Nigeria Matters

Ohakim’s Parting Address to Incoming Governors

One of the bright spots in Nigeria’s recent series of elections was the exclamatory decisiveness with which the voters in Imo State defeated Mis-governor Ikedi Ohakim. Mr. Ohakim ranks as one of the most notoriously pugnacious of the 2007 class of governors “selected” in what was Maurice Iwu’s manual on electoral fraud.

As Mr. Ohakim prepares his exit from Government House, Owerri, it seemed to me appropriate that the rookie class of governors should benefit, a, from his grave mistakes (of style and substance) and, b, from the eclipse of his gubernatorial dreams. In furtherance of this objective, I have written – as a public service, and gratis – the following speech that the outgoing Imo governor should share with incoming governors.

Here goes:

Gentlemen, I stand before you today with great humiliation (yes, that’s the word I meant to say, not humility. Anybody who knows me well can tell you that humility is alien to my nature, and I have chosen today as a day to speak the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth). When I say I stand humiliated, I believe that you all know why. If everything had gone according to my wishes or designs, I would be sitting shoulder to shoulder with you, basking in the radiance of power, instead of standing at this podium as a tarnished political specimen, a failed governor designated to come here and open up my political and other wounds to you to enable you to avoid the traps that laid my re-election bid to waste.

First of all, let me assure you that I would not have lost the recent election had it been conducted by a man of the caliber, confidence and resourcefulness of Professor Maurice Iwu. It was this great professor who, in his wisdom and consideration, made sure that the governorship was awarded to me in 2007. Besides, I have no doubt that my devastating loss would not have occurred if our great party had been led by stalwart men who rightly approached elections as a do-or-die affair. Alas, our party seems to have fallen into the hands of effeminate men who no longer realize that elections are exactly like warfare. That’s a story for another day and a different forum, but I would fail in my duty if I didn’t forewarn you that, come 2015, you may all face two challenges.

One challenge is named Attahiru Jega, a man who appears to have jettisoned Iwu’s electoral legacy. The other problem is that, as I found out a few weeks ago to my great consternation, millions of common Nigerians have now taken up the notion that their votes must count. Personally, I prefer the old system that subsisted when I became governor in 2007. Yes, ordinary Nigerians were permitted to vote then. However, they cast their ballots on the understanding that their votes would either not count or would count only at the pleasure of the “stakeholders” – which included INEC officials, PDP elders, political godfathers, police, SSS and military top brass.

If I had known in 2007 that the system would be changed in 2011, perhaps I would have tried to be a different kind of governor, with real prospects of retaining my seat in a re-election. But I was under the impression that 2011 would be just like 2007. In my ignorance, I set aside enough cash to ensure that the majority of the security agents and INEC officials would be on my side. But then there came this horde of voters who kept voting for my opponent, and insisting that their votes be counted. What was more, I went out early and garnered a landslide of the votes of the prominent who’s who in Imo and beyond. Chief Emmanuel Iwuanyanwu stood solidly behind me. Arthur Nzeribe saw me as his political son in whom he was well pleased. Nzeribe’s wife became one of my most illustrious endorsers; she worked tirelessly to ensure that I carried Oguta. Imagine my shock, then, on learning that a few nameless women in the town rose up in defiance of the great Nzeribe’s wife – and nullified the victory that was being prepared for me.

How I wish somebody had seen into the future and warned me in my early days as governor that 2011 was not going to be like 2007, that the Jega era would be different from Iwu’s logistics.

Since I wasn’t warned, I set out from Day One to govern the usual way. Instead of spending time to grasp the problems of Imo, and to generate solutions, I was fascinated by power. I wanted everybody, friends and foes alike, to know that I was no longer the ordinary Ikedi they used to know, to underestimate, even to kick around as children kick a deflated football. I employed some of my friends as advisers. But when they began to take themselves seriously by offering serious advice, I banished them from my sight. I reminded them that I, not they, was the governor. I asked them to shut their traps, to shove their counsel. I asked them to keep their stinking ideas to themselves – and to run for the governorship if they thought they were such geniuses.

I couldn’t brook ordinary Nigerians who didn’t reckon that a governor was as close to a god as a human could be. Imagine the fury that seized my heart the day a common woman in a weather-beaten car was slow to run off the street as my siren-blaring convoy approached. I was in a hurry somewhere, but I had to stop and watch as my security people taught the termagant and her car a lesson or two. After we were done with her, the crybaby ran to the media and told stories about how my security detail smacked her black and blue. My good name suffered. Some people called me arrogant. Others said I was drunk with power. Their aspersions shocked me. If a governor could not be arrogant, then who should be? If I wasn’t drunk with power, what else was I – a powerful governor – supposed to be drunk on? What were my critics smoking?

Throughout my tenure, I never suffered ordinary irritants gladly. A disgruntled young man called Ikenna Samuelson Iwuoha got it into his head that he could build a name by constantly insulting me, compiling a dossier he alleged to be of my self-enriching, corrupt acts. His attacks were driven by frustration. First of all, did he know a single governor who ever sought office to amass personal poverty? Did he think I was an American or former Singaporean Lew Kuan Yew? Did the fool think I was the kind of leader who would leave office poorer than when I took it – and then start writing autobiographies and giving speeches to feed my family?

Well, when the young man would not bow to reason, I asked the police to go and arrest him and bring him to my office. I locked the doors, stripped him close to naked, and fetched a koboko to give him the flogging of his life. If you cross me, I didn’t waste time going to court; I dealt with the situation there and then. I wanted the man, the police and my advisers to know that I’m a hands-on kind of governor.

Then there was the Catholic priest who, again, failed to vamoose as my convoy approached. And he was driving a stupid Nissan car. Did the man not realize that any Nigerian governor was like Caesar? Did he not know that the Bible teaches that he should give to Caesar what was Caesar’s and to God what was God’s? Anyway, my vigilant security people taught him a lesson. They arrested him, stripped him down, and delivered a few slaps and punches.

Imagine the uproar that greeted the affair. Overnight, the Catholic clergy and laity in Imo and beyond began to conspire against me. Even after I had issued one of the rare apologies of my life, the hoard of Catholic antagonists still swore that I would never smell the governorship again.

Now, as I leave office, I will be left wondering if I was really unseated by Catholic wrath or by my acts of omission and commission – or, perhaps, both.

Let me make a confession. If I had a personal business to run, I’m not sure that I would hire somebody like myself to run it. Some people might s

ay, then, that I was unsuitable for the governorship. When Imo graduates bemoaned their high rates of unemployment, I announced a scheme to create thousands of jobs. But my critics denigrated this program, stating that the jobs existed only in my press releases. In the spirit of speaking truthfully, I must admit that my critics were largely right.

In closing, I’d like to let you into a big secret. As a governor, you’re actually a lonely duck. Fart, and your hangers-on will say you’ve given the world its most fragrant perfume. On your birthday, expect your commissioners, would-be commissioners, “steak-holders,” businessmen and women, local government chairmen and so on to buy up hundreds of newspaper pages. In advertisements dripping with plaudits, they would call you icon, God-sent, and genius. They will say you have “redefined governance,” “moved the state forward,” and “delivered all the dividends of democracy.” But be assured that the day the voters speak against your re-election – and insist that their votes count – your erstwhile coterie would cease taking your calls and disappear.

My only thread of political hope is to be appointed to a juicy ministerial appointment. But the men and women who effusively praised me yesterday are working hard to deny me this poor consolation.

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