A Close Encounter with Governor Ohakim (1)
Indubitably, I appreciate politics, mainly political dialogue that involves enlightening debates on both domestic and global issues. And I love Boston because of its historical, political, and academic significance. It is, indeed, the cultural, educational and political hub of Atlantic Coast. After all, Boston is the home of the Freedom Trail and USS Constitution; the Kennedy Family, John Kerry, and now Scott Brown; Harvard, MIT, Boston College, UMASS Boston Campus, Boston University and Tufts University. Boston prides itself as the primary gateway to many other tourists' attractions in and around the New England areas. Boston is a city I like to visit often.
Well, during one of my recent visits to Boston, a friend called me, as I was freshening up in my hotel room, to invite me to the Imo State Association of Massachusetts (ISAM) town hall meeting at 3:00 P.M., on February 13, 2010, to be precise. I hesitated, but later agreed to attend. Before we hung up, he informed me of the venue, Hampton Inn on Mass Avenue, and the guest of honor would be the Governor of Imo State, Gov Ikedi Ohakim. Minutes after the conversation, I proceeded to call a cab and I arrived at the venue later than the scheduled time as the cab driver went to the wrong side of Mass Avenue. The agitated driver later located the venue with visible chagrin. As usual, the town hall meeting started later than scheduled—in honor of “African Time”.
Not long after I settled in, that Governor Ikedi Ohakim arrived uncharacteristically with only a couple of people. It's unusual for governors from Nigeria to attend an event in the US without an extensive and elaborate entourage. Well, Gov Ohakim gently walked in and sat down without much fanfare at all. No sooner had he entered than the welcome address, replete with fiery issues, was read. Accompanying the address, were pre-written questions for the governor.
Gov Ohakim was candid, but had an uncanny ability to convert the naysayers. In fact, in a matter of seconds, the Hampton Inn's charged room with a few people eager to unload on the governor, morphed into an adrenalized chamber of devotees echoing in agreement with almost every policy word Gov Ohakim uttered. No wonder Gov Ohakim could handle political criticism and focused performance with equal aplomb. He seemed to be the most criticized governor in the federation, but he continued to attract more admirers with his bundle of truth.
Ohakim and his government are largely focusing on the poor people of Imo State, a large segment with staggering disparities. A segment no one had empathized with in the past until now. As in much of Nigeria, particularly in the Southeast, there is a vivid contrast between the wealthy few and a vast poor population; a zone where the masses writhe in poverty while suffering the pangs of triple-digit inflation and a very few float in an ill-gotten affluence. And in Imo State, it is extreme, but steadily ameliorated by the pragmatic and meaningful policies of Gov Ohakim.
In a conversational mode and without a prepared speech, Gov Ohakim discussed a wide-range of local, national and international issues. Contrary to negative stories about Ohakim, he maintained a firm grasp of issues and was passionate about his responsibility to his state. No doubt, the animated Governor Ohakim was articulate and well grounded on domestic issues as he spoke with unbridled passion and complete confidence about copious burning issues facing Imo State. One of those issues was the corrupt local government system in Imo State which needed an immediate and total reform.
Interestingly, regarding the Local Government elections, Ohakim retorted, “What is more important?” “Is it Local Government elections or Local Government reform?” The Governor said that his administration has been working diligently to reform the system and, as it stands now, any person that defaults or takes LG money must go to jail. This was not obtainable in the past. He further stated that LG system and laws in Imo State did not serve the people well, rather the system exploited the masses. Because of this reform, the godfathers were stepped on and their purses were running dry due to the fact that LG allocations are now used for the people and not shared among the godfathers. Ergo, the godfathers want to do everything to stop Ohakim's policies—resorting to unremitting salacious stories.
Nevertheless, Gov Ohakim promised that there would be Local Government elections as he proceeded to share with the audience that when he came to office, there were contracts worth of 27 billion Naira awarded and paid to people, including those in America, but were not executed. He said that one of his commissioners was involved with the scheme before being appointed as a commissioner. Not only that people were paid without executing the contract, but also some businessmen work with the Local Government Bosses and attorneys to defraud the Local Governments billions of Naira through a scheme called “Judgment Debt”. The “Judgment Debt” is a system where someone takes the LG to court knowing full well that LG boss won't go to court to defend the government. With the LG being absent, the court would award judgment to the plaintiff. The LG would pay for the judgment first once the allocation comes.
According to Gov Ohakim, within two years in office, the LGs now have 11 billion Naira worth of assets under the IRROMA. Today the LGs are tarring roads and are engaged in other people-oriented activities in Imo State. This is a commendable feat because those of us in the Diaspora have been yearning for a time we will have a responsive government. We pray that the recurring success commentaries will permeate every facet of Imo State.
In any case, the reformed LG system and laws would discourage “godfatherism” thereby making LG Bosses and councils accountable to the electorate who put them in the office. With a credible and responsible system, the dividends of democracy will be seen and felt at the grassroots level.
Above all, the weather was cooperative and it turned out to be a pleasant afternoon, indeed! And for those individuals thinking that Ohakim would eventually abandon the State House because of salacious stories about him, it could be a figment of their imagination.