By Ethelbert Okere
One big thumb-down for Chief Emeka Ihedioha as governor of Imo State was his involvement of Hon. Uche Onyeagocha (Onyeagucha) in his administration, more so in no less a position as secretary to the state government (SSG). To be sure, Hon. Onyeagocha was eminently qualified to hold that office once we are talking of academic qualifications and political exposure but not when matters like comportment and carriage come into play.
The main reason Governor Emeka Ihedioha got knocks for appointing Onyeagocha as the SSG (some say SGI) was what happened on the eve of his declaration as “winner” of the March 9, 2019 governorship election by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC). The story is very well known but it is worth refreshing our minds on it. Onyeagocha, acting as an agent of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) at the INEC collation centre in Owerri on March 9, 2019, shocked the entire Nigeria when he grabbed a copy of a certified election result (Form EC8C) from Ideato South local government area of the state and tore it pieces. Hon. Onyeagocha ostensibly acted on the allegation that the result was cooked up in favour of one of the governorship candidates, Uche Nwosu, but particularly against his favorite candidate – and that of his party (PDP) – Hon. Emeka Ihedioha.
I watched the live coverage of that episode from my living room in London and I told the fellow sitting next to me that Onyeagocha (Onyeagucha) would surely pay for that. Shortly after, I put I call across to Nigeria and got the information that he was promptly dragged out by security agents and given a thorough beating. One account had it that he was made to frog-jump by the soldiers before being taken away for detention. He was subsequently arraigned in court but once the person he was “fighting” for was declared governor, it was not surprising that a nolle prosiqui (He has no case) was entered on his behalf and the case was dropped.
The next Imolites heard was that he had been appointed SSG (SGI), a development that kept many Imolites thinking. How could a fellow who was, or is, so unruly be appointed into such a sensitive office; a fellow who, by the action just described, showed that he had iota of regard to the rule of law – albeit his background as a lawyer and exposure as a law maker.
In the end, however, Imolites got somewhat consoled by the narrative that Ihedioha was “compelled” by sentiments arising from the argument that Onyeagocha “risked” his life in a bid to have him declared the winner of the March 9, 2019 governorship election. But Ihedioha, a gentle but crafty fellow, knew deep inside him that the likes of Uche Onyeagocha had no business being part of his administration. Of course, even the least discerning fellow in the state knew that Governor Ihedioha merely tolerated Onyeagocha throughout his seven-month stint as governor.
Perhaps, the most eloquent attestation to that was when Onyeagocha, without obtaining clearance from the governor, issued a statement declaring Ihedioha’s predecessor, Chief Rochas Okorocha, a persona non grata to the state, a claim which an embarrassed Ihedioha promptly repudiate. This writer was not an appointee of the Ihedioha administration but I was close enough to some of its insiders to know that Onyeagocha was quite discomfiting to the governor. In fact, his tendency to vitriolic, brashness and short temper was a major source of concern to members of the topmost echelon of that administration. The only significant thing about Oyeagocha’s tenure as SSG or SGI was a white attire, a red cap and a white sandal.
Even so, the height of Onyeagochas’s perfidy against Imolites in general and the Ihedioha administration in particular was the day he took some hoodlums to ambush Chief Okorocha at the Sam Mbakwe International Airport (SMICA), Owerri to prevent the later from coming into the state. It was an act that again completely embarrassed his boss, Governor Ihedioha, who, as a seasoned politician, knew that there was no basis for such a thing. But Onyeagocha, who throughout that regime went about with the impression that he couldn’t care a thing about how the governor felt, even overstretch the drama.
After waiting for Okorocha – with the hired thugs – till about 5 pm without the latter’s arrival at SMICA, Onyeagocha, sensing that Okorocha might have changed route to either Port Harcourt or Asaba Airports, commanded his ‘troops’ back to the Imo International Conference Centre, IICC, – built by Okorocha – for debriefing.
Thereafter, a consignment was sent towards the Owerri-Port Harcourt route and another to the Onitsha-Asaba axis. At the end, Okorocha did not show up and Onyeagocha went home unsure of what to do next but with continuous knocks from well meaning citizens of the state who saw his action as senseless.
While narrating the events that surrounded Ihedioha’s election in his recently published memoir, entitled SECOND CHANCE, Chief Willie Amadi, a frontline politician in the state and a leader in the PDP wrote: “…We returned to Tony Chukwu’s house and once there, I called Ihedioha to alert him that action would soon commence. I however used that opportunity to express my disappointment in Uche Onyeagocha for tearing the result sheet from Ideato South local government area while we were trying to resolve the impasse. He agreed with me but pleaded that it should distract us” (page 172).
The position of most Imolites was that granted that Governor Okorocha perpetrated a lot of subterfuge against the state and its people, his ‘trial’ had not yet gotten to the stage where he should be banished from the state. And to demonstrate that Hon. Onyeagocha did not understand the nuances of events during that period or chose to do things his own way, the various judicial panels set up by the very administration he was serving – as SSG (SGI) – were just settling down when Hon. Onyeagocha took laws into his own hands and began to met out punishment to Okorocha.
Even though the Ihedioha administration was brought to an abrupt end shortly after, Governor Hope Uzodimma, on coming on board, retained the panels. One after the other, the panels invited Chief Okorocha to appear before them but the ex governor rebuffed all, citing security reasons. Chief Okorocha might well have had other reasons why he did not obey the summons by the judicial panels but he could not be faulted for citing Onyeagocha’s move to ‘capture’ him, as earlier narrated, as one major reason. The result was that the panels wound up without Okorocha appearing before any of them and as such could not give answer to any of the many questions that were agitating the minds of the people over his conduct as governor, no thanks to Onyeagocha’s exuberance.
Fast forward to sometime in July 2020 when Rt. Hon. Ihedioha came visiting the state with pomp and pageantry. Ihedioha rode in a motorcade from the Sam Mbakwe International Airport – where he was welcomed by a tumultuous crowd –through the streets of Owerri without anybody challenging him.
In an article entitled, Imo And The Metaphor Of A Roman Mob, published a few days after Ihedioha’s ‘triumphant’ entry into Imo, I drew the attention of Imolites to two things. One, that we now have a precedence whereby one ex governor could be banished from the state and another received with a rousing welcome,– only in Imo state. Two, I asked Imolites to imagine a situation where Governor Uzodimma’s administration had insiders who are as reckless as Onyeagocha and who, like him, would have thrown every caution to the winds to pronounce banishment on Ihedioha and then go ahead to line thugs along every route he was expected to pass, as Hon. Onyeagocha had done. I noted further that given the mood of Ihedioha, his party men and supporters then, the result would have been too grave to contemplate.
A few days ago, Onyeagocha was in his elements again with his uncouth, infantile idiosyncrasies. He was reported as saying that Senator Hope Uzodimma is not the governor of the state, described Professor George Obiozor as “expired drug” and Chief Emmanuel Iwuanyanwu as a “serial betrayer”. Of course, Onyeagocha’s childish attitude to Governor Uzodimma is not new and I could remember that I had once cautioned him against his unbecoming utterances.
Although it is a mere waste of time to try to get even with Onyeagocha, having earlier situated him as both lacking in maturity and necessary comportment, I think there is need to disabuse the minds of some hapless Imolites, particularly the youths, who would innocently or naively see him as bold or courageous. Hon. Onyeagocha is neither of the two but merely garrulous. Some even go to the extent of describing him as “radical”. Hon. Onyeagocha is not a radical. He is a conservative to the core, who sees every issue from a primordial point of view.
Hon. Onyeagocha is said to be lawyer and I know for certain that he was once a legislator. So, for such meaningless utterances to come from a high profile politician like him is to make a caricature of the entire Imo collective otherwise known for its sophistication and fecundity. In other words, as childish as his utterances appear, their real implication is that they portray Imo state as a place where some of those who parade themselves as among its best do not even qualify for the third eleven of most of the less rated states of the federation. Is that what Imolites want? A lot of people had expected that after his primitive act of shredding election results sheets, as earlier narrated, and after his several misadventures while serving as SSG, Onyeagocha would have by now began to act more with the hesitance of age than the hastiness of youth.
The context in which Onyeagocha made his allusion to Governor Uzodimma had to do with the genuine argument by the people of Owerri zone that it has not had a fair share of gubernatorial power. Of course, that position becomes even more understandable with the sudden termination of Ihedioha’s tenure even while the people of the (Owerri) zone were still singing alleluia. Though a setback, the antics of the likes of Onyeagocha trivialize such an important matter and erroneously portray the people of the zone as lacking in the needed tact and candor to continue the pursuit of that noble objective.
Yes, I am an insider of the Uzodimma administration but I am also from Owerri zone and I can state without any fear of contradiction that majority of our people do not share in Onyeagocha’s pedestrian views on a lot of issues on the relationship between the zone and the rest of the state. Our people, generally, are too enlightened and politically exposed to wallow in the type of bitterness and naivety Onyeagocha and probably a few of his ilk in the zone find themselves in.
Hope Uzodimma is the governor of Imo state and not that of Owerri zone. Even so, or as a corollary, there are many indigenes of Owerri zone that voted for him at the March 9, 2019 election and even those who did not have since queued behind him. Hon. Onyeagocha could decide to forever live in the regrets of what happened on January 14, 2020 but a far great majority of the people of Owerri zone, irrespective of partisan affiliation, prefer to learn the lessons from that episode and with that go ahead with the pursuit of their collective destiny with greater enthusiasm and clear headedness, not with the type of animosity Onyeagocha champions.
Agreed, it is said that in politics there are no permanent enemies or friends but permanent interest but I dare state that Onyeagocha belongs to that category of politicians whose only interest is to plant rancor and bitterness in the polity. He has quarreled with every successive governor beginning from Achike Udenwa. Ikedi Ohakim was his biggest nightmare and though he romanced with Okorocha for a while, we all know how it ended up. What saved Ihedioha from Onyeagocha’s harmer was the mere fact that the former involved him in his administration. Even at that, Ihedioha ended up every day not sure of what to expect from his SSG. As a matter of fact, not a few believed that it was just a matter of time before the two would fell apart.
Similarly, Onyeagocha’s remarks on Professor Obiozor–again through the narrow prism of Owerri zone –is most unfortunate. He was most probably reacting to the former diplomat’s aspiration to be the next president-general of Ohaneze Ndigbo and the support he has gotten from a section of the Imo political elite. But it is not in the interest of the people of Owerri zone to allow anybody to Owerrinize the matter. The position of Ohaneze Ndi Igbo president-general is said to be zoned to Imo state, not Owerri zone. In any case, among the top contenders for the office and, indeed, one of the most qualified and suitable, is from my own local government area. But even as our people would do everything in their power to ensure that he gets there, we would not allow him to narrow down his aspiration to that of an Owerri zone champion. It is not even enough to be seen as an “Imo candidate” since delegates from the other Igbo-speaking states are also going to vote at the election.
Like in any other contest, people are free to pitch their tents wherever they choose but methinks that Imolites must be careful in their choice of language in canvassing their preferences for the Ohaneze president-general office. If we allow ourselves to be misled by the antics of the likes of Hon. Onyeagocha, we may be inadvertently demystifying and Imo-born Ohaneze President-General, whosoever it will be, even before he assumes office.