Dr Uche Diala
About and before the 2015 general elections, I came across the name Lauretta Onochie. That name for some reason stuck and the person behind the name was to come mean something more to me as the years passed; not just because we were ardent supporters of GMB (as he was fondly called then) but because we shared some deeper values as I was to come to realise soon after.
It is often common for people to judge a book by its cover; to paint people with the same broad brush; judging people from a distance and based on generalized perceptions, idiosyncrasies and stereotypes often derived from hearsays and such other primordial sentiments.
A Little Background Information
It is crucial to state that before Mrs Lauretta Ifeanyi-Onochie returned fully and delved deeply into Nigerian politics and governance matters, she was an established expat professional in education of special needs children in the United Kingdom and she had cut her teeth in fine democratic ethos and values including multi party democracy and leadership; being a strong member of and grassroot organiser for the UK Conservative Party under which platform she ran for Council election.
In addition, unbeknownst to many she had also been deeply involved in pro-Nigeria and patriotic activism while in the United Kingdom. So much so that some elements especially a particular individual (name withheld) futilely tried to exploit her capacity, personality and influence for his selfish misadventure; a move which she vehemently resisted.
If it was not about the people or common interest of generality of Nigerian masses across board as against a self serving interest of a particular tribe or section, Lauretta onochie was not game. That her principled and nationalistic stance was to later put her in the cross hairs of those elements and made her a target of their furious abuse and attacks. That is a story for another day.
Furthermore, many people do not know that Lauretta Onochie self-funded her return to Nigeria; leaving a settled and established life and career in the United Kingdom out of sheer patriotism and conviction in her belief in Nigeria and the potentials offered by a Buhari Presidency.
Lauretta contributed her small quota as she selflessly and sacrificially participated fully, actively, effectively and efficiently in the activities that ultimately led to the victory of President Muhammadu Buhari in the 2015 presidential election with nothing promised nor given. Only a heart full of patriotism and conviction that a new Nigeria was possible and that if we truly desire change in Nigeria, we need to get off our complaining chairs and get our hands on the plough.
At the end of it all, fiat accompli she was set to return to the UK when she was appointed Special Assistant to the President on New Media. Not a few who truly knew her and her capacity felt it was a lowly appointment but not Lauretta Onochie. She took the job and the rest as they say is now history. She brought substance and verve to that position and in so doing; by dint of commitment, passion and hardwork became one of the voices and faces of the Buhari administration and one of the most consistent, focused, efficient and fiercely loyal and dependable Aides of the President.
The Amazon Lauretta Onochie
I was privileged to physically meet with Lauretta Onochie for the first time sometime after the 2015 Presidential election. I met her at her nondescript office then somewhere inside the federal secretariat Abuja. Our engagement was brief and brisk as she was headed to the Villa for a meeting but it was enough time for me to glean the strength of character, depth of patriotism, intelligence, grasp of issues and the personality that was Lauretta Onochie – straightforward, self confident with no unnecessary airs, no nonsense, cerebral and unassuming.
I recall it was in that meeting that she told me “just call me Lauretta”. I must confess that as an old school, well bred Igbo man and titled Chief steeped in the cultures and traditions of my people and Africa, I still find it uncomfortable calling her Lauretta considering she is my senior. But that is who Lauretta Onochie is and remains.
There is more.
As I watched her masterfully navigate the not always charitable tide of government and politics in a mostly male dominated; almost chauvinistic society that ours is, I saw a different part of her which is instructive. Not afraid to hold and voice strong views and not ready to pander or try to impress, she came up against fierce opposition even in trying to do her job but she refused to be pushed around or over and by so doing earned her place and respect; not by force of feminine consideration, tokenism or favouritism but rightly as an equal partner who had something to offer.
Of course, as expected that resoluteness earned her friends and foes alike both within and outside work circles; including litigations but she was not deterred. For Lauretta what was right, decent, appropriate and for the good of the administration and the country would always trump any personal considerations; including her personal safety. She is never afraid to fight the good fight.
In and through all these, unlike many others, Lauretta remained her true self; unchanged by the trappings of office and power. She, as I always say is one of the few who remained with us (progressives) in the trenches; relentlessly fighting the cause of good for Nigeria which is always her first and most important consideration.
Lauretta is never afraid to take principled positions; including positions which seemed at variance with that of her Boss or the Party. As I wrote in my first ever and only expose on her in 2021 in appreciation of her patriotism and service: “As a team player, Lauretta Onochie could acquiesce to a position for the common good but not before she has made her position and stand clearly known”. Examples of that abound.
When in 2020, the President nominated her as one of the Commissioners for the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), not a few people took up arms mostly from the opposition but most of those opposed to her appointment were ill informed and knew nothing about her person. No one to my knowledge questioned her competence and capability to do the job. Aside partisan issues, many simply had issues with how she did her job as aide to the President.
Hence in the heat of that INEC appointment debate, I wrote: “For me to accept or even dignify the notion that because someone visibly, devotedly and loyally supported Buhari and dillingently and bravely did one’s job of not allowing lie mongers and enemies of the state who mean nothing but harm for the nation to have their way, one should be denied the opportunity to serve at any level that one is qualified and has the right character for, including INEC, would make me a stupid person. Because the same sin Lauretta Onochie is accused of and being persecuted for, I am equally guilty of. .. But … she will never back down and she cannot be cowed from standing up for what she believes in.”
In truth, the President was sending Lauretta Onochie to INEC then having known her close range as a patriotic and strong willed Nigerian with integrity who could help bring much needed reforms to the electoral body. The President knew that if his own party the All Progressives Congress (APC) was going to do the unconstitutional or improper thing and Lauretta Onochie as an INEC Commissioner got wind of such, she would shoot it down before any other person. That is what Buhari himself would do in such a circumstance and that is the person and character of Lauretta Onochie that I know. That is all in the past now though.
Commendably, in spite of that ‘disappointment’ as it was seen by many of us progressives then, Lauretta Onochie remained undaunted, un-demoralised, dillingent and fiercely loyal to the President and the nation and committed to her job.
When in late November 2022, news broke of her appointment by President Muhammadu Buhari to chair the governing board of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), not a few Nigerians were excited for sundry reasons but those who have been privileged to have known her personally and worked with her closely like I have were excited for some specific and verified reasons worth mentioning.
Here is a true and patriotic Nigerian amazon with the character, resilience, temperament, dignity, integrity, self confidence, bravery, education, experience and intelligence; including native intelligence who is not afraid to thread where men thread yet with the humility, feminine flair, a mother’s instinct and milk of human kindness needed to pilot the NDDC through a period of rebirth, reform and transformation. I make bold to say that once again President Muhammadu Buhari has gotten it spot on.
According to the Chairman, Senate Committee on Ethics, Privileges and Public Petitions, Senator Ayo Akinyelure: “Since men had been managing the agency for a long time and there were no much significant improvement, Mr. President may think that the appointment of a woman could change a lot of things at the NDDC.”
Not one given to praise singing or impressionism, I feel that I have a moral and patriotic duty to tell Nigerians nay the world about the Lauretta Onochie I know. That I have done in brief. Hopefully we can in our majority rally round her in prayers and goodwill as she gets ready to embark on the onerous task of piloting the affairs of the NDDC for the benefit of the good people of the Niger Delta and Nigeria at large and to the glory of God.
God Bless Nigeria
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