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Dr. Michael Iheonukara Okpara

Posted by Webby on 10/13/2001 6:58:53 PM

Dr. Michael Iheonukara Okpara

Dr. Michael Iheonukara Okpara was the Premier of Eastern Nigeria and leader of the National Convention of Nigerian Citizens (NCNC), known at its birth as the National Council of Nigeria and Cameroon. He and Chief Dennis Osadebay of the Mid-West were the only Regional Premiers who survived the army revolt of January, 1966, in which two other premiers were killed.

An Ibo from Ohuhu, near Umuahia-Ibeku in the then Eastern Nigeria - Nigeria's first military ruler, Major-General J.T.U. Aguiyi-Ironsi, also came from Umuahia - Dr. Okpara was at 46 the country's youngest Premier. The son of a laborer, he was born in December, 1920. After attending mission schools, he went to the Uzuakoli Methodist College, near his village, and won a scholarship to the then Yaba Higher College, Lagos, to study medicine. Completing his medical studies at the Nigerian School of Medicine, Dr. Okpara worked briefly as a government medical officer before setting up private practice in Umuahia. While

.carrying on his practice, Dr. Okpara showed great interest in the Zikist Movement (named after Dr. Azikiwe), the militant wing of Dr. Azikiwe's NCNC which brought the independence struggle to a head in the late 'forties. After the shooting of rioting workers at the Enugu coal mines (1949), Dr. Okpara was one the Zikists arrested by the government for allegedly organizing the workers for political ends. He was later released. Following the granting of internal self-rule by Britain, Dr. Okpara was elected to the Eastern House of Assembly in 1952 on an NCNC ticket. Between then and 1959, when he took over from Dr. Azikiwe as Premier of the East, he held various Cabinet posts from Minister of Health to Agriculture and Production.

When in 1953, NCNC legislators in the Eastern House of Assembly and the Central Government in Lagos revolted against the party leadership, Dr. Okpara was among party loyalists who joined forces with Dr. Azikiwe. It was not until November, 1960, when Dr. Azikiwe finally left active politics to become Nigeria's first African Governor-General, that Dr. Okpara was elected leader of the NCNC. Very forceful and outspoken, Dr. Okpara is uncompromising on vital national issues. This in 1963 led to severe strain in relations with the ruling Northern Peoples' Congress of the late Prime Minister Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, with which the NCNC formed the country's first post-independence Government.

A strong advocate of what he calls 'pragmatic socialism', Dr. Okpara believes the country's salvation lies in agricultural revolution. He owns a large farm in his hometown and thus inspired many Eastern Nigerian leaders to take and interest in farming.

Dr. Okpara was one of the politicians detained soon after the military coup of January, 1966, which brought an end to civilian rule. He was released in July after a second coup swept General Ironsi out of power. He received the award of GCON (Grand Commander of the Order of the Niger), the country's highest decoration, in 1964 in recognition of his services to the country.