The 2019 governorship election in Imo state will go down in electoral history as a watershed. The Supreme Court of the country received scorn when it declared Hope Uzodinma as the winner of that gubernatorial election from the fourth position and is currently the governor of Imo state based on that curious judgement. Even the Supreme Court itself does not take pride in that repulsive ruling, which has haunted it for so long that it is no longer regarded as a legal precedent.
The Uzodinma saga wasn’t entirely the making of the Supreme Court. The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), the electoral body that carries out the country’s elections laid the booby trap. It started with INEC invalidating the results of up to 360 polling units but refused to submit them to the Supreme Court for verification.
As Imo state prepares for another governorship election in November with the current governor running again, it has become necessary to revisit that tragic past. Although Kogi, Bayelsa, and one other state are also scheduled to hold off-season elections, Imo deserves special attention because of what its example represents in the nation’s electoral history. It is a history that must not be allowed to repeat itself.
Uzodinma was aware that the contentious manner he was elected governor embarrassed the nation and that was why he initially had to harass anyone who referred to him as the “Supreme Court governor”. People often refer to him as “Supreme Court governor” to imply that the Supreme Court, not the Imo state people, made him governor.
The charade that INEC called the Imo governorship election in 2019 did not allow for transparency or integrity, therefore even if Hope Uzodinma had won the election, the majority of people did not see it in that opaqueness. The power of perception over reality in public affairs is enormous. Uzodinma also became overbearing to rule and reign in Imo, which further polarised the state and made him unpopular with his people.
Many people rightly consider his style to be authoritarian. Since the beginning of his government, he has engaged in an excessive number of pointless conflicts on several fronts, including a proclaimed war with pro-Biafra agitators. His country home was torched in these avoidable conflicts. On that same day that the governor’s home was attacked and set on fire, a police security guard also died. Nobody took responsibility, but Uzodinma blamed IPOB and ESN, whether rightly or wrongly, and that incident shaped the governor’s actions on security in Imo state.
Since then, the level of insecurity in Imo has deteriorated and become the worst in the entire South-East, spreading and fostering more insecurity nearby, particularly in the state of Anambra. The governor has been accused of using his so-called security organisation, Ebube Agu, to harass his political rivals and increase unrest in his state.
It can therefore be safely said that the politicisation and use of Ebube Agu in waging political wars is largely what causes insecurity in the Imo state.
The build-up to the upcoming Imo governor’s election has seen an increase in insecurity. Given the obvious connection between the upcoming governorship election and the increase in unrest and insecurity, INEC and the security services must step up and take the necessary action. Nobody, not even the governor, should be permitted to create insecurity to use it as a ruse to win the upcoming election.
To protect the country from further embarrassment, INEC must first be impartial and do its work within the extant laws and its regulations. The unfortunate February 25, 2023, presidential election example, which began with the promise of being the finest conducted in Nigeria but turned out to be the worst, will always haunt the Commission. INEC should be ashamed of the number of results that are being overturned at the tribunals across the nation owing to the shoddy work they did.
The Electoral Act 2022 and its Electoral Guideline 2022, which expressly provided electronic transmission of results from the polling booths (see section 64 subsection 4 of the Electoral 2022, and para 137 of the Election Guideline 2022, if in doubt), were abandoned by INEC, and manual collation was used instead, resulting in the tainted presidential and other results. This caused the 2023 General Election to pass as the worst in history.
As the only body in charge of elections, INEC needs to change its ways and stop behaving like a machine for rigging elections. The nation would want to avoid a recurrence of the events that produced the IMO election result in 2019. Regardless of whether electronic results transmission is mandatory or voluntary, INEC must transmit results from polling units before manual results collation and announcement at every stage. That is the only way to save Imo state and the nation’s hard-earned democracy.
The other damning issue is whether or not Imolites will be able to freely participate in the election given the escalating insecurity and growing ungoverned spaces. There is a real danger from insecurity and the terror it has struck in the psyche of the people. The federal government, acting via the proper institutions, must address the political aspects of insecurity in Imo. The Police are the nation’s primary agency for overseeing election security, so the Inspector General of Police should keep this in mind.
The IG is also aware that a state’s general internal security affects how well elections are policed. Just days ago, a joint security patrol made up of military, police, and civil defence personnel was ambushed and killed. The victims included men of the Nigerian Police Force, Army, Department of State Services (DSS), and Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC).
The Joint Security Task Force team was ambushed by gunmen in the Umualumaku community in Ehime Mbano Local Government Area of the state, according to the villagers. It was a painful sight to witness.
This incident was one of many examples of bestial killings in Imo under the watch of Uzodinma. Recall how, approximately a year or two ago, gunmen whom many believed to be from the dreaded illegal Ebube Agu security group killed 14 unarmed youths who were returning from a traditional wedding ceremony in Awo-Omamma in the Oru East local government area of the state.
According to Governor Uzodinma, however, DSS agents in the state were responsible and identified the youngsters who were killed as ESN agents and IPOB members. But even if they were, was their execution the prescription of the law and the proper action of a law-abiding and democratic society?
These two occurrences are an example of the murders and counter-murders that take place between government agents and equally armed non-state actors. Travel warnings against some local governments in Imo state are public knowledge, and some local governments are currently ungovernable as their forests and roads are in the hands of the so-called unknown gunmen (UGM).
Now is the moment for a cease-fire. The time has come to extend an olive branch. Now is the moment to use more non-kinetic techniques than kinetic ones. To deal with the security of the Imo Guber election in particular, the IG of Police and other security agencies must attempt fresh approaches. It’s time to save Imo.
Although no one in Imo or elsewhere supports the killings of security personnel by non-state actors, the strategy where security agencies hunt down the youths found in the vicinity of where their agencies lost some officers and men to exact revenge and restore respect is only escalating insecurity in the state and everywhere.
According to Newton’s Third Law of Motion, every action has an equal and opposite reaction. If one object exerts a force on the other object, the other object also exerts a force on this one. Hence, if two objects, A and B interact, A exerts a force on B and B exerts an equal and opposite force on A. This Newtonian law of physics helps to explain the adversary between states and non-state actors in the insecurity mix. Who sows the wind will also harvest whirlwinds. The way that security treats fellow citizens needs to fundamentally change if peace in the state, the South East, and the country is the goal.
The citizens are not the enemies. The security agencies were created to ensure citizens’ welfare, security, and happiness. Yet, Nigeria’s security operations have been carried on in a way that leaves much to be desired and has increased insecurity rather than ensuring it for its provocations.
The Imo governorship election presents a new chance to reestablish security in the state. It is equally crucial that INEC organise a fair election and provide Imolites the opportunity to elect their future governor. Hope Uzodinma may return and Hope Uzodinma must not return. A transparent, free, and fair election that is free from the typical manipulation by INEC officials and the thuggery and violence that the Police and other security services tolerate in our elections should not get in the way of whoever the Imo people want.
The ugly history referenced must not be repeated in this governorship contest. Otherwise, this fantastic chance to save Imo must have been missed. Again, INEC and the Police are the focus of attention. May they not disappoint the Imo people and Nigerians yet again.
· Dr. Law Mefor, an Abuja-based forensic and social psychologist, is a fellow of The Abuja School of Social and Political Thoughts; email@example.com; Twitter: @Drlawsonmefor.