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By Dr. Olu Oronsaye

By Dr. Olu Oronsaye

In the history of democratic governance in Nigeria, political parties have, at different times, thrown up all manner of persons who held sway either in the leadership of the political parties or in governance, by election or by appointment into executive positions. Over the years, there are persons who can be described as ‘traditional politicians’, or put in another form, full time politicians. But in recent years, political parties are beginning to witness the entrance of a new crop of politicians – men and women, cerebral and dynamic, who have attained enviable leadership positions in their chosen professions and are desirous of leveraging on their rich experience and competence in serving their people through political offices.

In the build-up to the governorship election in Edo State scheduled for September 2024, one man, through a well-coordinated political strategy, has jolted the political class and the electorate. That man is Dr. Ernest Afolabi Umakhihe. By this time last year, Dr. Umakhihe was still calling the shots at the Federal Civil Service, specifically as Permanent Secretary of the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development. Upon retirement from service, he indicated his interest in the governorship ticket of the All Progressives Congress, APC. Not many people gave him any chance. But in less than two months of entering the race, Dr. Umakhihe has not only made far more significant impact than any of the other aspirants, he has become the man to beat, so much so that everyone is asking, where has this man been? Indeed, he has taken everyone by surprise.

After a series of focused meetings with party leaders across the State and the nation, with the aim of declaring his intention to occupy the seat of the Governor of Edo State on the platform of APC, he moved to the field with a terrific speed and unprecedented massive support from both the old and the young from all parts of Edo State. He embarked on a tour of the 18 Local Government Areas of the State to personally interact with the party members at the grassroots whose responsibility it is to choose a flag bearer at the primaries. 

While Dr. Umakhihe was making his plans to obtain the nomination forms of his party, a group which had since identified the leadership qualities in him, went ahead to purchase the Expression of Interest Form and the Nomination Form for him. The group, Edo Unity League Worldwide, was represented by some members of its Board of Trustees, led by Chief Victor Ekhator, the Enobore of Benin Kingdom; Comrade Orobosa Omo-Ojo and Comrade Aiyamenkhue Edokpolo. The group, whose membership cuts across different professions and political affiliations, “reached the resolve in the best interest of the younger generations who are unable to find role models amongst the multiplicity of political actors of Edo extraction”. The BoT members described the gesture as a “seed of investment in good governance for the transformation of Edo people from November 2024”.

What has become discernible in Dr. Umakhihe’s political journey is his readiness to give purposeful leadership to the Government of Edo State. He has aptly christened his manifesto, A Fresh Start for Shared Prosperity, which forms the blueprint to reposition Edo State for its preeminent position in the 21st Century Nigeria. 

In his tour of the political wards in Edo South, Edo Central and Edo North Senatorial Districts, the Governorship aspirant did not mince words in assuring the people of his determination to tackle the challenges of low agricultural production, poor infrastructure, insecurity, as well as in other critical sectors of the economy. At every meeting, it was an uncommon scenario to behold his down-to-earth interactions with the people and the expression of their love for him.

A number of factors have helped to give Dr. Umakhihe great mileage in his governorship project and these have put him head and shoulders above his fellow contestants. In this digital age, he comes on board with rich intellectual fecundity and solid academic credentials which contributed immensely to his success in life. His educational sojourn saw him through Holy Trinity Grammar School, Sabongidda-Ora; Edo College, Benin City; the University of Benin where he obtained the Bachelor of Science degree in Accounting with Second Class Honours, Upper Division and the Master of Business Administration (MBA) and the Nassarrawa State University, Keffi for his Ph.D in Ph.D. in Security and Strategic Studies. He is a recipient of the degree of Doctor of Business and Management (DBM, Honoris Causa) from the London Bridge Business School, United Kingdom and the Doctor of Science (D.Sc, Honoris Causa) from the Federal University, Lokoja.

Dr. Umakhihe’s career in the Federal Service has adequately prepared him for this position in the governance of Edo State. Rising form the position of Accountant II, on Salary Grade Level 08 to the position of Permanent Secretary, he has received great mentorship and exposure which no other aspirant can boast of. A Fellow of the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Nigeria (ICAN), he brings to the table a commendable level of competence and capacity necessary for the task ahead.

Hec remains one of the few non-politicians who affected the lives of Edo people while in service. Through his influence, projects were executed in virtually every Local Government Area of the State. He was a rallying point for Edo State indigenes in Abuja. His intelligence, humility and accessibility have largely endeared him to all Nigerians.

It is now obvious that governance in the 21st century Nigeria has left the hands of ill-prepared politicians who may have to depend on aides to take critical decisions. The bulk stops at the table of the Governor and no mistake must be made in choosing a flag bearer for the party.

The leadership of APC should not lose sight of the fact that the leading aspirants of two other political parties in the State are men who cannot be wished away. Therefore, the party should not only rely on its status as the party at the centre. The people of Edo State are sophisticated and well-exposed on the issues of democratic governance and, put succinctly, know the calibre of persons to rule the State. It is cheering that Dr. Umakhihe is one of the six aspirants earlier shortlisted by a special committee of his APC.

Dr. Umaklhihe has, undoubtedly, become the game changer and his electoral value will put his party, the APC ahead of others.

                         -Dr Olu Oronsaye, an academic, is a public affairs commentator.


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