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LAGOS, NIGERIA.     Thursday, January 08 2004

 

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080104 today:
Mbakwe, ex-Imo governor, dies at 73
By Collins Obibi and Fred Okoror (Lagos) and Charles Ogugbuaja (Owerri)

SECOND Republic Governor of Old Imo State, Chief Sam Onunaka Mbakwe, is dead.

The Guardian learnt that he died on Monday in his Avutu country home in Obowu Local Government Council of the state.

Popularly called the "weeping governor," the late politician was a prominent disciple of foremost nationalist, the late Chief Nnamdi Azikiwe.

One of the early callers to the residence was chieftain of the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Chief Emmanuel Iwuanyanwu.

Although details of the former governor's death were not disclosed by the family yesterday, The Guardian learnt that he returned to Nigeria from a medical treatment in Germany at the weekend.

When his health deteriorated further, a family source said, the former governor refused to go to hospital for further treatment. "In the process, he gave up the ghost," the source added.

The late Mbakwe was renowned for his political dexterity. After his exit from office as governor, the legal practitioner proceeded to pursue a doctorate degree in political science. He had two wives, Florence Nwaevuru and Victoria Aheilepeya, two sons and five daughters.

The Special Adviser to the incumbent Imo State Governor Achike Udenwa, Chief George Ugwu confirmed the death in a telephone interview with The Guardian.

Mbakwe was widely commended for nurturing the young Imo State in 1979 to prominence.

He assumed the mantle of leadership of the state on October 1, 1979, barely three years after its creation by the military in 1976.

With the state virtually lacking infrastructure, Mbakwe settled down quickly to the task of governance, mobilising the people and their resources to facilitate its development.

In Owerri, the state capital, Mbakwe completed the asphalttarring of all the roads started by the military administration in a very short period.

He extended the same measure to other roads in Aba and Umuahia, two towns noted for commercial activities in the state.

Mbakwe was among Second Republic governors that built state universities. The state university adopted a multi-campus concept to cater for the increasing number of candidates who could not secure admission in federal universities.

A humble politician, he was also not found wanting in the industrialisation of the state.

His administration adopted a zonal arrangement to ensure an even spread of industries in the young state.

The Aluminum Smelter Plant in Inyishi and paint factory, Abor-Mbaise, Avutu Poultry Farm and others were all the products of this policy.

The Amaraku Power plant, which the succeeding military regime later sold was also built by Mbakwe's administration.

Mbakwe started championing the cause of his people after the civil war.

As a lawyer, he handled several suits on the famous "Abandoned Property" saga in Port Harcourt, Rivers State and other places.

The politician became known as the weeping governor when in Lagos, then seat of the Federal Government, he took the plight of his people to the Federal Executive Council (FEC) meetings. At several meetings, Mbakwe, unable to hold back his emotions, wept over the dwindling fortunes of the Igbo.

The more he wept and was consoled, the more the people loved him.

His passion for the electorate gave him a second term ticket until the military struck in 1983.

He had his primary education at Avutu Primary School in 1937 and attended Teachers Training College, Oleh, Isoko between 1946-47.

In 1952, he proceeded to Fourah Bay College, Sierra-Leone for his higher education.

He later attended the University of Manchester, England, between 1953-56, from where he proceeded to the University of Hull, England from 1956-58. In pursuit of his legal education, he sought and obtained admission to the Inns of Court School, London between 1958-59.

The other universities he attended were the School of African and Oriental Studies, University of London; University of Nigeria Nsukka and University of Lagos. He was called to the Lincoln's Inn, English Bar, London in 1959. Thereafter, he returned to Nigeria to practise law in Port Harcourt in the same year (1959).

Mbakwe began his journey into politics in 1978 when he was made a member of the Constituent Assembly.

He was elected Executive Governor of old Imo State on the platform of the defunct Nigerian People's Party (NPP).

In the wake of the aborted Third Republic, he had a stint with the then Social Democratic Party (SDP).

While in active politics, he was generally a controversial figure. One such instance was when he recommended that only politicians seeking public office who had prison experience would be best suited to contest leadership positions in the country.

Addressing supporters of the National Unity Club (NUC) in Aba in September 1995, he advised aspiring politicians to go into prison custody "even for one day," apparently to taste what hardship and discipline is all about.

"If you have not been in prison before, that will be your baptism and qualification. You will learn from the prison yard that not all those in detention are criminals," he stated.

One other controversial period of his life was when he resigned from active politics in annoyance in March 1993 during the countdown to the June 1993 general elections. Chief Mbakwe, reported to be one of the national chairmanship aspirants of the SDP, had said that he decided to bow out of active politics because of the circumstances of his disqualification.

The former governor first took ill in February 2002, following which he was flown abroad for medical treatment in view of his deteriorating health.

He was flown to a German hospital after taking "seriously ill" in his home town.

His recent trip abroad, it was learnt, might have been facilitated with a $20,000 released to the family by the Imo State Government.

Governor Udenwa, who made the donation at Mbakwe's compound in Avutu, had described the former civilian governor as the father of the state and expressed the desire of the people to see him "hale and hearty again."

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