By Jonathan Jibrin
Eleven years ago precisely 6th of November, 1999 the painful fangs of death had its bite on the Igala race. We lost our gem Dr Steven Makoji Achema in a ghastly motor accident on the Murtala Mohammed Bridge at Koton Karfi along the dreaded Lokoja-Abuja road.
He was on a mission to actualizing the Igala dream of producing a governor in PDP. The game plan was to first install an Igala man as the State Chairman of the party taking a lead from the Kayode Ige experience when as State chairman he made his kith and kin the flag bearer of PDP in the 1998 election. Before then, so much horse- trading had taken place in making the stake holders zero down on the choice of Chief John Odawn the Igala man to do the big job.
This task is not without treachery from his kinsmen. They went into an unholy alliance with the Okuns to undo the Igalas. Like the proverbial Old Major in George Orwell’s Animal farm, Dr. Achema never lived to see the actualization of this dream. It was realized four years later when in April 2003 Alhaji Ibrahim Idris became the governor of Kogi State under the PDP.
One remarkable thing about the many struggles of Dr. Achema was that he succeeded using the down trodden and the trivial-many in the society. The “high and Mighty” or the elites did not so much identified with his course until his demise. They considered him too radically minded or that he is not in the comprador class of bourgeoisie’s. He had no stint in the business of primitive wealth accumulation as compared to his political rivals. He identified very much with the Common man and maintained a low profiled life style typical of most men in the popular struggle. It is not uncommon for people to assume that he had confrontation with the traditional institution. His radicalism did not call for his being conscripted into the league of title holders in Igala land.
He turned down the offer of being beaded a chief in 1976 alongside Senator Dr Ahmodu Ali by the Ata Igala.Yet he revered the institution so greatly. The formation of ICDA was his brainchild together with late John Urah Ajibili. He mobilized the entire Igala people to close shop during the undignified treatment meted on the Ata Igala by the then Military administrator in Benue State Col. Abdulahi Sheleng when he placed the Ata on house arrest in 1976.
He was the most influential grass root politician among the Igalas . No politician enjoys overwhelming genuine support from the Igala people like Late Dr Steven Achema. They believed so much in his Ideals. He lived sacrificially among his people showing empathy to their plights many see him as a problem solver. He had unequaled political machinery that covers the entire Kogi State. He maintained a dynamic leadership structure among his ranks creating what he refers to as intermediary leadership cadre as part of his succession plans for the future. He had an informal political school were he sensitizes his followers on his ideological style of micro politics. So many politicians in Kogi State owe their rise to fame and success to Dr Steven Achema.
He built political bridges across the State to the advantage of the Igala people. The Likes of Late Alhaji A.T. Ahmed, Chief S.B. Daniyan, Alhaji Usman Obatemi Amb. Usman Bello Dr. Timothy Elukpo etc were all his allies. He was the chairman of the Political committee of the Midle Belt Forum. An association he used to enhance his contacts at the national arena of Nigerian political landscape.
He was a founding member of the PDP in 1998 and served in the national steering committee of the party at that time. He was a great confidant of the Likes of Professor Jerry Gana Late Alhaji Abubakar Rimi Chief Solomon Lar and ex President Olusegun Obasanjo. He used these contact to advance the Igala course. He was completely selfless in his voluntary service to the Igala people taking up worthy causes even at his own peril. A landmark instance is the 1998 governorship tussle which he prefered an Igala man on another platform to his party man from another tribe.
Dr. Steven Achema was appointed Senior Special Assistant to the President on Professional Bodies and Labour matters by President Olusegun Obasanjo in 1999.He used the position to enhance so many Igala people. He was extremely accessible while serving in that capacity. So much was his accessibility that his room at the Transcorp Hilton Abuja had high human traffic made up of mainly Igala people. It is a common phenomenon to meet Igala people either at the lobby or in the elevator at the Hilton Hotel Abuja all seeking to meet with Dr Achema .He died just four months in that Office.
It is very disheartening that despite all his sacrifices and investment to the development of the Igala race no body has taken the initiative to immortalize this symbol of our struggle for emancipation. I want to acknowledge very specially in my personal capacity the efforts of Mr Victor Adoji, Dr Emmy Idegwu, Mr. Francis Odiniya Dr. Armstrong Idachaba and our own dear Atayi Babs among others for their efforts in documenting the life of this great Igala Icon.
These individuals have committed their personal resources towards advancing the course Dr Achema started either in writing his biography or re-enacting his life in the literary circle. As an institution, the Igala people ought to have established a foundation similar to what the Tiv,s did for Late chief J.S Tarka , the Hausa people for Late Sir. Ahmodu Bello and Aminu Kano the Yoruba,s for Obafemi Awolowo etc.
On his burial day, there was a fund raising to cater for his kids since he left no estate as an inheritance for them. About four million naira was raised on that day and it was called the Achema Family Trust Fund. The Fund was administered by some members of Club 582 an association he co- formed. The money was used to train his kids at school since the eldest of them Daniel was just 20 years at the time he died. His house at the old GRA Idah, is in a very dilapidated state. Major political meetings holds there till date with high profile Igala people in attendance but none has taken the initiative of giving the house a face lift.It is common knowledge that Late Sardauna,s house was rebuilt after its destruction by the entire northern Nigeria in 1992.
They christened the rebuilt structure Arewa House. I use this occasion of the eleventh year of the demise of Dr Steven Achema to appeal to all Igala people world wide to come together so we can immortalize him. This we can do either as individuals or as a group.
His epitaph reads..”HERE LIES THE MAN THAT CAN BE TRUSTED” If Dr Achema is to look behind him, what will be his appraisal on his bequeathed legacies? May the labour of our heroes past not be in vain. We have heard enough rhetoric from our leaders; let us emulate this ever green symbol and apostle of change of the Igala race, Dr Steven Makoji Achema.
Amoma iye mi, ojo ki bumene chaka !