WHY OHAKIM WAS UNPLUGGED FROM DOUGLAS HOUSE
To keen watchers of political developments in Imo State, affectionately called the Eastern Heartland, the crushing defeat of Governor Ikedi Ohakim of the Peoples Democratic Party by Rochas Okorocha of the All Progressives Grand Alliance at the contentious governorship election concluded last Friday, May 6, was not entirely unexpected. Instead, it was an electoral revolution of some sort whose outcome was predictable and long foretold even before the first ballot was cast.
It must be unequivocally stressed that the outcome of the governorship election in Imo State was not so much a triumph of one party, the APGA, over another; the PDP, as it appears on the surface, as it was the inevitable triumph of the people’s resolute desire, doggedness and collective will over the aspiration, desperation and perceived inordinate ambition of an individual and his much reviled and vilified government. Put differently, the Imo governorship election pitted Ohakim against the people he led for four years. It is what you will expect when an individual, like the Igbo proverb says, cooks for the public and when the public cooks for an individual: While the public will, evidently, ‘finish off’ theirs, the individual will not. As it turned out, Imo people cooked for Ohakim an unpalatable dish on May 6 which he could not eat, politically that is.
Indeed, many commentators have averred that the Imo governorship election, which understandably attracted much animation and attention across the nation because the indigenes are among the most widely travelled of the Igbo race, was, more than any one else, a litmus test of the sincerity and commitment of the Attahiru Jega-led Independent National Electoral Commission to deliver a credible and transparent elections in April. This was because what was at play was the desperation of an individual against the collective determination of a people who felt and spoke of inevitable change of a government perceived to be non-performing and abrasive. It is therefore a thing of pride that the INEC, and by large President Goodluck Jonathan, displayed a high level of competence, neutrality and commitment towards ensuring that the will of the people prevailed at the long run.
In many ways, the election could be likened to the popular uprisings in the Middle East that resulted to the ouster of, first, Ben Ali of Tunisia, and later, Hosni Mubarak of Egypt from power. The case of Egypt presented more dramatic scenarios as it was evident when the protesters stubbornly massed around Tahri Square, turning the place to their home in the process, that Mubarak’s days in power were numbered. Without doubt, it was obvious after the first election was declared inconclusive by the INEC after April 26, that the days of Ohakim in Douglas House, as the official governor’s lodge in the state is called, were numbered.
The days leading to the Supplementary election in four Local Government Areas and a ward in Owerri North of the state witnessed such hyped political tension and anxiety never seen in any state in Nigeria in recent years. As noted earlier, Imo people from all walks of life, and their numerous friends from elsewhere, if you like, were more than prepared to unplug the governor from the exalted position he had occupied by default in 2007.
Many reasons have been adduced to explain why someone who should ordinarily be the ‘Ikeoha’, meaning People’s strength, or even the "Enyioha' Friend of the people suddenly became an Iroha, meaning ‘Public enemy’, such that he was overwhelmingly rejected by his people making him the first elected governor of the state to lose a reelection bid since the creation of the state in 1976.
First, the Ohakim persona did not resonate with the people he led. In the field of international relations, perception, they say, is reality. It is everything. This is also apt in domestic politics. Ohakim was generally perceived by the generality of his people as boastful, arrogant, abrasive and proud. Besides, Ohakim is alien to modesty and gentleness. Never has any democratically elected politician anywhere in the world carried himself in such unspeakable standoffishness. For instance, when asked on the day of the election what his expectations were, the typical Ohakim boasted he would win with a landslide because, as he said, he had “structures” everywhere! And for a people known for their republican disposition to life, in the spirit of Onye suma achara, onye suma’, an elected public official transmuting into a lord of the manor before their eyes is a grievous political sin that cannot be forgiven. So, for them the electoral defeat was a just reward day for him.
Second, but by far the most pertinent, the governor offended the religious sensibilities of the state, who are mostly conservative Christians, when his security aides reportedly arrested and detained a Catholic priest, Rev. Father Eustace, for allegedly blocking Ohakim’s convoy with his car. It was said that the priest was taken to the office of the chief security officer of the governor where he was detained in his underpants, an act that enraged the vocal and powerful Catholic community in the state leading to their women marching around major streets of Owerri protesting and invoking curses against the governor. A public apology by the governor in the mass media on the insistence of the Catholic Archbishop of Owerri, Bishop A.JV. Obinna, could not undo the damage done.
Even when Ohakim tried to reach out to the faith by replacing his deputy, Ada Okwuonu, an Anglican, with Mrs Onwuliri, a Catholic from Mbaise, a seeming deft political move, it turned out a little too late for him. As a blogger commented on @NigeriaDecides, an internet forum during the Easter period, “Ohakim is dead in the mind of his people, he cannot resurrect, only Jesus did.” This was not unexpected because in Igboland, clergies especially the Catholic priests, are venerated and revered. Communities contribute money to send their sons to seminary schools so they can become one. In some places, the wealth of a community is measured by the number of priests, bishops and pastors it has. They occupy a pride of place in the socio-consciousness of the people. An injury, read insult, to them is seen as injury to the people.
Similarly, Ohakim’s politics was such that alienated him from many people. The circumstances under which the Interior Affairs minister, Captain Emmanuel Iheanacho, an Owerri man, was ‘suspended’ days before the election, allegedly on the request of Ohakim, were unsavoury. Achike. It was not surprising that he lost in all the three local governments in Owerri even when he was telling them he would hand-over to one of them in 2015 in line with the Imo Charter of Equity. Besides, till date, many still see Ohakim as the product of a political deal brokered in 2007 by former president Olusegun Obasanjo to rob the APGA and Ifeanyi Ararume then of the PDP, in the elections supervised by another of his kinsman, Prof. Maurice Iwu that year.
Significantly, Imo people bemoaned the alleged highhandedness of the governor, besides his predilection for white elephant A Yoruba woman married to an Urhoboman resident in Lagos told me yesterday that she was happy Ohakim lost because of the controversy that trailed the brush his convoy had with a woman in Lagos in 2009. Such level of dislike among the electorate was accentuated after he was alleged to have flogged a writer in his office. A disliked politician cannot expect to win the votes of the people. Instead of votes, the people gave him the booths!
But what lessons can Okorocha learn from Ohakim's fall? The broom that was used to sweep the latter out is still by the door side. He will suffer same misfortune if he trods the path Ohakim did by disconnecting himself from the people. He should be reminded that, as I noted earlier, he did win on account of the strength of APGA; instead, his victory was a product of people’s express desire for change and good fortune To disappoint this same people will be the greatest disappointment of all time. The time to go about the big task of rebuilding the desolate walls of Imo State is now! Imo people know when a government is delivering the gains of good governance to them, having seen the giant strides made decades ago by the Sam Mbakwe. It is to the eternal shame of successive governors of the state that many years after Mbakwe left office, he still remains the benchmark to measure good performance in office. I hope Rochas, take note.
Joel Nwokeoma is on Facebook and Twitter and can be reached on [email protected]