By Obi Nwakanma
The news out of Imo State is not good. There is a sense of failure and a general feeling of siege; a situation that calls us all to rise and confront two important questions: first, how is it that a state so endowed with some of Africaâ€™s best educated people can sit and allow the use of primitive and unregulated power to undermine its civic authority?
Second, how can the residents of Imo State tolerate the current situation in which the state slips suddenly into this primitive cauldron of violence that resembles Colombia under the siege of the drug lord Escobar?
What has happened to this state, once among the most stable and productive of states in Nigeria? Let me first note something that I find profoundly disturbing, which is given scant attention, and which might become the subject for sociologists to grapple with and which ought to disturb any person of conscience.
It is the absolute breakdown of the democratic community in the East in general, but in Imo State specifically.
Two conditions now best describe the relationship of people to community, and their connection to the idea of a collective public in Imo State: lethargy and fatalism. Imo people are lethargic because of a profound skepticism about the value of government in their lives.
There is equally a powerful sense of helpless fatalism about the ends to which society might arrive; that is this belief that governments are no longer established to cater and minister to people.
Government is now considered a cabal, a mafia, in which very closeted powerful interests come together in a devious partnership to subdue the will of the people and conduct public affairs as though it were a private party â€“ with invitations only.
Since 1983, the Imo people have not had a great government with the kind of public spirit that characterized the administration of the late Dr. Sam Mbakwe (please note that Sam Mbakwe earned his doctorate degree academically and was not a dot.com or honorary or â€œAba-na-anyaâ€ â€œdoctorâ€). Mbakwe was the last productive governor of the old Imo State â€“ comprising Imo, Abia and parts of Ebonyi State today.
His administration had immense respect for the people, and he established a clear programme of action; set goals that have thus far remained unsurpassed by any succeeding administration after him. Imo was lucky in two respects: one, it had an energetic and dynamic founding military governor in the now retired Admiral, then Commander Godwin Ndubisi Kanu, and in the founding civilian administration of governor Sam Mbakwe. These two set the tone of government and the expectations of the public in Imo.
But alas, since the Buhari years â€“ from the administration of General Ike Nwachukwu to the current administration of Mr. Ikedi Ohakim, a nearly 20-year spectrum, Imo State seems to be trapped in a limbo.
Unemployment, very slow social and economic development; and now increasing crime â€“ especially kidnappings seem to be the legacy of governments in Imo State.
The news in Imo state is increasingly dreary: reports of kidnappings and other crimes that were once unimaginable here proliferate. I was talking earlier on about a breakdown of community and its undergirding social mores. Nothing drove this more forcefully home to me until last year, when I was burying my father.
I returned to a changed society. In the old Igbo world, wherever death occurred, neighbours brought food to the compound to feed the bereaved from the backyard. The community joined in the ritual of mourning and burial.
There was a full accent of what the Igbo call the â€œumunnaâ€ and it took ownership of the dead. Today in Igboland, the â€œchurchâ€ the nuclear â€œfamilyâ€ and the â€œsocial clubâ€ have replaced the â€œumunnaâ€ â€“ the bedrock of community.
The new fangled â€œTraditional rulerâ€ has replaced the Town Council, and there is a profound breakdown and dangerous alienation taking place in Igbo land today. This kind of alienation makes it impossible to deal with the social questions that confront us, or indeed, to create grounds that would sustain a civic order based on shared, cohesive visions for social development.
Once upon a time, it would have been impossible, for instance, for anybody to just walk into a community, kidnap or rob anyone, without confronting the will of that community. Escape would be impossible.
But today, the fracture in the architecture of community makes security â€“ the security of the populace â€“ almost impossible to guarantee. Now, comes the news last week that kidnappers brazenly took journalists, among them a sports crew from a South African Television network which came to report some event in Owerri; Professors, and the Chief Judge of the Imo state customary Court on their way from the Airport.
implication of this ought to startle us: Imo State has finally slipped into lawlessness. All it takes now is for any group of young men to acquire some guns and some logistics and theyâ€™d go off on a limb and seek targets for kidnapping.
This is the highest symptom of social failure. Highly educated and disenchanted youth, with an increasingly fatalistic outlook on life, acquire more sophisticated means of organizing crimes while public policy and action on social security remains primitive. We are on dangerous grounds here.
Targeting a judge for kidnap is, to date, the boldest act against the authority of state and its institution of law. To put it simply: the law, in its formal sense no longer exists in Imo State. It is now a jungle out there.
The administration of the current Governor Ohakim has clearly lost control of the situation. We must hasten to add, that Ikedi Ohakim did not create the situation that has now snowballed into a kidnap and crime culture. He inherited a broken people from this past 20 years of visionless governance of the state.
But he has contributed immensely to a mood of disenchantment by continuing to perpetuate the absolute lack of accountability and inaction which continues to alienate people and make government meaningless in the lives of people.
A current allegation â€“ and we take it for now as simply allegation until further clarity â€“ by a citizen of Imo state, Mr. Samuelson Iwuoha that he was assaulted and battered by the governor of the state in connivance with some public security official in Government House is serious.
It reflects the increasing sense of the jungle in Imo state. It calls for independent investigation of the governor on both the substantive allegation of corruption and in the secondary allegation of assault following Mr. Iwuohaâ€™s attempt to force the state government to come clean on public account.
Finally, the failure to open up alternative channels for public action drives people towards serious crimes.
A state like Imo, without credible social and economic programs for its teeming population of the jobless and underemployed; or whose programs are more on paper and declared intentions than on reality risks the kind of anomie that now threatens to make Imo state a kidnappers den. The situation in Imo state is serious, and calls us all to action -both the administration and the citizens of the state.