By Kanayo Esinulo
Shouldn’t I begin this piece by simply stating that there are volumes of literature existing in libraries on the famous “Imo Charter of Equity”, also known as Imo Equity Formula, which, since 1991, became a working document for the rotation of power among the three senatorial zones that make up Imo State – Owerri, Okigwe and Orlu, “the three Os”. The Charter or Formula, like I observed in a piece I did on the subject last year titled: Who Can get Imo Working Again, I wrote that the Formula was a product of “series of consultations and was given life after a meeting that was held on June 8, 1991 at Chief Emmanuel Iwuanyanwu’s Glass House, Owerri. The result was a historic agreement that came to be known as Imo Charter of Equity. Its spirit was to promote love, understanding and peaceful rotation of the Number One Office among the three senatorial zones in the state”. But in May 2011, the Formula, painfully, suffered a major setback. Some say that it may not have been deliberate, but it happened like no agreed formula ever existed.
I rush to say that that Formula is now under severe stress and threat. Yes, the state enjoyed peace and development largely because of this Formula but its abandonment and dislocation since May 2011 has turned our state into a huge political flashpoint as the elections draw near. How did this happen? I answer by saying that when Orlu zone completed the eight years that the Formula allocated to each zone on May 29, 2007 with Governor Achike Udenwa’s tenure, it was in the spirit of the Formula that the baton passed on to Okigwe zone and Ikedi Ohakim’s victory in the 2007 governorship election marked the beginning of that era: the tenancy of someone from Okigwe zone at Douglas House, Owerri. In May 2011, the political class in Imo State made the mistake of handing the baton back to Orlu zone, and Rochas Ethelbert Okorocha, as I write this, is almost completing eight years as the Governor of Imo State. So, against the letters and spirit of Imo Equity Formula, Okigwe zone is yet to have its fair share of our turn-by-turn politics in the state. We knocked off Okigwe, a zone that produced for us an illustrious son, Dee Sam Mbakwe – the architect of modern Imo State and Orlu zone back on the saddle. And I ask: Is it fair? Is it right and just?
And what of Owerri zone or are there no politicians in that portion of our state that can provide effective leadership, and take our dear state to the next level of development? Of course, Owerri zone has them plenty! But the injustice against Okigwe zone, ought, in my view, to be settled and properly tidied up, for the ship to gloriously berth in Owerri waters. Except this injustice and inequity done to Okigwe zone are properly addressed, Orlu zone, from where I come, the brewing resentment and envy against Orlu may haunt us tomorrow. The continuing monopoly of political power in the state by one zone and the subtle conversion of the other two zones as pawns, may be very dangerous. Orlu may be capitalising, as it were, on the two zones’ lack of appreciation of the character and style of domination that has emerged since 2011. This is not fair. It is not just.
The mood among Okigwe and Owerri political elite is that of veiled anger, frustration and resentment. But the two cheated zones are largely responsible for the growing arrogance and landlordism of Orlu zone. The multiple candidates from the two zones that usually emerge during each election constitute a multitude – a huge number all the time. What the more calculating Orlu political class does is simply to field one or two candidates, totally ignoring the Imo Equity Formula which I have referred to earlier and victory comes easy for it. And with its many local governments as an advantage, acquires allies in the two zones and power remains in its hands. It a calculated strategy and it is working out for them. To this class, it is democracy in action, as Orlu zone deepens its hold on power. Is the Arthur Nzeribe theory quietly taking root – that Orlu zone which he represented in the Senate for years, he kept saying, determines the mood and character of Imo politics. But Okigwe and Owerri political class do not fully understand the game-plan of a zone that seem to have perfected methods of keeping Imo State as its inherited territory, in the same way that the politically greedy Hausa/Fulani has held the entire territory of Nigeria down as a vassal state for their domination and exploitation. The danger here is obvious: very soon, Okigwe and Owerri people would begin to look at their Orlu counterpart with bottled-up anger and envy. This may not be too good for peace and unity necessary for development.
How do we restore the Equity Formula that, at a point, made Imo state the envy of neighbouring and far-flung states east of the Niger? First, political Orlu must accept that it has had more than its fair share of tenancy at Douglas House, and should begin to loosen its firm grip on political power in Imo State. It should begin to seek alliances with politicians in the two zones, and accept, without being shy, that greed can, in fact, attract envy and resentment. The emergence of Chief Hope Uzodinma and Ugwumba Uche Nwosu from Orlu zone angling to be the next governor, after Okorocha, is uncharitable, unacceptable, and could possibly engineer anger and a gang-up. This may not be too good for our children, grandchildren and to values that we collectively share.
Please, note that I have not said nor am I canvassing that the candidates mentioned directly above are not eminently qualified to govern Imo State. That is not the point that I am making. It will be stupid to say that. What I say and will keep saying, is that our famous Equity Formula that guaranteed peace and development has gone haywire and needs to be restored before resentment takes over our political space. What happens, for instance, if one of the Orlu candidates wins the governorship election next month? It would simply mean that a zone had Governor Achike Udenwa from Orlu for eight solid years, Okorocha, also from Orlu, for eight sordid years, and yet another eight years for Orlu person again. Haba! Odinughi mma – it is simply not fair.
My position on this matter is simple and straightforward. Let us go back a bit and do the needful: collectively vote for a candidate from Okigwe Zone who should stay in power for only one term — four years in all, and gloriously and peacefully vacate Douglas House for another popular choice from Owerri zone to govern our state. Any candidate from Okigwe zone, the zone of Dee Sam Mbakwe, must promise us, preferably in published writing, and I think Ikedi Ohakim has done that, that he vacates at the end of one term. In the spirit of our Equity Formula, we owe Okigwe zone one more term. And who fits this bill more than any other in our state today? Imo people should determine that democratically. But the deviation from the Formula that assured, guaranteed and promoted Harmony and Accord is probably going to have dire consequences in our state, unless we have a rethink, especially by the social category I simply refer to as “Political Orlu”. We should all realise that our famous Formula is in coma, and in the immortal words of Othman Danfodio, only “conscience nurtured by truth can heal it”. Our elders should speak out now or forever remain silent.
Politician should pursue their ambitions with eyes fixed on the future, and not to operate as if there will be no tomorrow. The injustices of today may hunt us tomorrow. The monopoly of power and the greed that excludes other components of the state by a fraction of the Orlu political elite is certainly not the best. It may set fingers pointing at us, Orlu people of which I am one, as greedy and insatiable. There is always joy in sharing. The ball has moved into the courts of Okigwe and Owerri zones, and it is for their own political elite to see the exclusion, the monopoly and the veritable dominance of the political space by their Orlu counterpart as an affront. They should get together and devise ways of curbing the excesses of a fraction of Orlu political grouping. It is for them to decide which side of their bread is buttered – the candidate that is constitutionally restricted to serve for just one term or one that is ambitiously tied to two terms, with no big idea of how to repair the huge damages inflicted on a hitherto innocent and vibrant state. It is the prayer and hope of all concerned Imo citizens, who genuinely wish peace and development in our state, that God will save her from “chaos, anarchy and doom”, and for our elite to pursue only what is “right and just”.
Esinulo is a journalist.