By Ikechukwu Amaechi
IN his open letter to the dethroned Emir of Kano, Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, in Daily Trust on March 12, elder statesman, Ahmed Joda, advised the former Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, CBN, never to challenge his dethronement in court. “I suggest to you that if you are contemplating the legal route to right the wrong that has been done to you, you should abandon the thought,” Joda advised.
Some would deem such an advice strange, if not bizarre. Where else should real or perceived wrongs be righted if not the courts? But Joda, one of Nigeria’s most accomplished and celebrated public servants, is neither obtuse nor flippant. He had his reason. “The judiciary is not the way to go in this country when you are seeking for justice. For evidence, you have a living example in Jokolo, the Emir of Gwandu,” he counseled.
That was a damning indictment of the Nigerian judiciary. Coming from a man who celebrated his 90th birthday on February 13 makes it even worse. But Mustapha Jokolo who, like Sanusi, was pushed down from his high perch as the Emir of Gwandu in 2005, is only but one of the living examples of travesty of justice in Nigeria with the courts as accomplices. The most recent living example is Emeka Ihedioha, who was served an unjust desert by the judiciary on January 14, 2020, a day, to borrow the phrase of Franklin D. Roosevelt, “that will live in infamy.”
For seven months before that day of judicial infamy, Ihedioha was the high-flying governor of Imo State, who, unlike most of his peers, his leadership stock went way up in so short a time.
But that popular mandate freely given by the good people of Imo was capriciously, in a manner that can only be described as the height of whimsical arbitrariness of judicial autocracy, annulled by seven justices of the Supreme Court. A judgement another Justice of the apex court, Centus Nweze, not only said was wrong but warned “will continue to haunt our (Nigeria’s) electoral jurisprudence for a long time to come.” Of course, the rescue rope thrown at the Supreme Court by Ihedioha to redeem itself through a request for review was rebuffed and that put paid to his governorship.
Nweze found that decision abhorrent, hence his very stern rebuke in his minority judgement.
In accepting his fate as decreed by the Supreme Court against the will of Imolites, Ihedioha made a poignant statement. “Whatever may be the personal injury I suffer as a result of the miscarriage of justice, my main concern in the whole tragic episode is not about me. It has always been about the implication this judgement could have for the future of our democracy and the right of the electorate to have their votes count.
“If institutions that are critical to the entrenchment of the rule of law could thwart the wishes of the people in a cynical manner, where lies the future of our democracy?”
Imolites who elected Ihedioha their governor on March 9, 2019 agree with him. The eerie silence that pervades the entire state should never be misconstrued as acquiescence with the injustice. Anyone in doubt should recall what happened on March 3 when news filtered in that the Supreme Court had reversed its January 14 verdict in his favour.
Suddenly, the state came alive again. If only the justices knew the tragic impact of their judgement on the state. But this article is not about the wrong done to Imolites. There is no need crying over spilt milk. The people have cried enough but their tears did not appease their tormentors. Ihedioha has moved on and, in doing so, has beckoned on the people to take a cue. But in moving on we dare not forget because that is what those who masterminded the judicial heist want the people to do. But how can we forget when the battle ahead is so gargantuan?
On Tuesday March 24, Ihedioha clocked 55 years. His has been an eventful life, in which he has achieved what many can only wish for in two life cycles. Those who plotted his removal didn’t do so because he failed to deliver on his mandate. They were afraid that his achievements would eclipse their own political fortunes for life if they allowed him to stay on. But they were seven months late because his stint in office was not only a steep learning curve, Ihedioha etched himself permanently in the psyche of the people. With the buy-in of multilateral donor agencies and revival of the hitherto moribund Imo economy putting the political winds at his back, Ihedioha was able to, in so short a time, capture the imagination of all well-meaning Nigerians. In seven months, by the sheer prowess of informed leadership, the Eastern Heartland regained its pride of place in the comity of Nigerian states and Imolites were walking, once again, on the moon, literally.
It was such that a survey by the National Bureau of Statistics, NBS and the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, UNODC, – in collaboration with other international partner agencies – rated Imo – with 17.6 per cent graft rate – as the cleanest state on Nigeria’s corruption index. Imo as Nigeria’s least-corrupt state sounded too good to be true because that was the stuff miracles are made of, except that there was nothing miraculous about the feat. It was simply pragmatic leadership in action.
The fact of Imo dramatically leaving the winter of corruption and luxuriating in the transparency spring in so short a time equally astounded the assessors. “There is a remarkable decrease in the prevalence of corruption in Imo State in the short time span,” said NBS. And the feat was ensconced in the womb of the value propositions and leadership worldview that Ihedioha brought to bear on governance in the state. Within six months, he signed Executive Order 005, activating the Treasury Single Account, TSA, which made it compulsory that all revenues accruable to the state are paid into a consolidated account, thereby plugging leakages.
Imo under Ihedioha’s watch signed on to the Open Government Partnership, OGP, a multi-stakeholder initiative that focuses on improving government transparency, accountability and responsiveness to citizens through technology and innovation. By so doing, the state made some key open governance commitments, including access to information, anti-corruption, open budgeting, fiscal transparency, open contracting and citizens’ engagement.
The impact of all the measures was dramatic. Monthly internally generated revenue, IGR, jumped from a miserly N260 million to almost N1 billion in six months. All the steps were deliberate, methodical and systematic. But nobody who knew Ihedioha’s leadership trajectory was surprised. Writing in this column on March 6, 2019, three days before the governorship election on March 9, I emphasised that though there were 65 candidates, Imolites had only one choice – Emeka Ihedioha. My reason was simple. As a federal lawmaker, he exhibited extraordinary brilliance, turning out to be one of the shining stars of this democratic dispensation and reaching the peak of his legislative career as Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives. It is a measure of his credibility that he has been in public office for almost two decades with neither scandal nor stain. Unlike most of those who conspired against him, his educational qualifications are not hoisted on the effigy of patently false affidavits. His single-mindedness in the pursuit of public good is unrivalled.
At 55, Ihedioha is still a young man. Yes, the Supreme Court tied our hands behind our back. But it is not yet over until it is over. The greatest tragedy that will befall the people is to forget. That is what the conspirators are hoping for. But they don’t have the capacity to give the people the hope they are promising because the status quo is bleak and hopeless.
And the big task before Imolites is to ensure that this globally acclaimed seven-month burst of momentum is not allowed to fizzle out just a blip on his aspiration radar because of our collective lethargy.