RESTORING THE CONFIDENCE OF THE CITIZENS IN THE POLITICAL LEADERSHIP IN NIGERIA – A CASE STUDY OF IMO STATE.
BEING A KEYNOTE ADDRESS BY RT. HON. EMEKA IHEDIOHA CON, KSC, FORMER DEPUTY SPEAKER, HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES, AT THE 2018 DIOCESAN SYNOD OF THE DIOCESE OF MBAISE, CHURCH OF NIGERIA, ANGILCAN COMMUNION, AT HOLY TRINITY CHURCH ORU, AHIARA, AHIAZU MBAISE LGA, IMO STATE, ON SATURDAY, MAY 26TH, 2018
May I first thank Your Lordship Rt. Rev. Chamberlain Ogunedo and of course the Synod Organizing Committee for according me the honoured responsibility of delivering the Keynote Address of this synod. I consider this a privilege.
I would like to note that since I left office in 2015, this is perhaps the 6th in the series of Synod keynote addresses that I have had the honour of delivering to delegates across the South East. Within this period, I have spoken to the congregation at the dioceses of Isi Mbano; Orlu; Okigwe; On the Lake; Oru and Isiala Ngwa South.
It is to Almighty God, that I give the glory for the privilege of this exposure to be a vehicle for evangelism, even though my discourse has consciously been restricted to the restoration of the dignity of man, through the pursuit of good leadership and democratic governance in our land. Therefore, once again, I thank His Lordship for this consideration, as it is common for a prophet not to be recognised at home.
I have been asked to speak on the topic – “Restoring the confidence of the citizens in the political leadership in Nigeria – a case study of Imo State”. The topic is quite apt and timely because campaigns for the 2019 general elections have started and people of varied shades are making superfluous promises.
But today, we know better, not to believe everything we are promised. The scales truly appear to have fallen off our eyes.
I recall that at the 2016 Synod of the Diocese of Isi Mbano, I was tasked with the same responsibility of x-raying the trust deficit between the Nigerian people and our political leaders, with particular attention on Imo State. I may have looked at the issues as they were two years ago, but today, the narrative have worsened. What we may have perceived two years ago, as a passing phase of maladministration, has today, become cancerous in our governance process.
The trust and content of today’s Keynote address therefore, will not fundamentally deviate from the convictions that informed my position at the 2016 Synod of Isi Mbano, but shall only take a second look at that position in the light of the emerging issues that have substantially widened the trust-gap between the people and political leadership.
It is certain that there is trust deficit between the leaders and the led in Imo State. The people find it difficult to believe their political leaders any longer because they have ceased to be their leaders and rather have become rulers and classical despots. How would the people have confidence in leaders who flagrantly and intentionally disobey the laws of the land, dispossess the people of their properties with impunity, destroy their means of livelihoods, desecrate their revered religious leaders while at the same time attempting to create a primitive fiefdom in this twenty –first century. It is noteworthy that in my 26 years experience in partisan politics of our dear country, dating back to 1992 when I first served as Press Officer to the Senate President of the Fourth Republic, Dr. Iyorchia Ayu, I have not experienced this magnitude of trust deficit between the electorate and political leadership, particularly in Imo State. The situation is so bad to the extent that what happened at the Imo APC Ward and Local Government Congresses which ordinarily was a party affair, reverberated across the State in celebration of the demystification of a political leadership whose conduct overtime has become a huge embarrassment to the good people of the State and an affront on our vaunted intellectual accomplishments as a people.
Ironically and indeed interestingly, there is no better definition of the outcome of that questionable exercise than “Ohashierism” – a figurative phrase, created and made popular by our Governor Rochas Okorocha, which simply put, defines what happens in a situation where a community cooks for one man. Even though the people that God used for the accomplishment of the feat may not have been the best of our political class because they were part of this maladministration, but the people simply celebrated because a Pharoah has been put to shame. As Christians, there is a lot to be learnt from this, as no one should attempt to play God
When I spoke on a similar topic two years ago, as I noted earlier, I tried to resist the temptation of using the esteemed platform to do a critique or surgical dissection of the government of the day in Imo state, or perhaps sermonize on the various instances of societal decay and state failure, but today as it were, we cannot continue to pretend that things aren’t getting worse. The incomprehensible impunity of the government of the day and the monumental stripping of the State’s valued assets and primitive stealing of our commonwealth has assumed an intolerable dimension.
I recall again that I had quoted a communiqué, contained in the Daily Sun of Thursday, 13th October, 2016, (page 33), signed by His Grace, Most Rev. Dr. Caleb A. Maduoma, on your behalf, at the end of the 28th Regular Meeting of the Provincial Council of the Ecclesiastical Province of Owerri, Church of Nigeria (Anglican Communion). In that communiqué, the church of Nigeria reviewed the “Economic Recession” in the land; “menace of Fulani herdsmen”, and the “deplorable state of roads in Imo State”.
Specifically, you decried the hardship in the land, with its “attendant sorrow, hopelessness, despair and hunger”. You also called on the State Government to, as “a matter of urgency, ensure regular payment of workers’ salaries and pension, as well as urging them to come up with programmes to “cushion the effect of the adverse economic situation on our people”.
Your Lordship and dear brethren, we are in 2018 today, and in a few days time, precisely on the 29th May, we will be celebrating Democracy Day, which officially marks one more year – seven years – of Governor Rochas Okorocha’s administration. It will be trite to ask, has anything changed since 2016 when the communiqué was issued? I am constrained to answer in the affirmative. Yes, things have changed dangerously for the worse. Impunity, which regrettably has defined our later day state policy, has today reached an alarming proportion. Recall that when I delivered that address at Isi Mbano, the Eke Ukwu market had not been demolished against Court injunction, neither had the state-wide demolition of ancestral markets become a state policy. In the same vein, the mockery and questionable Owerri urban renewal project of the administration was not in play. The fact remains that, we are in uncommon times, where even our sacred places of worship or revered religious leaders are not spared of one man’s quest for impunity. Under these circumstances, dear brethren, can the angels even restore the confidence of the governed in the political leadership, talk less of mere mortals who are everyday confronted with these weird realities?
In 2016 at Isi Mbano, the understanding of the assignment given to me then was that I should advance a road map and actions expected of the political leadership to address the situation and get the people and their leaders back on track again, and on the same page. But in this synod of 2018, I choose not to be consigned with advancing a road map but to tell my dear brothers and sisters that the only path to restoring your confidence in the political leadership, is to use your PVC to vote the right candidates with the capacity and outstanding character to lead us in 2019, so that the pains of today would never be replicated.
POLITICAL LEADERSHIP AS A SOCIAL CONTRACT
Let me use this opportunity to inform, you that my primary interpretation of some of the fundamentals in the theme of this keynote address, have not changed since 2016. As we progress, I will not therefore, be burdened by a sense of guilt to reproduce some of the relevant position of the earlier presentation under reference.
Elementary political science teaches us that elected public officials hold the offices they occupy in trust for the electorate, who voted for them and thus gave them the mandate of leadership. As representatives at whatever level, and in varying degrees of responsibility where they play their roles, their legitimacy derives from the power transferred to them through the ballot box on the day of election. The right of the citizens in a participatory democracy such as ours, is well-encapsulated in the 1999 Constitution, Section 14 (2), which states inter alia that “sovereignty belongs to the people of Nigeria from whom government through this Constitution derives all its powers”. The Constitution states unequivocally that “the security and welfare of the people shall be the primary purpose of government”.
On the day of election, a social contract is supposedly made between the citizens and the political leadership, based on the perceived convictions of the manifesto presented by the candidate, and confidence in the ability of the candidate to deliver on his/her promise for the good of the people. This confidence is anchored on a firm belief in the honesty and sanctity of the social contract.
To discerning minds, political leadership is an enormous responsibility. It is a responsibility that gives one some measure of power over the fate of so many, in terms of their well-being and future prospects. This power is not absolute and must be exercised with caution, “logic and discipline”.
As a matter of fact, the security and welfare of the citizens, being the primary purpose of government, ordinarily should be the preoccupation of any responsible government. There should be a feedback mechanism that should be so effective as to gauge the acceptance or impact of every government policy as it affects this twin responsibility of government.
Through this process, policies that negatively affect the citizens are avoided while those that meet their expectations are promoted. Via this medium again, the people monitor the performance of their elected public officials within the ambit of the law. This is how every responsible government, in the contemplation of the framers of the constitution, ought to act.
Your Lordship, distinguished Synod delegates, without sounding immodest, I think I have the requisite experience to state here that political trust is an onerous responsibility. It reinforces a belief in the honesty, reliability and integrity of the political class as men and women of honour, to keep their pledges and oath of office by pursuing policies that affect the citizens positively. This public trust imposes a burden of responsibility on the political leadership and the extent to which it delivers on legitimate expectations and public goods determines its citizens’ confidence. The political system is thus ever at work to transform social demands, underlying public or citizens’ confidence, into visible public good.
The inability of the political leadership to generate the expected outcomes leads to the disjunction between leadership and citizen’s confidence. This may result in resistance, rebellion, revolution and all manner of negative political participation. Therefore, the resulting deficit in citizens’ confidence and trust in the political leadership has implications on their political behaviour. The consequence of a change in political behaviour results in a drop in legitimacy, altering of democratic values, modifications in beliefs in the sanctity of the ballot box and so on. Instructively, the stability of Nigeria’s democracy and its subsequent deepening, depends on its political legitimacy.
Legitimacy therefore, diminishes gradually, as political leadership is consistently unable to meet the legitimate expectations of the citizens. Unfortunately, when political leadership loses legitimacy, it gradually transforms to the use of intimidation and brute force to compel obedience. Our recent experiences, which we mentioned above, essentially have confirmed these fears. The use of hoodlums who are conveniently referred to as “Egbema boys” to harass innocent citizens at every perceived resistance to unpopular policy, particularly the demolitions with battery of security agencies and thugs lend credence to the above assertion.
A cursory look at political leadership in the nation today, shows that, it has not lived up to the people’s expectations. Remarkably, our social sector -particularly education, health and infrastructure have not received commensurate attention. Together, they constitute the minimum, democracy should provide in a developing state with great potentials.
Rather, political corruption, characterized by political rascality, greed, suppression of popular opinions, empty slogans, instead of positive actions, and reckless looting of our commonwealth have become our lot. Sadly, the wrong, desperate and ill-equipped political actors have taken advantage of our complacency to seize the political space. In this our ugly circumstance, the sanctity of one-man one-vote is undermined. The political leadership that emerges from this compromised process does not only negate the entire principle of democracy which is anchored on the will of the people, but also jeopardises the future of the people and democratic culture.
Unfortunately, the corrupted political process has also affected our value system as what is good or evil is no longer perceived from a moral angle but from the prism of primordial interest. Persons who have no value to add to the democratic process ironically parade themselves as political leaders of some sort and make it difficult for honest and credible individuals to participate in, and add value to governance.
Like the pastoral vocation which is a calling that requires spiritual commitment, without which one cannot endure the challenges of the task, political leadership is also a serious and profound calling. Whereas those who are called to political leadership should be inspired and guided by the fear of God, unfortunately, those who “capture” power at all cost and by all means possible, are propelled and desperately driven by their own parochial selfish interests and inordinate desires.
Can we honestly compare our present day leaders with such great mortals like Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, Dr. M.I Opara, Dr. Akanu Ibiam and even recently our own Dee Sam Mbakwe? By the way, have we bothered to ask what has happened to those legacy projects they are remembered for like ADAPALM, Avutu Poultry Farm, Imo Shoe Industry, Owerri, Ezinachi Ceramics Industry, Aluminium Extrusion Industry Inyishi, The Amaraku Power Project, etc? Where are our famed farm settlements and industries of old? Where and how are we creating jobs? Are we building or are we destroying? What patrimony are we bequeathing to our children?
Instructively, leaders who were never adequately prepared for the demands of the power which they hijacked, more often than not, fail woefully in the discharge of their duties. Consequently, their apparent weaknesses and delusion propel them to distract attention from their inadequacies and shift constructive engagement with the people to later days.
MY REFLECTIONS ON IMO STATE
To put it succinctly, I, like every genuinely concerned Imo citizen, am deeply disturbed by the state of affairs in our state today. I have difficulty in comprehending what will be the fate of our children. In my younger days, I had the opportunity of witnessing a progressively growing state, where law and order were respected. Today, our government seems to proudly and publicly detest and castigate the Rule of Law, by disobeying court judgements, religiously. The younger ones of today, may never understand that our constitution stipulates a three tier governance structure since the local governments have practically ceased to exist in our own state. A fourth tier of government which is alien to the Nigerian constitution has been added in Imo and this is, at best, curious and worrisome.
As someone who had the privilege to traverse the Executive and Legislative arms of government at the centre between 1992-2015, I am compelled to conclude that Imo is denied the benefit of qualitative democratic practice essentially in the sense that, apart from the virtual non- existence of the Local government as the third tier of government, the legislative arm at the state level is hampered from the discharge of its responsibility by executive high-handedness.
Consequently, the critical constitutional responsibility of the legislature namely: Representation, Appropriation and Oversight are either neglected or performed in breach. This defeats the essence of checks and balances which should have put a reckless executive in check. Are we a quasi-democracy? This lacuna is at the foundation of the lawlessness and disregard for order and civilized practice.
I believe however, that the election of well tutored and prepared helmsmen at the state will correct this anomaly. Governance is a serious business, requiring some level of tutelage and preparations and not for vacation seekers.
Though, I have severally cautioned myself not to keep lamenting over our predicament in Imo State, but it will not be helpful under this present circumstance, to take refuge in silence while our people suffocate in agony under the impunity of one man. I must not also fail to decry the fast erosion of the fundamentals of statehood under the current administration namely:
Negation of the Rule of Law and cardinal principles of democracy i.e. Separation of Powers
Destruction and decay of inherited infrastructure
Disobedience of Court judgements
Collapse of educational and health standards and facilities
Bastardization of the Land Use Act
Decline of Sports standards with the attendant decay of sports infrastructure.
Crippling of the local government tier of government
Arming and the use of thugs and hoodlums to harass innocent citizens.
Conspicuous misapplication of state resources on vain projects such as building of statues that have no elementary economic or social benefits to the people.
Backlog of salary arrears and pension allowances.
Conspicuous and reckless consumption of our commonwealth
In specific terms, is it not disturbing, that under the 7 years of maladministration of the APC government in Imo State, over half a trillion,(five hundred billion naira) has been received(May 2011 – Dec 2017) from the federation account? This sum, excludes internally generated revenue (IGR); bailout fund of N63.91billion and Paris Club refund of N22.03billion. Characteristically, evidence of bad governance is manifest in all facets of our polity.
In order not to bore you, I will only use an aspect of the education sector, as a reference. In 2014, i commissioned a research, which revealed astonishing statistics viz- the teacher disposition in the core subject areas in the then 548 Junior and Senior Secondary schools was, mathematics (87); Further Mathematics (20); English (130); Physics (102); Chemistry (92) etc. If the aforementioned was disturbing, the result of a similar exercise which I received, is not just shocking, but demands for an immediate declaration of a state of emergency in the education sector. At present, (April 2018) the teacher disposition in the core subject areas in 573 Junior and Senior Secondary schools is as follows; Mathematics (8); Further Mathematics(0); English (30); Physics(20), Chemistry (20) etc.
In the light of these statistics, I wonder how you all feel as parents, grandparents, uncles and aunties of our leaders of tomorrow.
It is a common knowledge that these disturbing features do not constitute a path to development nor do they ignite hope and optimism.
MY FULFILLMENT OF THE SOCIAL CONTRACT
Ladies and Gentlemen, growing up, I was motivated to pursue a career in politics by my desire to effect a positive change in our landscape as underdevelopment defined my rural community. Mbutu, my town, and indeed our “Oke-Ovoro” clan, had neither electricity nor pipe borne water, nor accessible or motorable roads. Today we have effected undeniably remarkable positive change in those areas of need.
My respected audience, it is very instructive to state for the records, that in my 12 years as the peoples’ representative in the National Assembly, during which period I served as Committee Chairman, Principal Officer, Deputy Speaker and finally leaving as Speaker of the House of Representatives, I spared no opportunity to reposition my constituency and indeed Imo state. It was clear to me, that our state needed to catch up with the rest of the country in the distribution of our National commonwealth. Without sounding immodest, I can beat my chest and sum up that in spite of the challenges, ours was a success story, as I did not fail to properly link Imo state up to the National political and infrastructural grid. While I was there, I think I made you proud, and Nigeria took note that there was an Imo son of outstanding quality with enviable credentials.
Within the period under review, I gave effective representation to my constituency- Aboh Mbaise/Ngor Okpala Federal Constituency, my State, Nigeria and of course to the Church. In the process, we facilitated human capacity development and significant physical, institutional and infrastructural development into the state, a feat that was not common in Imo State before my emergence at that level. I am certain that a good number of us can attest to some of these facts.
It is incontrovertible that as a patriotic Imo Ambassador, I was instrumental to the realization of numerous projects spanning various sectors – Education, health, roads, sports, youth development, environment, power etc, through the federal government. Key among these are:
Dualization of Owerri-Elele road (Imo-Rivers State)
Canalization/ Desilting/Dredging of Oguta Lake/Obana/Okposha River,
Construction of Bridge across Nwaorie River at Nekede, Owerri
Construction of Children’s Emergency Ward at the Federal Medical Centre Owerri
Construction of a one-stop Waste Recycling Facility at Ilile, Ohaji
Construction of Isinweke-Onicha Uboma-Okigwe road
Construction of Okpala-Igwurita road, (Imo-Rivers State)
Construction of Okpala Jetty on Imo River
Ongoing Construction of 133 x 32 Transmission Sub-Station at Mbaise
Mbaise Ring road
Construction of Administrative Complex at Heartland FM, FRCN, Owerri
Construction of Administrative Complex at NTA , Owerri
Construction of several Injection Sub-Stations across Imo State
Ongoing Construction of Oguta Jetty.
Ongoing construction of a Multipurpose Youth Development Centre, Aboh Mbaise etc
Ongoing dualization of Owerri – Aba road.
Back home here at Mbaise, the construction of the solid Ahiara Junction roundabout was facilitated to ease traffic. We also facilitated the construction of several significant roads and other projects, such as, the Enyiogugu-Ibeku-Aboh road (Ezinihitte Gateway); Nkwogwu-Amuzi-Afor Ajala road; Imo Airport-Mbutu-Uvuru road; Ife-Chokoneze-road; Chokoneze–Mbutu-Logara; Chokoneze-Lorji road; Umuopara Nguru-Ibeku-Umuhu-Mbutu-Uvuru(Douglas road) as well as several others too numerous to mention.
In the area of power, I facilitated the construction of injection sub-stations in the three Council Areas of Mbaise. Notably, only the last one, located at Onicha Ezinihitte is still under construction. When the leadership of Ezuruezu Mbaise approached me over the threat to close down the School of Nursing, at Aboh, I quickly facilitated the construction of two units of staff quarters and an access road even though the effort could not save that situation. Within the period, I facilitated the construction of an Immigration Office at the Aboh, to elevate its status. Throughout my years of representation and even till date, I always took a front seat in matters concerning our people. For me, patriotism is a National Anthem.
In the area of human capacity development, I facilitated the employment of several Imo sons and daughters into federal government ministries and agencies and facilitated training programmes for our women and youths in such areas as basic soap/ cosmetics making, improved, agricultural methods, engineering/ technical skill in computer, mechanical and electrical maintenance etc. These were possible because of my good understanding of the power matrix at the centre, socio-political networking and the mastery of strategic public relations. Even out of office, I have continuously ensured the facilitation of these institutional/infrastructural projects that will make meaning to the life of our people.
WHERE DO WE GO FROM HERE?
In my reflections as I prepared this paper, I found out that in the recent past, well-meaning citizens in the society have allowed political undertakers and jobbers to seize the political space. These fortune-seeking political merchants are certainly not inspired by a desire to serve and touch on the lives of the people, but they see politics as a platform to enhance their selfish business enterprise.
Stretching further, they hijack power and hawk the process at the expense of the unsuspecting party faithful and the electorate. Regrettably, this vocal minority have projected the political class in negative light. The question that stares us in the face now is whether we shall continue like this and remain permanently conquered. My take is that this situation will make a mockery of the painstaking investments made by the founding fathers of our state and the forbearers of our national independence.
I must state at this juncture, that the reorganisation that took place in my party the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, recently, which led to the departure of well known political contractors and merchants was divinely inspired to sanitize the polity. Today, my party, boasts of men and women of character at its leadership at all levels. The era of hijack and godfatherism is over. We are today, fighting a few remaining bad eggs who still want to continue with the primitive and devilish acts, such as oath taking. We are making ourselves available to partner with the church and other well intentioned Imolites.
We have been in slumber, but we have slept enough. We should be challenged by the imminence of the socio-political crash hence the need to resist docility and realize our collective responsibility as change agents. The great philosopher, Plato warned that “the price for refusing to participate in politics is to be prepared to be governed by fools”. The people decide the kind of government they get. A people can be politically abused to the extent that they acquiesce. We must therefore refuse to be humiliated, refuse to be abused, refuse to be alienated, refuse to be stripped and refuse to be mentally annihilated. We must stand on to what we believe is proper political leadership.
RESTORING CONFIDENCE: THE ROLE OF THE CITIZENS AND THE CHURCH
It is regrettable that in our nation’s body politics today, there is a thriving culture of mediocrity. The effect of this is that it drives well-meaning people away from political pursuits and secondly, it drives man deeper into penury and hopelessness. Unfortunately, the bitter reality is that while it is bad at the national level it is significantly worse at the State and local government levels.
To attempt a sane restoration of the proper order, our society must first of all restore and learn to respect piety, sobriety and propriety in private and public affairs. In addition, political activists’ background checks, must be effected before they can be endorsed and adopted for participation in public affairs.
But who shall lead the crusade? In my conviction, the church through its leaders and the anointed men of God should seize the moment and use its ecclesiastical pride of place to show leadership at this trying time.
As I elaborated in my Keynote address at Isiala Ngwa South Diocese, two weeks ago, we are a deeply religious society, in which case the role of the church is both significant and fundamental as one untainted power block that could restore the confidence in the leadership by explaining to our brothers and sisters their religious and civic responsibilities in ensuring that only men and women with the right mental and moral balance should be voted for in 2019.
In doing this, you should be bold and courageous like Apostles Peter and Paul, and always speak truth to power. The Church should lead the revolution.
The Church as a way of contributing to the sanity of our democratic process should also desist from patronising, promoting and celebrating individuals known to have questionable pasts because they not only pollute the political environment, but may also become dangerous role models for the younger generations in church and society.
It is again my submission that, our spiritual leaders should call us to account irrespective of our status. You should lead the society to set the bar and define minimum standards for leadership. Power and politics are too important to be left solely in the hands of politicians. In the words of Edmund Burke “the only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing”. In my humble opinion, these leadership benchmarks should take into account humility, integrity, capacity, pedigree, character profile, experience, requisite genuine educational qualifications and above all the fear of God. Why don’t we choose leaders because of their records on previous assignments, capacities and demonstrable patriotism instead of their conspicuous primitive materialism and shameless display of shallowness?
2019 is a reality. Our present deplorable circumstance is equally staring at us. The power to make and advance positive change in Imo State lies in our hands. Why don’t we utilize it? Are we afraid to do so or are we simply satisfied or acquiesced with the status quo? Then if the answer is in the negative, all hands must be on deck to get something done, rightly.
Transformation is a process. I believe we are in emergency time. Nigerians and indeed Imo people must approach the future with a sense of urgency, emergency and determination to right the wrongs. The damage is severe and the decay endemic. The people must invest in and own the incoming government by ensuring that their votes count.
Perhaps, we should be awakened by the wise counsel of Franz Fanon that “the prize of liberty is eternal vigilance”. The time to reason is now; the time to decide is now and the time to effect a change in the psyche of our people is now. It is my humble view that we must together in one accord, rise to be counted and deliberately rejig the polity as we aim to restore our lost glory. The mantra should be liberation. All hands must be on deck to achieve this goal. We must resuscitate our state and our Nation
It is my fervent prayer that in the nearest future, Imo will become a model, upholding the principles of democracy, separation of powers and the rule of law as provided for in the 1999 Nigerian Constitution as amended and the United Nations Charter of which Nigeria is a member.
Naturally, the adversities of today should stimulate and drive our determination to make our state an enviable model in future.
When we do our part, the Almighty God will harken to our cries and prayers and grant us God-speed to our various destinations. Finally, please endeavour to get your PVC. It is your power.
Thank you for listening.