Chief Samuel Onunaka Mbakwe (1929-2004) was the first civilian governor of Imo State (1979-198). He was from Obowo in Okigwe Zone of Imo State but his legacies are littered around the old Imo State (which included the present day Abia State). Some of his major achievements include the Imo Modern Poultry, Adapalm, Imo State University (now Abia State University), Imo Airport, the Master Plan of Owerri Capital City, as well as Road Constructions, Rural Electricity and Water Projects, amongst others. He did not limit his leadership to his zone, but rather ensured every part of the then Imo State benefitted from his short but impressive regime. His successes and failures were generally shared. He was the people’s governor.
The current jostling for the first citizen of Imo State based on zone and zoning is a mere caricature of what Mbakwe stood for. In a way, it is a gross debasement of Imo politics. One would not be wrong to assert that at best, it is a ploy and a grand design by some nouveau niche interests in the State to grab power for selfish purposes. In order to achieve that, they whip up primordial sentiments, as if the core purpose of governing Imo State is to favour a particular zone over others.
They have been clever enough to orchestrate this bizarre demand by dressing it up in a moral garment of fairness and equity. They see zoning as a way to ensure some fairness in the political system. Positioned in this way, one is inadvertently (if not unconsciously) nudged towards thinking that it is morally bankrupt for a zone in the State to produce a governor over and over again. This gimmick often works.
This thinking is obviously normal, if the essence of being the number one citizen of the state is to mainly serve one’s zone. Some, in desperation, often provide evidence from nearby states to support this line of thinking. What they fail to publicly acknowledge is that this type of thinking is at the heart of dumbing-down politics in Nigeria.
The northern part of Nigeria, for instance, has produced more presidents than the other parts of the country; nonetheless, one cannot claim that the northern region is relatively better off than others. In some sense that region might be arguably and technically suffering from presidential Dutch disease, given that it still harbours a high rate of poverty.
The same might apply to Imo politics and Imo State. The Orlu zone has occupied the Douglas House more than any of the other two zones – Owerri and Okigwe. Achike Udenwa and Rochas Okorocha are from Orlu zone and between them they have been in power for 16 years (i.e. 8 years or two terms of 4 years each, respectively). However, the question begging for an urgent and credible answer is whether or not Orlu zone is relatively more developed than either Owerri or Okigwe for producing the governors from this zone? Your guess is as good as mine. Despite these number of years, Orlu is still largely and arguably semi-rural.
The key point worth making here is that the average Owerri, Okigwe, or Orlu person does not necessarily gain anything from having his kinsman or woman in the Imo State Government House (aka Douglas House). Notwithstanding this obvious fact, the elites who are power hungry make it sound otherwise. They make it sound as if there is something to be gained and lost collectively if the governorship position came or didn’t come to a zone. This purported collective loss or gain is actually a creative art of masking their personal interests in the process, and representing them as communal interests. Anyone who falls for this gimmick is as guilty as them.
In the present dispensation, Imolites should be asking for a One State Governor. Imolites need a governor who is fervently interested in the State as a whole and not someone who sees the State in bits and pieces to be carted away mercilessly. Imolites want every part of Imo State to feel the positive impacts of whoever is in power. Imolites do not need anything short of this. In short, Ndi Imo need another Mbakwe, if not a better Mbakwe.
The election seasons are back with their usual fevers and brouhaha. There is no place for anyone whose main promise or selling point is to represent his or her zone. Ndi Imo will either swim or drown together. They look forward to a governor who can take the State forward and make very good use of the human talents and material resources in the State.
This is the time for Imolites to ask the right questions. They should not be carried away by sentiments of zoning and rotation carefully choreographed and orchestrated by some selfish interests. They should resist the temptation to be trapped in this manner of thinking, as well.
For those who want to govern the State, they should be humble enough to tell and show the citizens of Imo State, in concrete terms, how they plan to govern for all. Imolites want someone who can restore the glory of Imo State, with emphasis on good education; firmly integrate Imo with her neighbours and geopolitical zone, as the eastern heartland; and reposition it in Nigeria and Africa, as a land of opportunities.
Let the best ideas, plans, and evidence of good leadership take the day. This is the litmus test and not necessarily where one is from, which is rather an unfortunate primordial way to go about it.
Although Mbakwe is gone, his big spirit still looms large and wide. Even in death, he remains the quintessential legendary governor of Imo State. His legacies and records will definitely need a better Mbakwe to be surpassed and broken.
May the forthcoming elections restore the fortunes of Ndi Imo in Nigeria and beyond!
Professor Kenneth Amaeshi is a policy analyst and professor at the University of Edinburgh, United Kingdom. He tweets @kenamaeshi