It seems difficult to find politicians in the mould of Senator Liyel Imoke. His name does not only ring a bell in Nigeria, but it means a lot of things to a lot of people.
If you ask a typical Cross Riverian, they will tell you a few things about their former governor. Some will say he is the one who took it upon himself to fix rural roads in the state. They remember him for that. Others will tell you how he empowered a lot of people while he was governor.
There are some who will be quick to talk about how generous he is with smiles. And this is true. Very true. Imoke smiles lavishly. It is said that he was one governor who gave his appointees the opportunity to grow. And that he used to do it with smiles.
If there is one man that the father’s name did wonders for, that person is Imoke. A lot of people believe that he rode on the wings of his father to fly into political fame and glory.
Born on July 10, 1961, Imoke attended the Mary Knoll College, Okuku, Ogoja, in present day northern senatorial district of Cross River State and then the Federal Government College, Enugu which both took place between 1973 and 1977. After his secondary education, Imoke gained admission into the University of Maryland, United States of America, where he studied and obtained a bachelor’s degree in international relations and economics in1982. He proceeded afterwards to the University of Buckingham, England, where he studied law and obtained his LL.B in 1985. He returned to the United States for his masters degree at the American University, Washington, D.C, before returning to Nigeria to attend the Nigerian Law School, after which he was called to bar in 1988.
Imoke practiced law in both United States and Nigeria, and later founded his law firm, Liyel Imoke and Co. in Lagos Nigeria.
At the age of 30, in the year 1992, Liyel Imoke was elected a Senator of the Federal Republic of Nigeria during the transitional regime of General Ibrahim Babangida. With that feat, he became the youngest Nigerian to be so elected into he nation’s highest law making institution.
Between 1993 and 1999, Imoke worked for Telsat Communications, Lagos; Value Mart Nigeria, Lagos, and Trident Petroleum and Gas, Lagos as Managing Consultant, Executive Chairman and Executive Director respectively.
He was appointed special adviser on public utilities by a former Nigerian President, Olusegun Obasanjo in 1999, and was later appointed special adviser on public utilities. In 2003, Imoke was appointed minister of power and steel. He was later moved to the ministry of education. In fact, at some point, he superintended over the two ministries.
While all of this were going on, Imoke, with his two political soulmates, Donald Duke and Gershom Bassey- usually called the three wise men of Cross River politics, ruled the state. It is said that the trio decided what happened in the state. They would sit and decide who would become what, before taking same decision to larger PDP family at the time. The trio were seen as inseparable friends. Anybody who wanted to go politically would have to consult them. In fact, it was even said that the only thing he trio never did together was to sleep in “the the other room” with their wives. Imoke and the other two, as it was believed then, planned that each of them would govern Cross River in their lifetime. Duke got in first, then left it for Imoke. But it is not yet clear if the last man standing- Gershom- will wear that same shoe in the months to come.
Imoke, as governor, was believed to have taken a few things for granted. His critics argue that he was not even very much conscious of proceedings at the elections petition tribunal that sacked him. It only dawned on him, perhaps, that things had fallen apart, when he was sent out of office by the court of appeal.
But Cross River people showed him love and returned him to office in style, beaming with his trademark smiles. It was the same smiles that open doors for him to secure a second term mandate from his people.
Imoke has seen some oddities and has been let down a few times. Today, as leader of the PDP in his state, he is obviously not a very happy man. His trusted people have left him for the APC. His successor, Prof Ben Ayade is no more with him. He left him, taking with him top politicians who were hitherto loyal to Imoke.
But the man still looks nifty, even at the age of 60. He seems to have overlooked the fact that some of the people he made politically are now loyal to someone else. The shock of the defection of Ayade, the shock of the defection of his own political generals, he shock of the takeover of the PDP secretariat by the governor, the shock of the olympotic mesmerization and the kinetic unsocketing of his PDP by Ayade didn’t give him heart attack. At least not publicly. So, give it to him, Imoke is a strong man. Perhaps, this is why many of his fans are celebrating his life and times. Sixty sure looks good on him.