“Imo State: Lessons from Anambra” Nigeria World, Friday August 31, 2007

The emergence of Governor Ikedichi Ohakim of Imo State is one of the litanies of surprises in the last discredited general elections.

In the period preceding the elections, Imo State was a theatrical site for the absurd. The PDP federal and state governments had fallen out with one of their own, Senator Ifeanyi Ararume. They forged a common resolve to bury that fellow’s feverish ambition to rule Imo State. Their attempt to field a favoured gubernatorial candidate for Imo hit a legal brick wall. In order to give effect to its resolve against Ararume, the PDP demonstrated in words and deeds that it was ready to sacrifice or “allot” Imo State to another political party at the gubernatorial level rather than to have Ararume at Douglas House. As it eventually turned out, PDP had its way. Curiously, it claimed to have won all the 27 seats in Imo House of Assembly while APGA and, subsequently, in a dramatic circumstance, PPA retained the governorship seat. Tongues have continued to wag over this political abracadabra that appears to have set Imo State on the edge. In all of these, the people of Imo State remained restrained. They refused to lend their State to infamy despite crude provocations. The election petition tribunal will now make the final determination on some of the elections in Imo, including the gubernatorial one.

Since becoming governor, Ohakim has acted like a man fully aware that he is a creature of circumstance. His decisions in the areas of critical political appointments demonstrate that he is working a very delicate balance. He claims that he neither has nor is he beholden to any godfather, real or potential. However, it is easy to discern the governor’s dilemma through his actions. The forces and circumstances that made it possible either deliberately or inadvertently for Ohakim to become governor are locked in the battle for the sole of Imo State. This Governor is operating in a terrain littered with political landmines and time bombs. Yet he has the opportunity to shape the political direction of Imo State before the bombs begin to detonate. However, time is not on his side; hence he has to act now to engrave himself in the people’s heart.

Ohakim’s greatest insurance is the people. He must be on their side not by political pontification but by demonstrable deed and exemplary life style. He must have the common touch. He must embark on programs that respond to the needs of Imo people: education, health, agriculture/food, security, industry and employment generation, creating an enabling environment for private entrepreneurship. He must run a government that is truly accountable and transparent, one that shows fairness to all and is capable of earning their respect and support.

Like most beneficiaries of the last general elections, the process that brought Ohakim to office was fundamentally flawed and is being challenged at the election petition tribunal. However, power does not allow a vacuum. As an incumbent, he has the opportunity to make a pact with the people. A people long deprived and abused have a certain desperation that makes them easily forgetful. Even as a usurper, Ngige became a hero because he struck the right cord with Anambra people. That lesson should not be lost on Ohakim. All the diabolic forces mobilized against Ngige and the people of Anambra State by his godfathers with the connivance of Obasanjo’s federal government were unable to dethrone him because the people were on his side. It was only through the legal process that Ngige’s exit was sanctioned. Recently, at the federal level, President Yar’Adua’s calculated attempts to distance himself from some notorious trademarks of his mentor – the founder of modern Nigeria – such as disregard for the rule of law is a shrewd entreaty to the Nigerian people.

Incumbents have the power, while the time lasts, to influence public opinion and to make the pendulum of expediency swing in their favour. In appropriate cases, our courts have not shied away from tempering their decisions with considerations of expediency. The short point here is that at this stage in our fledgling democracy, those who enter into elected offices by the default are automatically in a position of advantage over their rivals even if they be rightful claimants. Again, Ngige is a clear example. How such office holders deploy the power at their disposal is critical to their ultimate survival in the chess game of political power. For example, if not that Obi courageously reclaimed his mandate, Ngige still remained the man to beat under a free and fair election in Anambra State during the last elections. A non-compromising alignment with the people and commitment to use power in their service are two strategies that students of power such as Ohakim can ignore at their peril.

In addition, Ohakim should also show some courage to take on a battle if one needs to be fought as a matter of necessity. Such courage is required albeit with measured caution as he walks the high tension wire of current politics in Imo State. Ohakim should be empowered by the present mood of the federal government and its avowed commitment to the rule of law. Also, he should exploit the visible absence of a deified godfather of the Obasanjo stock in Aso Rock who could lend authority to fascists attempt to undermine his regime.

Governor Ohakim announced at the swearing in of his Executive Council members on August 22, 2007, that he has uncovered plots by some professional godfathers and political jobbers in Imo State to incite members of the state legislature to impeach him. For many, Ohakim’s revelation will not be a surprise. Close followers of Nigerian politics are easily tempted to predict Ohakim’s impeachment as a matter of not if, but when and how soon. But that will seem too simplistic given recent precedents. It is up to the present crop of Imo legislators to determine whether they want to be counted on the side of the people. If the experience of the Baleonwu-led PDP House of Assembly in Anambra is anything to go by, members of Imo House should resist any temptation to overstretch the patience of the Imo people by embarking upon any unwarranted initiative to frustrate the present government of circumstance in Imo State. The unfortunate thing, however, is that history teaches us that it does not teach us anything.

Governor Ohakim spoke with the required courage and strikingly refreshing voice of his own when he observed to the people of Imo State that “for many years, many of those who call themselves leaders have taken undue advantage of the people; they have taken the peaceful nature of the people for granted and held the state and every government to ransom; they have taken resources belonging to all of us for their family alone; they fed fat on the state, while the rest of you have starved, they have given every appointment that comes to the state to their sons and daughters and relations, they call themselves the godfathers, yet, my dear people of Imo, these political men of timber have never gone to Abuja to demand for our rights”.

This is, in part, an apt articulation of the politics of Imo State, especially as it relates to the few godfathers and so called leaders [dealers] that have continued to feed fat at the people’s expense. Can Ohakim be trusted to make the difference and move Imo State away from the hands of these political turncoats that have betrayed our people for too long? Can the honourable members of the legislature truly redeem their honour and resist the urge to further provoke and undermine the people of Imo State? As politicians, all of them have a common stake in the stability of the state even if they be agents of the so-called godfathers. They are free to swap position and become the peoples’ agents. Imo state needs a new direction. An opportunity beckons.

As an aside, in so far as most of the recently elected politicians, including the President, are fighting to keep their mandates at the various election tribunals, those who live in glass houses should not throw stones let alone shower naked. The electoral tribunals should be allowed to do their job without preemption let alone by those who may be affected by the tribunals’ decisions. This is unlikely to be the last Ohakim time will contend with forces that may want to get rid of him if his election is eventually upheld. He has no better insurance than to align himself with the people. That is his only political insurance.

 

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