Ex-governors’ pension in Enugu: of superior reasoning and hired enemies of government
- Ikem Okuhu
I woke up on Saturday, March 13, 2021, with my mind on a mission that was totally against the will of my mortal body. Having read some provisions of a Bill before the Enugu State House of Assembly crafted to enhance the gratuities and pensions of former governors and deputy governors of Enugu State and their wives, my mind tuned itself to the activism frequency, pushing to lend its voice to an issue it irreversibly considered preposterous.
But my body was reluctant: issues of personal safety were compelling, with the cowardly motivation to stay away and stay safe almost overwhelming me. I also tried to question my mind with regard to how people would react to a very strong position from me on this issue, given that only sixteen months ago, I was working as an aide to the same governor that was going to potentially be the object of my criticism.
I ruminated over this for less than 30 minutes and yielded to the pressing demands of my mind to tow the lines of frank, blunt and honest, even if bitter, truth. Having worked with Governor Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi, I anticipated the response strategy from his team to the Open Letter I had written two days earlier, and I anticipated that I was going to be accused of being hired by enemies of government to run Governor Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi down.
In all honestly, the responses to my article overwhelmed me. When I set out to put my opinion together on the obnoxious and insensitive Bill, the intention was merely to free my conscience. Because I had limited the publication to my relatively new personal blog, I didn’t expect the huge traffic it eventually generated and when I noticed it populated social and political media discourse in Enugu and beyond, I sat back to expect what I knew was the virulent and often unintelligent attacks by those who see themselves as Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi’s media bodyguards.
While I have promised to address this issue holistically in the fullness of time, it is important to puncture some of these erroneous views, most of which border on primitive blackmail.
Let me even say this to this crop of ignorant people: as you guys were still busy searching for excuses to attack my person and impugn the issues I raised in the article, those you thought you were defending were preoccupied with how to walk-back from what they have realized was an unpopular option.
Late at night on Sunday, March 14, 2021, reliable information reached me suggesting the authorities at the Enugu State Government House have initiated moves with those in the House of Assembly to withdraw the controversial Enugu State Gubernatorial Pensions Bill 2021. Early in the morning of March 15th, I also got another phone call pointing to a decision by all relevant parties to discontinue the processing the Bill.
I think at this point, I will have to commend all the parties concerned for listening to the cries of the people. The uproar the Bill generated, especially following my article was so tumultuous that only a deaf government would stand back and allow such erosion of goodwill and reputation credits, even for a Bill as potentially self-serving as the one at issue.
Worthy of immense commendation, also, are the ordinary people of Enugu, who harvested their pent-up disapproval into a single basket of purpose, potentially leading to one of the quickest reversals in the history of the state. I was only an ordinary person with a point of view but the fact that I accidentally spoke of what was weighing down our collective conscience as one people means that even in the face of the largely centrifugal, divisive politicking, the hope of unity among us was still possible.
A government and its many imaginary enemies
Disservice is what would be meted to this article if I fail to address the peculiar issue of sundry imaginary enemies that government creates, perhaps to sustain its control of our collective conscience and will to resist what we find disagreeable. Since this article went viral, I have read all manner of warped opinion from vested interests, many of whom pointedly accuse me of being bitter, having been left out of the Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi government. While I have promised to address this issue holistically in the fullness of time, it is important to puncture some of these erroneous views, most of which border on primitive blackmail.
At the peak of the conversations on Social Media on March 14th, Governor Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi called me and part of what he said that made me flip my lid was his reference to streams of information from a well-oiled rumour mill, informing him that I had betrayed him. I guess I might have sounded a bit rude when I replied to him that his investment in rumour mongers has been the greatest downside of his administration but then, that appears to be the truth.
I say this because running through a rebuttal purportedly authored by one Chinedu Nwankwo (but which has the DNA strands of Samson Ezea, a Senior Special Assistant to the governor all over it) are allegations that I was a hireling, paid by some imaginary enemies of the governor to run the government down. The article explored other inanities to point to the existence of a Jacob somewhere extending Esau’s hand. But this is a well-beaten path, traveled by many government reputation managers, especially those ignorant of the good use of facts and logic. One other human being that I could only identify as Barrister Omeke actually called me a drunkard who lost out of government because of my incurable alcoholism, while also insisting on an imaginary contractor paying me to harm the administration and ambition of Governor Ugwuanyi.
For the records, I hadn’t always known Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi. The first time I met him was after the Ukpabi Nimbo killings at Uzo Uwani and it was at his instance. Even when I joined him at the Government House Enugu, it was also at his invitation and I also left when I felt the environment wasn’t good enough for me. This is as far as I wish to go along this line, at least for now.
The painful thing is that most people the governor relies on for reputation management are not creative and believe that merely alluding to the existence of ghoulish sponsors of every negative rhetoric, and insulting people on social media solves their problems and those of the governor. The truth is that the more the use of bile and bad blood in shutting out opinion against a public figure, the further the shriveling of the reputation premium. Any wonder the late Ikemba Nnewi, Chief Emeka Odumegwu Ojukwu wrote in his book, Because I am involved about the ostrich who “with head deeply rooted in the grounds, is unaware of its not-too attractive posteriors”? It is this greyhound mentality that would make someone like Samson Ezea, doing damage control for the governor to craft a sentence that contains a statement such as “heaven has not fallen…” in a text designed to explain a controversial issue.
I was shocked such language could be used by a seasoned media professional as Samson, but then, there is this thing about associating with quacks – you soon begin to reason and act like them.
The Ike Ekweremadu factor in my attacks
During the phone conversation with Governor Ugwuanyi, he repeatedly told me how his “ear had been filled” with information on my clandestine activities against him. I was not surprised by this because a few of his aides had earlier reached out to me with perspectives on what the governor had been made to believe was my “unholy” dalliance with former Deputy Senate President, Ike Ekweremadu. Those who follow the politics of Enugu would have known of simmering attrition between those who think the former Deputy Senate President was interested in vying for the governorship of Enugu State in 2023 and those who think it must be incumbent on the governor to produce his successor.
One thing must be made clear here: I have done my best to steer clear of this bitter political bipolarism. And although I had worked for the Governor for close to two years, I am also not under any oath of permanent allegiance to him. I have followed the feverish Ekweremadumania among fans of the governor and have always told some who sought my view that the delirium was absolutely unnecessary.
The truth is I met Prof Ike Ekweremadu for the first time, only in August last year and I met him after a meeting with the governor. After my meeting with Governor Ugwuanyi, on August 25th, I think, I posted a picture taken while I presented my book, PITCH: Debunking Marketing’s Strongest Myths, to him on Facebook and cousin of mine who saw the picture then called me, offering to introduce me to the Senator who was in Enugu on that day.
At the meeting with Governor Ugwuanyi, I had five copies of this book I wanted to present to him, but he took four and gave one back to me. So, at Senator Ekweremadu’s house, I presented that copy to him, took pictures and shared on Facebook as well.
Early the next morning, five people around the governor called me, asking what I was doing with the former DSP and whether I did not know he was an enemy of Governor Ugwuanyi? I found this very embarrassing and told them so. Naturally, these guys who earned their keep by packaging all sorts of rumours to the willing ears of the governor immediately relayed our conversation to the ready and willing ears of the governor and the seed for all the “information” the governor told me had “filled his ears” was firmly planted on fertile soil.
The painful thing is that most people the governor relies on for reputation management are not creative and believe that merely alluding to the existence of ghoulish sponsors of every negative rhetoric, and insulting people on social media solves their problems and those of the governor. The truth is that the more the use of bile and bad blood in shutting out opinion against a public figure, the further the shriveling of the reputation premium
During this brief meeting that didn’t last 10 minutes, I also mentioned to the Senator that I had a colloquium scheduled for Abuja in November and wondered if he would love to attend. His answer was an immediate yes and on November 26, 2020, he arrived at Sheraton Hotel Abuja to deliver the lead paper for that event.
This was a man I had met face-to-face only once in my life. Wasn’t this act of support enough to draw him close to my heart? Yet, to avoid the ill-feelings from the governor and his minions, I have maintained a decent distance from the senator since then, never speaking with him except for one or two exchanges of “happy new month” on WhatsApp.
The event was heavy in the media, radio, television, newspapers and the digital media and of course, it didn’t escape the wandering bifocals of the governor’s rumour harvesters.
When the Governor says his ears had been filled and others around him suggest I was hired to run his government down, I know where they are coming from. As I mentioned earlier in this write-up, this strategy is as weak as it is stupid and well-worn. I recall that back in 2016 when I criticized the governor’s response to the killing of Nimbo people by Fulani herdsmen, those around him then had also alleged that I was hired to tarnish the governor!
I must be very good, which is why everyone who wants to attack the governor keeps hiring me! And should I also add that I have been useful to the governor along this same line as well, having been hired to work with him between July 2018 and December 2019?
In Enugu, once you are critical of any government policy and/or action, you are labelled a hired hand. From mere political blackmail, this has morphed into a morbid phantom, haunting many of our people, and like most psychological predispositions, it has led to lingering mental states of mind of the phobic kind and which might be too difficult to heal.
The many ills plaguing our small state stems from the deliberate erection of a monolithic political oligarchy into which everyone is struggling to fit. For a people whose ancestors were documented as champion egalitarianists in history, the frantic rejection of pluralism by the present generation of leaders and followers is as insalubrious as it is scary. I had believed that Charles Caleb Colton had Igbo people in his mind when he made his famous statement that, “we owe almost all our knowledge, not to those who have agreed, but to those who have differed,” but sometimes, given the way our people now reason, I suspect I had been wrong.
We need more broadmindedness to grow as a people. It is the fake oligarchy constructed in the minds of our leaders that would make a Bill such as the Gubernatorial Pensions Bill even conceivable at a time of biting economic slowdown. No government that believes it is leading a plural society of healthy independent thinkers would conceive such.
I appreciate those who worked hard towards the withdrawal of this Bill. It shows us what we all can achieve once we unite. One bee cannot make a swarm.