By Obi Nwakanma
Two statements published in the newspapers recently have just come to my attention. The first deals directly with my person. The other is of a more general kind, and they are all tied to the question of governance in the East. The first, by an obscure hagiographer, Mr. Ethelbert Okere who advises the governor of Imo State on media matters, was a rather puerile attempt to respond to a piece in my column on the subject, “governing the East.”
In the said piece, Mr. Okere did some heavy lifting for the Imo state governor. That is to be expected. He even called me a “not-so-well-known” columnist. That too is to be expected. I certainly do not run with the same hares with Okere. He is not likely to know me. He doesn’t read enough. Although as he said, he could quite clearly, picture me in his “mind’s eye” pacing the halls of the Vanguard.
Well, that too is to be expected of Mr. Ethelbert Okere, Media Adviser to the Imo state governor whose mind is a cornucopia of media scams and rackets. After all, there could never be a better embodiment of mercenary journalism as the likes of Ethelbert Okere. Media hustling – a rather quaint term indeed which becomes him quite nicely is the name of his game. But in his effort to tar me, he invents media racketeering in Mbaise and links me to it. Now, let me establish some simple bonafide here. I am a journalist and, yes, a card-carrying intellectual. I am a columnist for the Vanguard and a university professor. As my bank accounts would show, I do not live beyond my means. I’m a man of rather modest tastes.
I have never parlayed my craft for mercenary gain, and have never earned fees, nor have I ever demanded pay-off from any politician or special interest in my professional life as a journalist either directly or by proxy. Everyone who knows me knows this as fact. I think media racketeering is more Ethelbert Okere’s forte, and it is quite clear that he imagines that all journalists and columnists are like him.I had a mind to ignore him, but I think that at the core of the crisis of Nigerian journalism are the kinds of professional misfits who lie to the public, who write extremely bad prose, and whose professional conducts bring down the dignity and validity of public service and the imperative of public-issue journalism.
My engagement with Governor Ohakim, and any other figure of authority for that matter, is simply an act both of civic and professional duty. We must hold public servants to the light of scrutiny, because the failure of political leadership in fact stems, I think, from the inability and the unwillingness of a conscious citizen to hold public leaders to account. We elect politicians to serve us not to scam us.
This brings me to the other statement, this one credited to the former governor of Imo state, Mr. Achike Udenwa. Newspapers reported Udenwa last week apologizing to the people of Imo state for “imposing” Ohakim as governor. I think Achike – an old Umuahian like me – is full of it! What cheek to imagine that he alone had the power to “select” a governor for Imo state.
It presumes that Imo people are mere “photo” acted upon by some guy playing “Amadi-Oha.” Even if he did, he basically admits to electoral fraud, which ought to earn him a jail term. Imo people know exactly how Mr. Ohakim came to power. It was from the scorched earth politics of Olusegun Obasanjo, who made it his terminal obligation to impose, regulate, and determine the contemporary political leadership of the Igbo world. People like Achike Udenwa were simply his pawns – tools in the hands of an external anti-people lobby to create an upstart leadership. But aside from his admission of subverting the electoral will of the Imo people, Achike Udenwa should also in fact apologize to Imo people for his own years of ineffectual political leadership – the murders, the graft; the silting of governance that characterized his tenure.
Even then, it is also true that none of the candidates that emerged in Imo state in the period had any clearly drawn political, economic, and social program. Nothing in their utterances, and comportments, or political ideas shows that they would have been any better than Ohakim. One is not necessarily invested in any of them. The point nonetheless is that Mr. Ohakim has been ineffective as a governor. That’s my singular concern.
A central dilemma for us in Imo State is the extent to which government has become the personal property of a few individuals, and by which governance has become more mythmaking than service delivery. In an effort to counter some of the concerns of his critics, the defenders of the Ohakim administration are now retailing a list of accomplishments.
Some of these are pure fiction. Some are proposed projects. Some are projects at various stages of completion or incompletion. Some are partner projects of which the regime claims huge financial expenditure like the Nworie project. The critics of the Ohakim administration insist that the administration has much to account for the use of public funds that have accrued to Imo state under his watch.
Imo people are highly educated and politically aware, and know when they’ve been had or when some merchants of the fib try to code them. This is the fact for which the likes of Ethelbert Okere deploy spiteful rebarbative tantrums against the administration’s critics. What we say in Imo is that we need to match the Ohakim administration’s claims of accomplishments with the actual reality. There seems to be a profound gap of truth between the government’s claims and its accomplishments particularly if we examine the in-flow of federal grants and tax accruals to Imo State in the last three years. Indeed, I must also note, being from Mbaise that among the vaunted projects claimed by the Ohakim administration, it does seem
Perhaps there then, is the source of my grouse: I look out of my window from Mbaise, and I see only neglect. The schools are crumbling. There is deadly unemployment. There is fear from insecurity. There are no industries. There is in short no sign of the presence of government. I am sure that many in Imo state feel me. So, the question is, what then is this new face of Imo? I will be glad if on my next visit I see that truly new changes have occurred. But one last word on the governance of the East: one recognizes that there is the old East, and now the South-East, what we call the “core East,” and the outlying East, what we now call the South-South.
Put together they make up a potentially powerful economic and political region given its historical, geographical and economic contiguity. There are a number of bright spots in that regional canvas: next door to Imo is Chibuike Amaechi in Port-Harcourt, who beyond evincing conceptual intelligence is also quite effective in putting the money where his mouth is. From all accounts he is clearly transforming Rivers State.
Next, south of Owerri, is Theodore Oji in Umuahia. This one is a picture of incompetence. Aba is evidence of his most profound failures.
Northward is Chime in Enugu: while traveling in Enugu I could see evidence of an administration at work. A taxi driver in fact said to me “Chime will do it!” It was for me a clear example of a citizen’s affirmation of a political leader – much as we did with Sam Mbakwe because he in fact “did it!”
What I saw in Imo under Ohakim left me thoroughly bemused. But to be fair, perhaps in the last one year, a sea-change has occurred. On my next visit, if I see such a change, I shall report it fairly, truthfully, and without ambiguity. That is my contract.