The worst moment in an election is often the day after. It’s the time when the losers start coping with the reality of the outcome. Because for some politicians who have lost in the election , truth bites. The outcome that they have lost gives them this sinking feeling of anger, bitterness, disillusionment and frustration. They find it hard to let go and allow the winner enjoy the fruits of his electoral success and implement his agenda for the good of the people. What ought to be the greatness of the political system is that even though politics could be the energetic clash of conflicting ideas, knowing when to stop the rancour and work together with the winner, remains a major drawback in our political history.
But it is not hard to understand why this is so, why many politicians refuse to graciously accept defeat. Coping with how their ambitions have been extinguished, is something hard to take. Moreover, coming to terms with how to repay the money they may have borrowed from the banks or from friends, is an additional stress. Drowning in debt, many politicians will tell you, is a nightmarish experience. And so, when you see some politicians bent on contesting the outcome of an election in which they were roundly defeated, up to the bitterest end – to the Supreme Court, it is often not because they believe in the cause they have undertaken, or for reason of advancing our electoral jurisprudence. They are counting their losses and believing that, after all, politics is the art of the possible: ‘the court may give me victory’. This is exactly the tale of three sore losers in the governorship election held in Imo state, and across the country on March 9, 2019.
Recall that the Independent National Electoral Commission(INEC) had declared Rt.Hon. Emeka Ihedioha as winner of the election with a total of 270,404 votes. Dissatisfied with the result announced by the electoral umpire, three losers in the election, Mr. Uche Nwosu, of the Action Alliance(AA), Sen. Ifeanyi Ararume of the All Progressives Grand Alliance(APGA), and Sen. Hope Uzodinma, of the All Progressives Congress(APC) challenge the outcome before the Imo state governorship Election Petitions Tribunal. After months of hearing the petitions, the three-member Tribunal, chaired by Justice Malami Dogondaji, in September ,unanimously held that the petitions lacked merit. It affirmed that Ihedioha was duly elected as governor of Imo state.
The feeling of excitement and optimism that greeted Ihedioha’s declaration as winner of the March 9, governorship poll, was the same exhilaration with the Tribunal’s verdict. Imo state was aglitter with the news. But that did not stop the losers from filing an appeal. Again, the Court of Appeal sitting in Abuja, on November 19, upheld the election of Ihedioha. The five-menber panel, led by Justice Oyebisi Omoleye, in separate judgments dismissed the three appeals filed by the appellants. While that of AA and its candidate, Uche Nwosu and APGA’s candidate, Sen.Ararume were dismissed in a unanimous decision, that of APC and its candidate, Uzodinma, was dismissed in a split decision of 4-to- 1. The appellate court said that the three appellants failed to establish corrupt practices, non-compliance with the Electoral laws and failure to secure majority of lawful votes cast at the election.
The Appeal Court also held that it found no reason to depart from the findings of the Tribunal that evidence adduced by the petitioners at the Tribunal were mere hearsay which cannot be tolerated in election petitions. Accordingly, it dismissed the appeal as lacking in merit, and reaffirms Ihedioha’s election as Governor of Imo state. The losers have expressed their readiness to explore their last option, and have briefed their lawyers to proceed to the Supreme Court. It’s their right, anyway. And that is the greatness of the political system, and indeed, what makes democracy a preferred system of government. In other climes, the beauty of electoral contests is that the very moment the courts make pronouncemt on the winner and losers, rancour and hatred ought to stop. Hands of fellowship to the winner follows because common purpose is essential for the development of mutual trust.
But that has not happened yet is Imo state almost eight months after the winner had emerged. The anger and bitterness on the part of the three main losers could be distracting governor Ihedioha from focusing on the tasks of “rebuilding Imo”. Roads need to be rehabilitated, workers need to be paid their salaries, pensioners who are beginning to receive their entitlements from the state government must not be discouraged.
The truth is that any time litigants go to court, as the three losers are bent on doing, they make hefty amount of money for lawyers. It also drains resources the state direly needs for others things that will impact the lives of the citizens. As former American President, Bill Clinton once said, “history does not always give us grand crusades, but it always gives us opportunities”. Gov. Ihedioha needs to be given the opportunity and support to govern. The anger and bitterness of the losers could provide a task of leadership more difficult than he imagined when he assumed office. His predecessor was given the same opportunity and support.
I think that Ihedioha entered the Douglas House, the seat of power in Imo state under unique circumstances. He was confronted with challenges of a more immediate sort, and responsibilities abandoned today may return as more acute crises tomorrow. The unrestrained and reckless attacks on the governor is not only distracting, but creating a fantasy world of heroes and villains. It’s most unfair to say that the governor is governing the state with a “stolen mandate”. That will be assuming the role of the courts that can only make such weighty declaration. I say that with all sense of responsibility and rationality of mind. I have friends on both sides of the divide.
Power, as one writer puts it, “is not what you obtain by the image of a daring cowboy, the men with the capacity to outrun the wild herd, riding at a dead run in the dark of the night”. In my opinion, power in the hands of a good leader makes good works possible, and good works bring gratitude, which then provides the inspiration and commitment to further work. So far, I think Ihedioha is showing that determination and commitment in the business of governance. Imolites are not complaining about his leadership style. I see him as a consensual leader who wants to get things done for the people with little or no cost to anyone. He has created expectations and should be given the opportunity to fulfill them. These expectations can be found in his ability from the outset to define the goals, the vision and purposes of his government.
As I said in this column when Rochas Okorocha came in the saddle in 2011, he was the symbol of the disillusionment in the state that wanted a regime change. I said the same time when Ihedioha was canvassing for votes that he could be a good student of perfect timing, again, a time majority of Imo citizens wanted another change of governance. He cashed in on it and ran a campaign with unique rhythm, cadence and effervescence that captured the mood of the moment.
It is only fair that he should be allowed to govern. When former governor of the state, Chief Ikedi Ohakim early on called on those who lost the election to withdraw their litigations and cooperate with the governor, he was not saying they didn’t have the right to challenge the election in court. He was saying, looking ahead, it’s time to move on, a time to heal. Ohakim had been on the ropes before. He was gracious in defeat in 2011 when he lost to Okorocha in one of the most contentious governorship elections in the state . For me, he remains an exemplar of optimism in politics, a force multiplier with genuine passion to assist the Ihedioha administration in whatever capacity his services may be needed.
In all, former President, Goodluck Jonathan has become a quintessential global example and inspiration for those who lost elections, and the path they should follow. It doesn’t come frequently. As he revealed in his memoirs, “MY TRANSITION HOURS” that when he reached the the telephone and placed a call to Muhammadu Buhari who was soon to be declared president-elect in the 2015 presidential election, “an inner peace that I had never felt throughout my political sojourn started to descend upon me.