Since Mr. Emeka Ihedioha of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) emerged the winner of the governorship election held recently in Imo State, all sorts of people who are able to get themselves interviewed by reporters have been filling our ears with rambling tales about how a new “messiah” had emerged to liberate Imo people from the hands of their “oppressors” and “exploiters” and usher them into a glorious era of limitless happiness. As a citizen of Imo State who has closely observed several governors enter and leave the Imo Government House, I find the whole absurd drama so revolting.
If only Mr. Ihedioha would spare some moments and reflect, he would realize that there is nothing new about the drab performance that these characters are staging today; nor is it peculiar to Imo State. We saw it during the tenure of Achike Udenwa. At that time, my newspaper articles always told Udenwa the truth I thought he should hear for the benefit of our state. Indeed, it was clear to me that after he had exhausted his tenure and left, Imo State would still be there for all of us whether left in a good or bad state. My loyalty, therefore, was to my state and not to any governor.
When in 2007 (twelve years ago), Ikedi Ohakim became the governor, the noise was even louder. And Ohakim himself was such a fantastic and charming orator. Shortly after he was sworn in, he came to Lagos and gathered a select few of senior journalists and reeled out a very wonderful, if not tantalizing, programme for Imo State. I could not help being impressed. When I introduced myself, he screamed that each time he read my articles, he always thought I was “one very old veteran journalist” because of the quality of my thoughts. Like many other people that have met me, he didn’t realize that he had been fooled by my youthful look. I am not as young as several of them think.
Soon, Ohakim’s popularity plummeted so badly. He must have been very surprised when I was driven by my enduring loyalty to the state to become very critical of his administration. When it became clear to him that his second term bid might be aborted by Mr. Rochas Okorocha of the All Progressive Grand Alliance (APGA), he boasted that no one could take the office of the governor from him. This may have enraged the people the more because their determination to boot him out received additional fuel. When he eventually fell and you listened to some of the same people that had praised him to high heavens only a couple of years earlier, you wondered at the kind of terrible mindset some human beings carried about with them. Well, age is still on Ohakim’s side, and he appears to have been sufficiently sobered by his humbling experience at the polls; may be, if he gets another opportunity (which he has sought with amazing zeal since he left office), he might post a more edifying performance.
Rochas Okorocha was the most praised of them all. It was as if the long-awaited “messiah” had finally arrived. He also wowed the people by paying the arrears of salaries and pensions accumulated under his predecessor, opened countless roads that almost completely eliminated the gridlocks that egregiously distinguished Owerri at that time. People going to the airport could easily bypass the town and access Aba Road to head straight to the airport with little or no stress. Stories had it that he often walked on the streets with modest security and market women and poor artisans rushed unrestrained to embrace him, shake his hands and even offer him cold water which he received from their hands.
But soon, the roads began to wear off betraying substandard work. He then compounded his problems by joining the All Progressives Congress (APC), a party that held no appeal to Imo people given its anti-people policies; he, however, fought really hard to ensure its victory. After the arrival of CHANGE, the Imo became so broke that he could no longer pay salaries and even when he paid them, he chose whatever percentage that suited him to dish out to the workers each month. As a public service worker you could not say what your salary would be at the end of the month. Soon, he reduced the number of work days and asked the impoverished civil servants to devote Thursday and Friday for farm work, not bothering if they had the funds to undertake such an endeavour. Even when he created the office of the Commissioner for Happiness and put his lovely sister in charge of it, the people still could not be appeased.
Although he had managed to get reelected, he was no long the “man of the people.” He soon compounded his predicament further by his ill-advised decision to install a certain young man, his daughter’s spouse, to succeed him as governor. Quite a number of Imo people took the insult personally. That opened the door wider to many conflicts and increased the number of his bitter antagonists both within and outside his party. While his anointed candidate failed woefully, his own senatorial bid is still imperiled. Even his position in his party has become shaky.
Since it was clear that the APC had no chances in Imo, APGA, which naturally should have taken the governorship seat, miscalculated so badly. They offered Imo people a hard-sell (some say at the mischievous instigation of the presidency). The next natural choice for Imo people was then Mr. Ihedioha of the PDP. There is serious doubt today among many informed minds that the result of the election would have been the same if APGA had fielded somebody like Mr. Frank Nneji, Ihedioha’s kinsman, as its governorship candidate for Imo State.
I have gone all this way to help Ihedioha to appreciate the peculiar circumstances that threw the governorship mandate on his lap. I have not seen Ihedioha address any crowd, but I would be highly surprised to witness him manifest an ability to charm a crowd. It would therefore be very unhelpful if allows any sycophant to lull him into the false belief that Imo people had suddenly seen in him an ability and charisma they were unable to see the previous time. This realization would now make his work more enormous but not impossible. He should go all out to win the people’s confidence (which, if he must tell himself the truth, is very low at the moment) and prove to them that they had grossly misjudged him by not voting him in earlier.
Already, he appears to have taken the first unappetizing step by the unwieldy crowd he published as members of his Transition Committee. The list looks like a village meeting. He needs to work hard to correct the unsavoury signal this first step has already sent out. As governor, Emeka Ihedioha should confront headlong the problem of civil servants, especially, teachers and pensioners and clear their arrears of salaries. Also, and very importantly, he would be missing it if he begins immediately to build new roads. Rather, he should solidify the ones constructed by Okorocha, especially, in the state capital, reopen the adjoining streets closed by the open gutters of newly reconstructed roads to enable the free-flow of traffic in Owerri, and clear the mountains of refuse everywhere to give the state a facelift.
Finally, Emeka Ihedioha should remember that he would once again face the whole of Imo only a couple of years from now to ask for their votes again. Indeed, Imo people have evolved a vibrant culture of clearly enforcing their acceptance or rejection of candidates with maximum success no matter how formidable the resistance launched to stop them. I hope he would always bear this in mind as he counts down to 2023.
•Ugochukwu Ejinkeonye is a Nigerian writer based in Lagos.