Chimaroke Nnamani: doctor, governor, senator, orator and his ebeano revolution
Doctors save lives. Governors do by improving the lives of those they rule. Senators make laws to make all that of possible and orators, especially talented ones, get people to listen to any worthy achievement or otherwise of a doctor, governor or senator.
As most Nigerians know, Chimaroke Nnamani is all of that rolled into one, an incredible mix of very demanding positions in just sixty years. He was two-term governor of Enugu state from 1999 – 2007 and then senator from then till 2011. Nnamani’s political career took an unexpected plunge afterwards rendering him almost irrelevant in the political space he himself created in his state.
But like the Phoenix rising from the ashes of defeat, Nnamani is presently a member of the Upper House in the National Assembly having won last year’s senatorial election under the Peoples’ Democratic Party representing Enugu East senatorial zone. He is a medic who, along with his legislative duties, finds time to attend to patients in distress – family, friends and colleagues or just about anywhere he can lend a hand to relieve a pain, encourage invalids with the reassuring bedside manner of a family doctor.
His oratorical skill is as potent as ever, from when he deployed it to become President of the Nigeria Medical Students Association, University of Nigeria Nsukka, through his years as governor when he was very much in demand as a public speaker and as a senator.
The story has been told of Nnamani as vice chairman of Senate Committee on Foreign Relations helmed by his senior colleague and cardiologist, Professor Jibril Aminu. In his absence, Prof. Aminu was said to have mandated Nnamani to do a presentation on his behalf.
Aminu’s vice, fittingly in the same medical profession, went on to deliver extempore the Committee’s voluminous findings without break for more than one hour, holding his colleagues spellbound such that, as a reporter later wrote, “you could hear a pin drop” in the hallowed chambers.
For some other politician, it would have been a filibuster, possibly sending some of his colleagues to sleep. But not Nnamani! His presentation was so flawless and very well delivered without stealing a glance at his notes prompting David Mark, senate president at the time, to commend him thusly: “This is a unique and exceptional kind of Senator. Good job, Senator Chimaroke Nnamani.”
He also acquitted himself well as a member of several committees in the 9th Senate, showing an early bias for and championing issues on and about women/ girl child. Nnamani, an admirer has written of his time in the Upper House, demonstrated “an unwavering support for the rights of women perhaps because of his calling as an O&G with sub-specialization in foetal and maternal medicine. Some of the issues the distinguished senator has continued to champion unrepentantly include the fundamental rights of women, right to freedom of expression, right to political and economic emancipation as well as right for self-determination and discovery.”
For someone who has shown a demonstrable concern for women, it is no surprise Nnamani is the only male member of the Senate Committee on Women Affairs. “Nnamani has continued to identify with Nigerian women,” another admirer has said, “as manifested in his consistent contributions to issues of women and girl child.”
Indeed, the former governor’s concern for women/ girl child isn’t only on paper or just making laws that will favour them. No! Nnamani took a step further by registering and paying the fees for female students in 68 public schools in his senatorial zone for the 2020 WAEC. Many of the beneficiaries are indigent students and with WAEC results recently released, a good many young women and their guardians in Nnamani’s senatorial zone will forever remain grateful to him.
At just about any occasion, Nnamani has shown his more than casual concern for the female folk. For instance, during the International Women’s Day held in Abuja this year, Nnamani showed, once again, “his commitment to standing up for the voiceless, downtrodden, deprived, stigmatized and mistreated female folk.”
As an African, he understands too well the position of women in mostly patriarchal societies where they are denied access to education, right to own property or elective posts, describing such practices “as absurd and retrogressive.” Only recently, Nnamani lamented the rising cases of violence against women/ girl child, insisting that “the female folks deserve to be encouraged because the Nigerian, nay, African women have over the years contributed positively to development and have excelled in various fields of human endeavor.”
Nnamani was born on 30 May 1960 in Port Harcourt but began his primary education at Methodist Primary School, Agbani Road Enugu and then College of Immaculate Conception in the same Coal City. His teachers would have recognized Nnamani’s more than average intelligence from the onset, just as they did in College of Medicine, University of Nigeria, Nsukka, where he read Obstetrics & Gynecology, graduating among the top of his class. On scholarship in American universities thereafter, the Nigerian doctor demonstrated his superior intellect as well, leaving some of his professors in stunned admiration. Why won’t they?
All through his academic life in the States, Nnamani was involved in more than half a dozen researches in as many institutions of higher learning where he had his post-graduate training: he is a trained molecular cytologist with special interest in uterine smooth muscle contractility and cell-to-cell communication; an O&G specialist with sub-specialization in foetal and maternal medicine; Perinatal Biology at College of Medicine Loma Linden University in southern California; Inter-Faith Medical Center, Brooklyn New York.
Nnamani’s clinical interests include premature labour and high risk pregnancy, obstetrics ultrasound, perinatal diagnosis and genetics, etc. Of course, it follows that with these various research interests, Nnamani would have had more than a dozen publications in medical journals. He has, one of which is Biology of Reproduction published in 1994.
An exceptional scholar, Nnamani will bring all of that to bear in his political career when he joined the political train in 1999. Writing of his scholarly disposition in Leadership newspaper published in 2018 in “The Return of Ebeano” Mumeh, a commentator, described Nnamani as “a highly cerebral personality, he brought scholarship into governance. To his credit, Dr. Nnamani introduced a new lexicon into the political arena in 1999 when he coined the phrase ‘Dividends of Democracy’.”
For his eight years as governor, the people of Enugu more than benefitted from the ‘dividends of democracy’ as envisaged by the Nnamani. While citizens of nearby states complained incessantly of the lack of government presence in their lives by way of infrastructural development, those in Enugu witnessed a comprehensive make-over of towns and cities, institutions and roads under Nnamani.
Perhaps because of his medical profession, Nnamani, remodeled Enugu State University Teaching Hospital and College of Medicine, Parklane in Enugu. Not stopping there, he built a new permanent campus for Enugu State University of Technology and Enugu Campus of the Nigerian Law School in Enugu.
What about the roads and landmark projects executed during his tenure? There is the Ebeano Tunnel, for instance, dualization of Rangers Avenue and Chime Avenue, and opening new routes linking Nza Street and Chime Avenue in the same city. He also built a new Judiciary Headquarters and International Conference Centre in Enugu. Taking his development projects outside his own state, the governor built a modern Enugu State Building in Abuja while some of his contemporaries were more concerned about having choice properties in the Federal Capital Territory.
Also, while some of his colleagues at the time serially deadbeat on salaries, Nnamani paid civil servants and pensioners promptly, making Enugu state under his command one of the few states in the country where government employees never went on strike for whatever reason. In a way, Nnamani was only putting to practice what would later define his career as a politician – Ebeano revolution/ movement.
Revolutionaries never really die, Fidel Castro famously said. It isn’t that those who make sweeping changes either through arms or ideas in their societies do not experience physical death in the estimation of the former cigar-chomping enigmatic late Cuban dictator. It is that their ideas often outlive them long after they are gone. Lenin, Trotsky, Mao, Guevara are still considered iconic figures among world revolutionaries today.
Nnamani effortlessly carried out this revolution in his natal state without a shot being fired. The revolution he spearheaded, as any man from across the Niger can tell you, is called Ebeano, translating roughly into “where we are today” in the scheme of things – politically, economically, socially and so on.
Although some over eager writers have described Ebeano as a political dynasty, it isn’t exactly that mainly because of the time frame. In the real sense, political dynasties last more than the two decades Ebeano has been on as a movement. Even so, it is a successful revolution that has stood the test of time despite some differences among its members sometime back.
Thankfully, Ebeano reunited as a family just recently. Commenting on the reunification of the movement in The Guardian of 1 October 2020, Lawrence Njoku wrote that the Ebeano revolution is back on track after witnessing a reunion of the core members of the group this last September at Lion Building in Enugu State House.
There was the host himself, Governor Ugwuanyi, who was more than delighted to pool together previously warring members such as Nnamani and his protégé, Sullivan Chime. There were other party bigwigs ranging from senators to members of the House of Representatives, House of Assembly, local politicians and traditional rulers. For the first time in years, most of the politicians would be meeting one-on-one, and they were all there under the umbrella of Ebeano.
In his report, Njoku described Ebeano as movement of “equality and absolute loyalty, the group made waves as its activities grew to the point of dictating the mood of politics. Its endorsement was as good as a victory for any person vying for elective position in the state.”
According to Dan Shere who facilitated the meeting and onetime Secretary to Enugu State Government under Nnamani, “Ebeano is about the dream for Enugu and its people. A dream for industry, initiatives, trade and inventions in Enugu, a dream for a total transformation of the entire landscape of Enugu, a dream for poverty alleviation in Enugu through ensuring that the economy sits in the hands of artisans and the middle class, a dream of sustained, standardized urban renewal, a dream for stimulation of rural development, and dream for the people of Enugu to smile…a dream for the universal brotherhood that the Wawa people are known for, a dream for people honesty, a dream for people of hard work and a dream of people who welcome others”
Nnamani himself clarified what Ebeano stands for if anyone was ever in doubt. “Politics is a serious business. It is the equality of leverages to balance interests. In Ebeano, we have no major or minor stakeholders but equal stakeholders. You can become whatever public office can offer in this democracy. But you must continue to demonstrate loyalty and support.”
Aside his contributions to the development of his state as a governor and the country as a lawmaker, Nnamani is also an accomplished public orator, which is why, at any given opportunity, people seek him out to deliver public lectures, to hear his erudition. For one, he started off the Ebeano Lecture Series. Moreover, there are quite a number of lectures and presentations to his name that could make up a sizeable tome if compiled together. Some are “Transition Politics and Nigeria’s Search for Sustainable Democracy.” It was delivered as the first edition of the Post Express Anniversary Lecture Series at MUSON Centre in Lagos in July 2001.
“National Question in Nigeria and the Democratic Experience” was delivered at the Main Auditorium of the University of Lagos organized by the Department of Political Science in the same institution. There have been countless others by as many professions such as the one Nnamani gave titled “Reflections on Architecture as Social Mirror: The Enugu Perspective” at the Nigeria Institute of Architecture organized by Enugu State Chapter of Nigeria Institute of Architecture at Federation Hall of Hotel Presidential in Enugu.
From his numerous lectures and considering the diverse topics he has had to talk about, Nnamani is seen as one with an eclectic knowledge, a man who is not limited to his medical profession.
In compiling this compendium of sixty prominent Nigerians at sixty in which Nnamani commands a rightful place, some coincidences were hard to pass by: a good number of them distinguished themselves from early on – in primary and secondary school up to university and their professional careers – as if they were clearly above their peers. They were, and through no fault of theirs, perhaps through nature and nurture or both, or just pure luck.
Again, many of them have identified with the less privileged despite their lofty positions. Nnamani is one such example. Hear him, for instance, on his disposition towards the poor anywhere in Nigeria or even the African continent: “I have a social burden for Nigeria and there is the urgent need for this giant of Africa to wake up and champion the process of real development in the continent,” Nnamani has said. “I want to be part of a process that will debate on the project Better Nigeria and to ensure that my constituents get what they deserve as an integral part of this country. I am interested in the fight against poverty, hunger and disease. I will strive to ensure that the health and wellbeing of women and children are given priority. I crave for an egalitarian society where peace, equity and justice reign.”
It couldn’t have better said than the man who began a revolution we now know as Ebeano.