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Times Heroes Award: Onyema Ugochukwu, CON

Chief Onyema Ugochukwu was born in November 9, 1944 in Umuahia, Abia State, Nigeria. He graduated from the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, with a BSc in Economics. He is married with four children.

A highly revered Nigerian economist, journalist, and politician, Ugochukwu served as the senior Special Adviser on Communication to former President Olusegun Obasanjo and the first Executive Chairman of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC).

On February 25, 2008, an Abia State elections tribunal declared Ugochukwu the winner of the 2007 gubernatorial election and Governor-elect of Abia State. However, on February 11, 2009 an Appeal Court in Port Harcourt, the River State capital, overturned the ruling, declaring that Chief Theodore Orji of the PPA had in fact won the election.

Upon graduation from college, Ugochukwu was hired as an Economic Research Assistant by the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN). He remained with CBN for two years before he abandoned a promising career in economics to pursue his true passion, journalism.

Ugochukwu joined the Business Times group as an Economic Analyst and a pioneer staff of what would later become the most influential financial newspaper in Nigeria. He rose in the ranks to become the Editor of the Business Times Newspaper (1977 to 1982).

In 1983, Ugochukwu became Editor-in-Chief of the London-based West Africa magazine, where he wrote extensively on development issues, to provide a better understanding of the African debt crisis.

He eventually returned to Nigeria to become the Editor-in-Chief of the Daily Times of Nigeria and he was subsequently appointed to its board as the Executive Director of Manpower and Development.

He retired from newspaper journalism in 1994 as the Executive Director of Publications. Ugochukwu remained active as a media consultant for the Dow Jones Financial News Service.

Throughout his distinguished career as a journalist, Ugochukwu met and interviewed numerous Heads of States – including then Minister Margaret Thatcher, former South African President Nelson Mandela, Jamaican Prime Minister P. J. Patterson, French President Jacques Chirac, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, Cuban President, Fidel Castro, Nigerian presidents Ibrahim Babangida, Muhammadu Buhari, Sani Abacha, and Abdusalami Abubakar – and presented papers on African economic and political development at various fora including Oxford University, England, and Uppsala University.

With Nigeria’s return to democracy in 1998, Ugochukwu became the Director of Publicity at the Obasanjo for President Campaign Organisation, and contributed immensely to the election of Olusegun Obasanjo as the President of Nigeria.

He was appointed as the Senior Special Assistant to the President on National Orientation and Public Affairs. He spearheaded a National Rebirth campaign aimed at instilling patriotic virtues into a national psyche ravaged by years of political instability and corruption.

It was on this platform that Ugochukwu launched “The Nigerian Declaration of Human Responsibilities”, which declares in part: “This Character on Human Responsibilities… Seeks to bring freedom and responsibility into a better balance, to highlight and increase awareness of the obligation which we owe each other and to our nation.”

To soothe the political unrest in the oil-rich Niger Delta region of Nigeria, President Obasanjo signed the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) Act of 2000 into law. He was appointed as the pioneer chairman of the newly created commission, charged with developing the nine oil producing states of the country, with excess oil revenues.

Ugochukwu helped to articulate the president’s vision of sustainable development in the Niger Delta region, and developed a policy which encouraged partnership amongst its stakeholders—Niger-delta communities and their traditional rulers, youths, oil companies and their executives, the Nigerian government, and Non-Governmental Organisations, and international organisations like the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the World Bank. During Ugochukwu’s tenure, the NDDC focused mainly on economic revival and prosperity, environmental rehabilitation, and the development of social and physical infrastructure.

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