In this concluding part of the exclusive interview with The Realm News editor-in-chief Don Norman Obinna, the Abia State Governor, Dr Victor Okezie Ikpeazu, speaks about his family background, humble beginning and his father’s disciplinary method. He also speaks about the burden of fatherhood and governance, his “top secret” many do not know and his union and relationship with his wife and children.
The Realm News: A son of a common man; How did you brave the odds to become the Governor of Abia state?
Governor Ikpeazu: I am from a humble background. My father was a teacher and my mother a nurse. I have two siblings. I went to public schools like every other child. The advantage I had, was that my father placed a premium on education and invested a lot of time to ensure we’re educated. As a teacher, my father was often transferred around Abia State. So, I went to different primary schools just as my father was moving from one location to the other. I attended Umuogele primary school and Amaise central school. My secondary school was at Ihie high school. Then, I proceeded to the University of Maiduguri. I was a Jambite at 16 and got my doctorate in biochemistry at 29. I knew I was preparing for a career as a lecturer in the university. I lectured at Calabar Polytechnic, Ebonyi state University and Enugu State University where I was Head of Department, at a time, a member of the University Senate.
The Realm News: How did you venture into politics from the classroom?
Governor Ikpeazu: It was accidental. I would say my father had a strong influence over me because he was interested in politics. At a point, he was the election officer for federal constituency elections. He was a strong member of the NRC and I have sympathy for SDP at some point, doing some youth activism. That was how I developed an interest in leadership. I understudied some leaders, read a few books about Odumegwu Ojukwu, Nnamdi Azikiwe and Obafemi Awolowo. So, after my stay as a lecturer, I was appointed the Transition Committee Chairman of my LGA. I later became Special Adviser, Chairman of College of Health, the General manager of Abia state Passengers Integration Management Safety Scheme and the deputy manager of Abia Waste Management Agency in Abia zone.
The Realm News: A lot of people do not know how you fared during your time in these agencies. Can you give us insight into your stewardship?
Governor Ikpeazu: My motto is integrity and hard work. I believe in solving a problem. First, I study problems and formulate a strategy to solve them. When I took over waste management in Aba, I had 62 -68 heaps of rubbish. Each of them took like two trucks to clear. People were flinging waste from the windows of their cars. We set a procedure where waste management has to be done from 5 pm. So, at 5 pm every day I rolled out my trucks and worked throughout the night so that my trucks won’t have to compete with the daily traffic for space. I delivered my mandate. As the Chairman of the College of Health, I got Accreditation for five courses and establish the Laboratories. I turned that school from the school of Hygiene to the college of health. As a General Manager of ASPIMSS, I started the regular Ambulance service for accident victims. I laid the foundation and built up to the lintel level what we will soon commission as the first trauma centre in Abia state. At every point, where I find myself, I try to leave a mark.
The Realm News: That leads us to your emergence as the PDP gubernatorial candidate in 2015. Some people believe that you were not prepared for governance and never worked for it. Was that the case?
Governor Ikpeazu: I scaled the PDP primaries and won the governorship election on merit. The success I recorded in my previous positions, relationships and contacts played key roles in the primaries and victory. My strongest point was not a fat bank account but my contact and the goodwill I had. I assembled a strong political and economic team. We had the likes of the late Chijioke Nwakodo, John Nwangborogwu and Kingsley Megwara in the political team, while individuals like Dr Enelamah and Emeka Onwuka, former MD of Diamond bank formed the economic team. I had a strong plan and agenda. And at that time, I commissioned my study on the economic issues bedevilling Abia state. I had brilliant Abians come together and then we crafted the five-point agenda which later became the five pillars of development. My selling point was that I was going to bring humility to bear. I was going to be unassuming. I was going to create a platform for all those who have something to contribute to come to the table so that together we will build an Abia that guarantees a better life for her people. So, getting into the primaries, I knew I stood a very good chance because those who were running against me at that time were leveraging their wealth, their contacts and what the presidency would help them do. But I was presenting myself as a commoner for the common people. People were looking for a government they can feel, touch and relate with. I also discovered that politicians would prefer to deal with somebody that has felt what they are feeling now rather than somebody that is imported from elsewhere. We approached the delegates and spoke with them. On that day we were very confident because of the endorsements from everyone including the then governor.
The Realm News: Let’s look at growing up: what were the challenges and how did you overcome them?
Governor Ikpeazu: Growing up was exciting and challenging. My father was discipline, personified. We had time for breakfast, siesta, lunch and homework. Usually, after lunch, homework and then a siesta. And at that time, 4:30 was the time for soccer. So My friends who were not part of this strict regimen would be playing ball to my pleasure. I would sneak out to enjoy soccer but only to return with 12 or 24 strokes almost on daily basis. You cannot be found doing the wrong thing at any time. How you speak, look, walk and respond to people, were all part of the training. My father taught me early enough to seek and do whatever would give me joy and peace of mind. Whatever that is just, virtuous and pure. My mother taught me compassion and to win without raising a finger. So, I had to find a way to evolve into the man that I’ve become using these nuggets I got from both parents. In school, I was also bullied because I was the smallest in the class. There were no boreholes then, so, I had to fetch water and submit it in the kitchen for them to qualify me for a meal. All these things prepared me for the challenges in life. That was why I remain calm almost to the discomfort of many of my friends because even in the heat of a crisis, I find the strength to remain calm, calculated and focused on what I want to do. I also had a very disciplined younger sister who would report me to my parents at any time I fall short of expectation.
The Realm News: How and where did you meet your wife and what was the word you woo her with?
Governor Ikpeazu: My mother and my mother-in-law were working in the same hospital. So, it made it difficult for me, I nearly lost my mind in terms of getting her to agree to marry me because of all my negative attributes. If I didn’t wash my plate after eating, my mother will narrate to my mother-in-law because both of them were working in the same hospital. So, when I made up my mind in my second year in the university, I think it was a party, I walked up to her, I knew her very well but we’re not in a relationship. Then I walked up to her and said I want to marry you Nkechi. At that time, even now I think my wife is opening up a little bit, growing up she was very difficult to excite. To make her laugh was a problem. So, she didn’t even react in any way but her designation suggests to me she wants to hang around me. Since I came from the angle of marriage, I decided to keep my distance. It was 10 years’ interval, that’s why she has a lot of respect for me. So, we were unofficially married for 10 years and officially married for 25 years. If you put the years together it will be 35 years of marriages (laughs).
The Realm News: Let us into your closest, what kind of a husband and father are you to your wife and children?
Governor Ikpeazu: I taught my children our family virtues. My father taught me the virtues of integrity. Integrity capital for me is more important than money. So, I have taught my children that. They trust me and they can connect with me properly. My grandfather was a blacksmith. The family dogma today is that you heat the iron when it is hot. It means teaching them how to take opportunities. The tragedy of many public officers is that they get too busy that they leave their family for public office and by the time they return they would have lost the family. Greater thanks to internet technology. I have a chat group with my boys, I have a chat group with my girls and my wife. We have one for family talk. To my wife, I have the utmost respect for her. She has a special place in my heart where no other can occupy. She is extremely supportive and I listen to her. She is a kind and nice woman. She can also be very firm and disciplined. On the eve of our wedding, I drew my green and red lines. For instance, I said to her I love my friends, I can hang out with my friends. If you noticed I’m hanging out with friends, give us some space. I am your chief defender and protector. Nothing will undermine you. So, she doesn’t come between me and my friends and that’s important for me.
The Realm News: What’s that secret about you that people do not know?
Governor Ikpeazu: The part of my life that many people do not know about is that before I became Governor, I had less than 20 publications in biochemistry. But I have 76 now. As the governor, I have chaired two research groups, one at Michael Okpara University. I am writing a 10-chapter book in biochemistry. I have written seven chapters. I asked the young lecturers working with me to do two to three chapters for recognition. That book is special. It’s titled the Biochemistry of Environmental Pollution.