By Collins Ughalaa
On Thursday, August 1, 2019, the whole of Imo State was agog as the Deputy Governor of the state, His Excellency Rt. Hon. Gerald Irona, turned 53. Before the close of work on Wednesday, July 31, lovers of the Deputy Governor, who is known by many as Mr. Humility and Mr. Loyalty, had begun inquiries on the venue of what they thought would be the bash of the year. But no one had the right word for anyone. Reason being that the Deputy Governor had planned a low-key celebration with the very people on whose face we should be planting smiles. I mean those who for no fault of theirs became dubbed as motherless babies.
It is normal that with the array of lovers and supporters, the Deputy Governor was expected to roll out the drums in celebration of his 53 years of purposeful living in fulfillment of his God-assigned roles. After all, he just won a governorship election with the Governor, His Excellency, Rt. Hon. Emeka Ihedioha, and was subsequently sworn in as Deputy Governor, in conformity with our laws. But the Deputy Governor is differently wired. He is unlike those who locked the state in celebration of their birthday and demanded every local government to come up with a birthday cake and a cow as birthday gifts. Remember the famous 27 birthday cakes and 27 cows? Irona is a devout Catholic. He is humble, vibrant and a prudent manager of resources with vast experience in governance and inter-governmental engagements. He is not given to such frivolities.
By morning of Thursday the office of the Deputy Governor had been deluged with lovers, supporters and loyalists who had thronged the place in expectation of what they thought would be a mega birthday bash. But the Deputy Governor buried himself instead in his work in the office, attending to important state matters, putting state matters first. He had planned to celebrate his birthday with a special group of people later in the day. It was breathtaking watching the children at the Red Cross Motherless Babies Home – some of them have grown up and look beautiful and handsome – lock hands with the Deputy Governor in earnest prayers to God. We are assured that the earnest prayers of this special people availeth much. Also, the reassurance signposted by the Deputy Governor’s celebration with the children was a lot of morale booster, a lot of hope, that after all we are all members of the same society and children of the same God who takes care of our individual needs in ways we may not fathom. And this too is a function of leadership, to lend helping hand to those who are low on morale, those considered at the ebb of the socioeconomic ladder, and to lift as many as possible, even if what it takes is wearing a smile on the face.
For his 53 years sojourn on this planet earth, the Rt. Hon. Gerald Irona has always touched lives. He has always lifted people. Born on August 1, 1966, he answered God’s calling to serve his people. He found a mentor in Chief Senator Francis Arthur Nzeribe who helped him cut his political teeth. He was elected the Councilor for Oguta Ward A in 1996 and 1997. He moved up the ladder of service to the people in 1998 when he became the pioneer State Secretary of the All Peoples Party (APP), which later became All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP), thus playing prominent roles in the politics of Imo State during the nation’s march to return to democratic rule in 1998. He would later become the National Deputy Financial Secretary of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) after a while.
In 1999 Irona answered yet another clarion call to serve his people when he contested and won election to represent Oguta State Constituency in the Imo State House of Assembly. Not losing sight of the fact of his call to service, he performed exceptionally in the House. He was the Chairman of the House Committee on Petroleum, Environment and Energy. As the head of this essential House Committee, the people’s servant, Irona, engineered the birth of the first ever Memorandum of Understanding between the oil companies operating in the state. His intervention in the oil sector helped in opening a new vista in the operation of the oil companies and made the oil producing communities assume their natural role of critical stakeholders. The impact is that MOU has become a precondition for oil companies to operate successfully in any of the communities where oil is found in the state. It has also opened rare opportunities for the oil producing communities to benefit from their God-given gift. If this is not service; what then is? Deputy Governor Gerald Irona has traversed both the Legislature and the Executive arms of government in his service to the people. This has equipped him with the unique experiences that are handy now in further serving the people as Deputy Governor. His representation of his people of Oguta State Constituency from 1999 to 2003 in the State Assembly remains one of the watersheds in the political representation of Oguta State Constituency. He finished his successful one term in the House in June 2003 to the warm embrace of his people and to yet another call to serve them as the Transition Committee Chairman of Oguta Local Government Area. An Engineer by training, Hon Irona served his people well as TC Chairman and that paved the way for his eventual emergence as the first Executive Chairman of Oguta Local Government to be elected un-opposed.
In 2011 he won election into the House of Representatives where he made his people proud once more in the 7th National Assembly. He was a member of the Presidential Committee on Verification of Oil Wells in the Niger Delta and contributed immensely to the identification, demarcation and return of hitherto ceded oil wells to other states from Imo State back to Egbema and Oguta oil fields in Imo State. This feat remains astronomical and unbeaten. Moving a notch up, he contributed immeasurably to the establishment of the 13% Oil Derivation that captures the concerns of the Niger Delta area, among which is Imo State. He also played prominent roles for the inclusion of Imo State as a member state of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC).
Armed with his charming charisma, experience, humility, exposure, courage and _contacts_, Irona warmed himself into the heart of the leadership of the House. He became the sole representative of the entire Southeast in the crucial Selection Committee. This Committee was saddled with the responsibility of dividing the entire House membership into different committees to oversight the different ministries, departments, agencies (MDAs) and activities of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. Subsequently, he became the Deputy Chairman of the House Committee on Gas Resources. He was a member of several strategic committees, spanning from Power, NDDC, Petroleum Upstream, Local Content, Sports, Privatization and Commercialization, and Housing and Habitat. He was also a member of the House Committee that investigated the controversial fuel subsidy regime in the country and came out unscathed.
Rt. Hon. Gerald Irona had a remarkable tenure in the House of Representatives. His tenure is noted for moving the motion for urgent national importance on the need for the Federal Government to intervene in the devastation of Ohaji/Egbema/Oguta and Oru West communities by the flood disaster of 2012. He also moved the motion for the Minimum Wage which was aimed at ensuring that the various state governments did not renege on the payment of the Minimum Wage agreed between Labour and the Federal Government. Hon. Irona also intervened in the arbitrary selling of assets of the Federal Government when he moved a motion on the need to halt incessant selling of Federal Government assets by multinational oil companies. On the incessant killings and wanton destruction of properties by rival cults in Obiakpu, Egbema, in Ohaji/Egbema-Oguta Oru West Federal Constituency, he moved a motion on the floor of the House to stop it.
Beyond his superlative legislative performances, Irona was close to his people and he felt their pains. In many occasions he took actions to ameliorate those pains and supported the lives of his constituents by planting smiles in their faces. He secured jobs for graduates in his constituency. He expedited the employment of more than 20 graduates into Federal Government agencies, such as: NAFDAC., the Nigeria Police Force (NPF), National Lottery Commission, Federal Polytechnic Nekede, Alvan Ikoku College of Education, Nigeria Content Development and Monitoring Board (NCDMB), Nigerian Immigration Service, Nigerian Prisons Service, Nigeria Oil Spill Detection and Response Agency (NOSDRA), etc.
He also brought as constituency projects the construction and reticulation of water schemes, notably at Mgbidi in Oru West LGA, Egwe and Abiaziem in Oguta LGA. He provided solar water projects at Umuoso in Ohaji/Egbema LGA, Amorie Ubuiu in Oru West LGA, Assaa in Ohaji/Egbema LGA, Obile in Ohaji/Egbema, Ndionyemobi in Oguta LGA. He provided hand pumps at Nwari in Ohaji/Egbema LGA, Obudi, Enuigbo and K/Beach in Oguta LGA. In rural electrification, Irona provided solar street lights for his constituents in Orsu-Obodo/Nnebukwu, F.A Nzeribe Road and Awucha Crescent, Egwe in Oguta LGA. He installed 500KVA transformer each at Awucha Crescent, Egwe New Layout, Ezi-Orsu, Ndiuloukwu & Egwe – all in Oguta LGA; Mgbidi and Nempi/Eleh in Oru West LGA. He was not found wanting in road construction. It is to his credit that Omoka-Egbema-Oguta Motel-Izombe Road was constructed. He also constructed the 4Km Road at Umuagwo-Umuoso in Ohaji/Egbema; the construction of road/erosion control at Awucha Rd. Egwe in Oguta and the Eneka/Enugu/Philp Udoma Road in Oguta.
Irona made history once more when he was elected Deputy Governor of Imo State on March 11, 2019, alongside the Rt. Hon. Emeka Ihedioha as Governor. Since assumption of office on May 29, he has carried on with the functions of his office with amazing commitment, dexterity and loyalty. In line with the Governor’s commitment towards ensuring a secure and peaceful Imo State, the Deputy Governor has demonstrated the Governor’s uncommon commitment towards a peaceful, secure and prosperous Imo State by tackling the insecurity in some parts of the state such as Ohaji/Egbema, and some parts of Oguta Local Government Area, including Agwa Clan.
The Deputy Governor has had meaningful discussions with some youth leaders, community leaders, traditional rulers, religious leaders and leaders of thought across the political divide in the area, with a view to fashioning out a lasting solution to the security challenge in the area known for its large deposit of crude oil and other natural resources. During one of the meetings with stakeholders drawn from Ohaji-Egbema/Oguta local government areas on Sunday, July 21, 2019, the theme of the security challenges in the state and the oil rich communities in particular dominated the discourse. The Deputy Governor said the security of the state was very important for the development of the people, noting that some of the youths in the area were abusing the amnesty granted to them by the last administration in the state. Warning that no one should take the amnesty for granted, he said that the state government would not be giving fresh amnesty to anyone, and that the government would deal with those who foment trouble after they had got the amnesty. “Those of them given amnesty are on our watch list. If they involve in any form of criminality, we shall withdraw the amnesty” (sic), he said.
In an earlier meeting with some leaders of Oguta Ward A on June 15, 2019, at his home in Oguta, the Deputy Governor reiterated his love and commitment to the service of the people and towards their development, underscoring, also, the fact that peace and security were inseparable ingredients to the development of the area. He said: “I love my people and I cannot let anyone destroy this place. I will use [my] position to make peace in Oguta Local Government, Orlu Zone and Imo State in general. Gone are the days some people behaved as they liked. We have suffered insecurity so much in our communities and it cannot continue. If you shoot a gun anywhere in Oguta LGA or elsewhere in the state, you will pay for it. Imo people are used to moving about freely, even in the night, and no one should try to cause trouble”.
Beyond the oil producing local governments, the state government is taking measures to restore peace and security elsewhere where there are security challenges. For example, the state government has taken measures to restore peace and security in Obowo Local Government. The government understands that peace and security are prerequisite for meaningful development, and that government cannot do much for the development of the communities in the absence of peace and security.
Throughout his 53 years on earth, His Excellency Rt. Hon. Gerald Irona, has remained consistent with his ideals of commitment, sincerity, doggedness, humility and loyalty. Above all, he has demonstrated to all that there is strength in service to the people when it is borne out of love. He is the symbolism of faith in the Almighty God. Above all, he is graphic demonstration that good deeds never go unrewarded.
Happy birthday, Your Excellency Rt. Hon. Gerald Irona.
Collins Ughalaa could be reached via email, firstname.lastname@example.org, or via telephone, 07066222944.