BY RICHARD ODU
Those who chose to rake up the so-called Imo Charter of Equity at this time of the state’s political life might not have understood that they were stirring up the hornets’ nest. Any bystander hearing about the charter would think of the existence of a written document, signed, sealed and delivered as a guiding principle for political players in the state. It’s far from that and it is not binding on anyone whatsoever.
Simply put, the charter is an unwritten agreement, actually a gentleman’s agreement among politicians that the office of the governor would equitably rotate among the three zones of Owerri, Orlu and Okigwe making up Imo State. It originated in 1999 when the soldiers had decided to leave the government houses for the civilians all across the federation. By that time, the old Imo State had been split into Imo and Abia states.
In the wisdom of the political leaders of that era when Imo did things brotherly, they decided to apply it in retrospect, counting the Late Sir Sam Mbakwe’s albeit interrupted four years and two months tenure for Okigwe zone, and crediting to Owerri Zone an also truncated tenure of the late Evan Enwerem who barely stayed one year in Douglas House under Military President Ibrahim Babangida’s diarchy. The Army had struck again through the late Sani Abacha to sack Enwerem.
Not considering the years these tenures lasted, the then preponderant Peoples’ Democratic Party (PDP), presided over by the late Innocent Nwoga who was the chairman in Imo, asserted that the only zone that had not tasted the Douglas House was Orlu. And so, when the late Humphrey Anumudu picked the ticket in the party’s round table primaries at the PDP secretariat on Wetheral Road in those years, he was pressured to relinquish the ticket to an Orlu candidate. The favoured candidate turned out to be the former Gov. Achike Udenwa who came third in the votes cast among the participants in the roundtable primaries.
So, why not Rochas Okorocha who was placed second? For some undisclosed reasons, they did not consider the ever youthful Rochas. That decision nearly tore the party into shreds as Okorocha was to react in a manner unbecoming of a gentleman, sacking the party stalwarts from the accommodation which he reportedly hired for the party and paid its rents.
The much touted charter is just what it is, a gentleman’s agreement. No doubt, such an agreement cannot successfully withstand legal fireworks in court and no one is expected to go to court with it anyway. It’s not an issue that goes beyond the lips.
Well, we call it a gentleman’s agreement. There’s definitely no gentleman in Nigerian politics. As a very good friend of mine would remark, a gentleman is anyone who allows another person to take what belongs to him. That was exactly the scenario in 1999, when Anumudu played the gentleman and allowed others to take what belonged to him. Until he died, that “gentleman”, apparently a misfit in the politics of the country, was seen on the pages of the newspaper as a serial aspirant because he was always in the race for the same governorship position every election year. Perhaps, deep inside him, he felt a sense of loss. He saw the Promised Land but never entered it.
I listened into some senior jokes years ago between my father and one of his contemporaries, men who have since gone back to their creator. The man took a hard look at the Nigerian politics and concluded that it was, to put it in Igbo language, Duruo m n’ulo aku (lead me into the house of wealth). Our latter-day politics has not departed from this conception and the most disappointing aspect of it is that many who lead the principals to the door of that banquet hall are left in the lurch eventually, unable to gain entry into the hall and partake in the feast. The politics we play is yet to transcend the mercantile level into the realms of altruism. Are we still looking for the reason for votes buying, emilokan (it’s my turn), thuggery, voter intimidation, and all other anomalies that characterise our politics?
Some Imo State elders woke up one morning and remembered that there was something called Imo Charter of Equity. They sauntered into the Government House, Owerri, and began to yarn about it to Gov. Hope Uzodimma. The governor, not in the least bereft of wisdom, acquiesced to their requests and made it clear that the charter was to take effect after his second tenure. What they failed to realise was that the governor was a politician, indeed one of the reasons for the shaky nature of that rather nebulous charter.
Think of a scene in the old towns when public taps were the major sources of water in the face-me-I-face-you neighbourhoods. They were grounds for exercising might. A radical urchin in a do or die struggle for the scarce water succeeds in forcing his colleagues off the public tap, and then begins to fill his size-40 metal bucket. The water runs into his bucket unperturbed for the minutes he holds his elbows against other desperados and is almost about to be filled to the brim. Would he leave until his bucket is full?
It’s baffling again that the same elders began to sing discordant tunes as soon as they exited the Douglas House. When will the realisation hit us that the charter is definitely ineffective and unattainable? We can only but use it to run our mouths in every election year while the politicians continue with their horse trading.
What is equitable in the Charter of Equity? By the time Uzodimma finishes his second term, Orlu must have done 24 years. Okigwe has four in its kitty, through Ikedi Ohakim who got in there as a result of kindred feelings, to the detriment of Martin Agbaso (Owerri).
Owerri can only boast of seven months of Emeka Ihedioha, to base the statistics on the current democratic dispensation that began in 1999. Why was this equity unkind to Anumudu who was a perfect gentleman in the beginning and was later scorned for it? Was equity in slumber when Uzodimma worked his way into the Douglas House through, to quote him, “the Ben Johnson way”?
Owerri Zone had variously been accused of not being together and being the architects of their own misfortune. Was it an Owerri man that “Ben Johnsoned” Ihedioha out when he was there and counting for the badly aggrieved but gentlemanly Owerri Zone?
Arguments are still back and forth why Okigwe should take over come January 2024 to complete Ohakim’s entitled two-term. We did not ask whether the term Ohakim served truly belonged to him and his Okigwe kith and kin. As for Owerri crying wolf all along, who do they have to offer Imo? This state deserves nothing but the best of persons in character and good administrative acumen, not just anyone.
The point is that we would not have been talking about zoning had the country been firmly a federation. Only feudalistic tendencies push us into the undue scramble for political positions that offer us the mega wealth we seek. The politicians struggle to ally with the feudal lords of the federal manor and make themselves content with crumbs from their table.
Our lack-lustre politics that hardly dwells on issues is rooted in the fact that public office holders now see their positions not as positions of responsibility but as tools of enrichment of themselves and their cronies. Under this situation, the politicians are constantly looking for arrangements that favour them such that they would be right inside the banquet hall where the booty is being shared. The sense of responsibility is obliterated by greed and the quest for personal aggrandisement. That’s the reason for zoning, the chop-I-chop kind of a thing. It is different from what happens in other lands where politicians struggle to write their names in the sand of time through the achievements they make for the common good of the people.
Where everyone lays claim to be on the side of equity (ọfọ in Igbo language), we can’t but throw our hands up in the air and mutter that equity knows who is on its side, that is ọfọ ma onye ji ya. Imo should forget about that charter and concentrate on having good teams manage its affairs at every point in time.
Dr. Odu can be reached through firstname.lastname@example.org