By Nnamdi Onuoha
Hon. Chike Okafor, member representing Okigwe South Federal Constituency (Imo State) in the House of Representatives, is one of those newbreed politicians whose emergence confounded observers of the Imo political climate. Save for a stint as commissioner in the administration of Governor Rochas Okorocha, little was known of him and, even after serving as commissioner, members of his constituency hardly looked in his direction as a likely representative of a people that boast of more experienced and exposed politicians. To cut the story short, Okafor is one of the few beneficiaries of Governor Okorocha’s political patronage.
A widely known story in the state has it that Okafor got the job of Commissioner (for Finance) in consideration of his long-standing relationship with Okorocha during which he served as financial advisor to the would-be governor. He seems to be obsessed with the governor’s penchant to see himself as the only cock that crows and makes a fetish of him. As a political appointee, people in Okigwe North Federal Constituency could understand why Okafor would deify his boss; but, certainly, not after he had taken up the mandate to represent them. Unfortunately, it seems that the only way he understands his assignment is as a megaphone for his friend, Okorocha, much to the chagrin of his people.
Indeed, this irritation has gone beyond his immediate constituency to traverse the entire of Imo North, what is more commonly known as Okigwe zone. The people’s indignation of Okafor’s show of immaturity heightened recently after he was quoted in an interview with Daily Sun newspaper (Tuesday, November 29, 2016) that the people of Imo North voted for the incumbent senator, Benjamin Uwajumogu, at the last re-run election because Okorocha asked them to do so. Let’s quote him word for word: “In a nutshell, the reason the people of Imo North voted for Uwajumogu was because Okorocha asked us to do so.” That was in answer to the question: “How do you feel now that the South-East has an APC senator in the person of Sen. Benjamin Uwajumogu?” And this was how Okafor began his answer. “I feel elated and I’m happy because Imo people, especially Okigwe zone, have once again proven to the world that they are with Okorocha.”
To say the least, Okafor’s position is not only ridiculous but also a talkdown on the people of Okigwe zone. His response is a disheartening admission that, even as a federal lawmaker, he cannot reason beyond a certain fixation on Okorocha. It is the height of naivety to say that the people of Imo North voted for Uwajumogu because Okorcha asked them to do so. That is both factually and politically incorrect. To reduce the people of Okigwe zone to a mere collective of Okorocha apologists is crass irresponsibility and a big disservice to a people known for their sophistication and tactfulness.
Definitely, the claim that the people of Imo North voted for Uwajumogu because of Okorocha is aimed at pleasing the latter but it de-markets their party, the All Progressives Congress (APC). What Okafor was saying was that the people voted, not because they believed in the APC, but in the whims of Okorocha. Read differently, it means that as far as Okafor is concerned, they did not even believe in the candidacy of Uwajumogu, a notion that is reprehensible and a distortion of facts. Okafor has, through his fanatic proclivities, painted his own people in the image of those who do not believe in their own leaders at the zonal level, those who have been galvanizing the people and providing them with credible political leadership long before Okorocha came on the scene.
Uwajumogu on his own commands enough respect and following to win that election. He was been the Speaker of the House of Assembly and he performed creditably well. Outside his native Okigwe zone, Uwajumogu, as Speaker, broke partisan barriers to embrace all Imolites, irrespective of zone. The current Speaker, Rt. Hon. Acho Ihim, comes from the same Imo North and it cannot be true that the Imo North electorate did not listen to him. It is also a well known fact in the state that many non-APC members from the zone, especially those with political clout and influence, worked for Uwajumogu.
This is to say nothing of a fellow like Senator Ifeanyi Araraume whom the people had given their mandate twice to represent them. I happened to have taken more than a casual interest in the re-run election in question. A day after Uwajumogu was declared winner, I was at his home in Ihitte Uboma to join others in congratulating him. The informal gathering of friends and well-wishers, from within and outside the zone, went into frenzy the moment the name of Araraume was mentioned by Uwajumogu as one of those who contributed to his victory. The place got electrified with shouts of “Ugwumba! Ugwumba!!” even though the senator was not present.
What I advise against is to create the impression that in Imo State, APC is Okorocha and Okorocha is APC. That is simply not correct and the governor himself knows that it is not to the interest of both him as a person and the party. To further illustrate Okafor’s fixated on Okorocha, let us take another claim he made: “Only Owerri people are not happy with Okorocha but for Orlu, Okorocha is a messiah.” I ask, is that the image to paint of a friend who is the governor of an entire state? Is it a good thing that the people of Owerri zone are not happy with Okorocha, and, for whatever reason, is it a plus for the governor?
Clearly, Okafor was on a public relations mission but that effort suffered its first setback right from the caption of the interview which went thus: “Why Okorocha is not popular among Imo elite”. Agreed, he didn’t give that caption himself but what was contained in the body of the interview justified that caption
Assuming, even, that the governor, either by design of default, is unable to engage the elite, was it for nothing that he empowered people like Okafor who should fill in the gap where the governor failed? But, alas, Okafor, and, perhaps, others like him, seems to be quite comfortable with that. They might have found themselves in such a mental void innocently but it gives impetus to critics of the governor who say he prefers to surround himself with a few people whom he can always mesmerise and cause to speak in hyperboles concerning him and his administration, the way Okafor did in the interview in question.
This brings us to another issue raised by Okafor. One of the reasons he gave as to why Okorocha is not popular with the Imo political elite is that “there is no more (sic) godfathers in politics.” If he was referring to Imo State, then it is a false claim especially coming from a fellow like Hon. Chike Okafor. Agreed, Okorocha might have spoken against ‘godfatherism’ when he came to office newly but he has since discovered that it is not possible to decree it (godfatherism) out of the system, he himself has found it irresistible and has remained a practitioner of godfatherism, so to speak.
A leader does not necessarily have to be popular in the sense many people talk about. If it is popularity in the sense Okafor spoke, then I believe the governor has enough going for him to be popular. What I think is wrong is the breakdown of elite consensus, which is why it would appear that the people are not appreciative of his achievements. Whether we like it or not, where we are now as a people makes it inevitable that our politics is elite-driven. For reasons that are quite obvious, the so-called messes still look up to the elite. Although republican in nature, the Igbo believe in local leadership. In Igboland, you don’t come from outside to take over the leadership of a people without inputs of their local elite. This is why I think that in our context, at least, it is wrong to glorify a situation where there is a disconnect between a leader and the local elite.