Agbaso’s one–hour reign as Imo governor

The most worrisome implication of the protracted dispute over the results of the 2007 governorship election in Imo State is that it has tended to lower the pedestal at which the rest of the Nigerian society hitherto saw the good people of the state. For a people that were seen as very sophisticated, rigorous and meticulous in their attitude to life, it is a matter of regret that today the perception is that anybody can sell the most improbable lie to the people and they swallow it hook, line and sinker.

Of course, no other group is as culpable for so corrupting the people as members of the political class. In Imo State, another name for “politics” is “lies”. This phenomenon is not entirely new but matters took a more alarming dimension in the wake of the protracted dispute over the 2007 governorship election. The easy-going nature of the people of the state has not helped matters as some of the parties in the dispute have taken advantage of this to assault their collective psyche by tending to cajole and, indeed, intimidate them into seeing things their own way.

Take the matter of Chief Martin Agbaso of the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) who is challenging the cancellation of the April 14, 2007 governorship election. Chief Agbaso is claming to have won the election whose result was never announced by the Independent National Election Commission (INEC), the only body with the constitutional powers to announce election results. To be sure, Martin Agbaso is right to feel that INEC ought not to have cancelled that election. He also has the right to claim that he won the election. And that was precisely what the Court of Appeal in Abuja said on February 26, 2009, when it ruled that it has jurisdiction to hear Agbaso’s case against INEC.

Before now, the highly discerning people of Imo state would stop there. But not any more, especially in a case where one of the parties has shown so much desperation. What we have today is a situation where, with a combination of blatant lies, cajolery and intimidation, the Agbaso camp almost succeeded in making the people believe that the case has been decided in his favour. In fact, only a few minutes after the ruling on February 26, there were wild jubilations in Emekuku, Agbaso’s home town, that the Court of Appeal ruled that Governor IKedi Ohakim immediately should vacate the office for Agbaso. Well, it is now over two weeks and their son, ochundo, is yet to move into Government House, Owerri. That Agbaso’s reign as governor of Imo last lasted for just an hour is a sad commentary of the collective sagacity and sophistication for which the people are known. Has he, Agbaso, apologized to his kinsmen in Emekuku that he told them lies?

 Some hack writers have been alluding to what they tag “changes in perception” of the people to the Agbaso versus INEC case since the February 26, ruling. One article in THISDAY of Wednesday, March 11, 2009, argued that the perception of the people has changed from that of “Agbaso had no case” to “the case is frightening considering the way it is going”. This is both misrepresentative and a misinterpretation of the trend of events. It is a lie against the people. Imo people have never dismissed the Agbaso matter as “no case” in the way the publication put it. Neither have they, as a corollary, seen the matter as… “frightening…”

What the people of Imo state were, have been and are still asking Agabso is “why did you go for the second election of April 28, 2007 if you knew you won that of April 14, 2007”. That question has never been answered. The Court of Appeal never provided answer to it in the February 26 ruling. What the Court of Appeal said was that the fact that Agbaso contested the April 28 election does not remove from him the right to protest the cancellation of the April 14, 2007 election. The Court did not say Agbaso was right to have abandoned his purported victory of April 14 2007 to contest the election of April 28, 2007.

This is a matter to be determined when the substantive case comes up for hearing beginning from March 23, 2009. Until that is settled, the people of Imo will continue to ask Agbaso that question: “Why did you…” On the basis of the above, the people are right to say that Agbaso has “no case”, until they are proved otherwise by the court. And as it is said, Vox Populi Vox Dei (the voice of majority is the voice of God), it is, therefore, wrong to suggest, that the people of Imo have eaten their words. Just the same, there is nothing “frightening…” about the case for the good people of the state. Arguing that the people are frightened “…considering the way it is going…” presupposes that the people, ab initio, have a mind set over the matter. That’s not fair to the people of Imo. Agreed, Governor Ohakim enjoys the overwhelming support of the majority of the people but that does not mean that they believe that the world would collapse should the matter get to the level where Ikedi Ohakim ceases to be governor.

The point being made here is that the whole idea of portraying the people of the state as incapable of comporting themselves and waiting until the governorship election cases are finally determined, is both cheap and a big insult to them. Imo people are ready to wait for the outcome of the case(s). Not only that. They have confidence in the judiciary to give justice. As against the tactics employed by the litigants and their handlers to try to intimidate members of the judiciary handling the Imo case(s), the good people of Imo State believe that the Abuja and Port Harcourt Appeal Courts will do the right thing. As a matter of fact, the tactics of trying to portray the generality of the citizens of the state as overtly enthusiastic about Agbaso’s ‘imminent’ victory is an assault on the integrity of both members of the judiciary and  people of the state. It is an attempt to portray the Justices in Abuja as incapable of taking the right decision unless they are psychologically harassed.

It is an assault on the integrity of the judiciary to try to both preempt what its final ruling on the case will be simply because the Court of Appeal in Abuja in its wisdom assumed jurisdiction to hear the matter. It is even a graver offence against the judiciary to make the people begin to have the impression that it, the judiciary, has concluded the case when it is just beginning. The implication is that should the Justices in the course of hearing the case, proper, give ruling that are not in tandem with the stereo type being sold to the people, Agbaso and his hack writers in the media would have succeeded in making the people see the learned judges through a less than rose tinted spectacle.

Rather than paint Imolites as naïve, the correct thing to say is that they are waiting for a full and rigorous analysis of the relevant issues at stake before the Appeal Court. Take the query as to why INEC found it convenient to cancel the governorship election while upholding that of House of Assembly membership. Both political and legal experts have argued that though this issue is germane, there exists a world of difference between what happens in the collation of election results for the House of Assembly and that of the governorship. While the former terminates at the local government level, the process of determining who won a governorship election traverses the entire state. In the case of April 14, 2007 election, there has been evidence that certain developments made it impossible to conclude the election. For example, the appearance of the photographs of both Ifeanyi Araraume, candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and Charles Ugwu, whom the Supreme Court had disqualified from contesting the election on the ballot papers, caused a lot of stir and discomfiture. Attempts by INEC officials to ensure that Araraume did not suffer any set back as a result of that was curiously resisted by some overzealous party supporters.

Accordingly, what is common knowledge in Imo state, when the Commission noticed that several of the votes had, indeed, gone for Ugwu, it found itself in a very big quagmire. When it was realized that the Tribunals and Courts of Appeal had nullified elections elsewhere on account of wrong appearance of photographs of candidates, it becomes more plausible why the electoral body in its wisdom chose to cancel the election aside from other reasons. These are some of the issues the people of Imo are eagerly waiting to see how the courts will handle them. Until they are exhausted by the courts, it will be an act of perfidy to suggest that the people have already made up their minds. Contrary to what Agbaso and his supporters expect, the people of Imo have refused to act as Judges in these case(s).

•Nwachukwu wrote from Owerri{linkr:related;keywords:nigeria;limit:5;title:Related Articles}

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