Some years ago, I worked as Chief Press Secretary to the Deputy Governor of Imo State. I can vividly remember that at that time, I was also a victim of the usual exuberance that engulfs newly appointed political office holders. Then, I had a government driver assigned to drive me in my official vehicle. I enjoy driving a lot and I derived more pleasure in driving the official car myself. I usually drove myself in the deputy governor’s convoy to the admiration of some people. I also saw driving myself for official assignments as a show of humility in office. Ironically, I thought I was doing the right thing.
In the year 2009, I drove my official vehicle to Lagos for that year’s Annual Bar Conference. Unfortunately, I did not complete that journey to Lagos myself as I had an accident at Omotosho axis of Benin-Ore Road and sustained head injuries. After that experience, I still continued to drive my official vehicle unperturbed.
One day, the Principal Secretary to the Deputy Governor then, a seasoned bureaucrat Mr. Chukwuma Nwachukwu sat me down and told me why I should not drive myself while in office. He told me that as the Chief press Secretary to the Deputy Governor, I had a lot of mental work to do for optimum performance in office. He said that that was why the government provided me with a vehicle with a paid professionally trained driver who would at my instruction take me to wherever I would want to go. He also said that driving myself would likely make me not to concentrate well and do my work effectively. He conclude by telling me that driving on my job, was adding the job of a driver to my already heavy work which he said was too dangerous for me,
It was after Mr. Nwachukwu’s lecture that my foolishness and ignorance on driving myself in my official car while in office dawned on me.
Governor Okorocha’s vehicular convoy usually moves at a very high speed. Many at times, the Governor drives himself in the convoy. I have seen him do this in many occasions. Nevertheless, whenever I see this, I remember my days of ignorance as the Chief Press Secretary to the Deputy Governor. To be frank, if I see myself in a position where I am assigned a driver again, it will be a different ball game for maturity and experience in everything, including occupants of governorship positions, naturally come with age .
Civilized nations and people who fashioned out protocol for very highly placed government functionaries did not do it for the fun of it. Some of the reasons for instituting protocol are for ease of administration, security, safety and efficiency.
A busy Governor has memos from all the ministries, the Cabinet Office, Chief of Staff, his principal Secretary, Special Advisers, parastatals, agencies, departments, commissions, committees etc that needs his personal attention. He is also engaged in various meetings and activities of federal government, local government, autonomous communities, diplomatic corps, international bodies, contractors, political parties, security agencies, unionists, foreign investors and private and non governmental sectors. Further, he sees to appointments into various offices, the usual foreign trips ‘to attract investors’, has hundreds of phone calls and text messages to attend to and private/family matters to handle. With the above activities, a serious minded Governor will not still border himself with the hectic job of driving himself unless the Governor is on a jamboree.
No matter how we see it, the position of a governor is still a position of honour, reverence, respect, power and embodiment of civilization that its occupier should not turn to that of a chauffeur. Once a governor is elected, he becomes a different class of person for the time he will occupy that position. His activities are supposed to be planned and executed by professionals like protocol officers, security details etc.
Protocol provides that a professionally trained police driver with cognate experience should drive the Governor. Even the sitting arrangement in the Governor’s staff car is fashioned for certain purposes. The Governor sits in the area we commonly call ‘owner’s seat’ while the aide-de-camp sits beside the Governor on the other side of the back seat. The orderly stays in passenger seat in of the vehicle and it is his duty to open and close the governor’s side of the car door. On the other hand, security vehicles stay in front and at the back of the Governor’s staff car for maximum protection. These things are so for security, safety, effective coordination and honorarium sake. It is not something one can wish away as far as such positions of importance exist.
Recently, Governor Okorocha was reported that a car driven by a private person crashed into a staff car occupied by the governor car crash with his staff car while on an official function in Orlu Imo State. Unfortunately, some people have tried to give the incident various interpretations. Some people who feel frustrated by the Okorocha administration say that the incident was as a result of nemesis. Some of them who called me include the sacked Ten Thousand Job beneficiaries, those whose house were demolished, contractors who did various contracts and are being owed many millions of naira, retired primary school teachers who are being owed more than nine months arrears of pension, previous government officials whom the Governor stopped the payment of arrears of salaries and severance benefits. more are the sacked statutory commission members, Local Government Chairmen, coordinators of Local Government Development Centers, victims of revocation of plots of Lands, Area K and Avu people who are alleging that the Governor illegally took their. Another group include supporters of the Agbasos, Chris Anyanwu, Victor Umeh, Ralph Uwazurike, C.C. Nwaka, Emeka Offor etc. who feel they contributed to getting the Governor elected in 2011 but now feel sidelined from the government.
Another group is saying that the accident did not actually happen but is another intelligent gimmick to attract sympathy to the ongoing investigation by the EFCC over the =N=458 Million JPROS Scam whereby senior members of the government are being interrogated on daily basis. Others in this same category say that the accident was framed for reasons not yet known. In justifying their postulations, these sceptics are asking the following questions: Who else was in the crashed vehicle with the Governor? What is the identity of the driver that was alleged to have crashed with the Governor? Why was the vehicle of the supposed driver that crashed with the Governor taken to the Government House as the governor claims and not the police? Why the rush in removing the supposed crashed vehicles from the scene of the accident without the assessment of traffic personnel? Why should the Governor be flown abroad for treatment when he claims that the injury was minor? Why didn’t the Governor take advantage of his highly clamoured and advertised provision of the best health facilities in Imo State?
However, some people from the Governor’s camp, his lovers and positive minded people are full of sympathy and thanksgiving for sparing the life of the governor and his team.
On my part, I have a different approach to the whole story. When I initially heard about the incident, I was not disturbed because car-crash is a normal thing in Nigerian roads. But I became more concerned when I heard that the Governor received laceration in his head probably from the broken windscreen of the crashed car. At this, I started smelling rat on how an acclaimed minor car crash would make a state governor have a sutured head. My mind went straight to the fact that the governor might have driven himself on that fateful day as usual. When I called the Imo State Commissioner for Information Mr. Chinedu Offor, he told me that the governor did not drive himself on that fateful day the accident occurred but was sitting in front of the crashed vehicle. At this answer, I knew that the commissioner was being economical with the truth because it is known everywhere that many at times, Rochas Okorocha as a Governor, not minding his slight physical deformity, drives himself in his convoy. Ironically, assuming the incident really happened and also happened the way the Imo Government described it, was it even right for the Governor to seat in a position meant for his orderly as Mr. Offor said while on an official function? What of the issue of putting on seat belt? We all know that aggressive security vehicles always stay in front and back of the vehicle the Governor stays. How come a car from nowhere rammed into the convoy to the extent of crashing on the Governor alone as claimed by government report? Many more questions begging for answers and it is only the handlers of the Governor that can provide the correct answers if they wish to do so and objectively too.
Interestingly, I hear that one of the reasons while the Governor drives himself is to show people that he is humble. However, I have heard many of his security personnel and protocol officers complain that he does not take their advice when it comes to issues of protocol and security. One of them who is very close to me also told me that sometimes, the governor is always in the habit of diverting the movement of his convoy to routes at will and without security information from his advance security team. This I think is very wrong and risky too. Such can expose the governor and his team to unprecedented mishap that can be very disastrous. But God forbid. Yet, heaven will only help those who help themselves.
The 5th Edition of the oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary defines ‘Protocol’ as a system of rules governing formal government activities. Government is not a private estate. It involves laid down rules and decorum practised for ages and designed for order, safety and better service delivery in public service. Therefore, as far as the Governor claims not to believe in protocol and due process, his administration will continue to witness untold strange episodes. For instance, the =N=458 Million Scandal was as a result of lack of due process. The recent acclaimed car crash is also suspected to be as a result of lack of observing rules on protocol.
However, not minding the frailties of man, we must thank God immensely for delivering our Governor. As I join many to wish our governor quick and full recovery, it is still the opinion of yours truly that the Governor should learn a lesson from this incident. He should start dropping his poor attitude towards security and protocols. He should always listen to his security and protocol aides for his own good and that of his family for the remaining time he has in Douglas house. A word the say, is enough for the wise.
Barr. Emperor N. Iwuala writes from Owerri
How come you didn’t border to investigate the other victim. Of the accident? Is he not a human being? Why is he still being detained? Why was vehicle still detained in government house?