As a new governor ascends the affairs of Imo State, Joel Nwokeoma expansiates on the lessons the new number one man should learn from his predecessor.
The reaction that followed was simply spontaneous. In fact, it was as ecstatic as it was electric. It was a euphoria that had been incubated for a long time, but waiting for the opportune time to exhale. That time came in the dusk of Monday, March 11, 2019. The event was the electoral demolition of the “statue of iberiberism” erected in Imo State by Governor Rochas Okorocha, embodied by the political misadventure of his son-in-law, Uche Nwosu, whom the governor had, contrary to reason, good advice and logic, desperately sought to impose on the people. The defeat, inevitably, brought to an exciting but crushing end the inordinate ambition and desire of a man hell-bent on riding roughshod over his people’s collective democratic aspirations.
It is remarkable that Ndi Imo, notably residents of the state capital, Owerri, like liberated hostages, did not bother to wait for the official announcement of the result of the governorship election, conducted on March 9, by the Returning officer of the Independent National Electoral Commission, Prof Francis Otunta, before rushing out in their numbers to celebrate the victory of determination of a people over a man’s desperation. For a people given to revelry, their mind was made up to fill the street to revel the moment the collated results from the 27 local government areas of the state, at the collation centre, indicated where the pendulum was swinging: Okorocha had been stopped in his track by the same people who had boisterously courted him and sang his praises for years. His ambition to foist his son-in-law as his immediate successor on a people known for their undisguised republicanism had gone up in flames in the humid evening. And the people’s choice, Emeka Ihedioha, announced the winner. It shows how those who do not learn from history, as the opening quote alluded, are wont to repeat the same.
Video footages that emerged showed ecstatic drivers honking their car horns animatedly, waving at evidently relieved and happy passers-by while jubilant youths climbed giant billboards to pull down every vestige of the now ill-fated Okorocha political dynasty. Posters and banners bearing the images of Okorocha and his son-in-law were pulled down and shredded, denoting an end to an erroneous era. The same feeling was replicated in different forms at places kilometers away from Imo. Pubs were filled to the brim in such ungodly hours, glasses were clicked, and varieties of drinks were popped in celebration. Congratulatory messages were sent to Imo indigenes by well-wishers for their “liberation” from an insidious “familiocracy”.
There was one national event that had a semblance of what played out that night: The widespread jubilation that followed the death of Gen Sani Abacha, that early morning on Monday, June 8, 1998. Nigerians had woken up that cold morning to learn of the demise of their fearsome ruler. It was an irony of sorts that a nation erupted in spontaneous joy at the death of its leader. But it happened. It was not for dearth of humaneness or regression of humanity. Instead, it was a feeling of palpable freedom from the iron grip of an unsmiling killer-ruler.
Elsewhere, a similar scene was replicated on the streets of Baghdad in December 2006 when Saddam Hussein, derisively called the Mad man of Baghdad, by the Americans, was hanged to death. A report by the Los Angeles Daily News captured it thus: “In Baghdad’s Shiite neighbourhood of Sadr City, victims of his three decades of autocratic rule took to the streets to celebrate, dancing, beating drums and hanging Saddam in effigy.”
Incidentally, the euphoric celebrations that greeted the defeat of Okorocha’s son-in-law on Monday were reminiscent of what happened at the defeat of Governor Ikedi Ohakim, when he lost his re-election bid, in the 2011 governorship election to this same Okorocha. Ohakim was rejected by the raging electorate who felt he was becoming bigger than the state itself. It is a measure of how things turned around so speedily for the worse for Okorocha that people who danced on the streets of Owerri at the inception of his rule, rushed out to the streets again, this time, in celebration of his electoral “misfortune”. Like I said last week, though Okorocha was not on the ballot last Saturday, he was the dog in the fight! He threw everything to it. It was a zero sum game for him. That is what happens when leaders don’t learn from history.
Suffice it to say I foresaw what befell Okorocha and his in-law in my article entitled, Okorocha: When desperation confronts determination (See, The PUNCH, March 7, 2019). In it, I was emphatic that, “On Saturday, the Imo electorate will cook, literally, for Okorocha, the same way he has served them a salad of ‘Iberibeism’ (idiocy) by insisting it is his son-in-law or nothing! In this confrontation between desperation and determination, you can only guess who the loser will be. But one thing is sure: the people are determined to pull down the statue of ‘iberibeism’ erected in Imo State by Okorocha.”
What then is the essence of this narrative, one may ask. It is to draw the attention of the effusively jubilant governor-elect to the fate that may befall him should he toe the path of Okorocha, or Ohakim before him.
The way to go about this, I dare say, is for him to run an inclusive, transparent and responsive government where appointments to positions are based on merit and demonstrable capacity and not on base considerations like family relationship, religious sentiments and cronyism. Okorocha lost out the moment he turned governance into a family affair at the expense of merit. Search for the best hands, and heads too, and give them the task to work for and with you. Imo has them in abundance, both within and outside the country. In doing this, don’t be content in looking for those who won’t look you in the eyes and disagree with you on policy issues. Get a think tank to design a workable economic framework of governance to reclaim Imo State. Not inept cheer leaders. Okorocha has a surfeit of them. Sycophancy is the greatest undoing of his era. And he courted it and lapped it up like a dog would water.
There is a need for Ihedioha to note, too, that governance is an elevated enterprise that requires rigour and should not be trivialised and turned into vainglory and show-business like the incumbent has done. It is not how much you dance at the market square that makes you acceptable to the people; it is in meeting their existential needs through well-thought-out programmes and policies. Imo people like fun, no doubt, but they detest funny leaders that don’t take their core task seriously.
Another lesson Ihedioha should learn is not to overreach himself like Okorocha did by turning into a totalitarian pseudo-democrat, dictating how the minutest aspects of the people’s lives like town unions are run. It is a sad commentary that Okorocha superintended over the death of town unions, a veritable mechanism for accountable community development in Igboland, by foisting some lackeys as Presidents-General of an unconstitutional contraption called Community Government on Imo State. Many communities are currently embroiled in acrimonies this has generated. Revive town unions. Reinvigorate bottom-up approach to development in the state by making local governments useful. Get your hands off traditional institutions. You are elected to be governor, not a town union chairman or traditional ruler. Besides, you are a governor, not a god or God. And never think yourself as one either.
Above all, be humble to the people who elected you even when you enjoy the limelight of power. Power ultimately belongs to the people in a democracy.
A final word: I advise the governor-elect to look at the meaning of his surname, Ihedioha, and learn some lessons. What he does in office in the next four years will make him either an “Ihe di oha Imo nma” (What is good for Imo people) or “Ihe di oha Imo njo” (What makes Imo people sad”. People say Imo State has been unlucky with governors since Dee Sam Mbakwe left office in 1983. Shall we continue in this characterisation? Time will tell. The choice is for him to govern Imo like the venerated Mbakwe, and live forever in the people’s hearts, or like the forgettable duo of Ohakim and Okorocha and suffer the indignity of electoral ‘demolition’ at the polls like them.