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Joe Igbokwe: Advancing The Good Of The Igbo In Lagos State

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By Tochukwu Ezukanma

There is a preponderant representation of the Igbo in the ever burgeoning population of Lagos State. Secondly, the immense economic power of Ndigbo in Lagos is awesomely evident. One of our major concerns has been how to translate our enormous population and colossal economic power to commensurate political power in this heterogeneous state with its divergent and contending interests. Refreshingly, we have been quite successful in channeling our massive population and economic clout to political power in Lagos. More than any other Igbo, Joe Igbokwe has spearheaded the effort to make Ndigbo relevant in the politics of Lagos State.

In the words of a former President of Auto Spare Parts And Machine Dealers Association (ASPAMDA), Chief Anthony Ughagwu, “He is a very important and powerful personality in the government of the state. He is very close to the governor and other leaders of the party and government”. Igbokwe was therefore right when he described himself as “the gateway between Ndigbo in Lagos and the state government”. And, in his own words, “You cannot be in government and not deliver to your people”. Undoubtedly, he has delivered to Ndigbo in Lagos State. His tireless labor to advance our political, economic, and sometimes, humanitarian interests in the state has yielded copious dividend.

Although, for the most part, the Igbo hitched their political stars with the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Igbokwe made it possible for Ndigbo to benefit significantly from the All Progressive Congress (APC) governments of Lagos State. On the average, every five minutes, he receives a call from an Igbo in Lagos seeking his help in resolving a problem. Readily, routinely, he delves into these problems and delivers the needed results. These are in areas that include land (Omonile, C of O, etc), government regulations, LASTMA, police, court, jobs, education, financial help and moral support.

For example, at the Agric Building Materials Market in Coker, Orile, Lagos, the traders’ association had a long-running conflict with the Apapa/Iganmu Local Council Development Area (LCDA) government. There were a number of contending issues (price of trade permits, sanitation and environment and the politics of Iya Loja and Papa Loja) between the traders’ association and the LCDA government. The government was threatening to seal off the market until the conflicts were resolved. Frightened by the prospect of closing down this predominantly Igbo market, with its more than 3000 traders and hundreds of ancillary artisans and laborers, the then President of the Agric Building Material Market Association, Ebere Ifemeje, reached out to Joe Igbokwe; and Igbokwe intervened.

Igbokwe led the leaders of the association to a meeting with the chairman of the LCDA, and the matter was immediately resolved. Ebere Ifemeje was lyrical as he described the meeting. He said: the executive members of the association and I were going to the meeting somewhat nervous and apprehensive, not knowing what to expect from it. However, as we walked in, Igbokwe’s presence made all the difference. In deference to him, the LCDA chairman, who repeatedly referred to him as “my leader”, literally yielded the floor to him. And the meeting went from what I had expected to be a protracted, almost intractable negotiation to the chairman agreeing to all our demands. The trade permit hike was rescinded and the plan to bring in Iya Loja and Papa Loja into the market was shelved.

The Auto Spare Part And Machine Dealers Association (ASPAMDA) market is a magnificent fixture at the Trade Fair Complex. This massive, sprawling multi-edifice is a powerful testament to Igbo entrepreneurial spirit and hard-edge work ethics. It was originally built by Igbo auto parts dealers that relocated from Idumota. Presently, it has grown into one of the biggest auto parts markets in Africa. The traders in this international market chose three distinguished Igbo sons as their patrons: Senator Ifeanyi Uba, His Excellency, Peter Obi, and Joe Igbokwe.

Why was Joe Igbokwe chosen as one of their patrons? Chief Anthony Ughagwu enthused, “With his pivotal position in the government of Lagos, and his willingness to serve Ndigbo, we have regularly called on him whenever we needed the assistance of the state government. Secondly, he is a peace builder. He steps in and restores peace whenever, wherever the Igbo are having problems in the state.” At a point, the entire ASPAMDA was in crisis. Trouble was brewing everywhere. Embroiled in a series of conflicts, people were suing and counter-suing; there were many cases pending in court. Igbokwe came in and used the influence of the state government to restored peace. He encouraged the litigants to withdraw their cases from court, and many of the cases were settled out of court. His involvement brought peace to ASPAMDA. “With these”, Ughagwu said, “He earned my respect and the respect of the entire leadership of ASPAMDA. So, we made him our patron”.

Another ASPAMDA leader that prefers anonymity, said, “Igbokwe is a servant-leader. With his time, position and resources, he has been serving the Igbo in the state. No matter the problem or the complainant, he steps in to help, and most of the time, he facilitates a just and equitable settlement”. A litany of Igbokwe’s contributions to the advancement of the good of the Igbo in Lagos is beyond the scope of this article. However, the point is that his alternative political affiliation, coupled with his commitment to the service his people have been most advantageous for Ndigbo in Lagos, and by extension, Ndigbo in general.

Ironically, he has been a target of unremitting insults from some Igbo groups, especially, the separatist Igbo movements. In their narrow-mindedness, these groups see alternative political views as “disloyalty”, political bridge-building as “sabotage”, and political compromise as “selling out”. But then, differences in political views are the essence of democracy, and bridge-building and compromise are indispensible ingredients for success in politics, especially, in a multifarious country like ours.

With his broadmindedness and uncanny ability to strike that even balance that respects the delicate sensibilities of the Yoruba and accommodates the barging industriousness of the Igbo, Igbokwe brought increased opportunities, and open up new political vistas, for Ndigbo in Lagos State. In his own words, “You cannot be in government and not deliver…” In line with this declaration of his, he unquestionably delivered to the Igbo. For this, the Igbo are saying kudos to Joe Igbokwe.

Tochukwu Ezukanma writes from Lagos, Nigeria

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