By DAN AMOR
There is no doubt that brains and looks appear to be the unassailable clinchers these days as far as political leadership is concerned. In fact, the advanced democracies of the world discovered this mystery at the dusk of the twentieth century. In the United States of America, for instance, brains and good looks did earn the Democratic Party a rare two-term spell under the youthful personage of the ever-voluble, hand-pumping and telegenic Oxford-trained lawyer, Bill Clinton. Even in Great Britain, the electorate, in 1997, demonstrated a certain unabashed bias for yapper, dapper looks with all the histrionic gestures and dramatic turns of phrases, when they elected Tony Blair of the New Labour, another Oxford-trained lawyer, then 43, as Prime Minister. He was the youngest in 187 years.
Consequently, the dourness of the British political landscape was dramatically but pleasurably transformed. To be candid, Blair did not only puncture, he also destroyed the veneer of cerebral vacuity and humourlessness his predecessor, John Major had unrepentantly imposed on the British public all through his dull and trepidated reign. Indeed, the all-rounded cerebral assiduity and charismatic dazzles of Bill Clinton on the American political scene during his two-term presidency is well known to all and sundry. Also, Barack Obama’s audacious political savvy as the first black American President of the United States, is a pointer to what age and brain can do in modern political leadership.
It is against this sparkling backdrop that we shall interrogate the political odyssey of Senator John Owan Enoh who turns 54 today. He is the immediate past senator presenting Cross River Central Senatorial district (2015-2019), the governorship candidate of the All Progressives Congress (APC) in the 2019 governorship battle in Cross River State and currently the secretary of the APC National Reconciliation Committee. A highly enterprising politician with an impressive sartorial grace, Sen. Owan Enoh can easily be ranked in the circle of Nigeria’s first rate, brilliant, good-looking and highly educated politicians. Given his cosmopolitan pedigree, his age and philanthropic temperament, it is not a surprise that the gallantry displayed by the ebullient and hardworking politician gave him up as the popular choice of Cross Riverians as their governor, if not for the charade of an election marred by violence, intimidation by state sponsored security operatives, divisive machinations by the Independent National Electoral Commission in the state and internal sabotage within the state chapter of the party, that robbed him of victory.
Born into the Catholic family of Pa Louis Owan Enoh of the rural community of Agbokim Waterfall in Etung Local Government Area of Cross River State, on Saturday June 4, 1966, the young Owan Enoh started manifesting the proclivity of a child of promise from infancy. At St. Gregory’s Primary School, Agbokim Waterfalls where he had his early education (1972 – 1978), Owan Enoh, like Achebe would say, that a chic that will grow into a cock would be spotted before ever it hatches, started showing all the attributes of a precocious child. He was humble, obedient, hardworking and brilliant. Again, at St. Augustine’s Seminary, Ezzamgbo in present Ebonyi State (1978 – 1983), he began to demonstrate prodigious intellect, clarity of thought as a boy with a voracious and undiscriminating appetite for knowledge and facts. Having passed his West African School Certificate Examination with distinction, he proceeded to the University of Calabar in 1984 to study Sociology. There, his exceptional brilliance shone forth in solitary, star-like splendour. In terms of academic ability, he was not only above average, he was roundly private and mysterious throughout the entire faculty of social sciences.
No wonder, he graduated with a B.Sc. Hons. Degree in Sociology ( Second Class Upper Division), and won the Best Graduating Student Award in the Sociology Department. Even in the Governor’s Office in Abeokuta, Ogun State where he did his mandatory National Youth Service ( 1989/90 ), his precocity never departed from him. As a star in the intellectual brigade of his generation on campus, John Owan Enoh was ferocious and tender, violent in thought and self-restrained in action, opinionated and non-judgmental, always calm and calculative within the exceptionally intimate, fractious, and sometimes, critical circle of brilliant students. With a singular ambition to develop a career in the academia, he went back to his department in the University of Calabar to take up an appointment as lecturer. His astute commitment to his job and dazzling intellectual orientation left a lasting impression in the memory of his students between 1991 and 1997 when he joined the fray on the hustings during the political transition of the late Gen. Sani Abacha.
Yet, before his forays into the murky terrain of Nigerian partisan politics, the ebullient and hardworking Owan Enoh had established himself as the young university don who could dazzle his students with his amazing intellectual prowess and with a streak of humility and generosity. What a way to invest in students! Therefore, it was no longer a surprise when he delved into the political arena in response to the 1997 Abacha political transition and won election to represent his people of Etung State Constituency on the platform of Grassroots Democratic Movement (GDM) in the Cross River State House of Assembly. The development of the human personality and the survival of the poor and downtrodden, ultimately became the thrust of his political philosophy. So, from the outset, it has been Sen. John Owan Enoh’s passion to share in the optimism of his people. Imbued with people-centred political coloration, the sky was no longer his limit but his footstool.
Undaunted by the cataclysm or eclipse of the Abacha transition following his sudden death in June 1998, he realigned with the currents by pitching tent with the All Peoples Party (APP) with his people still as the focal point of his representation. In the intervening or post-Abacha transition superintended by the administration of Gen. Abdulsallami Abubakar, Owan Enoh won again, and between 1999 and 2003, he served as Minority Leader and chairman of the Committee on Information in the Cross River State House of Assembly. In his eternal bid to invest in human capital development and capacity building, he embarked on massive renovation of schools and award of hundreds of scholarships to his constituents. His sterling performance, both in contributing to debates and practical development of his constituency endeared him to leaders of the majority and ruling party in the state and was consequently asked to join the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) on whose platform he won the 2003 general election to represent Etung and Obubra Local Government Areas in the House of Representatives. There, Hon. John Owan Enoh’s composite brilliance became a national advantage and a force to reckon with in the Nigerian journey.
His hardwork, thoroughness and transparent disposition was soon to earn him the respect and acclamation of his colleagues. Between 2003 and 2005, Hon. Owan Enoh was deputy chairman, Culture & Tourism; deputy chairman, Appropriation (2005 – 2007), chairman Committee of Finance (2007 – 2011), and chairman Committee on Appropriation (2011 – 2015). This was in addition to his membership of other standing committees of the House where he demonstrated very active presence and commitment. A man of great influence and outstanding recognition anywhere he goes, Sen. Owan Enoh was instrumental to the appointment of hundreds of his constituents into several Federal Government Ministries, Departments and Agencies. These include: Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS), Nigeria Customs Service, the Nigeria Police, Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC), Nigeria Immigration Service, Nigerian Army, Petroleum Trust and Development Fund (PTDF), Federal Mortgage Bank, Nigeria Security and Civil Defense Corps (NSCDC), Nigeria Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA), etcetera. His frankness, sagacity and commitment to his promises, as one who walks his talks, earned him the nickname “Senator-Talk-and Do” amongst his implacable admirers and beneficiaries of his numerous interventions.
Aside from his numerous engagements as chairman Senate Committee on Appropriation and member of other standing committees, Sen. Owan Enoh did not loose sight of his responsibilities to his constituents. In 2017, two years into his assignment in the Senate, he convened a town hall meeting at Ikom where he gave account of his stewardship to the people. Space would certainly not permit us to enumerate his achievements and interventions here. Yet, the fact that he invested massively in roads, water, health, education, and other people-oriented projects cannot be lost in our recent memory. But it was in the 8th Senate that Distinguished Sen. John Owan Enoh proved his mettle as a harbinger of hope in the Nigerian ideal. He has worked himself up the ladder of life as the tribune of his generation in a society in which Western education is the passport to privileged places. Given the ongoing mis-governance and the concomitant decadence in his state, and driven by his abiding zeal to extricate his people from this maze of social conflicts, Sen. Owan Enoh’s life ambition is to hold the key to the Governor’s Office at Leopard Town, Calabar in order to free Cross Riverians from the shackles of poverty and underdevelopment. As you savour the piquant aroma of your birthday cuisine today, here is yours sincerely wishing you: Happy birthday, Sir. Better days are still possible again in our state.
*Amor, journalist and public affairs analyst, was Media Spokesman for Sen. Owan Enoh’s Campaign Organization in the Cross River State 2019 Governorship election.