*Ousted former Governor Emeka Ihedioha and Imo State peoples choice (left) and Supreme Court imposed Hope Uzodinma
By Kenneth Amaeshi
The outcome of the 2019 elections in Imo State has reverberated in and outside Nigeria with a lot of controversies. Expectedly, the saga has created heroes and villains. However, the real story and casualties behind the scenes are often missed. As Ihedioha and Uzodinma approach the Supreme Court for a revision of the verdict on the 18th of February, it becomes imperative to dig deeper into the saga.
It is obvious that events do not just happen. In politics, especially, they are often crafted and enacted to satisfy some interests. And in Nigeria, in particular, the rewards of self-interest politics are tremendously high – access to power, recognition, influence, and big money; hence the lure to do everything and anything possible to be politically relevant is very strong.
The Nigerian version of politics is generally perceived as a dirty game. This perception usually serves a dual purpose. If it is false, it could be seen as a strategy to keep decent people out of politics, and if it is true, then it is as scary as it presents. Either way, the negative portrayal of Nigerian politics constitutes a barrier to ward off the decent guys and preserve the dirty game for those who can cope with it. In the end, democracy is undermined, the average Nigerian is short-changed, and the politicians take it all. This seems to be the odd reality of politics in Nigeria.
Unfortunately, dirty politics has an insidious way of corrupting society and undermining its socio-political institutions – i.e. those institutions through which the Nigerian society, for instance, is governed for common good and directed for progressive prosperity. These institutions include our judiciary, the police, our schools, the national assembly, our military, the political parties, our tax authorities, et cetera. They essentially need to be trusted by citizens to be useful. Any of them that becomes untrustworthy is like tasteless salt. And any society that is significantly deficient of trustworthy institutions, crumbles easily. That is exactly what dirty politics does. Having undermined these societal institutions, dirty politics makes them difficult to be trusted by ordinary citizens. And that’s a recipe for anarchy.
Trust is obviously an issue in Nigerian politics, and an important factor too. In the case of the 2019 elections in Imo State, it became a battle amongst the (1) Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), (2) Police, and (3) Judiciary; each posturing as a harbinger of truth and justice in confusing manners. Although the 2019 elections in Imo State have been debated in many ways and from different angles, the discourses and revelations leave one wondering what have become of our socio-political institutions. Was INEC compromised? Did the police help to rig the elections? Was the judiciary used to satisfy partisan interests? These are not unusual questions as people go through the logic and sentiments of things.
Irrespective of our answers and the conspiracies we may want to bring on board, these are very critical questions that should worry anyone interested in the survival and sustainability of socio-political institutions in Nigeria. The seeming inability of the three institutions involved in this case to complement each other, and harmonise their views, is and should be a major source of concern. It shows a glaring lack of trust in our socio-political institutions and a very dangerous trend.
Institutions are the rules of the game in society. When institutions lose citizens’ trust, they become recipes for dictatorship and anarchy to serve narrow interests – especially those of politicians, in this case. System level trust suffers in turn and becomes the real victim. This is the danger we have inevitably brought on ourselves, and the consequences shall surely be with us, whether we like it or not. That, for me, is the main tragedy behind, and revealed through, the Ihedioha vs Uzodinma struggle.
The challenge we are left with is to find creative ways of rebuilding the trust that should exist in our socio-political institutions. But who will bell the cat? In my opinion, the leaderships of INEC, the police, the judiciary, and the political class have a huge task here. They need to sit together, review this saga, and explore lessons. The opportunity should not be lost.
However, one sees a situation whereby those who currently benefit from the lack of trust amongst these socio-political institutions may want to defend the status quo with everything they have. This is not unexpected. Nonetheless, the real power lies with the people. Citizens’ groups could be formed and used as alternative means of holding power to account. They can be funded and supported. It requires some degree of social entrepreneurship to create these groups. Perhaps, there is a space here to create something new – a social movement – beyond what we currently have.
Will the voices for Ihedioha and Uzodinma, respectively, in the true sense of political patriotism and selflessness, trigger this social movement and fill the governance gap in Imo State and beyond? I guess that’s a one-million-dollar question. And only time shall tell!
Amaeshi is a public philosopher and tweets @kenamaeshi