GARLANDS TO HIGH CHIEF TOM IKIMI AS HE ETCHES HIS NAME IN THE SANDS OF TIME

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PROF MIKE OZEKHOME SAN, CON, OFR, FCIArb, LL.M, Ph.D., LL.D., D.Litt, D.Sc.

A famous Nigerian musician with the stage name, Patoranking, in his track, “Celebrate me”, admonished us on the need to celebrate and appreciate people while they are alive. High Chief Tom Ikimi, CON, FNIA KSG, D.Sc, the Akinrogun of Ife, the Inneh of Igueben, is, in the word of Patoranking, a “big name” and a towering figure in both stature and influence. He stands out as a beacon of resilience, wisdom, integrity and leadership.

High Chief Tom Ikimi, my elder friend and brother from Igueben, Edo State, was born on 10th April, 1944, in Kumba, Southern Camerouns. He attended the St. Joseph’s College, Sesse-Buea in Southern Camerouns; obtained a National Diploma in Building and Civil Engineering from the Midwestern Polytechnic, Auchi (the former Midwestern Nigeria, now Edo and Delta States); and a Bachelor’s Degree in Architecture from the Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, where he was a prominent member of the Students Union and the National Union of Nigerian Students (NUNS).

As a top Nigerian politician, Ikimi has, over the years, held various high-ranking positions in the Nigerian political firmament and has been involved in helping to midwife different political parties throughout his career. He was a foundation member of the then Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN); and he led the party to win the 2012 Edo State Gubernatorial elections. He was also a foundation member and national leader of the Advanced Congress of Democrats, inaugurating the party in Edo state on February 21, 2006. Other party activities were honourably executed in the All Peoples Party (APP); the People’s Democratic Party (PDP); and the All Progressives Congress (APC), the present ruling party.

The tenacious politician made a lasting mark as the pioneer Chairman of the National Republican Convention (NRC), one of Nigeria’s two leading political parties during the transition to civilian rule in the early 1990s. His main rival was the Social Democratic Party (SDP) chaired by Babagana Kingibe. However, the Babangida military junta had with military dicta suddenly dissolved the Ikimi and Kingibe cabinets in October, 1992. Subsequently, Chief Tony Anenih (fondly called “Mr. Fix it”) became the Chairman of SDP, while Dr. Hahmed Kusamotu became Chairman of the NRC. The election that produced Chief M.K.O. Abiola who roundly defeated his closest rival, Alhaji Bashir Tofa, by 8,341,309 (58.36%) to 5,952,087 (41.64%) votes was held under this latter leadership. Ikimi had indeed been active in Nigerian politics since the 1980s and has played significant roles in various political administrations.

One major contribution made by High Chief Tom Ikimi towards strengthening democracy is his pioneering involvement in the founding of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) in Nigeria. He was one of the founding fathers of the APC. He played a key role in the merger of several opposition parties to form the APC in 2013. The formation of the APC provided a formidable platform for opposition politics in Nigeria; and eventually led to the party’s victory in the 2015 presidential elections. This ended the 16-year rule of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP). However, in 2014, Chief Ikimi quitted the APC as he accused the party leadership of ignoring national sensitivities in the administration of the fledgling party.

Chief Ikimi’s political influence transcends mere party activities. Engaged in various movements advocating for democracy, good governance, and national integration, Ikimi embodies a commitment to Nigeria’s political development. It is worthy of note that during General Olusegun Obasanjo’s regime, Chief Ikimi and other prominent figures faced deregistration from the PDP. This had exposed the party’s agenda to eliminate internal opposition with a view to facilitating Obasanjo’s self-succession and transmutation agenda. In sharp response to this, chief Ikimi rallied with trusted allies to establish the Movement for the Restoration and Defence of Democracy (MRDD). This movement not only effectively challenged Obasanjo’s autocratic ambition; but it also championed democratic principles during these trying times.

On the diplomatic sphere, Chief Ikimi’s illustrious career exemplifies a remarkable dedication to diplomatic excellence and global leadership. Ikimi had served as the Special Adviser to General Sani Abacha in 1994 during which he prepared the memo that led to the establishment of the highly successful Petroleum Trust Fund (PTF). He later served as Nigeria’s Minister of Foreign Affairs in the heat of military dictatorship. Chief Ikimi’s diplomatic acumen shone brightly throughout that turbulent era. In April, 1995, he graced the international stage, leading Nigeria’s delegation to the Review/Extension Conference of the Parties to the treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) in New York, where his eloquent delivery of Nigeria’s national position left an indelible mark on the global scene.

Furthermore, his leadership was evident at the Ministerial meeting of the Coordinating Bureau of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) in Bandung, Indonesia. Throughout his tenure, Chief Ikimi’s presence resonated at numerous international gatherings, including the 40th Anniversary Meeting of the Movement of Non-Aligned countries in Bandung, Indonesia, and the Ministerial meeting of the Coordinating Bureau of the Non-Aligned Movement in Cartagena, Colombia.

Ikimi’s role in representing Nigeria at various sessions of the United Nations General Assembly and Security Council, articulating Nigeria’s stance on various issues with eloquence and authority, underscored his unwavering commitment to advancing the nation’s interests on the global stage.

Before his political engagements, Chief Ikimi in the realm of professional calling, had established his own architectural practice in 1977. Over the years, he demonstrated remarkable prowess in executing a diverse range of projects, encompassing private residences, sports facilities, office complexes, and industrial buildings, both locally and internationally. Notably, his architectural firm achieved international recognition and fame when it won the prestigious competition for the design of the new OAU office and conference Centre projects in Addis-Ababa, Ethiopia. Recognized for his contributions in the field of Architecture, he attained the status of Fellow of the Nigerian Institute of Architects (FNIA). Beyond architecture, Chief Ikimi has cultivated successful business ventures spanning construction, trade, and farming, showcasing his versatility and entrepreneurship.

In recognition of his unquantifiable contributions to community development, Nigerian politics and public service, Tom Ikimi was honoured with the title of High Chief Oduma in his native Igueben Kingdom. “Oduma” simply means lion. Ikimi is indeed the roaring lion. While his career has seen both highs and lows, his achievements have left indelible footprints on Nigeria’s political landscape.

Today, as I reflect on Chief Ikimi’s illustrious journey, I am reminded of his unwavering commitment to service and dedication to the betterment of his country. Throughout his exemplary career, Ikimi has exemplified the noblest virtues of selflessness and sacrifice, always placing the needs of the country and others above his own. No wonder Pope John Paul II in 1993 honoured him with the revered Knighthood of St. Gregory the Great (KSG). Rivers State University of Science and Technology followed suit when he was honoured with the Honourary Degree of D.Sc (Architecture). 

Chief Ikimi’s leadership has been characterized by rare vision, foresight and wisdom in guiding countless individuals and organizations towards greater heights of success and prosperity. His innate ability to inspire and empower those around him has been instrumental in fostering positive change and development on both local and national scales.

Beyond his sterling professional achievements as an accomplished architect of global fame, Chief Ikimi is cherished for his warmth, compassion, empathy and humility. He possesses a rare gift of connecting with people from all walks of life, forging meaningful relationships and alliances built on trust, respect, and mutual understanding.

I celebrate Chief Tom Ikimi’s today, not only for his remarkable accomplishments, but also for the countless lives he has touched and transformed. May the Oduma’s indelible legacy continue to inspire generations to come, serving as guiding light and beacon of hope for all who aspire to make a difference in the world. Through his smiles and affability, the taciturn Oduma lights up dark crevices, energises tired muscles and rekindles hope to the hopeless, hapless and vanquished citizens of Nigeria – the hoi folloi; the Frantz Fanon’s “Wretched of the Earth”.

Happy birthday to a great Pan-Nigerian patriot! May all your days be filled with joy and love in appreciation of all that you are; all that you have don; and all that you stand for.

Let me end this tribute to this towering Nigerian and luminous man of many parts by quoting Edgar Allan Poe, “Life is a song – sing it. Life is a game – play it. Life is a challenge – meet it. Life is a dream – realise it. Life is a sacrifice – offer it. Life is love – enjoy it”.

So, Oduma, enjoy life to the fullest as you hit the octogenarian age. Beyond this, receive Genesis 6:3. It is your portion.

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