Sunday, August 1, 2010

A governor, clapping with one hand

By Obi Nwakanma, The Orbit/Vanguard

A reader of this column sent me a note last week thanking me for bringing the situation in Imo state to light, and for being in what he calls “informed opposition.” I did thank him, but I made it clear that I’m not in opposition to Ohakim. I am a critic of the government that he leads.

An opposition is an organized platform – a sort of government in waiting – with its alternative programs and ideas in clear distinction from the government of the day in a democracy. Sometimes they draw critical insights from informed sources to canvas their position among the electorate. But there is no opposition in Imo state. There is political opportunism. That is why the Imo state government is looking, and increasingly sounding surreal and weird.

We grew up in the East as the inheritors of fine examples of robust and dynamic leadership that saw Nnamdi Azikiwe straddling the African imagination like a force of nature, or men like Michael Iheonukara Okpara, whose leadership of the East remains without compare. While the Igbo was riding the crest of development and progress from 1957 to 1967, it felt like the rest of Nigeria could not touch its political helms, what with such colorful and eponymous names among its leaders: Akanu Ibiam, educator and missionary doctor, who approached public service with the instincts of a missionary.

Denis Osadebe – poet and brilliant legal mind, whose parliamentary skills were legendary. K.O. Mbadiwe – man of timbre and caterpillar, not only full of rhetoric and bombast, but also full of purpose. A first class political strategist and negotiator who knew his personal interest alright, but never messed with the group interest, for always, the group was the basis of their politics. There was Mbonu Ojike, brilliant economic thinker of his generation, whose early death robbed the Igbo and Nigeria greatly.

There was Nwafor Orizu; there was Jaja Wachukwu, there was Eni Njoku, there was Nwapa, there was Reuben Uzoma; there was Raymond Amanze Njoku, and there were numerous others, any of whom could have, were they born in any other clime, led any nation politically. I have said that perhaps the divine author of things played a terrible joke on the East and the Igbo particularly: he sent them a glut of first class men in one generation, and in a later generation gave them only burnt offering – political lilliputs whose conduct of politics insults the illustrious past of our 20th century political ancestors. Today, there is no memorable Igbo politician.

At the eventual passing of the great Dim Odumegwu-Ojukwu, the last of the relay of great Igbo leaders of the 20th century, the Igbo of Nigeria will not have a single memorable political figure who could rally them to great political purpose. For a people whose leaders were at the fore of the independence movement, this would be a great lesson in irony. The irony was made most poignant in the ring-kissing visit of Ikedi Ohakim, governor of Imo state, last week to Raji Fashola, governor of Lagos state.

The highlights of that visit mark Mr. Ohakim, not only as a second fiddler, but also as a governor without a clear social or economic program, who does not deserve to be re-elected in the forthcoming elections as the governor over a great state like Imo. We must help him return him quickly to his personal business in Lagos, where he says Governor Raji Fashola has made the lives of the Igbo residents worth living and Igbo businesses secure. “I have come to greet a great man, so that I too will be great” said Ikedi Ohakim to Raji Fashola in Lagos.

It sounds cute and gracious. But it also sounds like the servile declaration of a hopeful almajirin to his lordly benefactor. Ohakim was recently paid the left-handed compliment of the Sarduana Award for leadership. It is therefore not surprising from where Ikedi Ohakim draws his inspirations and examples: not from the great Zik or Okpara or Mbakwe. The trouble is that he is on his way to leading Imo state to beggarly ruin.

True, Fashola stays in Lagos and directs its transmutation from a vast slum, while Ohakim gallivants, paying courtesy visits, and spouting strange excuses for his lack of achievement. Once, his excuse was that his opponents had stymied his mandate in court with litigation, and his hands were tied. Now, the Supreme Court has declared him governor, no such excuse is valid any longer.

Now it is revenue: while Lagos has all the revenue, Ohakim says, Imo has all the ideas. This is poppycock of course. Across the fence in Enugu, we see slow but apparent change. Imo is richer in revenue and resources than Enugu. But Enugu has greater purpose. Governor Ohakim needs now to account for the revenue accruing to Imo state in the last three years-plus of his administration. There is no evidence of infrastructural investment. There is, of course, a lot of hot talk about really hot plans to build Oguta and Nworie into tourist utopia.

There is nothing on the ground. There is much talk about rural roads. I went round Imo state last year, I saw only signposts proposing IRROMA. The road from Owerri to Umuahia, much touted as dualized, and commissioned by the late president Yar Adua, is in fact a glorified dirt road, not expanded, but divided with concrete barriers into a narrow two way macadam. Every school and hospital I visited in Imo state was in profound stages of decay. The main city, Owerri, is overcrowded and has lost the serenity of which Owerri was once known because of serious code violations.

There is no evidence of new plans to recreate the city, or build new well developed counties and satellites, or even invest in new urban centers like Orlu, Okigwe, Oguta or the Ahiara-Aboh conurbation. At the office of the Owerri Capital Development Authority, there was nothing left but two old earth-movers, and a huge sign. There was an overwhelming sense of insecurity in Imo State – I had never felt more unsafe in my life.

The greatest development in Owerri is “Keke Napep” and the vast number of posters advertising Governor Ohakim colourfully. There was absolutely no doubt in my mind that Ikedi Ohakim was playing hoochie with Imo state. It has possibly to do with the party – the PPA with which he came to power in Imo state – which was some sort of ersatz arrangement foisted between Olusegun Obasanjo and Orji Uzor-Kalu on the East. It had no ideas.

But it also seems to me that much has to do with Mr. Ohakim’s own limitations: his servility to the golden calf of self-imagery for instance. I take again from Ohakim’s statement to Raji Fashola to highlight my concern: “people came from the Lagos” Ohakim said, and asked the Igbo to invest in the stock market. The crash of the stock market, he claims is the cause of the kidnapping in the South-East because Igbo lost their investment.

Ohakim is wrong on several fronts, but let me quickly say that the crime situation in the South-East is connected to the rapid impoverishment and alienation of a critical segment of the population as a result of the inability of government to provide social programs that would cushion the harsh economic environment, stimulate re-investment, create opportunities for young entrepreneurs and expand the growth of the job market both at the public and private sectors.

What does Imo do with its federal allocations? What is its exact tax base? Perhaps it is time the people themselves – long used to indolence and quiet desperation -get some backbone, and demand for accounting for the use of public funds, through either establishing an independent citizens auditing of the state’s finances or through the auditing oversight of its House of Assembly – which seems consistently complicit with the executive arm.

It is time to stop our governor panhandling from Lagos; time to plug all the leaks through which public funds disappear. In short, it is time to get the priorities right in Imo state. It is time for this governor to stop clapping with one hand and get some serious work done.

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