There must be something about political power that makes otherwise good men to act contrary to expectations once in power. And it can be very dispiriting. Let me mention immediately that I do not know Governor Emeka Ihedioha from Adam. But by reputation, he was one of the politicians (alongside the likes of Dr Kayode Fayemi, Dr Datti Baba Ahmed and Prof Kingsley Moghalu) often embraced by public intellectuals as urbane, who, if given the chance, would help to sanitize the political stage. As Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives, Ihedioha managed to avoid any ruinous scandal –despite emerging as the Deputy Speaker against his party’s zoning arrangements. When he contested the governorship election in 2015 under the PDP against Okorocha who ran under the APC ticket – and lost – he quietly went home after exhausting the judicial processes, licked his wounds, re-strategized and came back again. In that crowded field of ‘hard men’ for the 2019 Governorship election in Imo State, he stood out as suave and polished, leading to some people questioning whether he had enough rough edges to withstand the predicted anarchic character of the election. Ihedioha eventually emerged victorious – or rather he was announced the winner – since the outcome of the election is still contested – as most elections in the country are wont to be.
Given the expectations around Ihedioha, I feel that he started on a rather disappointing note: the first was the argument over the demolition of the Akachi tower, a controversial monument erected by the immediate past governor of the State, Rochas Okorocha. Most of the media headlines on Imo State on May 30 2019 – just a day after Ihedioha and other elected governors were inaugurated into office – did him no PR favours. Some of the newspaper headlines that day read: ‘Ihedioha Demolishes Akachi Monument Built by Okorocha’ [Punch]; ‘Governor Ihedioha Moves Against Okorocha, destroys legacy towers’, [The PM News]; ‘Ihedioha performs first assignment, demolishes Akachi Towers’ [The Sun]; and ‘Governor Ihedioha Destroys Akachi Towers, Okorocha’s Legacy’ [Leadership].
The sub-text in these screaming headlines was that Governor Ihedioha’s first assignment as a state governor was to go on a vindictive mission against his predecessor, something that traditional Nigerian politicians are notorious for, but which those regarded as the poster boys of the country’s public intellectuals and civil society groups are expected to eschew. Though Ihedioha later denied any knowledge of the demolition of the tower, for many, the PR damage had already been done. For some of his critics on the Akachi tower demolition, even if he did not give the orders for the demolition, there was no way it could have taken place without those responsible for that reading such from his body language. Others opined that to deny any knowledge of the demolition amounted to admitting to not being effectively in charge. I feel that Governor Ihedioha is yet to fully recover from that initial PR disaster when again he handed another round of ammunition to his critics:
On June 6 2019, several media houses reported again that Governor Ihedioha had set up an eight-man committee to probe the financial dealings of Rochas Okorocha. The Committee, which is headed by Dr Abraham Nwankwo, former DG of the Debt Management Office, was given the task of ascertaining and documenting the locations and balances on all bank accounts operated by the Imo State Government, its Ministries, Departments and Agencies as of May 29 2019. The committee was also mandated to review all financial transactions and carry out a forensic audit to establish sources of funds and how they are disbursed.
There is nothing wrong in setting up such a probe committee but should this really be one of the major tasks of a new government, especially when one of his first major ‘assignments’ after inauguration was to deny authorizing the demolition of Akachi Tower, and by implication being on a vendetta mission against Okorocha? One would think that the priority of a new government should be on how to streamline and implement its campaign promises and not to embark on projects that might be construed as witch-hunting the past governor – irrespective of his perceived sins.
If I were to advise Governor Ihedioha, I would have counselled that he should resist any pressure to move on his predecessor – until at least six months or one year into his administration. Even at that I doubt if it is politically wise to call any review of the activities of the past Government a probe – which in our clime often connotes witch-hunt. What would the Ihedioha government lose, if after one year in office, he sets up a committee to review and advice on how to streamline projects by his predecessor – which would of course cover the terms of reference given to the Abraham Nwankwo- led committee?
On June 18 2019, about three weeks after Ihedioha was inaugurated into office, Imo State was once again on the media spot. This time the news was that Governor Ihedioha has approved the suspension of chairmen, vice chairmen, councillors and political appointees of the 27 Local Government Areas in the state. He reportedly directed the suspended elected officials to hand over government property in their possession to the Directors of Administration and General Services (DAGS) of their various councils. The suspended council bosses and the 604 councillors, largely members of the All Progressives Congress (APC), were elected last year for a-three-year tenure during the administration of Rochas Okorocha. Though the dissolution of the Local Councils was pursuant to a recommendation made to him by the Imo State House of Assembly, its timing unfortunately accentuates the narrative of a witch-hunt against Okorocha. Again while the traditional politicians see moving against their predecessors as ‘normal politics’, those like Ihedioha often hailed as being polished and urbane, are expected to do things differently. Though it is understandable that the governor will, at a point, have to find ways around working with the leadership of the Local Government Areas whose support he cannot vouch, the issue of timing also comes into play – especially in the light of the Akachi Tower controversy and the setting up of a panel to probe the Okorocha government.
Let me mention that I am not a fan of Okorocha’s brand of politics. His politics of trying to create a political dynasty in Imo state was extremely reprehensible and rubbed on the wrong side of many Igbos, because Igbo society is inherently anti-dynastic. A federal ministerial appointment that was meant for Imo State was cornered for Okorocha’s father in-law; his sister was a State Commissioner for Happiness in his government, and to rub insult to an injury, he was unabashedly pushing for his son-in-law to succeed him as Governor. It was probably the first time in the annals of Igbo political history that a Governor would dare to be such clannish. And that really angered many people.
However despite Okorocha’s apparent insensitivity and mistakes – including infamously erecting statutes that have no bearing to the country’s or state’s history- there are useful lessons Ihedioha ought to have learnt from Buhari’s obsession with the Jonathan government for most of his first term in office – it won sympathies for Jonathan. Also sooner than later people will get fed up with obsessions with the past and turn their frustrations into criticisms of the government. Yes, the past can be looked into, but it should also be borne in mind that every dirt dug up from the past usually has an accompanying politics of resistance to it, which necessarily leads to the dissipation of energies and resources by a government which should ideally not want to be distracted.
It should equally be borne in mind that Ihedioha won the election by scoring only 273,404 of the votes to defeat his closest rival, Uche Nwosu of the Action Alliance, (AA), who polled 190,364 votes and Senator Hope Uzodimma of the All Progressives Congress, (APC), who came third with 96,458 votes. The combined votes of Uche Nwosu and Hope Uzodimma alone are 463,768 – nearly double what Ihedioha scored to win the election. The implication of this is that there are many voters out there who did not vote for Ihedioha and who are at this stage likely to be on the fence, waiting to see how his government evolves. Ihedioha can win over such voters by adopting centrist policies (at least initially), painstakingly pursuing reconciliation, eschewing all forms of vindictiveness and being magnanimous in victory. Dwelling on the past this early in his government, in my opinion, is not the way to go.