This is a brief attempt to answer the question below from Igboville:
[” Facebook Group – IGBOVILLE QUESTION”
Please help me out here. A young friend of mine asked me who is the greatest governor of Igbo origin. Am torn between Chief Samuel Iheonunaka Mbakwe and Sir Michael Okpara. What do you think? Please give reasons for your position.]
ATTEMPT AT AN ANSWER – by Dr. S. Okechukwu Mezu
They lived in different times and clime. Dr. Michael Okpara was the Premier of Eastern Nigeria (Today’s South-Eastern states (Imo, Anambra, Abia, Enugu, Ebonyi) and parts of South-South states (Rivers, Akwa Ibom and Cross Rivers). He was not elected but chosen over Barrister R. Amanze Njoku and Prof. Eyo Ita and leader of NCNC in the Eastern House of Assembly by Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe who was heading back to the national scene Lagos preparatory to the Independence of Nigeria. The headquarters of Eastern Nigeria was at Enugu. There were initially three regions – Eastern Nigeria, Western Nigeria and Northern Nigeria. A fourth Region was added later Mid-Western Nigeria comprising present Delta, Edo and Bayelsa states more or less. Nigeria during Dr. Michael Okpara’s time was a Federation and the Regions could exercise almost the full powers of a nation with the exclusion of non-concurrent powers like Defense & Police Affairs, External Affairs, etc.) Each Region depended mostly on internally generated revenue – East Nigeria on Palm Oil, Western Nigeria on Cocoa, Northern Nigeria on Groundnuts and their pyramids.
Dr. Michael Okpara was a strong, able, astute leader and more confrontational than Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, the former Premier, who handed over to him to become Governor later ceremonial President of Nigeria following Independence on October 1, 1960. Dr. Michael Okpara set up Adapalm which helped fund the establishment of the University of Nigeria at Nsukka, a Land grant institution modelled on the US Michigan State University system. It successfully challenged the University of Ibadan (formerly University College of Ibadan (UCI) then with Prof. Kenneth Dike as the Principal/President and Dr.E.C. Edoziem and the Dean of the College of Medicine. Michael Okpara’s government set up among other industries Golden Guinea Breweries in Umuahia (Independence Brewery) one of the first in the country, Ceramics Industry, Umuahia. He and his colleagues Dr. Akanu Ibiam – Governor of Eastern Nigeria – (Afikpo), Prof. Eyo Ita (Calabar) Barrister R. Amanze Njoku (Emekuku), Dr. Jaja Nwachukwu (Ngwa), Justice C. J. Mbanefo (Onitsha) to mention a few ran a government of skilled intellectuals and professionals unlike today where touts and rabble-rousers dominate. They set up Government Colleges in Enugu, Owerri, Afikpo and Umuahia with the highest of standards and competition. Life was simple, food was abundant and cheap and farming was the main employer and the population was mostly rural. Under this regime, people were healthier and better than they are today. In the urban areas. where there was light, Electricity Corporation of Nigeria (ECN), it was steady, regular and reliable. The Post Office was efficient and mail from Nigeria to the United States was delivered reliably in one week to ten days. Scholarships to colleges and the Universities were provided to the few students then accommodated on the basis of excellence and need both on the Divisional, Provincial and Regional level. Dr. Michael Okpara supported General Ojukwu during the Biafra War, though during the end he genuinely disagreed (not openly) with the drafting of young, unprepared and poorly equipped Biafrans to the war front where some were mowed down by the better equipped Nigerian troops oiled and well-supplied by Britain and the Soviet Union.But unlike Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe who defected to Nigeria, Dr. Okpara stayed with Biafra till the end and went on Diplomat missions for Biafra to France, Ivory Coast, Tanzania and Zambia whose governments Dr. Okpara heavily supported and funded during their struggle for independence. Dr. Okpara went into exile after the war and returned to Imo state before the 1979 elections. The roads in Eastern Nigeria were narrow, reasonably good then but lined on both sides by Oil Bean (Ugba) trees. Most were not macadamized but borrow pit earthwork maintained by a hard-working and dedicated crew of men each locally employed and assigned basically to each one mile of dirt road to fill pot holes and cut gutters to facilitate drainage and the run-off of water.
The regime of Dr. Michael Okpara was cut short by the coup d-etat of January 15, 1966 master-minded by Major Chukwuma Kaduna Nzeogwu, a brave, nationalistic and uncompromisingly ascetic first class soldier in thought, word and deed. During this coup the Premier of Northern Nigeria (Sir Ahmadu Bello), Prime Minister of Nigeria (Tafawa Balewa), Minister of Finance (Festus Okotie Eboh), Premier of Western Nigeria (S. L. Akintola) were killed amongst others. Dr. Michael Okpara was spared to the consternation of the rest of the country. General T. Aguiyi Ummunnakwe Ironsi, the most Senior Army Officer, and Igbo man, became President of Nigeria until the counter-coup that brought Colonel Gowon to power on July 29, 1966 and led to the killing of high ranking Igbo officers and Aguiyi Ironsi and his brave host Colonel Fajuyi as well as the pogrom and massacre of thousands of Igbo men, women and children in Northern Nigeria. The Civil War brought a concentration of power in the hands of central government of the “Federation” of Nigeria especially with the creation initially of twelve (12) states out of the existing four regions and more so with the establishment of the present thirty-six (36) states in the country.