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Imo and the politics of transition

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By Ikechukwu Amaechi

THE allegory of the tortoise that willfully refused entreaties from concerned friends who desperately tried to dissuade him from a disaster-prone journey fascinates me. Asked when he would return, his “not until I am disgraced” retort was both instructive and foreboding. His friends, aghast, must have wondered what would spur him on such nihilistic mission.

I get the same feeling these days anytime I reflect on the infantile theatrics of the outgoing Imo State governor, Owelle Rochas Okorocha. Like the axiomatic tortoise, Okorocha at the twilight of his administration has decided to swim against the tide of decency, decorum, and graciousness. His friends are horror-struck. If the governor is a man given to introspection, he wouldn’t even wait to be dissuaded. Enlightened self-interest would have come to his rescue.

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But Okorocha, blinded by hubris, sees himself as the charmer who cannot fail. But, is he? No! If he thought he was, the outcome of the 2019 elections proved otherwise, and his well-wishers had hoped he would beat a retreat thereafter.

He didn’t. Instead, he is doubling down on the perfidious road which ultimate destination is the land of disgrace. While other outgoing governors are in the transition mode, preparing their handover notes and working towards a hitch-free hand over of the reins of power to their successors, Okorocha, typically, is navigating a different tangent, elevating mischief to a statecraft. Okorocha has vowed not to allow the state governor-elect, Emeka Ihedioha, have an easy ride to power. It is an ill-advised gambit but like the axiomatic tortoise, he has vowed not to retreat until he is disgraced.


Possible dissolution

So, on the eve of his departure from office, Okorocha, who abdicated governance for a long time, suddenly remembered it is time for him to govern.

On April 5, he inaugurated boards of 38 parastatals, admonishing the members “not to fear over possible dissolution by the incoming government” and “to deploy their wealth of experience to ensure that they bring the desired results in their respective boards and parastatals”. Was Okorocha’s administration allergic to such desired results?

As if that is not bad enough, barely one month to the end of his eight-year governorship, Okorocha bizarrely inaugurated a six-man committee, headed by Prof. Chima Iwuchukwu, to establish six new universities, two colleges of education and four polytechnics, which he claimed were fully ready to resume academic activities.

Most comical is the so-called University of Medical Sciences, Ogboko, which he claimed will be serviced by the non-existent new ultra-modern 200-bed hospitals in each of the 27 local government areas in the state. While the governor is thumping his chest for turning the state into a haven for medical tourism, doctors in the state commenced an indefinite strike to protest what they called open marginalisation of medical practitioners in the state. The media is awash with stories of alleged massive looting in the state. Government properties are allegedly being carted away. And fingers of blame are pointing directly at officials of Okorocha’s government.

The greatest drawback of Nigeria’s democracy is its ability to mass produce dictators who rarely see leadership from the prism of service and ability to positively influence others towards achieving ennobling goals. They hug the hubristic absolutism of King Louis XIV of France and his ‘L’etat c’est moi’ (I am the state’) avowal with fanfare, even when Nigeria is a constitutional democracy. Nigerian governors have acquired the very unhealthy appetite of absolute monarchs, behaving as if they are the state writ large. In Nigeria, there is hardly any difference between private purse and public till. Impunity is the new normal.

Okorocha is immune to reason. He hugs impunity with relish. Seamless transition of power is the norm in every democracy. Okorocha benefitted from such process eight years ago. It is foolhardiness to work against the norm.

Outgoing governments should be as interested in transition committees as those coming to take over from them because it is a statutory prerequisite for any new administration.

So, Okorocha is not being asked to do anything new. He is not reinventing the wheel. In fact, Imo has the unique position of being the state where the transfer of power since 1999 has been from a ruling party to an opposition party.

When Achike Udenwa who governed the state for eight years under the platform of the PDP was leaving office in 2007, he handed over to Ikedi Ohakim who won on the platform of Progressive Peoples Alliance, PPA. Ohakim, who later defected to PDP handed over to Okorocha who won on the platform of the All Progressives Grand Alliance, APGA, in 2011 without any hassles.  So, why would Okorocha not ensure that there is a smooth transition of power even if the power is being transferred to an opposition party?

Of El-Rufai, Bodybags and Venezuela

Imolites are watching and keeping records even as the governor-elect, Emeka Ihedioha, moves on in spite of Okorocha’s shenanigans.

And Imolites are also working to ensure that the man they collectively and unequivocally handed their mandate does not fall into the malcontent ditch dug for him.

While inaugurating the handover committee on Tuesday, April 9, Ihedioha called for “a sombre ceremony devoid of the usual pomp and pageantry heralding a new administration,” even as he acknowledged that “the PDP and Imo people are entitled to a little celebration of a hard-won victory that heralded the liberation of the state from the shackles of bad governance.”

Imolites are in a hurry to catch up with development. For them, Okorocha is not part of that future. That explains the unprecedented level of enthusiasm and commitment of the people to the Imo project.

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Shackles of bad governance

They are revelling in the “liberation of the state from the shackles of bad governance, mal-administration, destruction of the structures and institutions of representative government, nepotism, and absolute lack of due process in the way government business is conducted.”

That explains a large number of people who are volunteering to work pro-bono in both the transition technical committee set up to help prepare a road map for governance and the inauguration committee.

Ihedioha did not need to tell members that “the work of the committees is basically voluntary with little or no remuneration”, or that Okorocha had refused to commit government money to the transition process.

The people already know and are determined to move forward despite Okorocha. They appreciate the great and difficult task ahead and are prepared.

The only Imolite who does not seem to appreciate the fact that with the outcome of the March 9 governorship poll, the people have decided to move on is Okorocha himself.  He does not seem to appreciate that the train has left the station and is headed to a new destination.

Imo people are angry. The anger is real, potent and palpable. It is a pity that the man who ought to know is oblivious of this fact.  The good thing is that the choice not to turn back from this ill-advised journey is personal. The disgrace is assured.


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