In an earlier article on a different platform – What Uzodimma and Ihedioha have in common – I pointed out that though the two were working at opposite ends.
Senator Hope Uzodimma and Rt. Hon. Emeka Ihedioha achieved for the Imo collective what was thought was impossible: Stopping Rochas Okorocha from extending his tenure through imposing his son-in-law, Uche Nwosu, on the state as his successor.
It was like a relay race. What Uzodimma started at the primary elections of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Ihedioha completed at the general elections. The disapproval of Okorocha’s self-succession agenda was to such an extent that Imolites generally wanted anybody but Nwosu.
Uzodimma was to, himself, allude to this several months later in his maiden broadcast on January 20, six days after he took over the affairs of the state. “I recall clearly that on the eve of the election, our people were determined to ensure that no one imposed a political dynasty on them. It was the collective desire of all Imo people to see to it that our democracy was preserved in all true tenets…”, he said.
The article under reference was aimed at pointing out that even though it would be illusory to expect both camps – Uzodimma and Ihedioha camps – to embrace each other, at least in the near future, there is a strategic need to lower the political temperature in the state.
I concluded the article by noting that those of us who are privileged to be in the commentary box owe the people a duty to be unbiased umpires especially in a situation, like we have now, where non-aligned, non-partisan statesmen are almost nonexistent in the state.
My overall objective, I further noted, was to see an early reconciliation among members of the Imo political elite, of course including Uzodimma and Ihedioha
It was in furtherance to that avowal that I did a more recent article, also on a different platform, which was to disprove a report in the social media that Governor Uzodimma smuggled into the state, three members of the Chinese medical team that arrived the country.
It is needless going into the details of the argument I put up but going by the reactions to and comments on the article, I believe that we succeeded in driving the point home: Which is that while the governor cannot be under any illusion that the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) will give him a breathing space – at least for now – the latter should show utmost circumspection in trying to play the role of opposition. As every well-meaning Imolite saw through the article, the report in question was a blatant falsehood planted by one of the social media operatives of the PDP in the state.
A few days later, the state government issued a statement alleging the misappropriation of the sum of N19.63 billion from the State-Local Government Joint Account by the Ihedioha administration. Not unexpectedly, there have been frenzied reactions to the allegation.
Going by the posturing of some administration insiders and some pro-Uzodimma elements in the state, the governor has finally “nailed” Ihedioha! Conversely, the PDP and the Ihedioha camp argue that the administration is on a witch-hunt with a frivolous allegation.
However, it is cheap to try to propagate the notion that Ihedioha has been nailed by a mere allegation no matter how weighty it might appear to be. That should not be the standard of public discourse in a state whose people are believed to be one of the most sophisticated in the entire country.
To be sure, the administration is quite in order to want to look into the books but it should not encourage its handlers to give the impression that it has caught the biggest thief in town.
To play the Devil’s Advocate, I can volunteer that the more the administration’s insiders try to give the impression that Ihedioha is already jail bound, the more the people will see the allegation as a campaign of calumny. In any case, the truth is that because of the way government is run in our country, Nigerians, generally, are usually less inclined to believe government.
Conversely, the average Nigerian believes that at any point in time, government officials are stuffing their wallets with public funds. As erroneous as this is, it usually takes a lot of efforts to convince the people otherwise.
When we place this side by side the fact that the public is used to altercations between sitting administrations and their immediate predecessors over allegations of stolen funds but after which, almost always, nothing comes out, it becomes clearer why the (Uzodimma) administration’s handlers should not yet make a song and dance of the N19.93 billion matter.
I have come across expressions like “IHEDIOHA GATE”. Really? That is an unnecessary hyperbole. I have also come across such talks like Ihedioha being paid in his own coins, in apparent allusion to the fact that he similarly set up probes on his predecessor, Rochas Okorocha. We should discourage this type of talk because it portrays the governor as what he is not. The Hope Uzodimma that I know is not petty.
Having said that, let me also state that the responses from the Ihedioha camp, so far, are unnecessarily dismissive. In as much as Imolites, as I noted earlier, might not yet be jubilating that they have caught a thief, they still expect a response, not one put together to get even with the Facebook rascals, but one that gives them a better idea of where their ‘missing’ N19.63 billion might be.
The allegation has been described by some of the former governor’s aides as a “joke” but I do not think that is the right language. As we say in our local parlance, “Obughi Onye Kporo Police N’Ekpegbu” (It is not always the fellow who first reported a matter to the police that wins the case) but the person being dragged out must make a statement that is strong enough to convince the police to get him off the hook.
Let me further illustrate my submission that allegations by government are not always taken as gospel truth by repeating a story which I have told severally before and which many Imolites might even be conversant with on their own. Upon assumption of office in 2011, Okorocha had told the state that the monthly allocation from the federation account was about N2 billion.
Yet, while hosting one of the numerous groups that were trooping into the government house to hail him a few days later, he claimed that his predecessor, Ikedi Ohakim, was spending N150 million every day on frolicking; N30 million out of that on champagnes.
By the time of that allegation, the sentiments in the state were not altogether in favour of Ohakim, against the backdrop of the circumstances that surrounded the 2011 governorship election and its aftermath. Most of our colleagues – I served as Special Adviser in that administration – had left the state especially for places like Lagos and Abuja but there were a few of us who had no place to go.
So, after that allegation, I summoned courage – Governor Ohakim had also left the state – to put a lie to the Okorocha’s claims. I pointed out that at N150 million expenses per day, it meant that Ohakim was spending N4.5 billion every month on goodies.
That meant, in other words, that Ohakim was spending more than twice the total income of the state – since internally generated revenue was less than N200 million per month – which Governor Okorocha had, himself, already said was about N2 billion per month.
The next day, all the Owerri-based newspapers made my statement their lead story; with one going under the banner, “Okorocha Lied”. That was how we stopped Okorocha from making further frivolous allegations against Ohakim and his administration.
Thus, though that matter is quite different from what we have now – we do not expect Uzodimma to descend to the level Okorocha did – the story, nonetheless, is instructive since it means that Imolites are not unmindful of the fact that Ihedioha and co. are also in a position to similarly explain themselves; more so given the fact that many citizens of the state still acknowledge that the former governor showed capacity during his seven-month tenure.
I align myself with other well-meaning citizens of the state to say that with the level of heist by Okorocha as has been revealed through the various panels set up by the Ihedioha administration, and which Governor Uzodimma has wisely continued with, care ought to be taken to avoid an apparent lumping up of matters.
In any case, Okorocha has even refused to appear before the judicial panel of enquiry looking into contracts awarded during his tenure, despite several summons, to explain some of the startling revelations by his former aides and functionaries in his administration.
Still, the people have remained calm because they very much reaalise that justice will be done one day. After all, some former governors were jailed 10 to 12 years after they left office. I like to believe that Imolites would prefer a situation where we conclude the Okorocha matter and then face Ihedioha squarely, even as the administration keeps all its evidence against the latter close to its chest.