The first time I met Rt. Hon Sheriff Oborevwori, I was instantly drawn by his ebullient personality.
It was an official meeting and, contrary to what I was used to, he did not make me feel that I was before the Speaker of the Delta State House of Assembly. He did not try to intimidate me with his power, and he certainly did not try to belittle me. That left a strong impression on me and the story did not change in all our subsequent encounters. In fact, he would not only signal to me in a crowd, he would make it a point of duty to give me a warm handshake or hug – with a broad smile to boot.
That is the essential Oborevwori – affable, unpretentious, and large-hearted. Yet, for all his famed simplicity, accessibility, and humility, it would be a big mistake to take him for granted.
The man is a study in self-belief. All great leaders through generations possess that quality of self-confidence. And Oborevwori impresses in that regard. When in the run-up to the Delta State PDP gubernatorial primaries he positioned himself as the aspirant with the street credibility capable of winning an election, many thought it was a wrong strategy. But the man would not bulge and it did not take long for critics and supporters alike to realize that street credibility is actually a very positive socio-political concept, quite different from the misconception of it as a rough and tumble disposition.
One of the hallmarks of great leaders is that they act on instinct and embark on a course of action that those around would consider crazy or delusional. One of the greatest examples of an instinctive leader in the 20th century was Henry Ford. The story is frequently told of how, amid high worker turnover and declining sales in the automobile industry, Ford decided to do the unthinkable; he doubled his employees’ salaries. Peers and competitors called him “crazy” but within a year, productivity doubled and demand for cars increased because those workers were now able to afford the cars his company manufactured. That is the hallmark of uncommon leaders; they see what others do not see, they embark on a course of action that is contrary to the facts on ground, and they take decisions that others may consider illogical. By following his intuition in the campaign leading to the primaries, Oborevwori manifested this unique attribute of game-changing leaders.
The man is very comfortable in his own skin. Indeed, his unassuming personae is what sometimes makes people to jump to wrong conclusions about him, which in turn leads them to underestimate him or misconstrue his modesty for weakness. But it is preposterous to underate a man who has the stellar reputation of being the longest serving Speaker of the House of Assembly. You do not achieve that feat by being a simpleton. At a time in the history of the House, they had three speakers in a space of two years. As some of us can testify, it is no mean task leading a group of peers and contemporaries such as Old Boys Associations or Estate Residents Association. Indeed, it is a powerful testament to Oborevwori’s people skills, managerial acumen, tact, and wisdom that he could transit from one assembly to the other as Speaker. These are qualities, I believe, a multi-ethnic state like Delta needs in their next governor.
From Oborevwori’s impressive outing at the PDP Presidential Campaign Rally in Asaba it should be clear to all by now that the opposition is just grasping at straws with innuendoes about his public speaking skills. The PDP gubernatorial candidate may not be a garrulous person but he can certainly hold his own in public, as was quite evident in the Asaba rally and in the ward and local government campaigns. But as any good student of politics knows, of which the Speaker is one, it takes more than oratorical skills to make a good leader. One can be fantastically gifted with oratorical prowess and be painfully lacking in the rudiments of governance or leadership skills. What sets Oborevwori’s apart, as we have seen from his leadership of the House, are his vision, tenacity of purpose, courage, wise planning, faith, integrity, and the ability to mobilise men and resources to achieve a common goal. He is undoubtedly a consensus builder and unifier and, therefore, best suited to advance Delta State to the next level of growth and prosperity.
By far Oborevwori’s biggest asset may be his tenderhearted nature which is ironically masked by his rugged mien and tough-guy image. During the signing of the 2023 Appropriation Bill into law by Governor Ifeanyi Okowa in December last year, the Speaker, to the surprise of all present, was all emotions as he went down memory lane to recollect his unexpected rise to the pinnacle of leadership in the House. It was such a moving spectacle as this battle-hardened political gladiator fought back tears while giving account of his stewardship. In Oborevwori, I can unequivocally say that Deltans have a fine blend of strength and service, courage and compassion, and faith and fidelity. These are the key attributes of the Sheriff Oborevwori brand.
Ekwugum is Manager, Communications, to Governor Okowa.