Charter of equity’ll create disunity in Owerri –Obinna

Octogenarian, Paddy Obinna is a notable leader from Emekuku in Owerri North LGA of Imo State and the elder brother of the retired Archbishop of Owerri Catholic diocese, His Grace, Anthony Obinna. He is also an artist and owns the Paddy Obinna Art Gallery. In this interview, he discusses political developments in Imo State among other issues.


During the last governorship election, the Imo State Council of Elders came up with the Charter of Equity for the rotation of the seat of governor, starting from Owerri Zone, your zone. This view was adopted by the governor, but of late, there are arguments about where the next governor should come from. What is your view?

Well, the gathering of the elders, those who are selected as elders, even though some of them are younger than some of us, took their decision within the context of the time. In the world we live in, there is only one person who is infallible. Even though in the Catholic domain, they say the Pope is infallible. But there are certain things he has said now that are being questioned. The infallibility of man makes it that we too can make mistakes. To suit a particular time, a father, for peace to reign, could come up with a decision but when he is also approached to review that thing he has said, he might as well change his mind, especially when it is clear that he made a mistake. Even wills are challenged. The constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria is also challenged. Some people go to court to challenge the will made by their parents before they died. However, this issue is a thorny issue. I have read a lot of things people are writing about it. I want to believe that the governor made a political statement at that point in time. In politics, there is no permanent friend, no permanent enemy, but permanent interest.

In the interest of the issue at stake, the governor needed the votes. He needed it from all the people. If it is by numerical strength, the question is, now that the elections have come and gone, who gave the governor the highest number of votes? Probably Orlu. Who were the next people who gave him the highest number of votes? Probably, it is Okigwe. Who gave him the least number of votes? It’s Owerri Zone. Besides the number of votes, I am also saying that, as a father, if somebody brought me three bags of rice here to share to three children, and two were available, or one of my children was shortchanged in the sharing of that rice and I tell my son that was shortchanged to wait till the next time around, and the next time around, some other person comes and brings three bags of rice, the other two would say, “No. Please, balance our brother’s share before we can now share the remaining equitably”. That is justice. I would agree that that should be done for Okigwe for justice to reign in Imo. It is in the interest of fairness. Then, at the end of the day, when it is shared, it is shared equitably. These are the three key words: justice, fairness, and equity. So, that is the premise of my thinking. We have to do justice and fairness before we now decide on equity.

You talked about shortchanging a brother in the sharing of three bags of rice, and it reminds one of the events of 2011, when Okigwe was stopped from getting a second term. What do you have to say about the 2011 experience?

Now, let me ask you this question: What was Ohakim’s sin? Why did they stop Okigwe Zone in 2011? Didn’t Ohakim do well as governor? What was Ohakim’s sin? The only sin he committed was that he was falsely accused by our people of what didn’t exist, what he didn’t do. It was just the sin of a false allegation. Have you ever watched an entourage of a governor? How could a governor know when somebody was trying to run into the last group of security people? And then they stopped. Whosoever was in mufti and whatever that happened, they hanged it on Ohakim and the church was deceived and bought into it – whosoever was in mufti for wanting to cause an accident for himself and the convoy that was moving. What was Ohakim’s sin? What was Ohakim’s involvement in all that? That individual was now identified as a Reverend Father of the Catholic Church, and he became a church martyr, not a universal martyr. They now brought in Reverend Father Ejike Mbaka, whom everybody thought was a god, and he composed a song that went viral against Ohakim. The church believed what Mbaka and politicians said because the people believe that the church was infallible.

So what did Ohakim do wrong? I don’t want to hear about all this Owerri man’s talk and how his election was disrupted in 2007. How did Ohakim disturb you from your channel? Did he even come into your party for that contest? Were they in the same party? Let me tell you, the charter of equity was one of those things said to win votes, to convince the people, and they bought into it. A lot of people are now carrying bags of promises by the governor that they now claim that they are already the governor after him, and this will now expose the disunity of Owerri. What I am saying is, for justice sake, if you know that person that had been injured, you have a duty to wash him clean, apologize to him for accusing him of the sin he did not commit, especially those who carried banners against him. They should please apologize.

At the same time, if equity through APC will stand, what of the equity of the other parties who are still contesting even against the APC governor until today? They are still in court, from Owerri, from Okigwe. If they believe that there should be equity, these people in court should also withdraw so that there is a level playing ground to now start talking about a universal decision of equity by all people of Imo State. But for now, the one man that is unjustifiably removed has not said that he is not running for the governorship. Yes, the people who were injured are the Okigwe people. They were shortchanged and deserve the apologies. When Ohakim declares intention to run, Owerri Zone will now see that he has just one term and he is the only man who is qualified to complete a second term, and this man is the answer to the charter. So we should let him go back and complete his term. That is justice. That is fairness, and then you share in equity.

In 2014, Father Mbaka, during a church service in Enugu State, apologized to Ohakim.

I also remember that the Catholic Church in Owerri has, at an event at the Protea Hotel, Owerri, in 2014 given Ohakim an award of excellence as the best governor and told him to let the bygone be bygone. The Archbishop at the time reminded him how he was nice to the Catholic Church and returned mission schools to the church and also gave them the subvention to run the schools. I remember all that. But is that the apology? I say no. You insulted him in public, and it was an open insult. There was a black mass against him by the church. There were all kinds of things to damage the image of an innocent man. The proper thing to do is to come back to the public, go back to the marketplace, and announce that Ohakim didn’t do what we said he did. An opportunity has come for the church to now say we are sorry.

Do you think the church will take this challenge to apologize?

I don’t know. But they are preaching to us to always go back and confess our sins. If you hurt your brother, please go back to him and say, “I’m sorry” for God to accept your apologies. Isn’t it? I’m not asking the church to, but they should know where they went wrong and make amends. If I were them too, I would ask that the Reverend Father, who was said to have been flogged or beaten by Ohakim, should even make an open speech about whether he was really beaten.

Are you worried that for 13 years now, the Reverend Father that was allegedly assaulted has not uttered a word?

He has been transferred to America. But right there in America, he preaches forgiveness and confession of sin. I am a Catholic, but if you must talk about true confession, it’s not the private confession I go to the Reverend Father to make when the person I offended is still hurting. Go and reconcile with your brother. That is the proper thing to do. You have to go back and make amends with your brother. Ohakim is our brother. I am an Imo man, and we are supposed to be brothers.

That is why I am also believing in the old national anthem. The words there are more meaningful than Arise Oh Compatriots. Which compatriot is arising? Let us talk about our unity. Except for the boundaries, and with the development of Imo State, it is becoming a city state. In this our village, there are more non-indigenes living here than the owners of this village. Therefore, I prefer to be more of an Imo man than saying I am an Owerri Zone man. We don’t all accept ourselves as Owerri Zone, and there are nations within Owerri Zone. We are divided into blocks. So what will divide us will still divide us when it comes to the turn of Owerri Zone without a proper arrangement.

Please, tell us about yourself for the purpose of this interview?

Thank you. Paddy Obinna is a long story of many chapters. It is now over eight major long chapters, so it can cover 80 books. So we have to narrow it down to the fact that, I thank God, I am who I am, aging on gracefully. I was born an artist, from a parental background of teachers, who were very skilled people. Looking at my parlour, you would see an organ – that organ continues to remind me of my father and mother, who were organists. They played music together. My mother was also a domestic teacher, while my father was a teacher and a headmaster, and he ended up being called Mr. Thorough. Mr. Thorough was a man who did everything and asked you to look back and ask yourself whether you are thorough; whether you have done it efficiently. That is the background of Ndaa Paddy Obinna, and that has carried me on through secondary to higher institutions, to colleges, within and without.

As an artist, I didn’t study arts, even in secondary school, up to the Cambridge level. No, they never taught me Arts in secondary school, but I was taught technical drawing, woodwork, and metalwork. I was already skilled in my secondary school days. Because when you now look at the courses then in school, like Geometry which teaches you patterns, squares, circles, triangles and rectangles and all that, and you discover that they are playing a lot of roles in my Arts form today. So this is a foundation education that is lost within the school system, and that’s why I have been bothered about ensuring that we take handcraft back to the elementary and secondary schools, instead of stuffing us with the classics of those, like those days when we studied Latin and French and History and all that.

How many countries have you travelled to?

I have visited not less than 10 countries, including Turkey, Germany, Holland, which is also called The Netherlands, Belgium, France, Britain and the different countries of America that make one country, one United States. So, I have been more educated by travelling. That is why I said my education is from the universal university. I am a skilled man, more than a certificate man. What I do is my certificate.

Why did you establish the art gallery and located it here?

If you go to Lagos, some people live 40 kilometers away from Lagos, but they claim to live in Lagos. Every day, the capital city of Owerri is expanding, to the point that the only difference is that this is an untarred road, but if you walk, you come from18 kilometer journey from Owerri to this place. It takes only about 10 minutes to come here from Owerri. So, what is the difference? We are in the urban city. Here is a semi-urban environment, and with time, the town will envelop these areas. So, when you talk about the capital city of Owerri, you have to bear in mind that Owerri was a dot when I started work in Owerri in 1964. You can cover the whole of Owerri in less than five minutes because it had only Royce Road, Wetheral Road, Okigwe Road, Douglas Road, and Mbaise Road at the time. These were the roads we had back then. Then Tetlow and Christchurch and all that came afterwards. But now it has gone to Ikenegbu, Aladimma, Owerri North, because Owerri stops at Ugwu Ekwema. Somachi and all that are in Owerri North. Urratta owns the whole of that area. So, Orji is also not in Owerri as per Owerri Capital. They are not. So, if you now start moving, Akabo looks like it is now inside Owerri. So, I am trying to give you a picture that the level of expansion will make this place a tourist outing, not where the art gallery is located.

The development of infrastructure drives tourism, and tourists don’t consider distance. Provided there is development, the whole world is just a global village in your palm. That is what they say. The distance from the center to New Owerri when it was developed to Umuguma and all that where people are now living is a longer distance from the center of Owerri to this place. So, I don’t see this place as an outside visitation. And for tourism, must it be in the town? You need to see when we travel, you see Downtown Detroit. You see downtown this place, downtown that place. Once the facilities are there, the vehicles are there, and people get to that place, that is all. You wouldn’t believe that at that point, we were trekking from here to Owerri. Yes. At the end of the war, people trekked from here to Owerri. With development, people are now coming to work in Owerri from Mbaise. So, you see, where is Owerri? We are all answering Owerri, except for the fact that they say it’s Owerri North, it is Owerri West. It is one language, one people.

Can you explain why you ventured into the art gallery in the first place? Is it a lucrative business or your passion?

You cannot isolate what you are doing from collecting them for posterity. If you advance and you have seen galleries – I have seen galleries – you would perhaps understand better. I tried to visit a gallery last year in Paris but couldn’t get admitted because I didn’t book on time. I paid my 50 Euro, but I didn’t book on time to have access to the gallery because the traffic was much from both people living in France and people coming from outside. So, everything has to grow with time. You don’t plant a yam today and harvest it today. It might not be lucrative now, but it will be lucrative later. Yes, I agree with you that it may not be lucrative now. I have examples of art galleries that started like this and became lucrative later. It might not be in my time that this gallery becomes a boom, but I have an example of a recent work of Ben Enwonwu, who died many years ago and sold for 1.3 million Pounds. And because of the name Akunyere, the daughter’s work of art was sold for 3.4 million Dollars. It might not be something you value, but collectors might value it because of the name associated with the artist.

Many people believe that tourism is not thriving in Imo State. Do you share that thought?

Yes and no. You see, Owerri is 40 kilometers from the Port Harcourt Airport. Now, from the Sam Mbakwe Airport, with the night flight facilities available, you can see that tourism is bound to improve. The distance from Okigwe, even Enugu to Owerri, has the attractions of tourism. In terms of where do I stay when I come, that is the first thing a tourist talks about. We have all that covered. We are rich in hotels. We have got the facility to admit people. I remember when I brought the troupe from Calabar for the carnival here during the administration of Rochas Okorocha. I introduced a carnival into Imo State. For many years, I have gone to Calabar every Christmas from the time of Donald Duke when they introduced carnival until the Imo State Government under Okorocha now discovered me through an interview I granted.

I became an adjudicator at the Calabar Carnival for years. I was trained by the Calabar Carnival Commission through the Brazilians to become an adjudicator. I adjudicated at the Calabar Carnival until I was appointed during Okorocha’s government as a special adviser. That is how I built the Imo relationship with Calabar to now begin to attract knowledge of carnival. Okorocha said he didn’t know anything about carnival until I brought carnival, and I thank God that despite the fact that in the last four years or thereabout, carnival has not been done in Imo State but it has grown in the communities, because villages now do carnivals during Christmas. Whether it is a cultural carnival or contemporary carnival, they do it in many villages at Christmas. So is tourism. It is the fact that you have a flow of people who can pay for the services to watch. It is good that nightlife is coming back and Owerri is now flourishing with events once more. With the events in Owerri, there is an influx of people, the same way we travel to Calabar every Christmas till now. By the way, they have just invited me to the launching of the carnival theme for this year already. They have started preparations for Christmas, and people will troop there. If you don’t book for a hotel about September, you may not be able to get accommodation in Calabar in December. Yeah, Imo is ready with the facility to attract people for tourism. It is up to us now to create the events that can keep them.

What do we do to create those events, especially for Christmas carnivals?

Well, what happened with the carnival in Imo State was that the government was sponsoring the carnival. It could be very expensive in terms of money to organize it. But if the government can be supported by corporate bodies like they do in Calabar, corporate bodies like the MTN, GLO, banks, and all that, they are the people who support the Calabar government – it will go well. The Cross River State Government does not sponsor the carnivals. So, if corporate bodies here, for goodness sake, banks and all that, play up their corporate social responsibilities, nothing stops Imo State from being able to organize a carnival. MTN can decide to float 1,000 people in their colors. GLO, banks, and the oil companies can do same and we have a wonderful carnival. Then we will have visitors into Imo who will now enjoy the hospitality and tourism of Imo State.

Quote: “What was Ohakim’s sin? Why did they stop Okigwe Zone in 2011? Didn’t Ohakim do well as governor? What was Ohakim’s sin? The only sin he committed was that he was falsely accused by our people of what didn’t exist, what he didn’t do. It was just the sin of a false allegation”

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