MARTIN ELECHI: FATHER-FIGURE OR SOFT DESPOT?
Governor Martin Nwancho Elechi, 70, can rightly claim to be one of the fathers of Ebonyi State, having led the Ebonyi State Movement in a decade-long campaign for the creation of the state. A 1966 first class honours graduate in economics, Chief Elechi had held many prominent political positions at a time some of his current political opponents were perhaps still wearing diapers. For instance between 1970 and 1975, he was variously Commissioner for Lands, Survey and Urban Development; Commissioner for Trade and Industry; and Commissioner for Works and Housing in the defunct East Central State (from where the current five states in the South East were carved out). Chief Elechi, a member of the 1977/1978 Constituent Assembly, also served as the executive secretary of the National Party of Nigeria (NPN) between 1980 and 1982. It was perhaps in recognition of his role as one of the founding fathers of Ebonyi State that his predecessor in office, Dr Sam Egwu, allegedly facilitated his emergence as the Governor of the State in 2007.
Several observations could be made about Governor Elechi especially in relation to his political opponents.
One, Chief Elechi was already on the other side of 60 when he became Governor, making him one of the oldest Governors in the current political dispensation. Given his age and political pedigree, there is often a temptation in such a situation for one to see himself as a patriarch, the grandfather who had seen it all. The flip side to a patriarch being actively involved in politics is that he is bound to feel insulted because politics is a contact sport in which the players psychologically prepare themselves to throw more punches than they get. How will the father-figure feel when people who were still running around stark naked when he had already become famous began to throw the inevitable punches?
Two, flowing from a patriarchal disposition is a certain messianic complex. This is a feeling that one is a sort of saviour to a people and that such people should demonstrate sufficient gratitude to the messiah at all times and on all issues. Chief Elechi is said to routinely threaten either to quit as Governor or not to present himself for re-election. For instance in an 'Open letter to Governor Martin Elechi' by Senator Emmanuel Onwe dated November 6, 2010 and published on the website, www. nigeriavillagesquare.com, Dr Onwe alleged that in a meeting Governor Elechi held with a few selected members of the Ikwo PDP executives on 23rd October 2010, he threatened to 'withdraw from re-contesting the gubernatorial election in the event that an Ikwo man (read Senator Emmanuel Onwe) proceeds to run for the senatorial election in Ebonyi Central'. He was also quoted by the Vanguard of January 24, 2011 as threatening that 'if the results [of the last PDP primaries in the state] were tampered with at any level, he would severe himself from the governance of the state….'
Three, what is often difficult to reconcile is Chief Elechi's tendency to threaten to withdraw from his messiah role and an apparent jittery from legitimate opposition moves to unseat him. In politics the opposition is there to keep the incumbents on their toes, not to laud them. While the mature democracies recognize that a vibrant opposition is necessary both for the defence and the expansion of the democratic space, in our type of society what we often find is a tendency to co-opt, blackmail or muzzle the opposition, short-changing the citizens in the process. In the last PDP primaries for instance Governor Elechi, who is the campaign coordinator of the Jonathan/Sambo Campaign Organisation in the South East was among the overzealous Governor- supporters of the President who forbade members of their state legislature from meeting Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, who was then Jonathan's rival for the PDP presidential ticket. The caption of the story in the Sun of October 26, 2010 was telling enough: 'Don't Come to S'east, Gov. Elechi tells PDP presidential aspirants'. Again in the run-up to President Jonathan's visit to the State last February, Chief Elechi also alleged that the opposition parties were hatching a 'plot to throw sachet water and other items on him at the Abakaliki Township Stadium, just to discredit him and make him look unpopular before the President… If they try it, security operatives will subdue them. They should not blame us for our actions.' (National Mirror [online], February 22, 2011).
Four, even more worrying for our democracy is Chief Elechi's 'ban' on ANPP from holding its national rally in the State (the rally held anyway). In an advertorial published in the Daily Trust of Thursday March 3, 2011, Chief Elechi gave reasons for the measure. These included that after the 2007 elections, in which Dr Ogbonnaya Onu, the current national chairman of the ANPP was also a candidate, the party embarked on protracted legal challenge of his emergence as the Governor even though it 'had no structures on ground, did not campaign and were therefore not prepared for elections.' Chief Elechi also alleged that the new project of the ANPP in the state is 'to bring down the current administration by making Ebonyi State ungovernable through total breakdown of law and order in the state to force the federal government to declare a state of emergency and to make the forthcoming elections visibly riotous and totally lacking in credibility.' The Governor further argued that 'Abakaliki is a small provincial capital struggling to measure to the status of a state capital. The facilities available there have always proven inadequate for state functions despite our efforts to expand the scope of facilities there'. Based on this, Chief Elechi concluded that Dr Onu's decision to 'impose the national rally of his party on such an innocuous and inadequate state capital has sinister motives'.
With all due respect, I find the reasons advanced for the 'ban' on the ANPP's rally rather petty and unbecoming of an elder statesman. This should however not be misconstrued as a defence of Dr Onu on any of the issues raised against him. What I find objectionable is that the entire advertorial was about Dr Onu and issues related to the conduct of the 2007 Governorship elections in the state. Is Dr Onu who is merely the national chairman of the ANPP now synonymous with the party such that his perceived political sins should be visited on the party? There is equally an ooze of hypocrisy in some of the reasons given. For instance if the facilities in Abakaliki are too meagre for a national campaign rally, how come the Governor had no qualms using the same facilities to host the president's whistling campaign visit and even had to urge people in the state to turn out in their numbers to demonstrate their support for the political aspirations of the president? Unfortunately Governor Elechi is not alone in this worrying tendency of trying to thrust a dagger into the heart and soul of our democracy project.