Ohakim and the Political Deities

by Uche Ohia

Governor Ikedi Ohakim of Imo State made a significant media showing last week. He visited the corporate headquarters of THISDAY and granted a thrilling interview which was carried in THISDAY newspaper of Friday, Nov. 6. Another interview was also generously splashed in Sunday Vanguard of Nov. 8, 2009.

Ikedi Ohakim is a peculiar guy. He is not a run of the mill politician – that is, if one can really call him a politician. He is a great salesman. I said this much in earlier articles published in this column. In “Deconstructing Ohakim’s ‘New Face of Imo State'” written in November 2007 and in “Ohakim’s Big Dream” which I scripted in January 2008, I acknowledged Ohakim’s dexterity in packaging and branding himself and his vision and referred to him as “a vociferous salesman”. Like a good salesman, he is not averse to stretching his sales pitch to the limits – or even beyond the limit. And he did so last week with obvious gusto.

For instance, Ohakim contended that among the 52 people who aspired to be governor of the state in 2007, he was the only one who had a document to show to the people. Of course, he must have been speaking in a lighter mood. Many people in Imo State and beyond are still in custody of the glossy copies of Martin Agbaso’s “My Agenda for Imo State”, Ifeanyi Ararume’s “A Life of Service”, Dr. Kema Chikwe’s “Mission to Transform: Development Blueprint for Imo State”, Steve Ahaneku’s “Putting Imo First: My Mission”, Charles Ugwu’s 2007 Manifesto, etc. Iyke Ibe, Sam Uwandu, and many of the other governorship aspirants of that year even had websites where their manifestoes were uploaded for the world at large.

Still, Ohakim is certainly among the lucky ones whom Chinua Achebe classified as “those whose nuts have been cracked for them by benevolent gods”. His emergence as governor stands as one of the greatest upsets of the 2007 General Elections. When Ohakim assumed power, he seemed like a poster boy of radicalism. The fiery speeches he delivered in the first year of his administration cast him in the mould of an iconoclast. With the seeming focus and the vision which he displayed in his initial speeches, expectation was very high that this enfant terrible would sanitize the Imo political space that had been farmed out to political demi-gods. And each of his speeches contained ex-tempore tirades against such people. Now, there is reason to wonder if he was just shaking the bench to create space for himself.

In the course of the interview which he granted to THISDAY and Vanguard, Ohakim was confronted with the ghost of his controversial defection from PPA to PDP. He was asked how party politics and democracy could grow in Nigeria in a situation where everybody is moving to the ruling party. In a nebulous response, he wrote off the noble culture of opposition as a dying and unprofitable venture in Nigeria. Then he made reference to what he called “the concept of African Political Deity” or “African Political Big man”. For emphasis, he asserted that “there must be somebody who is an African Political Deity”. Ohakim’s hypothesis touches a sore point. What is a Political Deity? Who is a political deity?

In it’s simplest definition, a deity is a god or a goddess. A political deity, therefore, would refer to a political tin-god of some sort. Imo politics is controlled by territorial warlords who have appropriated the democratic rights of the people. Are they the ‘political deities’ Governor Ohakim was referring to?

Are political deities those that write lists in their bedrooms and submit rather than allow political congresses to hold so that the people may choose their leaders? Are political deities those that scuttle internal democracy in the political parties by hand-picking party officials from the wards to the state level? Are political deities those that front their minions for appointment to political offices rather than allow the President, Governor, or LG chairman to search and fish out the best brains that can turn things around?

Today, we are lamenting the sorry pass to which politics has been brought by predators that have virtually destroyed democratic ethos in Nigeria. Voter apathy and disdain for politicians is prevalent. Our democracy has been so twisted out of shape that it is barely recognizable to true democrats from other lands. Is it not political deities that are giving politics a bad name? Are these not the people that have put a wedge in the wheel of the democratic process and seized the greatest right that makes democracy desirable – the right to choose? Are these not the people who have taken it upon themselves to impose and to superimpose candidates of their own choice in place of the candidates preferred by the people? Are these not the people who, by their infamous activities, are shoving the society towards a bloody upheaval because they make peaceful change impossible? And when peaceful change becomes impossible, violent change becomes inevitable.

Who are the political deities? Are we moving forwards or backwards? At a time that the rest of the world are driving their development further through institutions built over the years, are we going to justify a political aberration and glamorize political predators? On it’s face value, the concept of a Political Deity is antithetical to the principle and practice of democracy.

Ohakim has a rebellious political history. Prior to 2003, he was in PDP. In 2003, he left PDP and ran for election with Chief Hope Uzodinma as a deputy governorship candidate under the AD. Thereafter, he returned to the PDP. In 2007, he left PDP again and ran as a PPA governorship candidate. As Governor, he has rejoined PDP. The impression all along had been that his high political mobility was a subtle protest against the machinations of demi-gods in PDP. Is he justifying the same political gnomes whose deleterious influence he has striven to avoid? Or was it his dream all along to join them or to take their place?

Whoever they may be, Political Deities seem to me to be the greatest threats to the survival of democracy in Nigeria. Whatever Ohakim’s concept of the Political Deity may mean, our political survival and socio-economic advancement as a nation cannot be divorced from our ability to show respect for the sanctity of the ballot. And to do so, we must sweep all political demi-gods into the rubbish heap of history where they belong and return power to the people. Governor Ohakim expressed great hope in the future of Nigeria. He even proposed a striking new moniker: “Why Nigeria is still Africa’s Future”. But how will Nigeria achieve real greatness? How shall we find that right “chemistry” to blend our human and material resources if we promote anachronistic malapropisms like “Political Deity”?

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