Nigeria: The Imo Shock

20 January 2020

I'm now so wearily accustomed to Nigerian political tsunamis and legal dramas that I, as a general rule, barely bat an eyelid when something sensational happens. I usually just shrug and carry on.

But I nearly keeled over on Tuesday when the Supreme Court ruled that Chief Emeka Ihedioha, a former Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives and member of the Peoples' Democratic Party (PDP) who had been sworn in as Governor of Imo State last May, should be unseated by Hope Uzodinma, a former senator.

This news reached me via a newsflash on my phone, while I was heading from one meeting to another in Abuja; and I was literally stopped in my tracks and had to sit down to get over the shock!

Why was I so shocked?

In a disorganised and corrupt country in which electoral processes are ALWAYS flawed - even when the candidates are essentially decent, as Ihedioha undoubtedly is - it is always possible that initial victories will eventually be nullified for all sorts of reasons.

So, it wasn't Ihedioha's defeat per se that threw me off balance. What completely flummoxed me was the fact that instead of demanding a re-run or replacing Ihedioha with someone who came second or even third in the gubernatorial contest, the Justices handed Imo over to the candidate who came FOURTH.

Furthermore, Uzodinma's party, the All Progressives Congress (APC), is not exactly liked in Imo... which, by the way is my mother's home state, which means that I am in regular contact with a large number of Imolites - both those who live in Imo and in other locations - and can confidently comment on public opinion within an Imo context.

Rochas Okorocha, the APC Governor who preceded Ihedioha, had, thanks to a series of selfish, destructive and clownishly outrageous moves, made himself and his party extremely unpopular.

Meanwhile, President Buhari has spectacularly failed to persuade Igbos to trust him. So, it's hardly surprising that Uzodinma was not warmly welcomed by voters last year... or that APC does not have a single seat in the Imo State House of Assembly.

Don't get me wrong. Regular readers of this page will know that Ihedioha is my friend and brother and that I must be very sad about the humiliation that has been inflicted on him.

But I don't have anything against Uzodinma. In fact, I really like him.

Uzodinma used to be my neighbour and was always smart, warm, chivalrous and entertaining whenever I interacted with him. And I wish him happiness and success. But I have to be truthful and say that I have grave reservations about the Supreme Court's decision.

It is difficult to take sides when two people you are fond of are at loggerheads. And I was tempted to maintain a diplomatic silence.

But - hey! - it is sometimes necessary to get off the fence and take a stand, even if doing so makes you uncomfortable.

Several lawyers and knowledgeable laymen have weighed in on this matter; and complex arguments are raging across the land about whether the Justices are right or not. Some commentators are even accusing them of being shameless and of having been compromised.

I am not an expert, so I really don't know what the score is legally; and, frankly, I've been too busy with other stuff this week to study the articles containing complicated technical details that are being bandied about by pro- and anti-Uzodinma/Ihedioha pundits.

All I know, for now at least, is that my instincts are telling me that Uzodinma did not win and should not have been catapulted into Owerri Government House!

But I do intend to plough through articles written by APC lawyers, PDP lawyers and apolitical lawyers in the coming days; and perhaps I'll change my mind when I have educated myself.

Watch this space.

READER RESPONSES

I recently wrote about the Ghanaian government inviting black Americans to relocate to Ghana if they wish to reconnect with their African roots; and I complained about the fact that the Nigerian government had not, at the time of writing, made a similar move...

... because I believe that black Americans - whose ancestors were dragged out of their Mother Continent by evil slave traders centuries ago - deserve compassion and can add a lot of value to our society and economy.

An Asaba-based reader called Benjamin Edosomwan responded thus:

It is not as if we have not invited our black brethren before to commemorate our heritage and culture (FESTAC"77). We did it at a time when we were the envy of many nations and the response was spectacular. Well, what do you expect when a rich man invited jobs friends and neighbors for a party! (But as it is in real life for the poor man, we are pursuing them now with words and yet they seem to be ignoring us). It is good to commemorate the 400th anniversary of the arrival of the African slaves in the English colonies and black heritage in general but we need to put our houses in order before inviting them.

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