My father who is a retired teacher did not particularly like Dr. Sam Mbakwe. His reason was that Mbakwe didn’t treat teachers well. He owed them several month’s salaries. And if you are old enough to remember the days when teachers were “paupers,” the least valued among government employees and were taunted even by their own pupils as people who measured yams with rulers, you will understand why teachers would dislike a man who wouldn’t pay them their meager entitlements at the end of the month. It was like kicking a man who is already down. People like us, born of teacher parents knew the brunt of having to do with little. Teachers’ lot would however change during the Obasanjo administration at the onset of Nigeria’s fourth Republic beginning from 1999. It was then that we began to see teachers, like nurses buying cars, even if they were little Opel cars that would only last but a couple of years.
Whether you like him or not however, Mbakwe goes down in Imo history as the most remembered, if not the most performing governor the State has ever known. The reasons are clear: For one thing, some of his projects have outlived subsequent administrations after him. For example, a journey from Ogbaku to Oguta via Izombe will, no doubt, remind any traveler of Sam Mbakwe; a smooth road, strong as it was from the time it was built in the early 80s. The Avu poultry farm, for those who remember goes back to the Mbakwe days.
As a friend of mine recently said, at the return of democracy in 1999, believing that the kaki boys will certainly return, decent people stayed away from politics, giving way to the “bad guys” who hijacked politics with their “dirty money” and thuggish tendencies. Till date, we are still struggling for the soul of our country and our State, trying to rescue them from mouth of the lions. Sadly, the fight is still on and with victory still far in sight. It was a system like this that produced the likes of Achike Udenwa as Governor of Imo in 1999.
Before his emergence, little was known about Udenwa but apparently, people didn’t care much. Despite the reality of the ambivalence regarding the possible return of military rule, people were just happy to have democracy, albeit a grossly flawed one. It was a democracy marked by election violence of all sorts, the maiming and murder of political opponents and their supporters, ballot stuffing, ballot snatching, manufacturing and manipulation of numbers, and outright rigging. Udenwa was a product of this culture, and of course, rode on the back of the number powers of Orlu Zone which itself has become another elephant in the fledgling Imo political room (a topic for another day).
For many Imolites, just like many Nigerians, the return of democracy was the dawning of a new day, new hope and new beginning. But Achike Udenwa was not to be the Messiah that ndi Imo had longed for. Unlike Sam Mbakwe, Udenwa left office after eight years with nothing to remember him for, just like many of his fourth republic colleagues in other States. After eight years of ineptitude, failed promises and a moped up treasury, ndi Imo were ready for another would-be Messiah.
Then came Ikedi Ohakim, a little known businessman. The same system that produced Udenwa also produced Ohakim who arrived on the scene wearing beautiful smiles and beautiful hats, again after riding on the powerful Orlu number force and also on false promises. His first and only four years in office was marked by incompetence, non-performance and worse still,violence; not only against political opponents but anyone on the street. This was the atmosphere which led to well known violence against a priest that ultimately doomed both Ohakim’s governorship and his political career in Imo.
Far from playing the Messiah, Ohakim’s leadership was one of megalomania and unguarded arrongance. He forgot the age old saying that pride goes before a fall. His apology for supervising the lynching of a priest came too late, when he realized that that incident among others, was enough to drive a nail into his political coffin. Imo people had vowed to remove him,he had been rejected as Saul was rejected by the Israelites.
On TV during the campaign for re-election, seeing how bleak Ohakim’s prospects were, and how much forces were against him, his wife had to exclaim “Ohakimomereunugini -what offence has he committed that cannot be forgiven.?” But as a man from the Igbo heartland, I expected him to know that touching a priest is like defecating on the bible. If the priest does forgive, his flock may not.
The massive failure of Ohakim’s government only served to exacerbate Imo people’s yearning for another Messiah. Like a wave out of the north came Rochas Okorocha, a money bag and a supposed philanthropist. Backed by the northern powers and a ton of questionable wealth which nobody cared to question having convinced people of his philanthropy, Okorocha inflated everyone with a hope of a better future. With a tongue as sharp as razor and a war chest of cash measurable only in the millions, Okorocha dazzled everyone. Through the Odimegwu Ojukwu brain-child political party, the All Progressive Grand Alliance (APGA), Okorocha emerged as a governorship candidate after three failed attempts at the presidency.
For one thing, APGA was only a sentimental party feeding on the Igbo adulation of Ojukwu and the feeling of ‘our own’ (‘nkeanyi’). Being an Igbo-only party, it has no future as far as the wider Nigeria goes. APGA’S inability to hold successful primary elections in the current electoral season is a pointer to its short life-span and limited viability. However, it was enough to deliver Okorocha as Imo governor in 2011. Okorocha appeared on the scene announcing himself as the governor Imo never had, the saviour who would build houses for widows all over the state, build state of the art hospitals in every Local Government Area, give school kids allowances to go to school and restore Imo to it’s lost or never had glory.
He was to “rescue” Imo from its comatose state, hence his insidious “Imo Rescue” project inscribed on the walls of every school he managed to repaint – the Messiah syndrome.
Before his election, youths fought like never before, stood guard in polling stations to ensure that ballot boxes were not snatched as was usual practice, all to get Okorocha elected. Ohakim agents who brought money to the polling stations were disappointed to know that people took their monies and yet cast their votes for who they wanted – their perceived saviour, Rochas Okorocha. Against all odds, Okorocha won and on the support of the good people of Imo.
I remember writing my father a letter from the USA immediately after Okorocha’s emergence as governor, jubilating and thanking God that God has ‘finally remembered Imo people’ by raising Okorocha as governor. Like many Imolites, my father was a staunch supporter of Okorocha.
But people were soon to see through the facade that was his government. His malfeasance now pales in the face of Ohakim’s pride and arrogance as Okorocha’s impunity and high handedness now leave Imo people, young and old, workers and pensioners gasping for breath. As I write, it is with a heavy heatthat eight years down this road, what ndi Imo have received are slaps on the face, tears in their eyes, and for the likes of the parents of youngSomtochukwuIbeanusi, and others killed by Okorocha’s agents, they have permanent wounds in their hearts. Thus, Okorocha has blood in hands.
Okorocha’s first project was to destroy the local government system, rendering moribund a constitutional creation of the Federal Republic of Nigeria by accusing Chairmen of embezzling funds meant for grass root development, while the real motive was to clear the way for his unbounded greed and insatiable appetite for wealth. Next was to destroy the Imo Civil Service by slashing salaries and cutting work days from five to three, urging workers to go to farm the rest of the days. Who does that? There are civil servants and there are farmers, dear governor!
Next was the pathetic destruction of people’s livelihoods in Owerri and around the state under the guise of ‘expanding and developingOwerri’ while his real end-game was to divest people and government of choice properties and choice real estate in the State and appropriate them to himself and his family. On this matter he has had eloquent success.
In eight years, through his leadership or lack thereof, Okorocha has damaged relationship with churches, even those that helped elect him, so much so that the APC leadership has recently had to distance itself from the macabre drums being beaten by Okorocha against the leadership of the Church and other ecclesial communities. Okorocha’s steered the hornet’s nest by his ill-advised renaming of the popular Assumpta Avenue in Owerri after infamous President MohammaduBuhari, only to reverse it at the swift outcry of well meaning people of the state. His legacies famously include the littering ofOwerri with statues of non-role models, and people who can honestly be described as political failures in their home countries and have had no statues erected to them. Gladly, everybody in Owerri now wants to be molded (akpuolagi nwanne?).
Okorocha’s most notorious tendency may well be his concerted efforts to foist his young and inexperienced son-in-law, Uche Nwosu on ndi Imo as his immediate successor. To rebut people’s resistance to such a move, he points to the Bushes and the Clintons of America as people who have built political dynasties, a model he seeks to replicate in Imo (though Mrs. Clinton was roundly rejected and Jeb Bush rejected by Americans in the 2016 US presidential elections). The Bushes and the Clintons however, have records of success.
What successes Okorocha has to convince anyone of the nobility of his intent is left to anyone’s guess. He has kicked out every deputy to have worked with him for the most selfish reasons and rendered impotent those who remain, including the members of the Imo State House of Assembly with the power of impeachment. He has stabbed APGA, the party on whose platform he emerged as governor and tried to graft Imo State to the Hausa-Fulani caliphate through his arranged marriage with the All Progressive Congress (APC). His government can now be reckoned as the worst government in Imo history and at best can be described as a disaster, a hoax and a fraud.
Time and again, in every election cycle, we are presented with choices that seem like one between the devil and the red sea. The question therefore, is: why must this same calibre of persons be put forward each time as our only political choices? Once again in this political dispensation, we are presented with candidates with unproven integrity, mediocre learning, no notable experience or much political worth. Where does this lead Imo?
Imo State boasts of the highest population of educated people in Nigeria. So where are the learned men and women? Where are the technocrats? Where are the scientists?
Why can’t the political parties find and present any good heads to govern Imo? Could it be the case that ours may only be a population of educated but not learned men and women?I am afraid we are about to repeat the mistake of the past – electing governors who treat Imo State like their animal farm and leave it with an empty treasury; governors who leave office after their tenure with nothing to show for it.
Rather than argue that the church should have no part in politics because of the disgrace of successive governorship candidates, ours as church people must be to educate and enlighten our people, even politically. Ours is to drive home the message that “stomach infrastructure” alone leads people nowhere. We must invest in the citizenry through good governance, enlightenment programmes, good education and education in faith. Not to do this is to fail our generation and future generation of Imolites.
The writer, Fr. Anthony Azuwike is a priest of the diocese of Issele-Uku, Doctor of Juridical Science and a Barrister at Law.