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In the 1990s, a friend of mine, whose acquaintance had something to do with Gocuz Group Limited, a thriving company located on Awolowo Road, Ikoyi, Lagos, told me a story of Dr. Obinna Uzoh, the man behind the company. She told a story of a young man she considered as rich and enterprising but who was full of humility and grace. I did not really take much interest in the man being talked about then, as I knew nothing about him and made no effort to know him.
However, fate played a trick on me many years thereafter, when, as a younger journalist hunting for news, I came face-to-face with Uzoh, who marks his 54th birthday today. My first encounter underlined what my friend said of him then. This suave and urbane business tycoon made an impression on me. His affectionate charm, indeed, endeared him to me. He was cool and humble, which I found strange, as most young rich men, by my experience at that time, exhibited some element of arrogance and self-importance. He was different. He was without air and down-to-earth.
Over the years, I found Uzoh an interesting character. He is unassuming, considerate, compassionate and selfless. I found him a man, who never takes relationship and friendship for granted, a man, who has made service a passion. Indeed, he has engaged in philanthropy so much that he could pass for Mr. Philanthropy. Yes, Uzoh has been engaged in philanthropy, with no strings attached. He has done so much in this sphere, that schools, communities, churches and individuals have benefitted from his benevolence.
For the avoidance of doubt, he had awarded scholarships to students in primary, secondary, colleges of education, polytechnics and universities; awarded special scholarship to indigenes of Anambra State in Medicine, Law, Accountancy and Engineering, etc; built and donated a 3-storey building for the Law Faculty of Madonna University, Okija, Anambra State; built, donated and renovated schools across the country; constructed and equipped several computer and science laboratories in secondary and tertiary institutions in Anambra State; distributed textbooks and instructional materials to schools across Anambra State and established small-scale enterprises for indigenes of Anambra State.
Uzoh had provided boreholes, ebaged in rural electrification as well as donated transformers to towns and villages in Anambra State. He built the All Saints Catholic Church, Ihiala, for his community; completed the St. Silas’ Anglican Cathedral, Ihiala; built and donated a 3-storey youth hostel at the Holy Family Youth Village, Amansea, Awka, to the Catholic Archdiocese of Onitsha for use by students of the Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Awka; built and donated an ICT and skill acquisition centre at the All Hallows Seminary, Onitsha; building a youth centre for Nnewi Diocese in Ihiala; established special fund for assistance to pregnant women, widows, disabled people and people with heart, kidney, lung, sight and spinal cord problems as well as sponsored/donated drugs for free medical outreaches to St. Charles Borromeo Hospital, Onitsha, for some select towns and villages in Anambra, among others.
If you think that Uzoh does this for pecuniary gains, you are mistaking. I remember when someone said if Uzoh had done much, in the area of philanthropy, why wouldn’t he go into politics. At that time, Uzoh was not interested in politics. He was thinking about business and service only. In fact, he confided that if he was interested in politics, he could have been the first civilian governor of Anambra State, in this dispensation, as those who knew his close association with General Ibrahim Babangida and General Abdulsalami Abubakar had persuaded him to join politics in 1992/1998 and easily emerge as elected governor, but he declined.
However, apparently realising that governance is an act of service and, to some extent, philanthropy, Uzoh had eventually decided to join politics and contribute his quota to the socio-political development of his state, Anambra and Nigeria, in general. What could have caused this change of mind? He said as a individual, there was a limit to what his resources could do, in the service of the people. But as elected governor, there is a wider scope and resources to touch more people.
Feeling that the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) would give him the platform to serve the people more, Uzoh had joined the party and, in 2003, offered himself to serve as governor. However, the shenanigans in the PDP forced him to join the National Democratic Party (NDP), on whose ticket he contested the Anambra governorship election, along with Dr. Chris Ngige of the PDP and Peter Obi of the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA). One interesting thing is that during electioneering for the election, Uzoh showed that politics should be without bitterness. A story was told how he and Peter Obi met on campaign grounds, but instead of a clash and bitterness, they felicitated and even shared food. The election, which was marred by irregularities, had produced Ngige as governor, but the results were, eventually, cancelled by the courts, to ensure Obi’s emergence as governor, a position he held for two terms.
Since 2003 and now, Uzoh’s passion to serve the people has not waned. He has been in touch with his people. He knows their aspirations, needs and plights. He has helped them in his little way. And he wants to do it in a bigger way, as governor and, therefore, change their fortunes, for the best. With Anambra State governorship election scheduled for November 18, 2017, Uzoh has, again, declared his intention to contest and serve his people, now on the platform of the All Progressives Congress (APC), a party he joined three years ago when most South easterners did not want to touch it with a long pole.
In the calculation for the Anambra governorship election, Uzoh is easily the game changer for the APC. With what he has done, in philanthropy, which has made him a man of the people at the grassroots and the church in Anambra, he is the best bet for the APC. At a time the party is still battling for acceptance in the South-East, despite the avalanche of defections by people who are more interested in what they would use the party to achieve for themselves rather than believing in it, what will make the difference, in Anambra, are the quality and popularity of the candidate. If the APC plays to the gallery in Anambra and fields a candidate without widespread home appeal, but whose money would buy off the delegates, the status quo will remain, with the party in control at present digging in.
The politics of Anambra State is that of the grassroots. It is about those who have connection with the people. It also has something to do with the church: Catholic and Anglican. These two factors – grassroots and the church – combined, are the major determinants to who becomes governor. Uzoh’s philanthropy links him to the grassroots and the church. Besides, the fact that all senatorial districts in Anambra have produced the governor is an indication that Uzoh’s governorship will not upset whatever perceived zoning arrangement, especially since his Anambra South Senatorial District produced a governor who stayed in office for a single term of four years. Uzoh has prepared himself for service. He has gone to school, with BSc (Business Administration), LLB (Law), MSc (Marketing) and PhD (Economics) and, therefore, has honed his intellect and skills. As a company executive, he has experience in management and leadership.
No doubt, Uzoh, in his nature, will not get involved in dirty lobbying or money politics, which the new joiners of APC, whose interest in the governorship ticket is the driving force, it is hoped that the gods of APC, both in Anambra and national, know that if the party would win, it must field a candidate, who is more popular and whose grassroots acceptance are stronger than the incumbent governor, Willie Obiano. Obinna Uzoh fits the bill. And as he marks his 54th birthday today, the same date Anambra State governors take oath of office, his compassion, philanthropy, selfless service and finesse will count for him in the race to Anambra Government House..