“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere” – Martin Luther King Jr.
I am neither an Imo state resident nor an Imo state indigene. I am of Delta state extraction – a proud Deltan but a prouder Nigerian. My friend who saw this piece prior to publication wondered my interest in Imo state and expressed his reservations. But should my not being a biological or geographical constituent of a system translate to my total disregard of the affairs of that system? I am sure the response is a categorical no.
I started this piece with the reproduction of the famous proclamation of one of my most adorable role models, Dr Martin Luther King Jnr which he made in Birmingham while serving one of his twenty nine jail terms. I had to do this because as expected, I would soon be reminded of the biblical portion that admonishes one to do away with the log in his own eyes before proceeding to remove a splinter from another man’s.
In truth, the Delta State gubernatorial elections bear quite a few similarities with the Imo state’s based on reports across the media and the election observers.
Just like Imo state, the Delta state 2011 elections have so far reportedly surfaced as one of the poorest advertisements of the Professor Attahiru Jega commendable INEC chairmanship. From reported ballot snatching to voter intimidation, from dubious results to blatant rape of justice; from gunshots to outright extermination of lives, from multiple voting to just about every evil that characterised the infamous Professor Maurice Iwu’s regrettable stint as INEC chairman resurfaced in quite a few places in my dear state. This of course includes the traditional thanksgiving service by the ruling party after the “successful elections.”
The questionable trend observed during the January 2011 Delta state gubernatorial rerun resurfaced in the April main elections. The rural riverine areas – which have hitherto suffered badly from rural-urban migration – suddenly and mysteriously, became overpopulated. These villages became so densely populated that they boasted more actual voters than the industrially more active, commercially more virile busy cities of the state. And these results – that would later determine the eventual winner – came so late as to further fuel speculations and logical suspicions.
Well, I, together with all other commentators that have expressed similar surprises might be wrong in our suspicion but not until real and irrefutable evidences precipitate to the surface, or the electoral tribunals and law courts take actions in this regard, we will be resigned to helplessly live with our reasonable questions.
That said, whatsoever I write about the Imo state election saga, I do with all certainty as I monitored the events live on ChannelsTV as the drama played out in the capital city of Owerri. It was obvious the Returning Officer Professor Enoch Akobundu was not in total control of himself as his mobile phone was active during the periods of waiting and uncertainty. He was at some point visibly jittery, sometimes in uneasy calm, while at least at one other time, abnormally aggressive.
I might be wrong, but in all sincerity, from what I observed, he appeared as someone under immense pressure from some powerful quarters. Although my heart pushes me towards a particular direction, my young objective mind cannot confidently say in whose favour the under pressure Professor was acting since no concrete information on the outstanding Local Government Areas were released at that particular time.
But it must be said that the not-so-brave or rather cunning Professor left too big a room for suspicion and rumour mongering. One would expect an academic of his stature to do the needful expected at such happenstance.
One expected a Professor to under such conditions, be firm and straight-forward; calm the audience; do a recap of the results so far received and declared from all the other LGAs; pronounce the total votes each candidate had received already; while not pronouncing him the outright winner, state clearly the candidate in the leading position and the margin of votes; unambiguously detail the problems and controversies surrounding the elections and or the result from the four outstanding LGAs, and finally appeal for understanding and co-operation from all as he makes the declaration.
I have always wondered why some of the Returning Officers and Resident Electoral Commissioners are not as trustworthy and upright as their boss, Professor Jega. I still trust Jega, but definitely not his men in Delta, Imo et al.
Once again, just as he did in the Anambra Central Senatorial District elections between Professor Dora Akunyili of APGA, and Dr Chris Ngige of ACN, Professor Jega appears to have risen to the Imo challenge. In his characteristic self, he has taken his time to consult and seek legal advice from his team of legal experts on the way to go. It is clear that he has been advised to proceed to organise “supplementary elections” in the outstanding LGAs. This he has scheduled for May 6, 2011.
This development has brought to the fore questions on the legitimacy and constitutionality of the rescheduled supplementary elections in the light of section 178(2) of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria that an election to the office of Governor of a State shall be held on a date not earlier than sixty days and not later than thirty days before the expiration of the term of office of the last holder of that office (emphasis mine).
Some have also questioned the appropriateness of the terms “inconclusive” and “supplementary elections” arguing that these terms are alien to our electoral lexicon. Yet still, some others have labelled Jega as an accomplice and a conniver in the scheme to rape justice in Imo state.
But one thing we often fail to do is putting ourselves in the position of the man we attack. If you were Jega, what would you have done differently? If you were in charge of INEC what actions would you have taken? Definitely, no sane and fair umpire would hurriedly declare a winner after his Returning Officer – a fellow Professor – has made such controversial public pronouncement declaring the results incomplete and the elections inconclusive.
I am not a lawyer, and I will not pretend to be an expert in the practice or interpretation of laws, but I am convinced that INEC’s legal advisers did the right thing by advising Jega to organise supplementary elections with the understanding that the main elections with results from 22 LGAs satisfied the constitutional section 178(2) requirement irrespective of the timing of the supplementary elections in just 4 LGAs.
I pray that the candidate in the leading position prior to the supplementary elections would eventually maintain his lead even after the May 6 elections. Otherwise, a long, winding process of post-gubernatorial elections litigation – which by the new arrangement terminates at the Supreme Court – would arise between the main contenders. And as we have seen in several states already, Imo, and Delta states inclusive, such legal tussles become good reasons for the poor governors to perform woefully sighting distractions.
Meanwhile, the author is not oblivious of the fact that both former President Olusegun Obasanjo and the First Lady, Mrs Patience Jonathan – arguably the two most popular political faces of the Jonathan presidency thus far – visited Imo State few days to the gubernatorial elections. I do equally not doubt the fact that they were in town to rack up support for their loyal friend Governor Ikedi Ohakim who was in dire need of their support to remain in the State House. In similar vein, I remember that the Minister of the Interior, Capt. Emmanuel Iheanacho (rtd) was suspended by the President only few days prior to the elections in controversial circumstances. Though it might sound implausible, these popular figures might not be involved in the machinations thus far.
But, truth is, no man, no woman, no politician can successfully stop an idea whose time has truly come. If Imo State residents and indigenes as we hear see and read every day truly desire Owelle Rochas Okorocha to be their Governor, then Executive Governor of Imo State he shall be addressed come May 29, 2011.
I have read about Operation Wetie and I know that the nation cannot afford another round of such violence at this time. Hence, I appeal to Professor Jega to appoint only men of impeccable reputations like him to superintend over the Imo State supplementary elections and the process generally. If I were Jega, I would detail a Mike Igini and his likes to manage it, or better still go down to Imo state personally.
Being a positivist, I am confident the wishes of the majority of Imo indigenes and residents shall be upheld. Being a pacifist, I am confident that violence will not rear its ugly head in Imo state because only the right things will be done. And being an optimist, I reiterate my confidence in Professor Attahiru Jega trusting that he would not disappoint me and millions of other Nigerians as he continues his mission to give Nigerians the best sets of elections so far in the fourth republic.
May Vox Populi become Vox Dei in Imo State and in Nigeria.