Imo and the metaphor of a Roman mob

By Ethelbert Okere
In the last couple of days, the social media has been featuring pictures of a crowd receiving the immediate past governor of Imo state, His Excellency, Rt. Hon. Emeka Ihedioha at the Sam Mbakwe airport as he arrived for the first time since his ouster last January.

Apparently, the crowd was made up of mostly members and supporters of his Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). Not unexpectedly, some elements of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) branded the crowd “rented”.

One post on Facebook even advised that His Excellency should have utilized the money with which he rented the crowd – the poster claimed it was N2,000.00 per person – to continue with the building of a personal house he “abandoned since he was sacked from office”.

Such nonsense. Of course, in the politics of Ihedioha’s ‘triumphant’ return, such invectives were not unexpected but whether the crowd was rented or not is, for me, immaterial.

After all, what about the villagers along the Egbu-Emekuku-Mbaise axis who ran out of their homes to salute the former governor as he rode in a motorcade from the airport to Owerri?

It is most unlikely those folks were hired. In appreciation, Ihedioha stuck his body out from the vehicle conveying him and hilariously waved at the people, even hugged some. Some critics have argued that he ought not to have so dramatized his return especially as he was not on a campaign tour but I cannot see the point.

Is there any law prohibiting politicians from frolicking with the people except during campaigns? On the contrary, Nigerian politicians are charged for erecting stone walls between them and the people the moment they get into office.

In our context, mingling with the people – as a governor, for   instance – is promptly   branded a breach of security and protocol and I doubt if His Excellency’s security details would have allowed him do the type of thing he did last Thursday if he was still governor.

The road show was, therefore, a make belief. It was probably aimed at evoking  the emotions   of the  people  over  a matter that   was  determined  by a  hard, cold  and rigorous court process. Currently, Ihedioha’s party is part of another court process – that will probably also undergo another cold rigour – to bring him back to the office he left last January.

Therefore, if I were His Excellency, I would not, knowingly and unknowingly, demystify the ongoing scientific process of returning to office by subjecting the people to another bout of emotional trauma. It was an inadvertent tantalization of the people with his possible return to office and in my view, it lacked tact and sophistication. Of course, it is a legitimate expectation but methinks that it is high time our politicians spared the hapless people from incessant assault on their psychological equilibrium. More worrisomely, the airport show lends credence to the charge on Imo politicians for being on a mission to transform the society into a Roman mob.

For the younger ones who did not read William Shakespeare’s Julius Ceaser, the Roman mob was characterized with clapping for anybody, hero or villain alike. Recall that some time at the heat of the diatribe between insiders of the Ihedioha administration and that of his immediate predecessor, Rochas Okorocha, a crowd of Imolites was taken to the Sam Mbakwe airport to stop the latter from coming into the state.

The crowd, which was led by the then secretary to the state government, Hon.   Uche Onyeagucha, waited for nearly the entire day but Okorocha did not arrive. Afraid that the latter might have gotten wind of the ambush and changed his route via Port Harcourt or Asaba airport, Onyeagucha commanded his ‘troops’ to proceed to the Imo International Conference Center in the heart of the capital city, Owerri, where they had a rendezvous.

Meanwhile, surveillance teams were dispatched to the Imo-Rivers states borders as well as those between Imo and Anambra to possibly intercept and capture Okorocha.

In the end, however, Okorocha did not come to Imo and has apparently not set his foot here since then.

Meanwhile, he is being sought after by the same Imolites to appear before judicial panels incidentally set up by the Ihedioha administration – but carried over by that of Governor Hope Uzodimma – to give account of his stewardship. Chief Okorocha might have other reasons he is yet to appear before those panels but who would blame him if he gives the ambush laid for him as one.

I ask: is it to the interest of the generality of the people, which includes those who were part of the Onyegucha-led crowd, that Okorocha is yet to appear before those panels whose constitution were, nevertheless, applauded by the people as part   of the well thought out plans by the Ihedioha administration to return sanity in the governance of the state; indeed to “rebuild” Imo, going by its peculiar mantra?

Now, fast forward to Thursday, July 30, 2020. Another crowd, made up of the same Imolites – it doesn’t matter which political party they belonged to – was taken to the same Sam Mbakwe International airport Owerri, this time to give a tumultuous welcome to another former governor, this time His Excellency, Rt. Hon. Emeka Ihedioha. Did I hear you say, “double standard?”
It is not as simple as that. Merely characterizing it as such is a crass trivialisation of a very
serious matter: A decadence to a level which nobody ever believed would befall a people like Ndi Imo, reputed as being among the most sophisticated and discerning in the entire Nigeria. How did we determine that one former governor can come into the state and another cannot? What are the yard sticks? I am aware that before the airport show, Onyeagucha had declared Okorocha a  persona non grata  in the state and for which he was highly criticized and about which his boss, Governor Ihedioha, denied ever giving any approval for such a pronouncement. But the damage had been done.
imagine that the state still has rascals like Onyeagucha in the current administration and who, without the knowledge of the governor, goes ahead and to similarly mobilize a crowd to stop Rt. Hon. Ihedioha from coming into the state last Thursday. Assume further that the Ihedioha camp, which still has an Onyeagucha very much around, was also at the airport to give their leader a rousing welcome. What would have been the outcome? Your guess is as good as mine.
So, when are we going to break this circus? The time is now.
Imolites must begin to insist on maximum decorum among the politicians. The time is now to re-orient the people away from despondency to proactively stop the politicians from the antics of turning them into a mob that would dance to the whims of anybody that comes its way. I have come across write-ups in the social media commending His Excellency, Senator Hope Uzodimma, for not visiting on Rt. Hon Ihedioha with the same treatment the latter’s men gave to Okorocha. But it goes beyond that. Matters that involve the collective integrity of the people should no longer be left entirely to the whims of those in office. The people must begin to resist having their emotions toyed with. In at least two previous articles, I had pointed out that Rt. Hon. Ihedioha showed a lot of capacity but it is not true that Imolites will forever mourn his exit from office. That is not a fair characterization of Ndi Imo. They are not that naive. Yes, there are those, whether within or outside the PDP, who, for obvious or sundry reasons, did not welcome the Supreme Court judgment of January 14, 2020 that ousted Ihedioha and brought in Uzodimma.  But to suggest or argue that the state is still in the past as result is to assault the collective psyche of the people. I have also in previous articles acknowledged that  given the nature of Ihedioha’s exit from office, it would be illusory for Governor Uzodimma and his administration’s insiders to expect a warm embrace from the latter’s camp and party. But to equate that loss of privilege to rule to the collective destiny of Imolites amounts to a talk down on this very highly discerning people and to make a caricature of Ihedioha’s brilliant career.

.Okere is the Director-General of the Imo State Orientation Agency.

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