2023 Gladiators: My Perceptions

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Femi Akintunde-Johnson

The closest theory to our frame of thought, and upon which our subsequent arguments and information is based, is the constructivist theory of perception by a British pioneer of cognitive psychology, and professor of Neuropsychology at the University of Bristol, England, Richard Langton Gregory, CBE (1923 – 2010). A paraphrase of an aspect of his 1970 theory relevant to us today argues “that past knowledge and experience is the most important factor when making sense of the world around us. Gregory proposed that perception worked by making reasonable guesses about what we are seeing based on what it is most likely to be.”

So, let us use that as a keyholder in understanding the subtleties driving our perceptions of the folks jostling to rule Nigeria in 2023. (Surely, you are not one of those who characterise the mindsets of most Nigerian political leaders as some sort of craving to ‘lead’?)

We have a heavy cast of contenders, pretenders and comedians – at the last count, more than 20 people. Some of those with long-standing ambitions of nurturing presidential hope include: Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, former president, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan, former vice president, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar; Sokoto State governor, Aminu Waziri Tambuwal; former governors of Lagos State, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu; Imo State, Owelle Rochas Okorocha; Kano State, Senator Rabiu Kwankwaso; Kwara State, Dr. Bukola Saraki; Abia State, Chief Orji Uzor Kalu; Prof. Kingsley Moghalu, and Mr. Gbenga Olawepo-Hashim.

Recently, we have witnessed stirrings, kite-flying, and muted flare campaigns by amorphous groups intimating us of some newcomers to the presidential groovy train… Names have been dropped, such as: Governors David Umahi (Ebonyi), Kayode Fayemi (Ekiti), Bala Mohammed (Bauchi), Yahaya Bello (Kogi) and Nyesom Wike (Rivers); as well as Messrs Chris Baywood-Ibe, Peter Obi, Rotimi Amaechi; Senators Danjuma Goje, Anyim Pius Anyim, Ali Modu Sheriff, and the current senate president, Ahmad Lawan. Of course, the list is by no means exhaustive, as names are popping up every other day.

My self-imposed assignment is not to analyse their credentials to contest for the biggest office in the land; not even their competencies, and suitability – not their electability nor their capacity to exhume a war-chest brimming with billions of naira and other foreign currencies, which would be sorely needed to put up a serious-minded and significant campaign… that and more would be critical towards claiming the right to succeed President Muhammadu Buhari in 2023.

My perceptions are simply self-designed criteria to which we intend to sieve the aspirants through, and which we strongly suspect may be similar to that of the majority of ‘non-aligned’, non-party-card-carrying members of the Nigerian society. You must have noticed that we avoided using the phrase ‘non-partisan’ in our description above – such Nigerians are in a worryingly minute minority – to the point of being near untraceable.

We will hover across the names of random aspirants in no particular order, and make our perceptions known without fear or favour. We will also appreciate your feedback afterwards, with equal openness and fairness.

Of course, we anticipate that these perceptual interventions may not sit well with some supporters of this or that aspirant, and would hasten to dismiss our perceptions in the usual Nigerian “aggression” and “resilience”. It won’t matter if millions of other Nigerians ‘perceive’ your candidates as such, and you refuse to do the needful – meaning that you should stay away from compounding our problems or prepare for a tortuous ride to nowhere. Let us move…

Rochas Okorocha, 59: The former Imo State governor has been struggling to be a president long before he became the governor of Imo State in 2011. He is currently the senator representing Imo West senatorial district – a position he stepped into after leaving the Owerri governor’s lodge as a two-termer. He switched positions with the incumbent governor, Hope Uzodinma who was his predecessor in the Nigerian Senate – after a dramatic judicial masterstroke.

Okorocha is a flamboyant politician with a fairly extensive entrepreneurial outlay even before he joined mainstream politics.

He is perceived to be unserious, largely showboating for political overdraft, and blessed with an outsized ego driven by pretensions of intellection.

In 1999 when this fourth republic emerged, he contested the gubernatorial primaries on the platform of the People’s Democratic Party, PDP to be Imo State’s chief executive. He lost to Achike Udenwa. In 2003, he contested the presidential primaries of the All Nigerian People’s Party, ANPP. He lost.

He returned to the PDP and became a Special Adviser to President Olusegun Obasanjo after the 2003 elections. His portfolio? Inter-Party Affairs (read between the lines).

For the 2007 elections, Okorocha needed to own a political party so as to sufficiently accommodate his presidential ambition – pronto, Action Alliance (AA) was formed in 2005. When that vehicle collapsed alongside his ambition in 2007, he returned to PDP, whereupon he revved up his tireless machinery for the next campaign: to be the national chairman of PDP! Well, same story…

For the 2011 gubernatorial elections, the Okorocha caravan moved once more – to another party, the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) for his second attempt at the cherished Imo governor’s seat. Despite concerted efforts to push him out of APGA in 2010, Okorocha battled against all odds, and succeeded as APGA’s candidate at the April 11, 2011 polls. He beat his former party co-combatant, and incumbent governor, Ikedi Ohakim (PDP). The election umpire, INEC, declared the election inconclusive as thousands of votes were cancelled in more than 250 polling units, in 23 out of 27 local government areas. Collations were allegedly marred by irregularities, and some places abandoned voting due to security threats. Nonetheless, Okorocha won the re-run election.

He also added “iberiberism” to our political lexicon – a word crafted from Igbo language to explain some acts of foolishness…somewhat apt when juxtaposed with his soapbox antics and exhibitionism. You may also not be too far off the mark if you characterise him as an energetic mobilizer who confuses braggadocio for charisma, and vitriol for erudition.

Two years into his tenure as Imo governor, he moved to the newly formed All Progressives Congress, APC. In deference to his knack for brouhaha and compulsive animated bravura, he was elected by his opposition governor-mates as the chairman of the Progressive Governors’ Forum.

His tenure in Imo State is still being painted in many uncharitable colours, making canvas of his first public service a knowingly exhausted kaleidoscope of exaggerated populism, outlandish infrastructures, misplaced do-goodism, and such cranks notorious with individuals under the influence of hubric delusion and self-importance.

Still thirsty for presidential cocktails, Nigerians were not surprised when Okorocha tried his luck against Buhari in the 2015 presidential primaries – even as a sitting governor, eyeing a second term! He lost once again, but was returned to the Owerri stool of power.

In furtherance of his peculiar self-conceit, he handpicked his son-in-law, Uche Nwosu (insidiously appointed earlier as his chief of staff) to run as the candidate of APC in the 2019 elections, so as to succeed him! Well, the gods must have had enough of Okorocha’s rigmarole.

Nwosu lost the ticket to Hope Uzodinma, then a senator; and defected to his father-in-law’s re-exhumed party, Action Alliance, where the ticket was undisputed. But, the chief puppeteer of the charade, Okorocha, was promptly suspended from APC for the usual practice – anti-party activities.

As it is common in the chicanery called Nigerian politics, Okorocha rallied his machinery, and won the senatorial seat in the Imo West/Orlu district – under the usual chaotic Nigerian political clouds and smokes.

Today, Senator Owelle Rochas Anayo Okorocha wants to aim, once again, for the only exalted office that has failed him many times – the president of Nigeria – in 2023. The signs are clear that he may have a loooong wait, where the only solid peg to hang on while biding his time, and nursing his war-chest, and Providence – is another on the run at the Senate seat, again and again.