THERE’S this advice that many politicians ignore at their own peril; when you are unpopular, the best thing to do is try not to be on people’s faces constantly. Reason: it reminds them of what they don’t like. This is why leaders are advised to often look into their soul, spare a thought and reflect on their own time in public office before commenting on the performance of others.
Inarguably, elective office is not a prize to be won, it is a duty to perform. That’s why it’s one of the rules of governance that assessment or criticism must be constructive, honest and accurate.
For some time now, immediate past governor of Imo state, Chief Ikedi Ohakim, has been on people’s faces. Months ago, he was a constant guest to the office of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC). It was over how he bought a multimillion naira mansion in the upscale area of Abuja. Only recently, Ohakim made a big headline when he announced that he had “retired” from politics. He said it was a painful decision. But those who know where this man stands said the former governor had merely retreated to seek a new path to relevance after previous attempts in Imo politics ended a huge failure. And in tears. He has shown, to borrow the words of Disraeli, that ‘finality is not the language of politics’.
Don’t take this away from Ohakim (the Ochinanwata): He has a gift. It’s the ability to draw attention, and then use that attention for his own selfish interest. He likes to say things. Lots of things. But his problem is that he is not honest and accurate with his claims. In case you missed it, a few weeks ago, Ohakim literally flew off the handle. He wrote a three page advertorial letter to his successor, Owelle Rochas Okorocha.
The letter was on what he called “the disturbing trends in Imo state”. He tried to make us believe that his letter which he had weeks earlier leaked to some newspaper editors, should not be “misconstrued as an attempt to get even with” the incumbent. He said he meant well, asserting that it was all part of his “twin obligation of continually making input on how to achieve political stability and economic prosperity in the state”.
But look deep into the contents of the letter. Ohakim doubled down on many issues he was drawing the governor’s attention to. He rattled off a long list of where he claims Okorocha has failed. He spared no kind words about the recent demolition of some structures in the state capital, the road expansion exercise. He also attacked what he calls the “indiscriminate excavations now going on” as part of the state government’s road expansion programme. On this, he alleged that Okorocha administration has destroyed “public water pipelines that took Chief Sam Mbakwe’s government over $34 million and four years to lay”.
Besides, Ohakim drew attention to the Nworie and Otamiri rivers, Owerri City Ring roads, the Main Market in the state capital. He also alleges that Okorocha does not have respect for the rule of law. He offers his own “pieces of advice” to governor Okorocha.
Make no mistake about it: There’s absolutely nothing wrong with an ex-governor offering a sitting governor, and indeed, his successor advice. At least it will, if well thought through, help the governor learn from his predecessor’s shortcomings. And Ohakim has a baggage of these shortcomings when he left office in 2011, albeit in shock, after losing his reelection bid to Okorocha. The pain of that defeat by Okorocha, it seems, is yet to heal. The truth is that contrary to what Ohakim wants us to believe, plot after plot, he has made several attempts (all have so far failed) to settle scores with Okorocha.
Two years ago, his effort to relaunch his ambition was extinguished at the primary level of the PDP. Perhaps the powers that be in the party believed Ohakim’s best days are over and he has become a political “spent force”. Just may be.
Back to Ohakim’s letter and the claims he made therein, some of the questions to ask include: what happened to the N8 billion his administration reportedly received from the Niger Delta Development Corporation (NDDC) for the dredging of River Nworie? How did he manage the money? Is he accurate and honest with his claims that the expansion and demolition of the structures were not captured in the state budget? Is Ohakim truthful in his assertions about the Ring Roads designed to connect New Owerri to the Old Owerri?
Ohakim’s claims have since been debunked by the Chief of Staff, Government House, Chief Uche Nwosu, as tissues of lies and a campaign of smear without substance, faulty in its premise and dead wrong in its conclusion. It could be a splashy response to relaunch his ambition.
Overall, it seems to me that Ohakim’s diagnosis of Imo problems is all dangerous politics calculated to distract attention and strain the bonds that has held the State together under Okorocha’s watch. One is not saying that Okorocha is perfect. None of us is. One is not saying that the governor has not made mistakes. I think he has. But compare and contrast him with Ohakim, there’s no equivalence. Ohakim lost it with Imo people when assumed he was infallible. That was when he began to gallop from one controversy to another.
The detention of the Catholic priest, Rev. Fr. Eustace Okorie on August 8, 2010, marked the beginning of the end for him. His defeat in the 2011 polls was the sunset of his political career. It can be likened to the turning of a corner, a hammer blow. It’s not unkind to say that Ohakim is still seeking revenge, not respect. What does all of this teach us? Leaders should spare a thoughtful reflection on their own tenure, and realise that their hands are always on the wheel of history.