Sam Onunaka Mabakwe: A True Igbo Leader!

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Though today may not have been his birthday, the Awareness media team decided to remember and eulogize this colossus nevertheless. 

For starters no one including his immediate family is aware of the day, month or year he was born but we were reliably informed by one of his daughters that based on events that were recorded about 2-3 years after he was born, it was assumed that he was born sometime between 1925/26. However, his family chose to celebrate him sometime in October yearly. This reminds me of how December 25 was chosen to celebrate the birth of Jesus when no one actually knows the real birthday of our Lord Jesus Christ. 

Though Chief Sam Onunaka Mbakwe popularly referred to as Dee Sam left government over 35 years ago, his achievements in government still speak volume. His performance has become the benchmark with which every other Imo, Ebonyi or Abia states governor is assessed. You could hear a governor thump their chest and announce that they had out-performed Mbakwe. The good people of old Imo state would never stop comparing their governors with Dee Sam. 

Who is this man popularly referred to as Dee Sam? 

This is the man the International Cargo Airport in Owerri is named after. He was probably born sometime between 1925/26 and died on the 5th of January 2004. He was an Igbo politician and governor of the Old Imo State, southern Nigeria from 1 October 1979 until 31 December 1983.

Mbakwe began his education in 1937 at St Peter’s primary school, Umulogho. 

His contemporaries include The Reverend Canon Jerimiah Anyanwu, the first Anglican priest in the old Etiti Local Government Area of Imo State, who was born at about the same time with him in Avutu. He studied at the Teachers Training College, Oleh, Isoko, from 1946 to 1947, and at Fourah Bay College, Sierra Leone in 1952. 

He moved on to the University of Manchester (1953–56), the University of Hull (1956–58), and finally the school run by the Inns of Court (1958–59), all in England, before returning to Nigeria to practice law in Port Harcourt, Eastern Region. 


Mbakwe served as an Administrator of Okigwe Province in the Republic of Biafra, during the 1967–70 Civil War. He joined the Constituent Assembly in 1978 and became governor on 1 October of the following year. ( see  He was elected Executive Governor of old Imo State on the platform of the defunct Nigerian People’s Party (NPP). Dee Sam was a prominent disciple of foremost nationalist, the late Chief Nnamdi Azikiwe and was renowned for his political dexterity. 

One of the main priorities of his administration in 1979 was to improve Imo State’s roads and he did a fantastic job on that.  As the governor, he had an average annual budget of 100 Million Naira and only got an average of N100,000 in security votes annually. The then Imo state comprises the current Imo, Abia and some parts of Ebonyi state. 

He was re-elected, but his second term was interrupted by General Muhammadu Buhari’s military coup of 31 December 1983, which brought about the end of the Second Republic. I could remember listening to Dee Sam announcing the results of the gubernatorial election in 1983 on air when he realized or believed that the ruling party at the Centre National Party of Nigeria (NPN) was bent on rigging that election.

Mbakwe earned the nickname “the weeping governor” for crying while trying to convince the federal government to pay more attention to his state; the first occasion of his famed tears was the Ndiegoro flood in Aba, which was then a part of Imo State. He had invited President Shehu Shagari to witness the destruction done by the floods, and it was said that he was moved to tears while conducting the president around the disaster area.


Often described by his contemporaries as controversial, he was also very funny and witty. One of the occasions he displayed this was when he addressed supporters of the National Unity Club (NUC) in Aba in September 1995. Dee Sam advised aspiring politicians to go into prison custody “even for one day,” apparently to taste what hardship and discipline is all about. “If you have not been in prison before, that will be your baptism and qualification. You will learn from the prison yard that not all those in detention are criminals,” he stated. 

After his exit from office as governor, the legal practitioner proceeded to pursue a doctorate degree in political science. 


In the wake of the aborted Third Republic, he had a stint with the then Social Democratic Party (SDP). One other controversial period of his life was when he resigned from active politics in annoyance in March 1993 during the countdown to the June 1993 general elections. Chief Mbakwe, reported to be one of the national chairmanship aspirants of the SDP, had said that he decided to bow out of active politics because of the circumstances of his disqualification.

Dee Sam went to meet his ancestors on the 6th of January 2004. This happened in Avutu, Obowo Local Government Area, after a sickness that had set on in February 2002 and occurred shortly after a state-sponsored trip to Germany for treatment. He passed on peacefully 


Dee Sam’s achievements as a governor are too numerous to mention.  Among his achievements are the following: 

·    In 1981, Sam Mbakwe set up Imo State University. The campus was located in a territory that was ceded to Abia State in 1991 and was re-christened Abia State University. However, Imo State University acquired a new campus in Owerri and still exists.

·    With Imo state virtually lacking infrastructure when he took the mantle of leadership, Mbakwe settled down quickly to the task of governance, mobilizing the people and their resources to facilitate its development.

·    In Owerri, the state capital, Mbakwe completed the asphalt tarring of all the roads started by the military administration in a very short period.

·    He extended the same measure to other roads in Aba and Umuahia, two towns noted for commercial activities in the state.

·     Mbakwe was among Second Republic governors that built state universities. The state university adopted a multi-campus concept to cater for the increasing number of candidates who could not secure admission in federal universities.

·     A humble politician, he was also not found wanting in the industrialization of the state.

·     His administration adopted a zonal arrangement to ensure an even spread of industries in the young state.

·     The Aluminum Smelter Plant in Inyishi and paint factory, Abor-Mbaise, Imo Modern Poultry Farm Avutu, and others were all the products of this policy.

·    The Amaraku Power plant, which the succeeding military regime later sold, was also built by Mbakwe’s administration.

Dee Sam was conferred with several chieftaincy titles but the one that stood out for me was the title of Agbawodikeizu 1 of Nkwerre that was conferred on him by Late Eze J. O. Ugochukwu II, OON the Eshi of Nkwerre. 

May the soul of this foremost Igbo Nationalist continue to rest and abide with the most high. 

Disclaimer: The opinion expressed in this article is solely the responsibility of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views of the publisher. The image is taken from the internet and assumed to be in the public domain. If this breaches the copyrighted material, kindly note that the break of the copyright is not intentional and non-commercial. The copyrighted material in question will be removed upon request and presentation of proof in that case, please contact me via following email: nzeikay@gmail.com

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