin, his wife spent time with the women particularly the widows and less privileged, dishing out gifts and financial support amid plenty of food and drinks.

But the host quickly adjusted to attend to visitors from across the state and beyond immediately they started pouring in and would revert back to the villagers once the visitors had left. There was always enough time as the engagement often lasted till the early hours of the following day. So, the villagers did not find it offensive to wait or spare some time for the strangers.

While some politicians came to the ‘mecca’ with a host of supporters to show off their popularity or even play to the gallery, others walked in quietly and would live the same way. But everybody got the attention they deserved and areas of needs or requests or agitations were carefully addressed.

The Imoke January 1 pilgrimage reached a crescendo during his reign as the governor of Cross River from 2007 to 2015. Even though the event predates his governorship, one expected that it would have whittled downwards but surprisingly, the reverse is the case, the Avatar is still doing his thing and the pilgrims are still turning up in their numbers.  

But unlike the mecca in Saudi Arabia or the pilgrimage in Jerusalem where people seek for spiritual solution and wellbeing, the Imoke’s Itigidi mecca provides socio-economic and political solutions to the people. This is another legacy of Senator Liyel Imoke.   
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