• Sunday, March 03, 2024
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Iberiberism: Beyond Nigeria’s political theatrics

Okorocha

The word iberiberism may well be on its way to being adopted into the English language lexicon, courtesy of the current political melodrama taking place all over Nigeria, and in this particular case, Imo State. Beyond Imo where ‘iberiberism’ was diagnosed as someone’s ailment, Nigeria as a nation, I dare say, is also a victim of this malaise, a rather debilitating sickness that makes a giant live among minnows.

Besides being an example of an ism word, one of the types that Nigerians love to hear speakers spew at public events, its onomatopoeic resonance makes it particularly interesting to the ears.

This resurgence of ‘iberiberism’ as a factor in our national life has its roots in the political fight of the outgoing governor of Imo State, Rochas Okorocha. He was declared as a Senator-elect by the returning of officer in charge of the election on February 23. He cheered and his supporters joined in the song and dance. The cheer was short-lived, however, as the returning officer claimed that he made the declaration under duress.

The only reason that the embattled candidate then could proffer as the reason for the returning officer’s recant was simple: ‘iberiberism’. If Okorocha had spoken in Igbo language, he would have said to the man: “Ị bụ onye iberibe.”

In describing what he thought was wrong with this INEC official on such an important assignment, Okorocha was indeed harping on a subtle malady that has insidiously afflicted our collective psyche. After all, “iberiberism” or its equivalent in whatever language expressed, foolery, has to do with the state of the mind and how it’s applied by an individual or group.

Words create our social reality. So what we portray things and individuals to be with our words is part of our social framing, diagnosis and, implicitly, prescription for Onye iberibe

Iberibe in Igbo culture generally means foolery. But there are other variants of the word. An Owerri person would have said to the returning officer, “Apari kuru gi” or “I wu onye apari” and it would mean the same thing, and in this case the man’s problem would be “aparism”.

Come to think of it, how is it that governors of Imo State are becoming known for their high-sounding words for describing our social malaise, our chronic inclination to the theatrical while the nation wallows in

Some years ago, a former governor of Imo, was known for his penchant for such high-sounding words in describing our social conditions, to the delight of and applause from those who heard him.

On June 30, 2009, governor Ikedi Ohakim led a team of government officials on a working visit to the Nigerian Stock Exchange in Lagos. At that time, the market was prostrate, emasculated by the global financial meltdown. The visit was an occasion for stockbrokers, journalists and other members of the financial community to drink freely from his ever-flowing river of loquaciousness.

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I have captured the events of that visit in a forthcoming book, part of which is presented here.

The governor with his team was at the exchange to present their plan for a bond offer of 18.5 billion naira. Money from the bond sale would be used to finance a number of projects in Imo, including funding the state government’s equity stake in the Oguta Wonderlake Resort and Conference Centre, said to be the first of its kind in West Africa, Ohakim said. The governor had the opportunity to ring the closing bell and sound the gong as well.

But he did not leave the podium without making an impression on the audience. The market, some months earlier, had been in a state of “Hocus pocus,” he said, as the audience cheered. The market, he continued, had been in a state of something else that was not quite audible as a result of the uproar that greeted the first description. He concluded by saying that the market had been in a state of “oblivion.”

Imo, the state of the late Sam Onunaka Mbakwe, has received perhaps more than a fair share of iberiberism. Mbakwe, governor of the Old Imo State from 1979 to 1983 epitomised the concept of governance as service. That is virtually gone. But this malady is not peculiar to Imo. It is present everywhere and is in part responsible for our stunted progress as a nation.

What is foolery or iberiberism? It is playing to the gallery while serious issues of state craft or governance are trampled upon. It is acting with the mind of a child and expecting adult reward. That is why governors in Nigeria over time have achieved more on the pages of newspapers than what is evident on ground in their states.

Iberiberism is perhaps the only reason why a man elected to lead a state sees it as opportunity to privatise the government house and virtually the entire process of governance. When everything about a government revolves around those close to the leader, it is only so because of iberiberism because it only shows the state of that person’s mind.

This national sickness explains the gale of abandoned projects that litter Nigeria’s landscape while the potential beneficiaries continue in their penury. Why, for instance, is Nigeria today the world capital of extreme or absolute poverty despite the multitude of economic empowerment programmes and projects that virtually all state governments have executed? Today, at least six Nigerians enter into the hall of shame every minute, according to World Poverty Clock.

One thing is certain: with the end of the elections, some measure of iberiberism is on its way out – not just in Imo, but across the country.

 

Vincent Nwanma