By Emeka Alex Duru
I had stayed off public commentaries on political activities in Imo, my state of origin, for quite some time, in deference to concern by friends and colleagues. But there comes a time or situation that one cannot go to sleep or keep to himself, expecting that things will fix themselves or as it is said, find their levels. The off-season governorship election in the state coming up tomorrow, is one of such occasions.
The election, ordinarily, should have been a fiesta of sort, a contest of ideas and festival of perspectives. Until lately, the maxim of election being a celebration of democracy, found eloquent expression in Imo. The state was one in which the brain prevailed over brawn. When the people say; “Imo nwere mmadu”, for want of precise translation, it means that Imo does not lack in great men and women.
Growing up, it was fun watching or listening to the likes of Sam Mbakwe, brilliant lawyer and Biafran veteran, of the then Nigerian Peoples Party (NPP), Nwakanma Okoro, consultant surgeon (later, Collins Obi, accomplished pharmacist) of the National Party of Nigeria (NPN), Nnanna Ukaegbu, educationist and university proprietor of the Great Nigerian Peoples Party (GNPP) and Steve Evulocha, fiery political activist of the Peoples Redemption Party (PRP), take on each other point-by-point, policy-by-policy, ideas-by-ideas and present to the people their individual blueprints for the state if elected.
Their vision for the state informed by their rich pedigree, left the voters with the opportunity to make informed decisions. That was why, even after the ballots, the state remained the richer in value addition. Mbakwe who eventually won in 1979 and was reelected in1983, did not take his victory for granted. He did not march to Douglas House, the seat of power, on the blood of the people. He earned their trust and sustained it hence he was dubbed, the “Peoples’ Governor”.
In 1981, faced with acute transportation system Imo, under Mbakwe, built an airport, constructed first class university, established industries in the then five senatorial districts and did other things that made the state the envy of others and a pride to the citizens. The exciting story was cut short by the military coup of 1983. Ever since, Imo has not had it good, especially at the level of political leadership. In place of robust engagements, political campaigns in the state have shrunk to platforms for subtle coercion, castigation of opponents and advertisement of procured endorsements. The result is that the usually rented crowd leaves the arena without any commitments from the candidates and nothing to hold them on to.
The situation is even getting more piteous and saddening, at each contest, hence the state keeps going down the slope. On June 4, 2021, in this space, I did a piece titled, “Imo cannot remain in this state”. The outing was prompted by an enquiry from a colleague from a neighbouring state, who was troubled by the reports of security challenges in the state and Orlu zone in particular. He sought to know if it was wise and safe for him to attend the burial of his father-in-law in Nkwerre, a neighbouring town to Orlu, as tradition demanded with his kinsmen, sneak in alone or better, stay away.
I was literally deflated by those questions. What should I tell him? Of course, I managed to allay his fears; where necessary, shored up his confidence and gave him tips on how to go about the exercise. From the moment he hung up, I was utterly disconnected. It dawned on me the extent, Imo, my state had become an object of derision and disdain, among people within and outside. Nothing can really hurt, as one being reminded of how ugly he is. No matter how one wants to be patriotic or make things up, the story out there, about Imo, is not palatable.
Hardly any day goes these days without sordid tales from the state. The stories may have elements of embellishments or exaggeration, no doubts, but they cannot be entirely dismissed with a wave of the hand. There is always a gruesome account of blood, cold blood, spilt without qualms. It is either the security agents engaging the youths or vice versa. The so-called unknown gunmen are also unrelenting. It is a rat-race of sort.
The campaigns for tomorrow’s election which just ended, also confirmed the atmosphere of fear in the state. Suspicion of violence is rife despite assurances of security by the law enforcement agencies. Cynicism has taken the place of optimism. Neither the governor, Hope Uzodimma (Onwa) of the All Progressives Congress (APC), who is seeking reelection, Samuel Anyanwu (Sam Daddy) of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), nor Senator Athan Achonu (Agu-Otu-Aka) of the Labour Party (LP), has the charisma, the charm and witty dispositions of Mbakwe or any of his contemporaries in the Second Republic. Consequently, for the voters, who, ordinarily should have been upbeat in selecting who would govern them in the next four years, the level of animation, is below average. Lock-down directive by amorphous groups in the state, are not helping out. To worse matters, in the last 24 hours, there had been strong insinuations that the results of the poll had already been written to favour a particular candidate, This is even as the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), keeps pledging that the exercise would be free and fair.
You can then understand the apparent show of apathy by the electorate towards the election. Notwithstanding, the issue at stake, is the soul of Imo. That is why the people must stand up to exercise their rights to vote and defend democracy in the state. There is need to rescue Imo from its piteous state. To every citizen and resident, the turn of events in the state, calls for deep introspection. It is not that which permits sitting on the fence. All hands must be on deck. Imo does not deserve its current, curious lot and cannot be left to remain the way it is. Retrieving Imo from its uncertain state, requires a coalition of efforts by men and women of goodwill, to stand firm and say; enough is enough!
There is need for defined leadership recruitment process in the state, contrary to the present culture of failed businessmen and fleeting characters being in the saddle at all layers. The first step in bringing back Imo to the path of honour, is the return to the days of hard work, as opposed to the current trend in glorifying sudden and rootless wealth. The youths must be made to understand that there is no shortcut to enduring wealth, other than industry and perseverance. Every segment of the society, including the family, the religious and traditional institution, should be involved in this process of ethical reorientation. Getting the right person elected tomorrow, will signal the commencement of this reawakening. Imo must be great again!
DURU is the Editor, TheNiche Newspapers, Lagos. (08054103327, email@example.com)