Ihedioha: Omenkeahuruanya and the Trial of Nigeria’s Democracy

Emeka Ihedioha

By Paul Obi

“The Supreme Court, of course, has the responsibility of ensuring that our government never oversteps its proper bounds or violates the rights of individuals. But the court must also recognise the limits on itself and respect the choices made by the people.”

– Elena Kagan

US Supreme Court Justice

The year 2020 left with it unimaginable shades of serious impacts. It was a year philosophers will easily tag anus horribilis – a monstrous year. From the Coronavirus pandemic and its unending conspiracy theories, to Nigeria’s state failure in nearly all fronts, then, to the ominous test of our democracy, 2020 was almost like a gulag and slaughter house.

Where both our human and democratic lives were pinned down to the vagaries of a pandemic and a Supreme Court judgement on Imo State Governorship Election that ended up upturning our senses about the true meaning of democracy. 2020 was a year in history, Nigeria’s electoral jurisprudence vis-a-vis democracy was on trial, specifically in the case of Uzodinma vs Ihedioha/SC.1462/2019. It was a case and outcome that defiled explanation.

Zooming in on the essence of judicial intervention and arbitration in a democracy, the verdict of the Supreme Court stripped the constitutional powers of the electorates to decide who governs them. And turned round to bequeath those powers on jurists far removed from the Eastern Heartland where Imo lies.

The verdict set in motion a debilitating web of confusion about the very essence of democracy and elections, and the constitutional powers of the voters. Never in the history of the Supreme Court since 1963 when it was established, had there been an audacious rebuke of the court by its own member – a Supreme Court Judge.

According to Justice Chima Nweze JSC, who gave a dissenting verdict in the matter, the decision by the Supreme Court in the case of Uzodinma vs Ihedioha/SC.1462/2019 “will continue to hunt our (Nigeria’s) electoral jurisprudence for a long time to come.” Another elder statesman, Tanko Yakasai added a pun to the decision of the Court, when he said, with the judgement, it is “junior Okorocha out; senior Okorocha in.”

Although, the Supreme Court is infallible and unquestionable, the decision in the matter of Uzodinma vs Ihedioha/SC.1462/2019 and the pronouncement of a candidate whereby this same court had in Uche Nwosu vs APP & Others/SC. 1384/2019 vehemently declined to extricate his party, All Progressives Congress (APC) from abuse of party primaries and double nomination as the winner is likened to malevolent venture and assassination of democracy without remorse.

Some are wondering whether Lady Macbeth’s invocation of spirit of mortal thoughts was given life to before the judgement. Where, in the play, Macbeth, she invoked and demanded; “come, you spirits that tend on mortal thoughts, unsex me here. And fill me from the crown to the toe-top full of dirtiest cruelty. Make thick my blood. Stop up the access and passage to remorse, that no compunctious visitings of nature shake my fell purpose….” Admittedly, such invocation often erases any trace of conscience, truth or fear of injustice and the aftermath has always been devastating and injurious to society.

Just as King Duncan fell through the cruelty of Macbeth and his infectious wife, Nigerian democracy took a piercing bullet and ended up in the ditch. That notwithstanding, the Supreme Court is a bedrock political institution – that potentially preserves the pillars of democracy, elections included. It is paramount therefore that we collectively uphold that institution. Our courts should be enablers of democratic norms; they should never be an avenue that catapults ungovernable persons to become occupants of our governmental institutions – such as Government House.

When such scenarios play out, you have the most condescending trust deficit and legitimacy question hanging on the government and beneficiaries of such a decision. In Imo of today, you now have the people’s Governor in the hearts of the voters who voted on the day of the gubernatorial election and another Governor without the electoral mandate of Imo voters. These two worlds have become constant each time Ihedioha visits Imo State from his Abuja base.

From the Sam Mbakwe International Airport, to streets in Owerri, students, artisans, market women and citizens of all shades often trooped out chanting, ‘our Governor’ ‘the people’s Governor’, ‘Omenkeahuruanya’ etc. The other, has had his official nomenclature unprofoundly bestowed by Imo people as ‘Abuja Governor’ – signifying electoral mandate thievery. These two contradictions have battered Nigeria’s electoral jurisprudence. And like the Shakespearean Titus Andronicus, the decision of the jurists in Three Arms Zone will continue to resonate in Imo as violence littered on democracy.

Worst still, the decision of the court, as Justice Nweze prophesied and forewarned, has continued to throw up episodic brigandage in the state. To that effect, Imo State is currently striding on a comedy of errors as occasioned by the brouhaha over the seizure of the properties of the former Governor, Owelle Rochas Okorocha by the current government.

The macabre dance of perfidy that occurred on the 21st February, 2021 exposes Imolites’ misgivings and angst against the court as Iberiberism squared up with hopism in the most sordid brawl and ding-dong. As the sad event unfolded, Imolites from far and near relish having Ihedioha back to the throne. With him, they observed, things would have been different. His touch of calmness, diplomacy, officialdom, rule of law, consensus, networking, building blocks and people’s first ideology would have been deployed to avoid any skirmishes or squabbles of the magnitude displayed in the battle of Iberiberism vs hopism.

Thus, it is for this love by the people of Imo State, that Ihedioha has taken this sad episode with calmness without regrets, thrusting all his confidence and belief on God – the ultimate creator. Ihedioha’s quest to govern Imo State, ab initio, was never a power-drunk ambition. It was and remains a painstaking desire to put the interest of Imolites front and centre in governance.

It is from this conviction that he had his job well cut out when he was sworn in as Governor on May 29th, 2019. From his policy framework on agriculture – and the desire to turn Imo to a raw material hub; to infrastructural development, to healthcare service delivery, to education, sports, youths’ development, gender equity, and innovation in governance and the civil service, Ihedioha truly meant business, with Imolites as the chief beneficiaries.

As a policy wonk that he is, Ihedioha had already gone back to the days of Dee Sam Mbakwe to resurrect the quintessential Ahiajoku Lecture Series. A think-tank for the crystallization of Igbo culture as a melting pot. According to Ihedioha, the Ahiajoku Lecture Series should be geared towards creating a synergy for intellectual alignment of Igbo culture as a corpus of Nigerian, African and global culture.

In tandem with the ‘Rebuild Imo Agenda’ Ihedioha had keyed into Ahiajoku Lecture, to “provoke a veritable platform for intellectual, cultural and enduring institutional memory” for the Igbo nation globally. On the global stage, the American scholar, A. Carl LeVan in his book Contemporary Nigerian Politics: Competition in a Time of Transition and Terror, poured encomiums on Ihedioha for his contribution to the Nigerian democratic space and intellectual cravings on how to deconstruct the nation’s politics. These lofty engagements often end up with Imo as the main focus.

Ihedioha believes that with the high quality of human capital that Imo is blessed with, the running of government and its politics should never be built around hope – hope is abstract. And its philosophy of hopism is inchoate and chaotic, and basically cannot generate the vibe associated with public good. In Ihedioha’s thinking, it should rather be about practical evidence – the one we can see – nkeahuruanya. Neither should governance and the Imo State economy be running in the form of gangsters’ capitalism and other bizarre engagements – like training farmers on rearing rabbits in the name of economic empowerment.

In Ihedioha as then Governor, and with the coming of Joe Biden’s Presidency, Imo State missed the opportunity of reaping from the enormous network and connections Ihedioha had built with the Democratic National Committee (DNC). From Biden himself, to Vice President Kamala Harris to late Congressman John Lewis, Ihedioha would have leveraged such friendship to position Imo as a frontline state, mostly on economic terms. That opportunity still hangs in the balance as Imo voters remain resolute with Ihedioha.

Instructively, as interested parties keep knocking on the doors of the apex court to re-examine previous decisions on Imo 2019 gubernatorial poll, and 2023 beckons, Ihedioha will ever remain indispensable. And whether the purveyors of rigged elections like it or not, Ihedioha still has a date to keep with the people. Sooner or later, the ghost of Imolites’ mandate will continue to chase, overrun and trouble those who shortchanged Imo voters in the 2019 governorship election in the state.

Born on 24th March, 1965 in Mbutu, Aboh Mbaise, Imo State, as Chukwuemeka Nkemakolam Ihedioha, the former Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives attended Mbutu Town School, SDA Primary School, Abule-Oja, Yaba; St. Ephraim’s Secondary School, Owerri-Nta, University of Lagos, including executive courses in Stanford and Harvard Universities in the United States. Ihedioha is easily recognized as the man with the green cap – his political identity.

As a political Ijele that he is, his craftsmanship speaks of his grooming and readiness for statesmanship. From his parents, to an aide to to former Senate Presidents Iyorchi Ayu; Late Dr Chuba Okadigbo (the Oyi of Oyi) to Turakin Adamawa, former Vice President, Atiku Abubakar, Ihedioha was well prepared for leadership. His allies applaud him for his dexterity; others are quick to point out his human foibles. They argued that Ihedioha’s overt caution in a state that is persistently running amok and serenaded by a pack of political desperados is his greatest undoing politically.

They maintained that Ihedioha misjudged the peculiarities in Imo politics, specifically in a field dominated by Ogbologbos, where he ought to know how to match them blow for blow, force for force and dinero for dinero. If not for those two factors – of speed and swiftness, they stressed that Ihedioha would have been eyeing his exit from Douglas House as second or first term governor now.

Yet, Ihedioha’s place in Nigeria’s democracy is irreplaceable, timeless and more of an indelible mark of history, specifically, in electoral jurisprudence. Much still lies ahead for the immutable political Ijele with the green cap, as he turns 56 today. All hail the Omenkeahuruanya Ndigbo 1. Ka ana ga iru. Action!

…Obi, is a journalist and political communication consultant based in Abuja.