He does not belong to the first generation – the generation of Paul Acheme Anyebe, Morgan Ogbole and Joe Omakwu. These three were the star signifiers, the ones who had broken into the exclusive elite world from the backwaters of Idomaland and were the pace setters, the ones that others wanted to be like. This is more so that all three were artists aside from being lawyers. Joe Omakwu, for instance, is the one who sang ‘Achenche’ of which only the types of Prof Isawa Elaigwu or Prof Armstrong Adejo would be intellectually competent to give a more precise English translation. Even then, it is doubtful if Elaigwu or Adejo would come up with a translation that captures the depth of what it suggests. But if they succeed, ‘Achenche’ would sit comfortably in the company of similar concepts about love in world cultural production.
No, John Ochoga does not belong in that generation but he is still a chip off that block in the restlessness, stubbornness and the spirit of merit that were their stock in trade. And which got most of them into trouble because they would not do what many do to either become rich or powerful. They made their names as lawyers, were sticklers for certain standards and moral minimums but were never rich by the standards of today. Justice Acheme Anyebe, for instance, was fighting till his last days.
John Ochoga and all the members of his own generation – his should be the third, the second being the Justice James Ogebe group – are not rebels but they are all hard nuts to crack. In the case of Ochoga, this is a frail Benue Plateau boy who went not to Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria but to the University of Ife, Ile-Ife in those days. He did not just attend the university, he caused so much commotion in students union politics while there. Today, he is one of the few Middle Belt elite with class or school mates from that background. This is not that common as most other levels of integration such as business, professional practice or politics do not have the depth of school/class mates.
As now about the most senior practicing politician in Idomaland with the exception of Senator Ameh Ebute, his trajectory as detailed above, his exposure and his overall location in the processes all matter. The dynamics of politics would mean that we cannot talk of him as a saint but no one would say John Ochoga has organised to cheat him or her; that Ochoga is not fair or has failed to consider the younger ones. Nobody has ever mentioned that Ochoga discriminates against others. The way these qualities are spoken of behind his back is also the way they are publicly articulated. The evidence can be found in Senator George Akume’s tribute to Ochoga at 67. Akume who is the highest state official from Benue State at the federal level now says of Ochoga as an advocate of peace, fair play and justice as a lawyer and, as a politician, “a man of immense political courage, wisdom and commitment to his convictions and inclination to democracy, good governance, whose impact remains a significant and permanent signpost in the history and development of Benue State and beyond”. It won’t take long before more of such messages floods everywhere.
To get this consensus across generational, ethnic and religious fault lines in a highly republican society as in Benue State or Idomaland where each person is his/her own king/queen is a feat. Above all, he does not operate by the rule of the thumb. His perspective is understandably the perspective of law and the legal. That makes him a technocrat. And that also raises the question of what next for John Ochoga at 67.
The Idoma nationality is on a massive campaign that the next governor of Benue State must be an Idoma man or woman. Ochoga’s name came up in several interviews in a recent survey of who could best play that role if that reality comes about. But, in all cases, it was said Ochoga is not the type who will thrust himself forward to say, “I am here. I want to be governor”. In that case, unless Benue voters choose to repeat the experiment of giving power to a humble fellow who is not wealthy such as it did in 1991 by voting in Reverend Father Moses Adasu, then John Ochoga might be out of the race even before it has started.
And if he wouldn’t go about begging and he has no money to buy positions, then the Federal level might also elude him even as his own self is needed within the context of sanitizing Nigeria. Well, miracle could happen. And it should happen. It is not so that a John Ochoga must get Federal appointment for its own sake. Rather, it is so that we can see if John Ochoga would, given his pedigree, contribute anything unique to moving Nigerian politics in the direction that John Odigie-Oyegun was articulating in an interview about two weeks ago. The former APC Chairman was saying that Nigerian politics should have moved beyond the violence and roughness that define it now to politics of higher ideals. Oyegun’s interview raises the question of the persons or agency that can make it happen. John Ochoga is not too old to serve.