Since he coasted to power in the year 2011 under the platform of the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) and later decamping to join forces with the coalition that begot the ruling APC, Governor Rochas Owelle Anayochuckwu Okorocha, the strongman of Imo state politics has carried on like the quintessential lord of the manor in his superintendence of the state.
Given the fanfare that greeted his assumption of duties at the then Douglas House (now people’s house), owing to the inexorable catharsis that befell his predecessor, Ikedi Ohakim, Imolites must have been justifiably full of great expectations from a man who came upon things on the heels of the fair popularity he had gained from his legacy project- the Rochas Okorocha Foundation.
Beyond Imo state, he had gained considerable popularity across the country, with huge following in the Northern region of the country owing to the fact of his having cited most of the Rochas Foundation academic centres in this region of the country. Beyond that, the fact of his having been born in Jos, Plateau state, North Central Nigeria also aggregated to gain him a certain national following and endorsement, even though this popularity was in doubt in his eastern region. It is this popularity; one could say that must have buoyed him into throwing his hat into the presidential contest as far back as 2003 and again in the year 2015.
Across the country, the name Rochas was received with a kind of admiration as many people saw him in the mould of that benevolent philanthropist who was ready to expend all his ‘wealth’ for the betterment and welfare of the masses. He was widely fingered as a billionaire even though nobody could trace the source of this wealth. A sweet talker and consummate manipulator with a global knowledge of the socio-political terrain of Nigerian politics having served as a special assistant to former president Olusegun Obasanjo, the road was thus clear for him in 2011 when he was popularly elected into office as the 4th democratically elected governor of the littoral state under the platform of APGA. It was said at the time that the market women threw their wrappers to the floor at his inauguration to receive him into office in the same mould Jesus Christ was received at His triumphant entry into Jerusalem. With his then popular “My people! My people!!” slogan to which the indigenes retorted with a “My Governor! My Governor!!” response, the perfect relationship between a people and their leader looked to have been wrought, but fast forward to the present, what started as a ‘romance’, has degenerated into the most abusive relationship one could ever think of. A classic case of good riddance to bad rubbish.
If Imolites had been told that 7 years of a Rochas administration would bring them the current level of disappointment and discontent they are currently made to live it, of course they would not have believed. But the situation in the state today is one of regret and a counting of woes. The Rochas administration has indeed brought the opposite of what was expected. One commentator said it has been a turning point in the life of a people where nothing turned. Hence why many of them have resorted to counting down the number of days left in the lifespan of the administration. I visited the state two times last year anxious to be met with the wonders of the much publicised administration as has been forced down our throat by the media vide paid advertorials, only to meet an Imo state stripped of the glamour that it used to be known for. An Imo that had lost the beauty and panache of its famed capital─Owerri.
I held conversations with a number of civil servants who told me the sad tale of unpaid salaries running into several months with no action from government. I was particularly struck by the story of a colleague at the time, who had been employed in the Imo State Ministry of Justice only to be told that the state governor had disapproved of the normal salary structure that should accrue to the new employees in the grade level 08 of the state Civil Service. And this, without any recourse to the House of Assembly and in flagrant affront to the civil service rules. As ridiculous and outrageous as this may sound, that is the reality of public service in the state no thanks to the whims and caprices of the rotund supreme leader who has carried on as an overlord whose decision dare not be questioned.
I was awestruck to note that the state capital─ Owerri which at some point in the past gained popularity as the cleanest state capital in the country, had become a shadow of its former self. With major roads ridden with potholes and uncompleted road projects scattered almost at every section of the capital with barely a year left in the life of the administration, you could come to terms with the level of confusion and incoherency that has greeted the supposed “Imo Rescue Mission”; the so-called policy drive of the administration which has done the direct opposite of what it set out to achieve, an obtrusive and unmitigated emasculation of the people.
You could spend a whole month in the state without saying with any degree of certainty the contractors handling construction works in the state. As against the sight of tractors and earth moving equipments normally deployed in the construction of roads, culverts and bridges in more serious states, road construction in Imo state is prosecuted with wheel barrows, shovels and heaps of sand and stone strewn higgledy piggedly at strategic quarters of the state capital, thus occasioning needless traffic gridlock and making movement in and about the state capital a harrowing experience.
For Imo state under Rochas, it could be said that misrepresentation of facts and statistics is the hallmark of governance. It is all puff and no action. Increasing motion without movement. Propaganda, platitudes and a wholesale deception cum manipulation. Governance is put on reverse gear and frivolities such as the commissioning of statutes of African politicians with questionable antecedents have become the focus of government in the guise of the furtherance of history. Perhaps all of these finds expression in the much publicised construction of “world class hospitals” across the 27 local governments of the state launched four years ago by the administration. His re-election three years ago, pundits say was thanks to this project courtesy of the many promises it held for healthcare delivery in the state. But four years after, the project has become the proverbial white elephant and would go down as a monument of the administration’s failure. Out of the proposed 27 hospitals, reports have it that only one has been commissioned, while the rest are either uncompleted or abandoned. It is instructive to note that at the commissioning of the project four years ago in 2014, Governor Rochas had declaimed that all the hospitals would be in full throttle by January, 2015.
In like manner, the “Free Health For all” program launched in 2014, with pomp and fanfare has also become a stillborn. Under this program, the loquacious administrator had promised the treatment of aged citizens at no cost, improvement of medical services in the state and upgrading of health facilities. But four years afterwards, a report by the Daily Trust Newspapers of 11th June, 2017 had it that respondents in all local governments surveyed said there is “no improvement in the employment of quality workforce,” that quality of service in the hospitals have declined and that out-patient services for citizens are very expensive. The report described the decision to set up the new hospitals as “impractical, wasteful, and not based on sound policy qualities (e.g. technical efficiency, equitable distribution of health welfare or allocative efficiency).” The situation is the same with education sector. The much vaunted “Free Education” policy in the state is incomprehensive and at great lengths deceptive and dubious. With the introduction of the mandatory “Acceptance Fee” at the state university, many students are of the view that the “Free Education” policy is a classic case of giving with one hand, and taking back with the other.
But assuming one were to pardon the sins of the Man on the score of his administrative pitfalls of which a consensus needless to say is held amongst Imolites, what can one say of the administrative highhandedness that has become the modus operandi of the administration? The 7 years of Owelle Rochas Okorocha some people say represents 7 years of disguised slavery, nay despotism. He has ridden the state roughshod and in military style, has always gotten away with it.
Since contriving the controversial impeachment of his then deputy, sir, Jude Agbaso in the year 2013 on trumped up charges of financial appropriation, it has been one case of executive recklessness to the other throughout the life span of the administration up until today. Like the man in the proverb set for elimination by the gods, Governor Rochas Okorocha has condescended in his show of executive braggadocio without let or hindrance. By owing salaries of Imo public servants and ordering them at the time to work thrice in a week and visit their farms for the remainder; by withholding salaries/entitlements of judicial officers of the states without any form of remorse ; the infamous destruction of the eke ukwu market that left scores of people dead; slashing of salaries of civil service and electing to pay only a certain percentage; appropriation of Imo state lands and core assets through his son In-law, the then commissioner for lands; the bastardisation of the Imo state traditional institution through the arbitrary dethronement of traditional rulers; with the infamous case of Igwe Cletus Ilomuanaya standing out in this regard; the unceremonious increment of the tuition fees of the state university; the unilateral elevation of ownership of PVCs as a precondition for employment and admission in the state and until recently, the declaration that every Imo Youth should pay a controversial “autonomous community development levy” just to name a few, Rochas Okorocha has since become a latter day emperor Nero in the politics of Imo state. If one were to go biblical, one would say: if former governor Ikedi Ohakim chastised the people with whips, he has chastised them with scorpions; if they were burdened under the superintendence of the former administration, Okorocha has made their yoke heavier.
That said, the rave of the moment however, is his sworn ambition to install his son in-law and current Chief of Staff Uche Nwosu as his successor come 2019 in order to continue to rule by subrogation. In his vintage manner, he has gone about it with all conviction and tells anybody who would care to know why his decision must not be questioned. For him, Imo state has become his personal estate and he reserves the right to decide who should pilot its affairs. The choice of his son in-law may not be unconnected with his fears that any other candidate might expose to the world the cesspit of administrative filth he’ll be leaving behind. With this, Rochas Okorocha is prepared to do battle with the collective will of his people, as with all tragic characters in history.
It is good news however, that the generality of Imolites have risen up to Okorocha’s last but deft attempt to perpetuate himself in power and call the shots in the state beyond 2019. Many indigenes of the state I have spoken to, tell me that they await 2019 to have the last laugh. 2019 for them presents a perfect opportunity to pay back Rochas Okorocha in his own coin. Like shylock, they are waiting to have their own pound of flesh. No other way would this be achieved than by going against Okorocha’s last will─ the instalment of his stooge and son in-law to take from where he’ll stop. 2019 therefore promises to be an interesting political showdown in Imo state. It will be a referendum on Okorocha’s humanity and obduracy. It will be a contest between the freewill of a people to elect their leader, and an incumbent’s sworn ambition to force one down their throats. How that pans out, will be shaped by things to come.