By Abdullahi O. Haruna Haruspice Shamaki Adamu is a soldier…
The Ahiara Declaration, was a document written by the National Guidance Committee of Biafra, a body including the renowned author Chinua Achebe and delivered as a speech by the Biafran Leader Emeka Ojukwu in the town of Ahiara on June 1, 1969. The tract encourages the people to persist in their efforts, assuring them of the moral value of their sacrifices, an excerpt:
“For two years we have been subjected to a total blockade. We all know how bitter, bloody and protracted the First and Second World Wars were. At no stage in those wars did the white belligerents carry out a total blockade of their fellow whites. In each case where a blockade was imposed, allowance was made for certain basic necessities of life in the interest of women, children and other non-combatants. Ours is the only example in recent history where a whole people have been so treated. What is it that makes our case different? Do we not have women, children and other non-combatants? Does the fact that they are black women, black children and black non-combatants make such a world of difference?”
Ahiara is a town in Mbaise, Imo State. Some Igbos don’t like Igbos of the Mbaise sub-group. The irony is that this wretched bias is often on the chimerical sentiment that persons from the Mbaise sub-group are said to be far too intelligent. Yes, what stupid nonsense indeed. Having lived all my life in cosmopolitan Lagos and returning to set up a private legal practice in the city of Owerri, Imo state, I was confronted with this bias and I found it laughable, to say the least. How do you not like these folks because they have got the smarts? Rather if anything, shouldn’t you want to learn from them? Fast forward 1 years down the line, some of my closest friends in town, C. Njoku, a geologist, and P. Ohanele, a medical doctor, are both from the Mbaise sub-group and they are two of the most genuinely brilliant, sincere and upright persons I have ever met.
So when you ask people, so you don’t like the Mbaise? Now let’s do a mental exercise, think about your life and think about the people who have hurt or betrayed you the most in relationships, business or whatever. More than often than not you would hear them say, ‘oh my twin brother, my uncle, my cousin, my kinsman’. Never an Mbaise man. But the myth of the bad Mbaise man continues, in foolish quarters. Now when Mr Emeka Ihedioha became the PDP nominee for the governorship election in Imo state the opposition attack dogs went to town — Emeka can’t win because he is an Mbaise man. But win did he, and in quite spectacular fashion. Folks from the Mbaise sub-group, came out in large numbers, organizing furiously in Whatsapp forums, raising money and the 3 local governments, Aboh, Ezinihitte and Ahiazu gave Mr Ihedioha over 100,000 votes, more than 30% of his total margin. Of course, you mess with the Mbaise at your own peril. Sadly, Rogers Stewart, a colonial British doctor, on November 16, 1905 learnt the hard way. He was killed at Afor-Ukwu market of Onicha-Amairi, an Mbaise townlet, by villagers who thought they had captured the much hated district Commissioner H.M. Douglas. Mr Stewart’s bicycle was tied to a tree by the people to prevent it returning to Owerri to report his death, Lol.
Emeka Ihedioha won the Imo state Governorship election. He defeated his closest challenger Mr Uche Nwosu, the son-in-law of the current Governor Rochas Okorocha. Mr Ihedioha had previously served in the Nigerian House of Representatives for 12 years from 2003 to 2015 and had risen to be the deputy speaker of the House. A serial player in the murky waters of Nigerian politics, he has built a substantial following especially among his Aboh Mbaise, Ngor Okpala constituents from years of dishing out patronage in the form of jobs, transformers and the likes. He wear a green native cap. Mr Ihedioha is not exactly charismatic but you can tell that he is self assured and not easily fazed, having been around the corridors of power at the national level for a long time since 1992 as press officer to the then Senate President, Iyorchia Ayu
In Imo state, there are 3 senatorial zones, Orlu, Owerri and Okigwe. Since 1999, politicians from the Orlu Zone have produced 2 governors, Achike Udenwa and Rochas Okorocha, who have ruled for a combined period of 16 years. Ikedi Ohakim who was Governor from2007 and 2011 was from the Okigwe Zone.
The clamour for a Governor from Owerri Zone, went viral during this election season. In the Nigerian political context, where prebendalism and nepotism are hardcore governing principles, it would be hard to dismiss the desire of folks from Owerri Zone to also produce a governor. Igbo people have a strong sense of fairness and justness. Ihedioha won with votes not just from Mbaise but from all across the state, from Nwangele to Obowo and Owerri Municipal. When Ihedioha was announced as the winner, young people came out on the streets, people were happy not just because Ihedioha won but also because Imo people had stopped the present Governor Rochas Okorocha from installing his Son-In-law, Uche Nwosu as the next Governor. It was a victory for Imo people.
The man Rochas Okorochas is a man given to illusions of grandeur which makes him descend sometimes into the burlesque. That the word ‘Iberiberism’ has become part of the infamous political lexicon in Nigeria like ‘Penkelemesi’, is all thanks to Mr Okorocha. He built a statute for disgraced former South African President Jacob Zuma in Owerri, the state capital and named an important road after him. Iberiberism. Mr Okorocha could have chosen to support any other person for Governor but he chose his son-in-law Uche Nwosu. Mr Nwosu is a fine gentleman, and most people who have come in contact with him speak well of him. I must say he must be quite the amazing husband to the Governor’s daughter to command the total confidence of his in-law the Governor. For Uche Nwosu’s sake, Mr Okorocha committed political hari-kari. This is a political love story for the ages. But the caricature that is now Rochas Okorocha, was once a dynamic leader and perhaps the greatest Igbo political populist of his generation. My law partner Ugochukwu Nwosu, Esq, told me -’You need to have seen the celebration when Rochas won in 2011, people were burning tires on the streets, what you are seeing with Ihedioha now is nothing compared to what happened when Rochas first became Governor in 2011’.
Mr Okorocha became Governor of Imo State in 2011 under the platform of the All Progressive Grand Alliance (APGA). He won against the then incumbent, the cerebral Ikedi Ohakim, who at that time was seen as too elitist and had alienated the leadership of the Catholic church. Mr Okorocha barely few months before the election, built up a political movement of so called Keke NAPEP drivers, market women, students and rural dwellers. This political movement became an all-conquering behemoth that swept away the Imo elite and political establishment, a crushing defeat for which even the emergence of Emeka Ihedioha cannot be regarded as a recovery.
For all his faults, Rochas Okorocha still has a legacy that the honest non-partisan cannot deny. He opened up the political space and brought ordinary people into the political process. The people who became commissioners and special assistants in his administration were previous political unknowns and not the sons and daughters of traditional rulers, or the first man who got a degree in the community or the elite moneyed class. He built rural roads like no other Governor before him and expanded city roads. Mr Okorocha often made use of local labor in his numerous constructions. However what history will remember the Governor for was his Free Education policy. The idea that a university education should be the exclusive preserve of the rich and elite is an insidious idea that has eating deep into the thinking of our political leaders and even among intellectuals. Proponents of making university education beyond the reach of the poor would gladly point to the United States as an example. Let’s even ignore the fact that the United States has a readily available loan system to access money to pay for college tuition, in most of the developed world, including almost all of Europe and the Scandinavia, education is compulsory and free from primary to the tertiary. The cost of tuition in universities in these countries is zero. We can do away with extravagant spending and overhead and make education free for all of our people. Rochas Okorocha made that possible for 8 years and history will be kind to him.
Though Mr Okorocha’s critics will point to a litany of errors. Jacob Zuma has a statute in Imo state and Alvan Ikoku doesn’t. The road and bridges he built were clearly substandard, and this is not hearsay, the rains always swept them away and people were scared of driving their cars on his bridges for fear that the bridges might collapse. All the contracts were allegedly awarded to his companies and those of his cronies. Rochas Okorocha built a palatial estate in acres and acres of land, for himself, like an emperor, complete, allegedly, with a zoo, a church, a filling station and all that you can imagine. He took nepotism to heights never seen before in Imo state and even in Nigeria. His son in law Uche Nwosu was at various times Commissioner for Lands and Chief of staff. Out of the blue, aseparate portfolio was created and the Governor’s sister was made Commissioner for the Happiness of Imo people. His In-Law Prof Anwuka was made a Federal Minister. His daughters built beauty parlors and recreational centers all over Imo state. Allegedly, the man married to his second daughter, a medical doctor, became an entertainment guru overnight, building a stupendous night club and brought popular entertainers like Davido, Tuface and Burna Boy to perform at the club over a short period of time during the last Christmas season. The Governor removed the world renowned public health expert Prof BEB Nwoke and made a lightweight academician cum politician Prof Victoria Adaobi Obasi the Vice Chancellor of Imo State University. Rochas Okorocha is from Ogboko Village, in Ideato South, Prof Obasi is from Ogboko Village, in Ideato South.
This victory is not just for Mr Ihedioha. The victory also belongs to Ahmed Gulak. Mr Gulak was former Political Adviser to former President Goodluck Jonathan and now APC chieftain. He was the Chairman of the APC Imo State governorship primaries which produced Senator Hope Uzodinma as the governorship candidate of the party. That singular act paved the way for Ihedioha’s victory. If Uche Nwosu was allowed to emerge as APC governorship candidate, I suspect the Okorocha coalition would have swept the polls. Maybe Ihedioha should build a statute for Ahmed Gulak.
As Ihedioha prepares to become Governor, the people who Mr Okorocha brought into the democratic process should not be left behind. Ihedioha’s government should not be a government for the elites or for a particular clan but for all of Imo people. Free education from primary to university has to continue. Reputable construction companies should be awarded road construction contracts but not at exorbitant quotations to political financiers. Imo people must unite and support the incoming governor. Ihedioha must reach out to other political leaders like the brilliant Hope Uzodinma and the charismatic Ifeanyi Ararume and Ikedi Ohakim. Rochas turn is done. The time to start is now. Talk is cheap.