Ekeukwu Owerri: Of political will and living in the lion’s den, By Collins Ughalaa

Posted by News Express | 9 September 2017 | 1,566 times

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•Governor Okorocha

For mischief makers such as FCC Jones Onwuasoanya, political will means that the government must go ahead with whatever plans they have, not minding whether the people like those plans or policies or not, and whether those programmes are good for the long-term interest of the people. To them, any government that backs down from a set policy has everything but political will. Imo people should rather forgive FCC Jones Onwuasoanya for all his unwaranted display of exuberance and indifference to the pains of the people.

Apparently standing on faulty definition of what political will means, and holding erroneous position that political will is the same as dictatorship, or government ensuring that its plans are carried through regardless of what the people think, this is what Governor Okorocha’s CPS said: “After all, the PDP governments in the state for 12 years had tried to relocate Ekeukwu Market but could not to do so because they lacked the political will and they were not keen in developing the State. They were only interested in Sharing the money, drinking MOET, XO, Hennessy and having Gala Nights.

“But today, with the right political will Governor Okorocha has relocated the Market. And they are envious of Governor Okorocha for doing what they could not do and achieving much for the state.”

Unkwon to the CPS, what the Governor has shown since he came on board is brutish dictatorship. And if he had any inkling of what political will means he may have said a different thing. From the sack of over 60,000 workers in the state to the flagrant disobedience of court decisions and destruction of governance institutions in the state, the Governor has not made himself a friend of the people. If you consider the level of demolition and business dislocation witnessed under Okorocha’s government, one would conclude that the Governor has abandoned the people that put him into power.

But according to Grant Charney, President of Charney Research center in New York, “political will can be defined as the combination of three factors: Opinion, Intensity and Salience”. According to him, this means that for any political leader to exercise his political will on any policy he must consider those three factors; meaning that such a leader, for example, Governor Okorocha, must consider seriously the opinions of the people on his policies, for example, the demolition and relocation of Ekeukwu Owerri Market; and the opinion must not be one expressed by a few people but one objectively and strongly held by the majority. This idea supports the strongly and widely held view that government does not donate sovereignty to itself but derives same from the people. When a government loses sight of this it transforms to a dictatorship and enemy of the people.

Political will being the motive that generates political actions in the midst of political risk is not a man holding a cutlass and cutting forward only. Political will cuts both forward and backward. It can go left or right, but whichever it takes, provided that it recognises and respects the three factors enunciated above briefly, can qualify for political will. But when it destroys those factors it has lost taste and has become brazen display of dictatorship. That time we could talk about the capacity of absolute power to corrupt absolutely.

This is to say that political will is the ability or capacity of a political leader to choose going ahead or not with any policy he considers to be for the “good” of the people in the face of displeasure from the people which can pose political risks for the government. Political will involves political risks because the leader may stop enjoying the support and love of the people, and this might make him win or lose the next election.

With the foregoing, therefore, can one say in all honesty that the demolition of Ekeukwu Owerri and its relocation by the state government is a display of political will? Going by the avalanche of strongly and objectively held opinions in the state and beyond, the Governor by his demolition of the market has displayed his penchant for disdain to the sensibilities of the people whose sovereignty he exercises.

Take for example, in reacting to the demolition of the market, a chieftain of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in Imo State, Ikenga  Mayor Eze, captured the essence of political will, saying: “Even when the majority is ‘wrong’, democratic principles believe they are right, simply because they are the majority and that must be respected by democratically elected leaders”.

He continued: “Barack Obama firmly asserted that the most important office in a democracy is *The Office of the Citizen*.” He added that “Democracy is the best form of Government simply because ‘the majority can’t be wrong’. After transparent elections, even at the level of predominantly less educated kindred people, you will begin to hear that ‘Its final, Majority carry the vote’.

“More advanced democracies have even gone further to make sure that their governments are in line with the views of the majority by using opinion polls to gauge the mood of the public on major government policies and decisions.

“When confronted with issues a people are so sentimental about, a leader who is convinced otherwise should double down on more consultations and persuasions. There is never a time limit in such sensitive matters.

“Confronted with more resistance from the people, a democratic leader should make his positions known for history and record purposes and leave the matter.

“From my very limited knowledge in the study and practice of Politics, I have never come across an award for any leader that ‘defeats’ his people. Existing markets are always very emotional and traditional issues to a people.”

He called on the Imo State Government to have a rethink. But he was not alone. Most people from the state agreed that the market should not be demolished. The youths and elders of Owerri Nchise had told the Governor in 2016 to leave their market alone. Their fathers had had meetings with the state government and on one occasion they reported to the Commissioner of Police who promised to take their matter to the Governor. The press had been awash with disapprovals for the demolition of the market. The women of Owerri, dressed in black attire had protested against the demolition of the market. In the face of these opinions, should political will have led the Governor to go ahead and demolish the market or respect the will of the people and leave it alone?

Armed with self-serving motives, the state government said the demolition of the market was necessitated by some criminal activities in the area. While not being an advocate of crime, the point needs to be made that this excuse is lame. Markets are usually abused by some criminals who adopt it either as hideout or a busy place good enough to meet their targets. On this note, the point needs to be made also that going by the claim to rid the market and the environs of criminal elements, should the state government not go ahead and demolish all the markets in the state so as to create a crime free state? Also, what is the guarantee that the new markets being constructed will not be abused by bandits?

Perhaps the insensitivity of the state government was more highlighted when it said it was going to build a supermarket on the site instead, and the people said they preferred he left their market alone and go ahead to build the new supermarket elsewhere. Now, the song has changed, with the state government saying it wants to build a school on the site instead.

Elsewhere, for example Lagos State, when the Lagos State Government faced opposition as it planned to relocate the Computer Village in Ikeja, they withdrew. And today, despite developing a new place elsewhere for the Computer Village, the local government insisted it was their revenue source. And that was it.

Though some supporters of the Okorocha’s government argue that all land belongs to the government, they miss some very essential ingredients. The government holds the land in trust for the people. It is not theirs to do or trade at their whims and caprices. Also, the very constitution that put the state government in place and upon which the Land Use Act was made, also expressly provided that the state governments have nothing to do with markets as it also provided that instead markets fall as one of the local governments functions. So, which one is the Governor obeying: the Land Use Act or the constitution he swore to obey and protect?

However, if for whatever reason the market should be demolished, should the traders and shop owners who had bought the shops from the government not be entitled to some negotiation and compensation?

Instead, the Okorocha government does not realise that by relocating the over 200 years Ekeukwu Owerri to another local government it is acting illegally, especially in disobedience to court injunction restraining it from demolishing the market. The state government is rather denying Owerri Municipal Council their major revenue base by the demolition and relocation of the market and killing the economy of the local populace.

Does the government consider the hash economic implications on the government that touted recession as reason for its inability to meet up with its obligations? Does the government realise the destabilising effects on the traders, shop owners and the people, particularly the Owerri people who saw the market in both cultural and ancestral symbolism?

The government rather engaged in battle of night with the people, unleashing security agents against the people whose tax maintain them. If you witnessed the shootings that occurred at Douglas Road on Saturday, 26th August, 2017, you would think there was a war, or that the Federal Government was taking over an enemy territory from some felons. Not surprising that some people have been reported dead as a result of the shootings. If this is not crime against humanity I wonder what else could be!

There was no reason why the state government did not back down from the demolition if not that the government considered itself in constant conflict and muscle flexing with the people that elected it. This is the same government the Nigeria Bar Association (NBA) Imo State branch described as the aggressor against its own people.

However, the character of this government is better captured by former Governor Ikedi Ohakim, who on Tuesday, August 29, 2017, said: “While we all perish in poverty as a result of Okorocha’s job extinguishing policies, he is smiling as the ultimate boss, the guy who is so rich and powerful that he can do whatever he wants, whenever he wants, and to whomever he wants (including demolishing the economic livelihood of the people, grabbing whichever land he wants, seeding our hospitals to Federal agencies etc). In our state Imo he is the only winner; if someone gets killed it does not matter because we have all become the losers. Impunity to him, even more than gold, is the ultimate signifier of his success.”

And since political will is not just a mantra but a political idea that comes with political risks, Imo people should hearken to Dr Ikedi Ohakim, who called on them to use the opportunity of the demolition of the Ekeukwu Owerri Market to teach the Governor and his people some hard lessons.

He said: “We must all unite to say no to bad ideas and bad actors. We must all say no to one-man mega brands. Those who believe that money and power provide license to impose one's will on others while ignoring both laws and common sense.

“Okorocha and his fellow travellers must be seen for what they are: a symptom of a deep viral infection that we decided, collectively, to inhale, and one we must come together to heal. We must collectively rise to the responsibility of the moment. The truth is that there are ways to pierce the Okorocha bubble. All we need now is to collectively identify where to place the needle.”

Beyond political actions, I enjoin other well meaning Imo sons and daughters and other Nigerians to demand that the Federal Government steps in to unravel who ordered the deployment of the military against a civilian population for the purpose of demolishing a market.

•Collins Ughalaa writes from Owerri.

Source: News Express

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