The growth and development of any nation are determined by the type of administrators who steer it.
The dire situation in Nigeria requires competent administrators with glowing integrity and impeccable character. Such an administrator could be found in Ambassador Jerry Sonny Ugokwe (OFR), a bibliophile with an unblemished reputation, kindliness of manner, and sterling accomplishments.
Ambassador Ugokwe, a Professor of Governance and Legislative Studies at Nnamdi Azikiwe University and a Lecturer at the National Institute of Legislative and Democratic Studies (NILDS), an Abuja outpost of the University of Benin, recently granted an interview to basklifenews anchored by Chidozie Okigbo. Below is the full interview.
OKIGBO: We are very delighted to interview you. Who is Ambassador Jerry Ugokwe?
UGOKWE: Thank you for this opportunity you have granted me. I am a proud son of Nnobi. I am the second son of Jerry Maduakonam Ugokwe and Comfort Amaechi Ugokwe of blessed memory. Precisely from Umuagu Village, Ngo, Nnobi, Idemili South Local Government Area of Anambra State. I grew up mostly outside Nnobi and Anambra State. I grew up precisely between three major cities namely in Jos, Kaduna, and Lagos.
OKIGBO: As a well-read diplomat, may we know your educational background?
UGOKWE: Academically, after my secondary school study, I was admitted to the University of Nigeria, Enugu Campus where I obtained a Bachelor of Architecture in 1981. I further obtained a Masters Degree (M.Sc.) in Construction Management and Building Technology in 1985 from the University of Lagos, an MBA in Computer Engineering and Management Information from the University of Dallas, Irving, Texas, USA in 1989, and a Doctorate Degree (Ph.D.) in Public Housing Policy and Implementation in 1992, from Texas University in Denton, Texas, USA. I also obtained a Diploma from Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government in Boston, Massachusetts in Public Financial Management and a Diploma in International Legislative Drafting at the Loyola and Tulane University Law School Public Law Centre, New Orleans, Louisiana, USA.
OKIGBO: What motivated you to read architecture up to a doctorate?
UGOKWE: I can say that I am naturally talented in drawing and modelling. When I was in elementary school I was very good at drawings and designs and even molding beautiful houses in mud. So that continued up to secondary school. In secondary school, I was very good in technical drawing which at that time was a precursor to studying architecture. Even the advisor in my secondary school had many sessions with me and always encouraged me to study architecture. I ignored his advise and insisted that I would study engineering because I felt that I was very good in mathematics and sciences. When I took the entrance to the university I chose as my first choice to study Electromechanical Engineering which was a new hybrid engineering programme that the University of Nigeria had advertised to start. My second choice was Estate Management. When the result came out I did very well in the exam but I was the only person who applied for Electromechanical Engineering so the University decided it will not start a department with only one student so automatically I was admitted for my second choice which was Estate Management. When I got to the Department of Estate Management it was not so interesting to me and since it was in the same faculty with Architecture after seeing Architecture students and what they did I asked the University to change my department from Estate Management to Architecture. Because I had an excellent entrance exam result and the main cause of study I chose could not be offered to me, I was immediately allowed to change my course of study to architecture and immediately I felt at home. When I was done with my six years of B. Arch at the UNN I went on to UNILAG as one of the foundation students of Masters in Construction Management, after which I went to the University of Dallas in the USA for an MBA in Computer Engineering and Information Technology before settling with a Ph.D. in Public Housing.
OKIGBO: Before coming back to Nigeria to join politics in 1999, where have you worked?
UGOKWE: In 1983, I was employed as a Legislative Assistant to Senator Uba Ahmed, a Senator and later the National Secretary, National Party of Nigeria (NPN). In the United States, I first worked with the Dallas Housing Authority, and from there, a position opened up in the Department of Housing and Urban Development of the City of Dallas and I was employed. My duty was to ensure compliance to the recently passed federal law that abhorred housing discrimination on the basis of color, ethnicity, or race. I was saddled with the responsibility of preventing or minimizing housing discrimination and wherever housing discrimination is discovered to investigate and prosecute such offenders in compliance with Section 8 of the Fair Housing Act of the United State Law that prohibits Housing Discrimination.
OKIGBO: In 1999, you were elected to represent Idemili North/South Federal Constituency of Anambra State in the House of Representatives under the banner of the Peoples Democratic Party. How were you able to defeat your opponents?
UGOKWE: I was in the United States of America when the then Military Government announce the program of elections. I quickly resigned as a Staff of Government and returned to Nigeria, about two weeks to the conduct of the Primary Elections to the National Assembly. I moved to my village and began to campaign vigorously. I went to every nook and cranny of Idemili North and South to sell myself as a new returnee. I visited every church, every village meeting and even individual homes to sell my candidacy. By the grace of God and hard work I was admired and accepted in all communities. So on the day of the primary, I soundly defeated six other aspirants who had been on ground for many months of who some of them believed that were the anointed candidates. As a matter of fact when the result was announced in Oba, the crowd erupted in jubilation. However, one of the defeated aspirants took laws into his hands and ordered his tugs to attack me and the party officials who came to conduct the election. Tugs shot at me and my team. A bullet hit me in the arm with blood flowing everywhere. My campaign manager was struck in the shoulder by a bullet and officials of the party who conducted the primary election were abducted along with the results that had announced, and driven away in a bus. By the dint of hard work of the men of the Nigerian Police Force, the bus was accosted by the police on their way to an unknown destination. The party officials were rescued and the results recovered and taken to the party office in Awka and publicly announced and authenticated. Meanwhile the rest of my evening and night was spent in a hospital in Awka where a bullet was removed from my arm and my campaign manager had a bullet removed from his shoulder and he spent six months in the hospital before he could fully recover.
OKIGBO: As a member of the National Assembly, what were your achievements in your constituency?
UGOKWE: To be modest I must say that my achievement as a Member of National Assembly speaks for itself. The following is a comprehensive list of projects attracted and or facilitated by me as a Member of House of Representatives in the 4th and 5th National Assembly: 1. POWER AND ELECTRICITY: (a) Power Supply to Oba Water Extension constructed by Okonjon Ltd, (b) Nkpor-Uno Rural Electrification constructed by Rayman Ltd, (c) Abacha Rural Electrification , (d) Rural Electrification of Ojoto; 2. EDUCATION: (a) Uruaneke Primary School, Umuoji (Phase 11), (b) Community Primary School, Ugamuma Obosi (Phase 11), (c) Central Primary School 1, Nkpor-Agu (Phase 1), (d) Central Primary School, Ojoto-Uno (Phase 1), (e) United Primary School, Okuzu-Oba (Phase 11), (f) St. Simon’s Central School, Nnobi (Phase 11) (2003), (g) UBE Schools at Awka-Etiti, Oraukwu, Ideani, Akwa-Ukwu and Abacha (2004), (h) Central School, Alor (Phase 1); 3. WATER: (a) Idemili Dam Project and Water Treatment, (b) Sinking of motorized Boreholes in 17 Communities in Idemili North/South Federal Constituency, (c) Motorized Borehole at Awuda, Nnobi, (d) Motorized Borehole at Umuagu, Nnobi , (f) Obosi Water Works Extention; 4. HEALTHCARE: (a) Primary Healthcare Center, Obosi, (b) Primary Healthcare Center, Nnobi, (c) Primary Healthcare Center, Abacha, (d) Primary Healthcare Center, Akwa-Ukwu; 5. ROADS: (a) Onitsha-Owerri Road dualization (Led a combined effort with other South East Legislators), (b) Rehabilitation of Nkpor-Nnobi-Awka-Etiti-IgboUkwu-Isuofia-Ekwulobia Road, (c) Rehabilitation of old Enugu-Onitsha Road, (d) Idah-Otuocha-Umuleri-Oyeagu Abagana-Alor-Nnobi Road, (e) Construction of Nnobi-Exiowele Road, (f) Construction of Ogidi-Abatete-Oraukwu-Alor-Nnokwa Road; 6. TELECOMMUNICATION: (a) Digitalization of Nkpor Telephone Exchange, (b) Installation of MTN base station at Nnobi to boost GSM coverage in Idemili, (c) Installation of ECONET wireless base station in Idemili, (d) Installation of GLO wireless base station in Idemili; 7. BILLS & MOTIONS: (a) Sponsored the highest number of bills ever in the National Assembly: 76 Bills and 33 Motions between the 4th and 5th National Assemblies; 8. EMPLOYMENT: (a) Facilitated the employment of 22 citizens from Idemili in various Federal Ministries and Parastatals: 8. OTHERS: (a) Attraction and Construction of Divisional Police Headquarters at Nnobi, (b) Construction of Police Barrack for Divisional Police Headquarters at Nnobi, (c) Attraction of National Poverty Eradication Programme (NAPEP) Youths Information Center for Anambra Central Zone.
OKIGBO: You were one of the finest legislators that fought HIV/AIDS. What really influenced your health campaign?
UGOKWE: At the time I was elected the Member representing Idemili North and South at the National Assembly in 1999 there was a state-wide medical study conducted by the Ministry of Health in Anambra State, because of HIV-AIDS that was then ravaging the world. It was discovered that Idemili had the highest rate of infection of HIV-AIDS in Anambra State. Specifically, Nkpor, Awada and Obosi were the most affected towns in Idemili North and South. I tapped into my connection with the United Nations and World Health Organization (WHO) and made a case that a programme be designed for my constituency to prevent the rapid spread of HIV-AIDS. The International Agencies obliged me and sent a team of medical experts to Nigeria and they went round my constituency educating people about HIV-AIDS infections. In the process, they advised people to avoid having sex with strangers. They further advised that if they had to have sex with any persons they were not sure of they were advised to use condoms. As practical international agencies, they came prepared with packs of condoms and asked any ones who wanted condoms to please feel free to pick them up. Naturally, those who wanted picked up condoms. After the program, when studies were conducted again it was discovered that the spread of HIV-AIDS decreased drastically in Idemili Federal Constituency. Furthermore, my Idemili HIV-AIDS advocacy programme became a signpost and a model for other constituencies and indeed other countries of the world to the extent that the United Nations invited me across African Countries and Parliaments to speak on the reduction of HIV-AIDS prevalence as a result of the prevention program conducted in my constituency. So, it is something that my people should be thankful and proud of that my effort as a Member of the National Assembly saved lives and brought good health to the community.
OKIGBO: On 12th December 2004, during the leadership tussle between Chief Chris Ubah and Governor Chris Ngige of Anambra State, the former president of Nigeria, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo wrote a letter to Chief Audu Ogbeh, informing him that “in the case of Anambra, if I had wanted to support anybody at all, it would have been Jerry Ugokwe because he was one man I knew.” How did you win Chief Obasanjo’s heart and what do you think slowed President Obasanjo from making his choice a reality?
UGOKWE: Truly Obasanjo as a President was a democrat and not a dictator. If he chose to be a dictator he would have imposed me on Anambra State as the Governor because he believed that I was in the best position to give Anambra State the best that the state deserved. Furthermore, the truth is that while I was a Member of the House of Representatives President Obasanjo had the opportunity to observe me and he discovered that I had a great capacity to govern Anambra State. He observed with very keen interest my performance in the House of Representatives where I clearly displayed a superior ability to lead and to serve without fear or favour, so he was of the opinion that Anambra needed someone like me at such a critical time in its history. Many, if not most of the members of the PDP then, had the same opinion about my leadership capacity. Unfortunately, Anambra had a god-father in the person of Chief Chris Ubah who had a different plan for Anambra State which was definitely not developmental. I definitely could not settle for anything short of the best for Anambra State, so I was not the person who could compromise. He found an ally in Dr. Chris Ngige so he went all out to impose him hoping that he would dance to his tunes. Anyway, the rest of that is history, but let it be known that I was the candidate to beat for Anambra Governorship in 2003, I was rigged out by the machinery of the god-father and his cohorts to bring in Dr. Ngige, which later gave an opportunity for APGA and Peter Obi, which was an aberration that should not have been if I was allowed to win the ticket as party members wanted.
OKIGBO: We want to know why the election tribunal removed you during your 2nd tenure as the representative of the Idemili North/South Federal Constituency of Anambra State in the House of Representatives.
UGOKWE: My removal was the greatest injustice done to anyone by the judiciary. The court has always held that nomination as a candidate is a party’s responsibility, but in my own case where my party nominated me and the court, through illegitimate influence imposed another candidate. How did it happen? In 2003 the majority of the party members decided to nominate me to be the Governor, but the god-father felt differently and made sure that the choice of the majority was not respected. When this happened, the party decided that I should go back to the House of Representatives to continue the good job I was already doing, so I was re-nominated to the National Assembly. One Dr. Okeke who was eying the seat took the matter to the court. At the Appeal Court in Enugu, he PROCURED judgment. As a matter of fact, what the court did had never happened in any court in the world. The Appeal Court was approached on that fateful day by unscrupulous legal agents and procured the judge to use a pen to enlist my case for the same day on a typed list to be heard in the court. I was on the floor of the House of Representatives presenting a Bill when someone just touched me and told me that he was informed that my case was going on in Appeal Court in Enugu. The Appeal Court in contravention of its own rules did not notify me or my lawyer that the case was coming up and just came into the court and announced the case as number one on the list. It is the rule of the court that before any case is heard on an appeal all parties must be notified and the proof of notification made available in court if requested. So, the Appeal Court corruptly heard my appeal without notifying me or my lawyers and gave judgment against me. That is man’s inhumanity to man.
OKIGBO: Why did you seek redress in ECOWAS Court on election matters in Nigeria when you have exhausted legal options in Nigerian courts?
UGOKWE: As I have said earlier I was shortchanged unfairly and corruptly by the Appeal Court that removed me without allowing me representation in court. So, I went to ECOWAS Court. Fundamentally, Nigeria through its Appeal Court injured me by not giving me a fair hearing and giving a decision against me without notifying me to know that my case was to be taken on that day. The rules of the Appeal Court clearly state that before any case is taken on Appeal the parties concerned must be adequately notified and given a fair hearing before a judgment can be made. In my own case that was not done, so I went to the ECOWAS Court to seek justice because as at that time the situation in Nigeria is that all matters of the National Assembly terminated at the Appeal Court and if I went to the Supreme Court the case would have been immediately thrown out. So the only choice I had to express the injustice done to me was to go to the ECOWAS Court and seek a fair hearing.
OKIGBO: How did you feel when you were made Nigeria’s Ambassador to Austria?
UGOKWE: I felt elated when I was appointed Nigeria’s Ambassador to Austria. It was an honour to be appointed to represent Nigeria in one of the Grade A missions in the world. Austria is the center of non-aligned nations of the world. Austria is the Home of OPEC, it is the home and the nerve center of major United Nations Offices. Ambassador to Austria is one of the most prestigious and much sought-after Ambassadorial postings in the world. While I was Ambassador to Austria I was also the Ambassador to Slovakia. That is why my title was: Ambassador of Nigeria to Republic of Austria, with concurrent accreditation to Slovak Republic; Permanent Resident Representative of the Federal Republic of Nigeria to: United Nations Office Vienna (UNOV); International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA); The Preparatory Commission for the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO); United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO); The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC); United Nations Commission on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice; The Commission on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice (UNCPCJ); The Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND); United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs (UNOOSA); United Nations Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (COPUOS); UN Commission on International Trade Law (UNCITRAL); Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC); The OPEC Fund for International Development (OFID); African Group; G77; Non-Aligned Movement (NAM); Organization of Islamic Countries (OIC).
OKIGBO: It was rumoured you would be given a ministerial appointment due to your close relationship with President Yar’Adua. What caused the U-turn?
UGOKWE: President Yar’Adua of blessed memory himself told me that he was going to do something special for me when he became President because I had assisted him at some point in the past at some critical time. His choice was to make me the Minister from Anambra State but Sen Andy Uba had committed to Prince John Emeka and proposed him as the Minister, so the next position that came up for appointment was for Ambassadors. The then Chairman of PDP, Senator Ahmdu Ali contacted me by telephone that the President has requested that I submit my CV for an Ambassadorial appointment. It happened that I was in Owerri where I was trying to help stabilize the new administration of Governor Ikedi Ohakim. I was reluctant to take up the position of Ambassador because I spent the better part of my life in the USA and I felt also that making me an Ambassador would uproot me from my political base. However, Senator Ahmadu Ali convinced me to accept the appointment and that I was not going to regret it. So, I sent a copy of my CV to Senator Ahmadu Ali the Party Chairman through one of his relatives.
OKIGBO: What do you think are the major problems affecting Nigerians in Austria?
UGOKWE: The major problem facing Nigerians that I found on the assumption of duty was that Nigerians were painted in the wrong colours. Nigerians were tagged bad even when they were not, therefore they were deliberately painted black even when the reverse should be the case. Some of them were suspected of criminality even when that was not the case.
OKIGBO: What are your achievements as an Ambassador?
UGOKWE: My first achievement in Austria was that I succeeded in changing the narrative and image of Nigeria in Austria. I made it a commitment to project a positive image for Nigeria that at the time I was leaving even the Minister commended me for doing so. I succeeded in making Nigerians in Austria proud of being Nigerians. I attended all churches that Nigerians attended in all cities across Austria. As a matter of fact, I did not attend any church regularly because I took time to attend churches around the country where Nigerians also worshiped. I attended those churches for opportunities to familiarize myself with Nigerians. In all the churches I attended I always requested for an opportunity to speak to Nigerians and promote Nigeria. It worked like magic because Nigerians felt proud that I came to their local churches to find them. As a matter of fact, I also attended all the mosques where Muslims from Nigeria attended, and in the same manner, I requested and was given the opportunity to talk to Nigerians and to promote Nigeria. Furthermore, I secured jobs for many Nigerians in international agencies in Vienna. As a matter of fact, when the position of Director of Finance became open in OPEC FUND (OFID) I insisted that the position would be given to a Nigerian. I consequently wrote to the home office and Nigeria nominated a candidate and I followed up until she was eventually appointed. I secured some jobs for Nigerians in OPEC. I also secured the sponsorship of the Yar’Adua cancer center by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). And so many others. For the first time in the history of the United Nations, I got the First Lady of Nigeria to lead the Nigerian Delegation to the United Nations Assembly in Austria.
OKIGBO: It was said that you had the ambition to become the governor of Anambra State during the tenure of Alhaji Umaru Yaradua. What derailed it?
UGOKWE: I have always had the ambition to be the Governor of Anambra State because I know that if given the opportunity Anambra will never be the same again. Again, during the tenure of President Yar’Adua, I still nursed the ambition to become the Governor of Anambra State because I believed that I was in a position to make Anambra great. I feel very unhappy to see Anambra in the state that it is up till today, even with the number of governors that we have had since 1999, Anambra is yet to attain its full potential. I desired to develop Anambra and I believed that Anambra has the potential to compete with Lagos. I believe that if Lagos is number one that Anambra should rightly occupy the second position. But unfortunately, those who have governed Anambra have not displayed such a vision. I still pray to God to someday give me the opportunity to serve as a Governor of Anambra State and if that happens Anambra will never be the same again. When I was appointed Ambassador by the late President Yar’Adua I had a heart-to-heart discussion with him because we were close. I sold my vision for Anambra to him and he was impressed and encouraged me to chase the dream and that he would support me. Even his wife was made aware of it and she was very supportive. Unfortunately for me, before it was time for the elections His Excellency, late President Yar’Adua became sick, never recovered, and passed on to be with God. That obviously truncated my ambition to become the Governor of Anambra State at that time, I pray that God makes my dream come through at his own appointed time.
OKIGBO: We noticed that you are a close friend of Senator Andy Ubah. Can we know about your friendship?
UGOKWE: Well, Senator Andy Uba and I served and worked closely with President Olusegun Obasanjo together in many respects and we remained friends after.
OKIGBO: As a diehard member of the All Progressives Congress, you supported Senator Andy Ubah and Barrister Emeka Okafor’s candidacy during the Anambra State gubernatorial election held on 6th November 2021. Can you share the role you played during the campaign and why APC failed in the election?
UGOKWE: I played a key role during the election. As a matter of fact, I did all I could to see Senator Andy and Barr Emeka Okafor win the election. As a matter of fact, when I was contesting for the Governorship in 2003 I intended to finish and hand over to Senator Andy Uba because I felt that Odera had only one term and if I won the election, after completing my term I should hand over to Senator Andy Uba from Anambra South. Since I did not become governor and the rotation has moved to Anambra South I felt committed to ensuring that Senator Andy Uba who I had hoped to hand over before now should rightly be elected to take up the mantle. Unfortunately for so many unexplainable reasons, we lost the election. However, God knows the best and He makes whosoever pleases Him a king.
OKIGBO: A few months ago, you aspired to become one of the Officers of the National Working Committee of APC. Why were you not chosen?
UGOKWE: Yes, I first aspired to be the National Secretary of APC. For some reasons some of our chieftains sabotaged the Southeast because of their selfish interest and traded away the office of the National Secretary and in the process, what eventually got zoned to Anambra was the Deputy National Organizing Secretary. However, the Deputy National Organizing Secretary in the current constitution of the APC has been elevated to the membership of the National Working Committee which is the highest working organ of the party. To that effect I decided to contest for it. I decided to contest for it because by the principles of rotation within the party such high ranking position coming to Anambra would be zoned to Anambra Central where I come from. Why? Because the first position of National Auditor that was zoned to Anambra in the previous Executive of the party was occupied by Chief George Moghalu who is from Anambra South. When Chief Moghalu was appointed the Managing Director of NIWA, the position rotated to Anambra North and was occupied by Chief Paul Chukwuma. Therefore, in the present dispensation, it goes without debate that the position of Deputy National Organizing Secretary zoned to Anambra should be rightly and equitably zoned to Anambra Central. Again, it went to Anambra South. Well, the rest is history, which is important to keep a record of for the future.
OKIGBO: What are your future political plans?
UGOKWE: As a committed politician, I still aspire to serve my dear state of Anambra whenever I am opportune to do so. The key thing is that I have always aspired and I believe that at God’s own time He will give me the opportunity to give my all to great Anambra State.
OKIGBO: As a person that has seen it all, what is your advice to the parents and youths in Nigeria?
UGOKWE: For the parents, I advise that they should give Nigeria their very best. They should hold on to God, love their children, and give them the best upbringing in the way of the Lord, because the Bible says in the book of Proverbs Chapter 22, Verse 6: “Train up a child in the way he should go and when he is old he will not depart from it”. And for the youths I say arise for your time has come and that time is now to make Nigeria great. Nigerian youths must rise up now and be counted, because our God said in Isaiah chapter 60, verse 1: “Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you. However, in rising up to the challenge the youths must remember what the Lord Jesus Christ instructed youths to do in the Bible in Deuteronomy 5:16: “Honor your father and your mother, as the Lord your God has commanded you, that your days may be prolonged and that it may go well with you on the land which the Lord your God gives you”.
Credit to Nnobi Heritage Magazine