How do I begin to pay this tribute to a man who was the epitome of civility, the archetype of intellectualism, and the paragon of loyalty? How do I begin to mourn James Ocholi, whom you can describe as one of my right hand men in the quest to reposition our country, and fashion a land of peace and prosperity, where no man is oppressed?
A lot has been written about Ocholi since the tragic event of March 6, 2016, which took the life of our Minister of State, Labour and Employment, his wife, Blessing, and his son, Joshua. And a lot more will be written, for Ocholi was no mean man. He was a man among men, an Iroko in a forest of trees. How are the mighty fallen!
Among many other positive and pleasant things, I will always remember Ocholi for his loyalty to our beloved country Nigeria, loyalty to our party, the All Progressives Congress, and loyalty to our administration, in which he had served for just about 4 months, before death took him.
In 2011, Ocholi ran to be governor of Kogi State on the platform of our then party, Congress for Progressive Change (CPC). I believed so much in him, and in his ability to add value to the governance of his state, that I followed him round the state on campaign. We visited all the local governments, visited the paramount rulers, and urged the people to vote in a worthy man as governor. But politics is a peculiar game in Nigeria. The best often does not win. Ocholi did not win. But he bore it gracefully.
In 2015, he threw his hat into the ring again. He sought to be governor on the platform of All Progressives Congress (APC), a party he had helped midwife. He still did not win at the party primaries, an eventuality he bore gracefully again.
When the APC was being negotiated into existence among the Legacy Parties, Ocholi did a yeoman’s job, contributing his quota to the legal processes. This he did under a junior lawyer, who was not a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN) like him then. But what mattered to Ocholi was the birth of a strong, solid party, which could wrest power at the centre, and bring change to our country. Hierarchy is important in the legal profession, just as it is in the military. But Ocholi subordinated pride and ego, served under his subordinate, and APC was born.
Dream became reality.
Steadily but sure-footedly, he was part of the Change Cabinet, resolved to bring our country from out of the woods, and pedestal Nigeria among the greats in the comity of nations. Then the unthinkable happened. The Grim Reaper harvested Ocholi. What a pity! Sad and tragic. But we have this consolation: the departed has taught us fidelity, commitment and loyalty to party, to government, and to God.
He will be sorely missed.
MUHAMMADU BUHARI is President, Federal Republic of Nigeria
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