“But be not afraid of greatness: some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them”, wrote the famous English playwright, William Shakespeare, in his Play, Twelfth Night, written around 1602.
The above popular quote is one of the evergreen Shakespearean statements. It is contained in his Play, Twelfth Night. The story is about two twins who are caught in a storm that caused their ship to wreck. As a result of the shipwreck the twins were separated. One of the characters in the play, Malvolio, uttered the time tested statement: “some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them”. This saying is applicable to the political journey of Rt. Hon Gerald Irona, the Deputy Governor-Elect of Imo State, and the leadership he has brought to his people over the years.
Never in the history of Imo State had two lawmakers, colleagues of the House of Representatives, emerged as the Governor and Deputy Governor respectively of Imo State. But that is what we now have in the state. Though we made the choice in the March 9 governorship election, it was providence that thrust them on us. Many people think that in the making of the stars of Governor-Elect Rt. Hon Emeka Ihedioha and Deputy Governor-Elect Rt Hon Gerald Irona, the Maker of their stars, God Almighty, knew that their paths would cross and he pre-matched them for the task that lay before them, the task of rebuilding a shattered Imo State. Those who know the political trajectory of the duo would have no difficulty agreeing that both the Governor-Elect and his Deputy have several things in common. Though the similarity in their character traits is not the subject of this piece, it is common knowledge that both leaders share legislative experiences that have spanned over the years. This has not only helped to sharpen and widen their worldview, it has exposed them to the workings of government, especially a democratic one. Both also have executive experience. For the Deputy Governor-Elect, he is also bringing his executive experiences to bear in the running of the government, having served as Executive Chairman of Oguta LGA, and the Governor-Elect also who had served in the office of the Vice President.
Born on August 1, 1966, Irona cut his political teeth under the shadows of the revered Senator Francis Arthur Nzeribe when he was elected a councilor for Oguta Ward A in 1996 and 1997. When General Abdulsami Abubakar, Nigeria’s former Head of State, announced that he would return Nigeria to democratic rule, Irona also played prominent roles in the politics of Imo State when in 1998 he became the pioneer State Secretary of the All Peoples Party (APP), which later became All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP). Interestingly, he was also the National Deputy Financial Secretary of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP).
Having done well as a Councilor and having played party politics at the rank of state secretary, Irona’s stars led him upward. In 1999 he contested election for the Imo State House of Assembly to represent Oguta State Constituency. He won his election. While in the House he became the Chairman of the House Committee on Petroleum, Environment and Energy. This position enabled him to birth the Memorandum of Understanding between oil companies exploring oil in the state. It was the first of its kind since the creation of the state. The Nigeria Agip Oil Company (NAOC) operating at Oguta/Etekwuru communities; Chevron Oil Company, operating at Izombe/Rumuekuneke communities; Addax Petroleum, also operating at Izombe/Ezi-Orsu communities, were the oil companies operating in the state at the time. Today, when people talk about a memorandum of understanding with the oil companies in the state, especially in the rural oil producing communities, most people do not reckon with the fact that the idea was first conceptualized and birthed by no less a person than our incoming Deputy Governor.
A grassroots politician, Irona’s representation of Oguta State Constituency from 1999 to 2003 remains one of the golden eons of the representation in Oguta LGA. As a go-getter, he gave his people robust representation evidenced in the robust contributions he made in the House. As a reward he was a member of the Presidential Committee on Verification of Oil Wells in the Niger Delta. His contributions to the identification, demarcation and return of hitherto ceded oil wells to other states from Imo State back to Egbema and Oguta oil fields in Imo State remains astronomical. As a lawmaker and good representative of his people who suffer from their Godgiven wealth instead of benefitting from it, Irona, our Deputy Governor-Elect, contributed immensely to the establishment of the 13% Oil Derivation. This later metamorphosed into the Imo State Oil Producing Areas Development Commission (ISOPADEC). He also led the struggle for the inclusion of Imo State as a member state of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC).
An Engineer by training, Hon Irona finished his successful one term in the Imo State House of Assembly in June 2003, and in the same year he was the Chairman Transition Committee of Oguta LGA. His performance in the State Assembly and TC Chairman of Oguta paved the way for his emergence as the first Executive Chairman of Oguta Local Government to be elected un-opposed, between 2004 and 2007. As the Executive Chairman of Oguta LGA, he systematically changed the administrative architecture of the LGA from a bureaucratic redtapism to a vivacious commercial oriented administration. This courageous and innovative approach to public service empowered and developed the entire landscape in Oguta LGA and set the records for his successors.
If you had for minute thought that Irona was done with his political career having achieved these laudable feet, you are wrong! In 2011 Irona moved up and ran for a seat in the House of Representatives to represent Oguta/Ohaji Egbema/Oru West Federal Constituency. He won his election and became a member of the 7th National Assembly on June 6, 2011. Combining charisma, experience, humility, exposure, courage and contact, he warmed himself into the heart of the leadership of the House and he became the sole representative of the entire Southeast in the crucial Selection Committee. This committee was saddled with the responsibility of dividing the entire House membership into different committees to oversight the different ministries, departments, agencies (MDAs) and activities of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. As an intelligent and charismatic leader, Irona was also made the Deputy Chairman of the House Committee on Gas Resources. He was a member of several strategic committees, spanning from Power, NDDC, Petroleum Upstream, Local Content, Sport, Privatization and Commercialization and Housing and Habitat. He was also a member of the House Committee that investigated the controversial fuel subsidy regime in the country. He served in this committee and came out with his integrity intact, unlike some that soiled their integrity and shamed their constituents.
A devout Catholic, humble, vibrant and prudent manager of resources with vast experience in governance and inter-governmental engagements, Hon Irona was not a seat warmer in the House. His tenure is remarkable for moving the motion for urgent national importance on the need for federal government’s intervention on the devastation of Ohaji/Egbema/Oguta and Oru West communities by the flood disaster of 2012. He also moved the motion for the Minimum Wage. This was aimed at ensuring that the various state governments do not renege on the pament of the Minimum Wage agreed between Labour and the federal government. Hon Irona also intervened in the arbitrary selling of assets of the federal government when he moved a motion on the need to halt incessant selling of Federal Government assets by multinational oil companies. On the incessant killings and wanton destruction of properties by rival cults in Obiakpu Egbema in Ohaji/Egbema-Oguta Oru West Federal Constituency, he moved a motion on the floor of the House to stop it.
Hon Irona was not detached from his constituents. He was close to them. He felt their pains and he took actions to ameliorate them. He was not only in the House moving motions and supporting motions. He was also supporting lives and putting smiles on the faces of the people. It is to his credit that he secured jobs for graduates in his constituency. During his tenure, he facilitated the employment of more than 20 graduates into federal government agencies, such: NAFDAC., the Nigeria Police Force (NPF), National Lottery Commission, Federal Polytechnic Nekede, Alvan Ikoku College of Education, Nigeria Content Development and Monitoring Board (NCDMB), Nigerian Immigration Service, Nigerian Prisons Service, Nigeria Oil Spill Detection and Response Agency (NOSDRA), etc.
Beyond this, Irona brought as constituency projects the construction and reticulation of water schemes, notably at: Mgbidi in Oru West LGA, Egwe and Abiaziem in Oguta LGA. He provided solar water projects at Umuoso in Ohaji/Egbema LGA, Amorie Ubuiu in Oru West LGA, Assaa in Ohaji/Egbema LGA, Obile in Ohaji/Egbema, Ndionyemobi in Oguta LGA. He also provided hand pumps at Nwari in Ohaji/Egbema LGA, Obudi, Enuigbo and K/Beach in Oguta LGA. In rural electrification, Irona provided solar street light for his constituents in Orsu-Obodo/Nnebukwu, F.A Nzeribe Road and Awucha Crescent, Egwe in Oguta LGA. He installed 500KVA transformer each at Awucha Crescent, Egwe New Layout, Ezi-Orsu, Ndiuloukwu & Egwe – all in Oguta LGA; Mgbidi and Nempi/Eleh in Oru West LGA. He was not found wanting in road construction. It is to his credit that Omoka-Egbema-Oguta Motel-Izombe Road was constructed. He also constructed the 4Km Road at Umuagwo-Umuoso in Ohaji/Egbema; the construction of road/erosion control at Awucha Rd Egwe in Oguta, the Eneka/Enugu/Philp Udoma Road in Oguta.
Hon. Irona is not an accidental political leader. He was prepared for the tasks ahead of him well enough. He was educated and well mentored by the revered maverick politician, Senator Francis Arthur Nzeribe. Irona attended Priscilla Memorial Secondary School, Oguta, between 1980 and 1985. He was the Senior Prefect of his school. He has Higher National Diploma and Ordinary National Diploma in Chemical Engineering obtained from the Institute of Management and Technology, Enugu, and College of Technology – now Federal Polytechnic Nekede, Owerri, respectively. He obtained his Postgraduate Diploma in Management from Imo State University (IMSU). He also holds an Oxford University Postgraduate Certificate in Leadership; Raleigh University, North Carolina, United States Postgraduate Certificate in Budgeting and Budget Control, et cetera.
Apart from the leadership Irona has provided to his people, he is known for his loyalty. Loyalty, many say, is one the character traits that has sustained Irona both as a leader and politician. He is loyal to the people and to his leaders. He is not known for biting the fingers that fed him. Unlike some politicians that cut off the rope when they think they have achieved a fraction of what Irona has achieved, Irona remains loyal. He always has the burning desire to serve the people. From his time as councilor for Oguta Ward A, he has always sought for opportunities to serve his people. Whenever he got the opportunity, he had always remained the servant. No wonder he cannot be associated with any of the crises that have ravaged the oil producing LGAs of Oguta and Ohaji/Egbema. As a leader, he does not keep malice. He forgives his offenders freely from his heart, even without them rendering an apology. Sometimes he reaches out to his offenders for a closure. He does not keep count of offences.
Irona understands power play a lot. Having attended the Nzeribe School of Politics and having served in various capacities, he has well equipped himself with what power and authority are and how to show respect to power and authority. He believes in due process and never does it occur to him to usurp the powers of the other person. He is a fantastic follower. He is not betrayer. Irona believes in consultations as veritable means of building consensus and forging unity among the people. As a member of the House of Representatives, he would always consul with his constituents on what was best for them.
Coming with enviable character, education, exposure and cognate experience, Deputy Governor-Elect Rt. Hon. Gerald Irona will no doubt complement the qualities of our Governor-Elect Rt. Hon. Emeka Ihedioha. The outcome is that Imo State will enjoy a rancor free government propelled only by the desire and commitment to rebuild a battered Imo State.
…Collins Ughalaa could be reached via email: firstname.lastname@example.org, or via telephone: 07066222944.