It’s time Nigerians seriously pondered the question whether Ikedi Ohakim, the governor of Imo State, is a monster in disguise.
Shortly after his inauguration as governor, Mr. Ohakim came to national attention when he reportedly stood, unconcerned, as his security escorts beat a woman black and blue in the streets of Lagos. Her offense? Apparently Ohakim’s entourage found her guilty of impeding the progress of the governor’s convoy. For that “crime,” the governor’s thugs allegedly pummeled her.
Perhaps Mr. Ohakim then decided that one of the perks of being a governor is a passport to operate as he pleased. And – if the narrative of Citizen Ikenna Samuelson Iwuoha is true – Ohakim appears no longer content to have his boys manhandle those who cross him. He has, it seems, graduated to flogger-in-chief.
Last Saturday, the Sun published a wide-ranging interview with Iwuoha who’s a one-man war machine against Ohakim. He does not hide his disdain for the governor; he considers Ohakim a thief. Mr. Iwuoha has written several petitions – to the state assembly, the police, and the EFCC – accusing the governor of flagrant acts of corruption. Not only has he signed each petition, he’s also provided his contact information and promised to validate his allegations if invited to do so.
A governor who’s beyond reproach would be incensed if anybody falsely accused him of dipping filthy fingers in state coffers. Such a governor should quickly deny the allegations and seek to demonstrate their falsity. He would instruct his lawyers to file lawsuits against his traducer in order to reclaim his good name, and to make his accuser pay for malice.
That may not be the Ohahim method.
Mr. Iwuoha told the Sun that Governor Ohakim sent “five heavily armed men” to his home at dawn on January 21, 2010. The men reportedly claimed that the state commissioner of police, Aloysius Okorie, had asked them to summon him. But when he submitted himself to the gun-toting men, they drove him to the governor’s office, arriving at 7:04 a.m. Once Mr. Ohahim arrived in his office just after 9 a.m., the governor’s chief security officer (CSO) reportedly appeared to convey Mr. Iwuoha to the governor’s lodge for an encounter with Mr. Ohakim.
There, the story of the encounter between governor and his nemesis took an even more bizarre turn. Mr. Iwuoha recounts that Ohahim “shouted ‘lock the door, lock the door’” and ordered him to strip nude as the “CSO pulled his gun on me.” Ohakim then “took a ‘koboko’ (whip) and started flogging me.”
Weeks after the beating, Iwuoha’s bared back and legs still bear horrific scars and welts, mementoes of a citizen’s brutalization.
The Sun reports that Ohakim’s “aides have denied” Iwuoha’s account. The story should not rest on that note.
The Inspector General of Police as well as the Nigerian Bar Association ought to investigate what transpired – and specifically, how those welts got on Mr. Iwuoha’s body. Our so-called democracy has no meaning if public officials can get away with the extra-judicial savaging of fellow citizens. If Ohakim whipped Iwuoha, then the governor must be regarded and treated as a criminal of the highest order, one that deserves to be stripped of his gubernatorial preferment, arrested, and put to trial.
His office notwithstanding, Ohakim, like every other Nigerian, is bound by the nation’s laws. He’s also entitled to the protections guaranteed by the laws. His job specification does not include lashing citizens, even if they call him an embezzler. If he has conducted himself in an exemplary manner in public life – if, in other words, he’s earned a good name – he’s entitled to protect his reputation against all false accusers. He reserves the right to defend himself against Iwuoha’s allegations that he pillages public resources. But the courtroom is the arena to seek that redress. No law confers on Ohakim any right to smack, whip or kick his accuser. That’s abuse of office.
Mr. Iwuoha’s narrative of assault at the hands of Governor Ohakim is, for me, most disturbing at the point when he asserts that the state police commissioner, Mr. Okorie, and the state director of the State Security Service (SSS) entered the governor’s office, the venue of the flagellation. If they were indeed present, then both the state police boss as well as SSS director ought to have read the riot act to the unruly governor.
Instead, according to Iwuoha, the two officers pleaded with him to “cooperate” with Ohahim. The head of SSS, a woman, reportedly implored, “My son, cooperate with His Excellency”.
The IGP as well as the director general of the SSS ought to investigate the alleged role of their top state officers in this shameful act. If it’s determined that the officers stood askance as a power-drunk governor flayed a citizen, then the officers deserve to be dismissed from service – to serve as examples to others who misconceive their duty as law enforcement agents.
A governor who beats up a citizen has displayed open contempt for the law, and should not enjoy immunity from prosecution. If Nigeria’s democratic culture is to germinate and flower, then lawyers as well as all enlightened citizens ought to view Iwuoha’s bitter experience as an affront to our collective dignity.