By Tunde Olusunle
Isiala Oboro, the, typically sleepy headquarters of Ikwuano local government area (LGA) of Abia State, came alive on the last day of the immediate out-gone year, Friday December 31, 2021. True, ecstatic youths had procured firecrackers in generous quantities to be released at midnight, both in thanksgiving to God, for helping them through a spectacularly difficult year, and to embrace a new one with a measure of optimism. Before that night-time, end-year ritual, however, Ikwuano local government in its entirety, rolled out an assortment of musical instruments, drums, the traditional xylophone, hand percussion devices, metal gongs, udu, ekwe, and the flute, to celebrate one of their own, a son of the soil who had serially made them very proud.
The event was the Grand Civic Reception for Augustine Okwudiri Akobundu, a retired army colonel, who has served in various political and public offices within the last decade, and brought tremendous goodwill to his people. Akobundu started out as National Vice Chairman, South East Zone of the Peoples’ Democratic Party, (PDP), with his office in Enugu. Indeed, in a practical demonstration of his desire to oversee the affairs of the PDP in the five south east states of Abia, Anambra, Ebonyi, Enugu and Imo, from a location of geographical proximity to the various states, Akobundu formally relocated his residence to Enugu. Immediate past governor of Enugu State, Sullivan Chime, reportedly saluted Akobundu’s pragmatism, as against extant practice. Akobundu’s term in office, coincided with the further entrenchment of the PDP in the south east. While the governorship of Anambra State, remained the preserve of the All Peoples’ Grand Alliance, (APGA), the PDP maintained its foothold at the levels of many federal constituencies and senatorial zones.
In 2015, Akobundu was appointed minister of state for defence, by immediate past President Goodluck Jonathan. He spent barely three months in office, but enjoyed the confidence of his senior military colleague who was the substantive defence minister at the time, Mohammed Aliyu Gusau, a retired lieutenant general. Gusau entrusted the airforce component of the defence ministry, to him and he in turn, brought his own perspectives into the operations of the ministry. In the particular case of the war against insurgency in Nigeria’s north east, he advanced a “diagnostic and holistic approach” to the debacle, which became full blown back in 2009. He assured that the Nigerian military was more than capable of triumphing in the onslaught.
At the national convention of the PDP, December 2017, Akobundu emerged National Organising Secretary, (NOS), of the party. Akobundu, like his colleagues, served in a milieu of truly trying times for the party. The PDP lost power at the centre to the opposition All Progressives Congress, (APC) in 2015, a development which also diminished the geopolitical standing of the party, in terms of the states under its control, as well as the number of parliamentarians the PDP had in the national assembly. It was a rather strange and unusual situation to be in, for a political party which was in power for 16 years, beginning from 1999.
Akobundu recalls: “The party went through lots of trauma and dislocations flowing from the loss of the 2015 elections. When we took over (in 2017), we were not given a chance. People did not believe that we had the capacity to resuscitate a party that was more or less on life support…” Recognising that his directorate, organisation and mobilisation were central to the operations of the party, Akobundu realised the need for the leopard to shed its skin, literally. According to him, “We needed to restore confidence in the processes of the party, by reversing all the vices of the past, including the issue of corruption. Hitherto, the directorate used to be the hub of corruption, where anything was possible. People could win on the field and the loser will come to Wadata House (headquarters of the PDP in Abuja) and change the results… I summoned the necessary political will against these vices, which reversed the trend and restored confidence to our processes.”
The erstwhile military officer feels immensely gratified, that the NWC of the PDP which he served in, initiated reforms, reawkened value reorientation and enforced the application of established guidelines of the party, in the conduct of its processes. These he noted, substantially restored transparency, credibility and confidence in its operations. He alluded to the support and cooperation of governors elected on the platform of the PDP, who are ever willing, to work for the party, irrespective of the inconveniences and personal risks involved. As he presented his valedictory speech last December, at the handing over ceremony to the new national executive committee of the PDP, Akobundu’s speech was severally punctuated, by ovation from leaders of the party present at the event. This, for him, is a most heartening recognition of the endeavours of the executive of the party, which he most recently served for four unbroken years, as NOS.
The resplendent December 31, 2021 reception for Akobundu was attended by several dignitaries and distinguished Nigerians. Okezie Victor Ikpeazu, governor of Abia State, and his immediate predecessor, Theodore Ahamaefule Orji, were in attendance. Pioneer chairman of the Nigeria Delta Development Commission, (NDDC), Chief Onyema Ugochukwu, who chaired the event, was accompanied by his wife, Dr (Mrs) Joyce Ugochukwu, were present. Speaker of the Abia State House of Assembly, Chinedum Orji and Secretary to the State Government, (SSG), Chris Ezem, an attorney, were also in attendance. A former caretaker chairman of the PDP in Abia, Ndidi Okereke and erstwhile commissioner for lands and housing in the state, Eboh Ihekwereme Okorie and his wife, Mrs. Lizzy Okorie, were present at the event.
Akobundu was recognised by the Ikwuano Traditional Council, as Dike Akolamba, the strongman who is eternally at the service of his people. Chairman of the council, Eze Eugene Ndimele who conferred the title on Akobundu, was assisted by the four traditional rulers who represented the four traditional clans, which make up Ikwuano. Ndimele noted that Akobundu was so honoured, because of his contributions to the social, political and economic development of Ikwuano and his untiring commitment to the elevation of his people. Chief host of the event and Chairman of Ikwuano LGA, Stephen Mpamugo, confirmed that Akobundu had distinguished himself all through his sterling career and duly earned the respect of his people.
An ecstatic Akobundu said he was thoroughly overjoyed and overwhelmed by the love and affection, showered on him by his people. He pointed out that he least imagined his people were studiously following his endeavours, such that a day will come, when he would be so recognised. This he noted, should needle people in the public eye, to remember they will someday, be accountable to those they represent. He promised to make himself fully available, to mentor a younger generation from his community, who desired to venture into politics for development.
Augustine Okwudiri Akobundu who comes from Oloko in Ikwuano LGA, was born March 10, 1956. After his early education in Enugu and Umuahia, he proceeded to the Nigerian Defence Academy, (NDA), Kaduna, as an officer cadet of the Course 22 Regular Combatant Course. An officer in the Signals Corps of the Nigerian Army, he attended many professional and military courses at Army School of Signals. He equally obtained a diploma in telecommunications and electronic engineering from the Obafemi Awolowo University, (OAU), Ile-Ife, and another diploma in French, from Alliance Francais, Lagos. As a young military officer, he served as aide-de-camp to the erstwhile military governor of Bauchi State, Chris Abutu Garuba, from August 1985 to December 1987.
Since his retirement from military service, Akobundu has demonstrated unparalleled resourcefulness, as a multitasking businessman and entrepreneur. His interests traverse real estate, hospitality, logistics services, among others, under the umbrella of Nostro Group of Industries, of which he is Chairman. Wherever and whenever in his many abodes across the country, from Oloko, through Abuja and elsewhere, Akobundu is your quintessential host, who will go to any length, to ensure the comfort and convenience of his guest. Years ago, I visited him in Enugu when he was zonal chairman of the PDP. As we wound down for the night, since I was a guest in his accommodation, I reminded him I would be on my way to Abuja, very early the next morning, perhaps before he got out of bed, since I had a car and a driver. By the time I stepped out at dawn, breakfast had been packed for my driver and I, including tea flasks, and delivered to my car. One of his vehicles and a driver, was on standby to lead us to our exit point from Enugu! That is the man we love to call Ochi’Agha, one of his many chieftaincy titles. Ugochukwu salutes him fondly as Nnukwu Colonel.
A pan-Nigerian in thought and worldview, Akobundu is married to Mrs Deola Akobundu, who hails from Ekiti State. The union is blessed with children and grandchildren. Akobundu is never far from his in-house gymnasium or any exercising facility in his neighbourhood, because he loves to get on the treadmill ever so often. He loves reading, writing and listening to music. He remains his witty self and is very up to date with social and musical trends. A mutual friend of ours limped into his Abuja residence the other day, steadying himself with a walking stick. While sympathising with him about his dislocation, Akobundu said to him: “I have credible intelligence that you are competing with your children to dance to the music of Burna Boy. You better leave the youths with their gbese dance!” We all cracked up in laughter.
*Tunde Olusunle, PhD, poet, scholar journalist and author, is a Member of the Nigerian Guild of Editors, (NGE).