By Emeka Alex Duru
Until and unless the Supreme Court reverses itself on the judgement of January 14 or by any other reason that borders on the unforeseen, Hope Uzodimma remains the governor of Imo State. Those not comfortable with by the Apex Court’s verdict would, understandably, love to wish this away. But this is the reality of the day. For the governor, this comes with a challenge. Perhaps, in the history of the current civilian dispensation, his ascension to power is one that has remained the most controversial.
There had been instances of occupants of offices earning their positions on alleged or obvious manipulation of the electoral processes by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) or other bodies charged with the elections. Some had also come to power through some technicalities by the courts. Rotimi Amaechi, the Transport Minister, came to office as River State governor, in 2007, even when he did not stand for election, in one of such instances of technicalities. That was a fall-out of contradictions in his then Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).
There were others. But in all the instances, Nigerians were not completely surprised at the outcome. Uzodimma’s case is entirely a different case. That is why it is generating reactions and concern in the state and beyond. The other day for example, supporters of the ousted governor, Emeka Ihedioha, took to the streets in Imo and other parts of the country, protesting his removal. Various angles on the development continue to dominate major discussions among Nigerians at home and abroad. For now, Imo is trending.
A friend asked the other day, if with all the happenings in the State, I would still be proud of being a citizen of Imo. I, of course, answered in the affirmative. Imo is a state with rich history. It is an entity that does not give in, even in the face of odds. The resilience of the people and their ability to turn frustrations to fortunes, can be amazing. When it was split from the then East Central State in 1976, Imo was literally bare and lacked in basic infrastructure. Newspaper Columnist, Professor Obi Nwakanma, in one of his recent outings, captured the state of affairs in Imo at the beginning. According to him, when Sam Mbakwe arrived Owerri Government House as governor, in 1979, the three major cities in the state – “Owerri, Aba, Umuahia still had houses operating “bucket latrines” and the cities still employed night soil men (ndi Oburu nsi) and ran waste landfills”. That was enough to deter the lily-livered but not Mbakwe and his people.
Nwakanma added that the first statewide public safety and hygiene law passed under the Mbakwe administration gave every landlord and household in these cities four months and a tax rebate to change the infrastructure from the bucket system to the water system, failure of which the houses would be marked as public health hazard zones. This was fully accomplished in three months.
In 1981, faced with acute transportation system to and from the state, Mbakwe had threatened that if the Federal Government did not build an Airport in Owerri, he would mobilize and build one. He did it. Mbakwe did other things that made Imo the envy of others and a pride to the citizens in the four years of his leadership. That was the Imo Spirit at work. That is their pride, any day, anywhere.
It is unfortunate that since that glorious era of Mbakwe, Imo has not had it right, especially in the area of political leadership. At individual and other levels, the people are not lagging behind, however. Imo, for instance ranks tops among the states with the highest number of Professors of different fields in the country. Annually, it counts among states with highest number of candidates sitting for competitive examinations. In the last 10 years or more, Imo has consistently featured in the league of the first 10 states in WAEC and JAMB examinations. At local levels, giant strides are being recorded at communal development.
The lesson in all these, is that in Imo, there is a reservoir of hands and brains willing and ready to take the state to the next level. It is the leadership that has been lacking all the while. The uncertainty in the last couple of days, is whether Uzodimma would readily close this gap. The processes leading to his emergence, may not readily give hope to his critics. The government, is however, his. The choice is also his, to make history.
Instances abound of leaders who took off in controversial circumstances but ended up writing their names on gold. A case in the neighbouring Anambra easily comes to mind. In 2003, Chris Ngige, was hardly the choice of the majority of the Anambra electorate. Peter Obi of the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA), was the man for the race. With the abysmal performance of Chinweoke Mbadinuju administration in the state, PDP was loathed by many. Though the party denied Mbadinuju a return ticket and settled for Ngige, the politics of his emergence and antecedents of those backing him, further alienated him from the people. It was therefore, not difficult to understand why Obi easily won at the polls. But in line with the impunity of the Olusegun Obasanjo presidency, Ngige was declared the winner. It took three years for Obi to reclaim his mandate. Within the period, Ngige went through many challenges. Apart from the court of public opinion which was not initially in his favour on account of his dubious emergence, he found himself at the crossroads with his erstwhile godfather, Chris Uba on one hand and on the other hand, the Obasanjo presidency. He was even kidnapped, at a time.
But in the midst of his tribulations, Ngige pitched camps with the people. Through massive infrastructural development and manifestation of focused leadership in many fields, especially in extensive network of roads across the state and other engagements, he found himself on the side of the masses. By the time he was removed by the courts for Obi, he was already a hero. That singular glorious outing has continued to carry him ever since.
Uzodimma can take a cue from that. Administering Imo cannot be a difficult task for any governor that means well to his office. There has not been any record of any Imo man or woman, seeking to be fed or given money every day by the government. The people are rather known for their spirit of enterprise and independence. Their demands from their leader are simple. They are, sincerity, transparency and commitment. Mbakwe met their requirements and they offered him loyalty. Uzodimma can also do so.
.EMEKA ALEX DURU POLITICS EDITOR, THE NICHE ON SUNDAY ACCLAIM COMMUNICATIONS LIMITED 1A AGBAREH CLOSE, OFF BAMISHILE STREET, OFF ALLEN AVENUE, IKEJA, LAGOS 08054103327, 08023526709