The people and Government of Anambra State have received with sadness the departure of two former First Ladies, Mrs Victoria Aguiyi-Ironsi, and Mrs Adanma Okpara, who died a day apart last weekend.
Mrs Aguiyi-Ironsi was the widow of Nigeria’s first military Head of State, Major General Johnson Thomas Aguiyi-Ironsi, who also the first indigenous General Officer Commanding (GOC), Nigerian Army.
Mrs Okpara, on the other hand, was the widow of Dr Michael I. Okpara, the Premier of the Eastern Nigerian Region from 1960 to 1966 when Nigeria experienced its first military coup d’etat. While Mrs Aguiyi-Ironsi died at almost 98 years, Mrs Okpara lived for 96 years.
These two First Ladies epitomized the old-age aphorism that behind every successful man there is a woman. They encouraged their husbands to serve the nation with their whole being, and Nigeria, as a result, became the better for it.
General Aguiyi-Ironsi was a great believer in national unity and progress. He appointed people from various parts of the country, regardless of their ethnicity or religion, on his personal staff and others into key positions.
By the time he was assassinated on July 29, 1966, he had no more than one hundred pounds in his bank account. This is an important lesson to the current Nigerian political class.
Dr Michael Okpara was no less altruistic. A medical doctor who served at different times as the Minister of Health and Minister of Agriculture in the Eastern Region in the 1950s before becoming the Premier for six years, Okpara had no house anywhere in the world until in the early 1980s when his friends and associates publicly contributed money to build a house for him in his homeland in Umuahia, Abia State.
No wonder, Eastern Nigeria was one of the world’s fastest growing economies by the end of Nigeria’s First Republic in 1966, as the government invested heavily in education, agriculture, manufacturing, tourism, mining, trade and commerce.
Dr Okpara implemented faithfully the Eastern Nigeria Economic Development Blueprint articulated by such thinkers as Dr Pius Okigbo, Africa’s preeminent economist.
The Great Zik of Africa, Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe who led Nigeria to independence, deserves great praise for recognizing the great potential in the relatively little known Dr Okpara and chose him, over and above his famous close friends and associates, to succeed him as the Eastern Nigerian Premier.
The glorious passage of the wives of General Aguiyi-Ironsi and Dr Okpara reminds all Nigerians that public service is a calling rather than an avenue for squandering of public resources and self-aggrandizement.
History will be kind to Mrs Victoria Aguiyi-Ironsi and Mrs Adanma Okpara for always encouraging their husbands to tread the path of honour, integrity and the common good.
May their noble souls rest in peace.
- Don Adinuba
Commissioner for Information and Public Enlightenment