I met Prince Ned Nwoko 18 years ago as a wide-eyed young man freshly out of NYSC. He was then a Member of the House of Representatives. Within a few days of our meeting it was obvious to me that here was a special character. It wasn’t his academic or professional CV, as impressive as they were (Law & History Bachelor’s, Keele University London, LLM Kings College London, Crown Prosecutor, Solicitor of the Supreme Court of England & Wales etc.), that got me believing. What got me tripping were his extraordinary vision, intense drive, self-confidence, acute intelligence, insight, compassion, and his special love of people, especially the people of his hometown Idumuje-Ugboko and Anioma people in general.
Prince Ned Nwoko arrived at the House of Representatives in 1999 as a bustling young man of 38 and instead of being content and grateful for just being a Member, as many people would have been, he straightaway set himself the ambition of becoming the Deputy Speaker. Although he was ultimately unsuccessful in that bid, nevertheless, he had distinguished himself amongst his colleagues, the Presidency and the national public. This gave him the platform to begin the fight for what he believes in: a better and more equitable society for all, whether rich or poor. And he especially believes that good education is the gateway to achieving this better life.
Accordingly, one of the dearest subjects to him was and still is the establishment of a federal university in Asaba, as well as the building of other infrastructures in the general Anioma area. To amplify his requests to the Obasanjo Administration, in the year 2000, Prince Ned Nwoko in his capacity as the then Member representing Aniocha/Oshimili Federal Constituency, organized a visit of the leaders of the Constituency to Aso Rock. Amongst the members of this delegation were the Asagba of Asaba, Obi (Prof) Chike Edozien; the Ide Ahaba, Chief Sunny Odogwu; Prof Demas Nwoko; Chief Adadioranma Giwa-Amu; former Biafrian warlord, Colonel Joe Achuzia; Chief Ukadike; Architect Uzor; Chairman of UBA, Mr Tony Elumelu; Chairman Chrismatel Shipping Company; Chief Peter Eloka Okocha, Chairman of Kakasa Engineering Company, Chief Hyacinth Enuha; The late Obis of Idumuje-Unor, Issele-Uku, Ubulu-Uku and Idumuje Ugboko and the then four local government chairmen of Aniocha North, Aniocha South, Oshimili North and Oshimili South amongst other distinguished Anioma leaders.
I remember very clearly that the night before the meeting with President Obasanjo at the Villa, Prince Ned Nwoko conducted these Anioma leaders around Abuja, visiting important government officials like the then PDP Chairman, Chief Barnabas Gemade; the then Minister of Health, Prof Tim Menakaya and the then Minister of Works, Chief Tony Anenih, with whom he directly pleaded for the completion of the Benin/Asaba dual carriageway, as well as the award of the contract for the construction of the Ewohimi/Idumuje Ugboko highway (both now accomplished projects).
At the meeting with President Olusegun Obasanjo in the State Room of Aso Rock the next day, the demands made on the government ministers the previous evening were reiterated. For the sake of clarity the principal requests in the memorandum presented were as follows: the establishment of a Federal University of Agriculture in Asaba, the construction of Ewohimi/Idumuje-Ugboko/Onicha Ugbo link road, the completion of the Benin Asaba dual carriageway (this project had dragged on for many years and was then in a state of abandonment), and the building of a dam in Aniofu, which was later sited in Ogwashi Uku. It is instructive to note that many years after, the people of Anioma and other Nigerians who cross Anioma are still enjoying the benefits of that visit.
Apart from these major projects, Prince Ned Nwoko also worked tirelessly for the construction of the NTA station Asaba, the Delta State Police Headquarters also in Asaba and he was also heavily involved, as Chairman, House of Representatives Committee on Nigeria Civil Aviation Authority, in influencing the granting of the licence for the Asaba Airport. He was also instrumental, through the Universal Basic Education Scheme, in the reconstruction and provision of excellent facilities in many primary schools in Anioma area, notably Ani-Nshi Primary School, Ogwashi-Uku; Abuedo Primary School, Ubulu-Uku; Egbune Primary School, Issele-Uku; Asagba Primary School, Asaba and others too numerous to enumerate.
On the floor of the House of Representatives, Prince Ned Nwoko was a very effective Member, of a radical-liberal-progressive inclination; he delivered his positions with insight and vision unparalleled amongst his peers. He was one of the earliest voices for the establishment of an investigative and prosecutorial agency to handle cases of corruption in Nigeria. And some of the bills he introduced on the floor of the House of Representatives were a bill for an Act to establish Public Funds Recovery and Reward Commission (whistle blower), A bill for an Act to Prohibit Expensive Burial in Nigeria, a bill for an Act to establish a National Sports University, a bill for an Act to Standardize Allowances and Fringe Benefits payable to Government Officials (Monetization) and many others.
However, the establishment of a federal university in Anioma remained elusive. But instead of losing faith in this dream, Prince Ned Nwoko decided to bring the mountain to Mohammed. In November 2015, he began the process for the establishment of an international standard private university for academic and sports excellence in Anioma – Star University, he elected to name it. Luckily for his kiths and kin, he ignored more commercially viable locations to choose his hometown Idumuje Ugboko for this privilege. Through observation of recent developmental history in Nigeria it can very easily be seen that the siting of a university or other institution of higher education is one of the easiest ways to bring development to a community. Ambrose Alli University, Ekpoma; Okoh Polytechnic, Okoh; Madonna University, Okija; Ogwashi-Uku Polytechnic, Ogwashi-Uku, etc. easily come to mind. And so it is with consternation that many observers are hearing and reading about the opposition to this laudable project in national newspapers and social media, by a section of Idumuje Ugboko elites, due to disagreement about land allocation. The billion naira question is – why are they really opposing this developmental initiative? Could it be out of spite or jealousy? Surely nobody believes that land, an imperishable resource could be packaged and carted away irretrievably by Prince Ned Nwoko.
Surely, Idumuje Ugboko, with one of the highest percentages of educated elites in the area must be aware that a private university in the town will boost the local economy by up to two billion naira per annum, provide up to 500 well-paid permanent and more than 1000 temporary construction jobs to locals, bring in ancillary service providers like banks, real estate developers, hotels, restaurants, cybercafés etc., boost the value of land astronomically and advertise the name of the town nationally and even internationally and transform Idumuje Ugboko overnight, even giving it a status above and beyond the local government headquarters, Issele-Uku.
May I humbly use this medium to urge everybody involved in this internecine opposition to reconsider their position and support this commendable project. May I also urge the Obis and peoples of my home town Idumuje-Unor and Onicha-Ugbo, two communities within 500 metres of Idumuje Ugboko and the proposed Star University site, to stand ready to provide land for this private institution if some persons in Idumuje Ugboko persist in opposing this initiative. On no account should this dream be allowed to die or the project sited outside Aniocha North Local Government Area. It is not a fluke or accident that Prince Ned Nwoko is involved in this massive developmental project.
He has always been a man driven by the passion for public service and philanthropy. He made national headlines in 1999 when he announced that he was donating his salary and allowances, including the much-heralded furniture allowance to members of his constituency. And he regularly gifts money to groups like churches, social and civil societies and indigent members of the society. His passion for public service has been the only reason he participates in politics. He is just not a man to sit idly and watch while the society suffers. And somehow the people of Delta North have recognized this quality in him and that was why they massively supported him in the 2011 senatorial election, which he won handsomely before the mandate was callously stolen by forces beyond his control.
Now as the 2019 General Elections are approaching, Anioma people, having witnessed the selfish, shameful and criminal scandal-hit performance of the incumbent, are once again clamouring for Prince Ned Nwoko to become their Senator and champion their course in Abuja. Prince Ned Nwoko, the philanthropist, the altruist, the international lawyer and negotiator, a worthy scion of the throne of Nwoko, the public servant and legislator par excellence will answer this call. And this time Anioma people will not be cheated.
Onyeka Ibe is the Executive Secretary of Asaba Arts & Literary Society & a member of the Nigerian Institute of Public Relations (NIPR). He is the author of two novels; Grandmother Caroline & This Is how We Do It and winner of the 2010 Living Earth/DFID National Short Story Prize. He was Chief Legislative Assistant to Prince Ned Nwoko at the National Assembly from 1999 to 2000.