For several reasons, joining issues with politicians has never been one of my favourite pastimes. By extension, I am not usually in a hurry to enter the ring with spokespersons of politicians who, except where they have acted without the consent of their principals, can only be seen as repeater stations or amplifiers of the positions taken by their bosses. Moreover, one could be committing professional homicide by taking on a spokesperson who, most likely, is a journalist.
Be that as it may, I find it appropriate to respond to a press statement titled: Imo State Governor Senator Hope Uzodinma and His Claims Against Senator Rochas Okorocha-The Government in Imo is APC in Name But PDP in Structure and in Actions. The statement was credited to my colleague, friend and in-law, the irrepressible Sam Onwuemeodo, Special Adviser to former Governor, Senator Rochas Okorocha.
Of course, the release is a continuation of the bitter exchanges between Governor Uzodinma and his predecessor, Senator Okorocha, a fight that goes back to how Uzodinma emerged as candidate of the APC, defeating Okorocha’s preferred candidate, his son in-law, Uche Nwosu. In the statement, referring to Uzodinma, Onwuemedo said, “The man he appointed secretary to the state Government, Chief Cosmas Iwu, junior brother of the former INEC Chairman, Prof. Maurice Iwu is PDP member and was also in the same position during the previous PDP government in the state”. That is an apparent reference to between 2007 and 2011 when Cosmas Iwu served as Secretary to the State Government during the tenure of Chief Ikedi Ohakim as Governor of Imo State.
To start with, that is a truthful assertion. But as truthful as it is, two ramifications of the statement deserve to be put in perspective. The first is the claim that by virtue of his previous political affiliations, Cosmas Iwu is not an APC member. The second is that by injecting Professor Iwu’s name into the discussion, it can be inferred that the author intended to portray the former INEC Chairman as either a member of the PDP or an apologist of the party.
Let me start by addressing the less serious issue of Cosmas Iwu’s membership of the APC. I wonder when it has become a crime in Nigeria, for a politician, to change parties as if the person is removing his under wears. But for a few persons, show me the politician who has not decamped from one party to the other based on reasons that range from the ridiculous to the sublime but most often driven by personal interests. Is Mr. Onwuemedo not in Nigeria where in Edo State, before our very eyes, the two candidates fielded by the APC and the PDP in the 2016 governorship elections have just swapped parties for the 2020 elections?
Of course, it will be wrong of me to suggest that Mr. Onwuemedo is ignorant of the vibrant political perambulation of the inimitable Owelle Rochas Okorocha, a man whose political nomadism is considered by many, as the hallmark of pragmatism. How many times have our own dear Rochas Okorocha changed parties? Is Mr. Onwuemedo suggesting that those who placed their trust in Okorocha, despite his nomadic political character, were wrong, that the Imo electorate should not have trusted him in 2011?
Implicit in the injection of Maurice Iwu’s name into the narrative is to convey the completely erroneous impression that Cosmas Iwu needed his elder brother’s validation to get into Hope Uzodinma’s government. Yet, anyone who is faintly familiar with Cosmas Iwu’s political odyssey will agree that he does not need any ladder to climb to his present position. If he is a hot cake in politics, it can only be because he is recognized as an astute political strategist, a grassroots operator who cut his political teeth first in the PDP and later in the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) where, invariably, his path must have crossed with that of Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, the founder of the ACN and now National Leader of the APC. How can anyone question Cosmas Iwu’s loyalty to the APC when, as far back as 2011, he was the senatorial candidate for Okigwe North of the ACN, the precursor of the APC and has never returned to the PDP ever since? It will be interesting to know between Rochas Okorocha and Cosmas Iwu, who was the first to join the APC!
From close observation, I am convinced that contrary to the belief that Cosmas is the lapdog of his elder brother, his greatest strength lays in his unassuming mien, his withdrawn nature; qualities that mislead many a politician, to underestimate the immense political capital he wields. But what will be wrong if he rides on his brother’s back to political recognition and patronage? Did our own dear Rochas Okorocha not lead the way through the several appointments he gave to members of his family, including the commissionership for Happiness and …?
While it is easy to understand the mention of Cosmas Iwu, one cannot understand how Professor Maurice Iwu comes into the sordid drama of APC’s self-inflicted wounds in Imo State. Or is it because Iwu, a globally acclaimed pharmacologist, accepted to offer his expertise to humanity as Chairman of the Imo State Anti-Covid Committee? Or put differently, should we always sacrifice our best on the altar of political expediency and self-serving calculations?
This takes me back to my first intimate interaction with Professor Iwu in 2002 when he was still a Research Fellow at the Walter Reed Army Medical Research Institute, a unit of the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Washington DC, United States of America where he worked for ten years. I had been invited to deliver the end of year dinner lecture of the Imo Forum, the umbrella organisation of Igbo professionals in the United States, of which he was the President and Hon, Ike Ibe, another great son of Imo State was the secretary. Before returning to Nigeria, I was treated to dinner fit for royals in his compact but sartorial residence which well-tended environment left a deep impression on me. But what struck most me most, as we discussed over meals, was his deep passion for Nigeria’s development and unity anchored, according to him, on investments in science and technology especially ICT and rigorously benchmarking global best practices, in government and business. If I had any doubt about the genuineness of his thoughts and expressions, such promptly evaporated when I visited his personal research office, Bioresources Ltd. Yes, you got it: the same name under which he has spearheaded monumental developments in medical science and pharmaceutical progress, in Nigeria.
You will therefore understand my surprise, even disappointment when, in 2003, I heard that he had been appointed a Federal Commissioner to represent the South East in the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC. I asked myself, what the hell does this man think he is doing? Picking up the phone, I remonstrated with him to reject the appointment; yes, I did. My position was that he could serve the country better if he had been appointed health or science and technology minister; that the INEC job would expose him to constant media harassment and possible political vendetta. I hope that my fears have not come true.
Yet, in retrospect, I am also satisfied that Professor Iwu gave the INEC job, a thankless one for that matter, his best shot. Ask the current INEC chairman, Professor Mahmoud Yakubu what he is passing through: check out the vilification his best efforts are being subjected to on a daily basis or the frustrations officially expressed by the Commission over how politicians and conflicting judicial pronouncements give the functionaries enduring nightmares. I saw, at close quarters, the frustrations of being INEC Chairman in 2007 when the shenanigans of the politicians almost stalled the presidential elections. But Iwu, an ASUU-baked ‘slugger’, an unrepentant patriot, drew from his past experience as an activist, the social capital build over years of association with the US political machine and his abiding fate in God, to pull off a masterstroke without which Nigeria’s democracy would have been derailed.
Those who pillory him forget that the basic innovations that are driving INEC today such as the Permanent Voters Card (PVC), the INEC’s Electoral Institute and Electronic Transmission of Results, all started during his tenure as chairman of the Commission. If I may recall vividly, on a visit to the Electoral Institute, President Muhammadu Buhari, as presidential candidate of the ANPP at the time, effusively commended the innovations introduced by INEC under him, for the conduct of the 2007 elections. That the not all the innovations have always been effectively deployed shows how the politicians, and not INEC, for selfish reasons, can jettison the best innovations and brains, if only their personal motives and interests override society’s wellbeing and the survival of future generations.
Maurice Iwu epitomises the saying that a prophet is not recognised in his own country. His fate is understandable. This society is not yet ready to move away from the drudgery of contrived leadership to where philosophers and intellectual minds remediate behaviour and drive socio-economic development, founded on global best practices. With primitive accumulation and personality cults predominating the psyche and actions of majority of those occupying Nigeria’s political space at the moment, it is not a surprise that icons of the genre of Professor Maurice Iwu are daily being subjected to undeserved derision by people who, if they have nothing else to say, should at best keep quiet.
This is not about my colleague and friend Sam Onwuemedo. As someone who, many years ago, occupied a similar position, though at a different level, I can understand his predicament, the messenger’s dilemma. It is for that reason that often times, one cannot rationalise the laughable contradictions as in the release under reference, particularly the inability to see the log in one’s eyes while condemning the speck in another person’s eyes. That is why, beyond the call of duty, from time to time, we must subject our every action to the scrutiny of CONSCIENCE, the personal judge that follows us to bed, when the Master and everyone else, have also gone to bed.
• Emma Agu, Fellow of the Nigerian Guild of Editors (NGE) and the Nigerian Union of Journalists (NUJ), was Chief Press Secretary to Chief Ernest Shonekan, Head of the Interim National Government (ING) in Nigeria, in 1993.