The penchant for Nigerian leaders to self-destruct is legendary, sometimes to a comical level. Given recent incidents involving the current governor of Imo State, it would appear as if a mischievously malevolent force is taking sadistic pleasure in railroading Chief Rochas Okorocha into committing a tragic political faux pas. It is difficult to comprehend why only a few weeks to an important election, a governor would fail to ensure the success of a political debate organised by the Catholic Church, one of the most revered institutions in the state. The disruption of the debate and manhandling of priests on Wednesday 11th of March on the grounds of the Assumpta Cathedral, Owerri by hoodlums is curious. It is also most unfortunate, not least because a sitting governor with nothing to lose would ensure the security of any event that would enable him communicate his stewardship and future plans to the citizens and most importantly, the electorate.
Despite the weak attempt at denying complicity, the disruption of the debate plays perfectly into the hands of the people who ultimately have the power to hold him accountable through the ballot box. Okorocha seems to have forgotten that his predecessor, Chief Ikedi Ohakim lost his deposit as an incumbent on account of a similar alleged infraction. The allegation orchestrated by Rev Fr Ejike Mbaka that Ohakim ordered his men to physically maltreat a Catholic clergy drove the nail in his political coffin. In civilized climes which Imo indigenes aspire for their state to be, leaders do not use violence on the very people who elected them to serve their interest. Imo people are sure to exact a comeuppance at the next election.
The governorship election which comes up on the 11th of April seems to have been whittled down to a two horse race between Okorocha and Ihedioha. As incumbent, Okorocha ought to have everything to gain but ironically, he has everything to lose. Neutral analysts insist that, ultimately, the burden of proof and test of legitimacy for the Okorocha administration rests squarely on his ability to show that he has done enough to deserve re-election. Sadly, a review of his programme plan entitled ‘Rescue Mission’ which should veritably assist in critically analysing his performance has failed to do so. Aside of his poor sense of understanding about what constitutes developmental governance and public policy priorities, Okorocha’s biggest nightmare and undoing is his underestimation of the people’s deeply treasured values and rights. The loosely phrased ‘dividend of democracy’ which many a Nigerian politician bandies around maybe defined and delivered as pleases a governor, but Imo citizens are fiercely protective of their dignity, education, religion and traditional institution. These are inalienable benchmarks which Imo citizens insist that their governor has failed to deliver on.
Take the handling of the recent case of verbal exchanges between Okorocha and the Minister of State for Education in Nigeria, Professor Viola Onwuliri; the governor in February ordered his lieutenants to brutally disperse a group of protesting widows who had converged in Owerri the State capital to stage a peaceful protest at the instance of the minister. The manhandling of the widows numbering thousands as well as a pressman covering the protest smacks of an individual who is running scared. This ill-advised executive recklessness is seemingly borne out of a deep seated disdain for women. Had Okorocha dedicated some time to glean his history books he would have discovered that our women made a big case for their rights and the dignity of the entire Igbo race way back in November 1929 during the infamous Aba Women’s War. For Okorocha to have ordered his commissioners and goons to brutalise mothers and widows who were protesting peacefully is ill-advised. It is in-fact deeply insensitive, disheartening and regrettable.
Under the Okorocha administration, the traditional institution in Imo State has been browbeaten and emasculated to the extent that today it suffers from cultural identity dysfunction. It is sad that Ezes in Imo state seem to have lost all vestiges of their essence other than in the cosmetics and ceremonies. In other states it is presumed that the endorsement by the traditional institution guarantees acceptability and certain victory for aspirants of political office. Rubbing the traditional institution the wrong way could cost a sitting government or a prospective aspirant dearly. Quite inexplicably, however, governor Okorocha has chosen to shoot himself in the foot by showing his disrespect for the leadership of the traditional institution. The unceremonious removal of HRM Eze Cletus Ilomuanya, the highly respected chairperson of the South East Council of Traditional Rulers in 2011 was clearly premeditated. The royal father who also doubles as the chairperson in Imo State was then illegally replaced with Eze Samuel Ohiri without due process. This executive-rascality-gone-too-far has been the reason for several court cases and ugly media fights since 2011. Ilomuanya has explained that the Okorocha vendetta stems from his (Ilomuanya’s) principled preference for the zoning formula in the state which would have excluded Okorocha from participating in the 2011 governorship campaign. Four years later, on the 4th of February, 2015, the Supreme Court of Nigeria ruled in favour of Ilomuanya – stating that his removal was unconstitutional, ultra-vires, null and void and of no effect. The Supreme Court judgement has effectively reinstated Eze Ilomuanya, thereby increasing the humiliation of Okorocha.
The governor’s insistence on traditional rulers paying for their staff of office has been decried as unhealthy as it undermines the value placed on the staff of office and the role of the traditional rulers. A staff of office and certificate of recognition are issued by the governor to authenticate the function and role of the traditional ruler. Among other sacrileges levelled against Okorocha include the deceitfully labelled ‘free Sienna car’ donation to the traditional rulers which turned out to be subject to a repayment clause. This belligerence was resisted. Then, there was the politicization of the role of traditional rulers within the Community Government Council (CGC) which sought to undermine the dignity of the royal fathers. As if making traditional rulers do a march past with the governor taking salute isn’t belittling enough, ordering Ndi Eze to bring kegs of palmwine to the governor is certainly demeaning of their position in our communities. What is more, Okorocha’s romance with proponents of the ezeindigbo in Diaspora charade has also been carpeted by traditional rulers in Igboland who have explained that it is provocative and an aberration for Igbos to travel to foreign lands and declare themselves ‘Kings’ in another monarch’s territory. It is therefore inexplicable how Okorocha could have pledged to give ‘staff of office’ to individuals who illegally parade themselves as ‘traditional rulers’ never minding that they do not hail from his state. Suffice to say that Okorocha is not in the good books of traditional rulers in Imo State. Though the function of royal fathers may not be political, they certainly wield enough powers to persuade their people to vote against a politician whose policies are considered inimical.
When he assumed office in 2011 Okorocha vowed to serve for only one term after which he said he would complete his manifesto and hand over to a successor from Owerri Zone. He insisted on this position until he attempted to test his mettle, rather curiously for the APC Presidential helmsmanship and failed. Then he dramatically caused his son in-law and commissioner for lands, Mr Uche Nwosu to receive the Imo State APC governorship ticket and in a volte-face, hand it over to him. Reneging on the rotation arrangement is a belligerence stakeholders in Imo State have vowed to correct regardless of party affiliation. Those miffed by Okorocha’s intransigence point to the seamlessness of the political process in Enugu State where the same rotation principle is ensuring a very peaceful transition.
Incidentally, this duplicitous behaviour has consistently defined Okorocha’s personality in politics. Starting with his original membership of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) in 1999, Okorocha has elevated political prostitution and double speak to a standard worthy of accreditation as a third level academic discipline. From PDP he moved to the All Nigerian People’s Party (ANPP) in 2003 where he attempted to contest for president unsuccessfully. In 2005 Okorocha started his own Action Alliance (AA) in a bid to once more run for president in the 2007 presidential election. Failing that, he returned to the PDP and again decamped to APGA under which umbrella he ran for governor and won. Then once more he decamped to the newly formed Action People’s Congress in 2013. These unprincipled and shifty political dealings fall short of the qualities Imo indigenes expect from their leader.
Yet still, protagonists swear that Okorocha has done well. They point to his free basic education programme as the core of his people centred service but that claim of educational success has been rumbled by successive poor results by Imo students in the WAEC, NECO and JAMB examinations. His opponents insist that free and qualitative education is the standard expected and not gimmickry free education. Further-more, his campaign claim of building 305 twin storey schools in the 305 electoral wards in the 27 local government areas of Imo State has been strongly disputed by Professor Viola Onwuliri, the Minister of State for Education. She has clarified that funds from the Universal Basic Education Commission (UBEC) which her ministry disbursed to the state made the projects possible. The resultant claim and counter claim led to the administration calling the minister, who is a widow, unprintable names. This ugly face-off brought about the ‘Imo Widow’s Protest’ that was brutally quashed on the 9th of February, 2015 on the instructions of Okorocha.
Another area of concern to citizens of Imo state is the lack of transparency and due process that surrounds government business under Okorocha. The monthly federal allocations to local governments in the state and other funds designated for the state have not been accounted for since 2011. Cursory calculations indicate that over N160 Billion that were drawn down by the governor for the LGA’s were never applied to projects and government businesses in the LGA’s judiciously. The scrapping of the LGA system in favour of an extra constitutional Community Government Council (CGC) presided over by cronies of the governor has been a source of rancour. A group of disenfranchised chairpersons from the 27 LGA’s in state insist that Okorocha ignored court orders challenging the governor’s jettisoning of the third tier structure. They challenge the governor to explain how the funds, loans and overdrafts secured in the name of the Association of Local Government of Nigeria were applied.
Then there was the curiously controversial manner in which the abortion bill was signed into law in 2013. Okorocha seems to have forgotten that a people oriented bill cannot be passed without due process which must include consultations, debates, comparative assessments, etc. The emergence of the bill which was earlier rejected by the Ohakim administration was surprisingly re-tabled and passed as law in August 2013 to the chagrin of stakeholders in the state. The Church and other moral bastions in the state were up in arms over the law. When the public reprisals began Okorocha beat a hasty retreat and withdrew the promulgation of the law pronto. This action questions his knowledge of the process of governance.
It would be recalled that in November 2013, the Catholic Archbishop of Owerri Ecclesiastical Province, His Grace, Dr Anthony Obinna, advised the governor to stop running the state as his private estate. The senior Catholic cleric was reacting to the manner in which the governor was taking decisions without proper consultation. Imo indigenes had expected an inclusive administration where their opinion would count and their input could be felt in the decisions taken by government. Unfortunately, the four year stewardship of the Rescue Mission has been nothing other than that.
The Okorocha administration is perceived to have built several edifices that fail to add value to the people’s lives. The Ojukwu Memorial Centre, International Convention Centre, Imo State House Chapel, and some substandard roads are seen as white elephant projects that do not justify the funds expended. In the case of the chapel which cost the state several millions of naira, questions have been asked why a governor desirous of touching the lives of his citizens would build a chapel instead of a standard scientific research institute or badly needed medical facility. Revocation of a job recruitment initiative by the Ohakim administration that saw some ten thousand youths send back into the labour market is unbelievable. The selling of government property and interests to cronies for a ridiculously low cost has been carpeted.
Citizens of Imo State have long since developed an enviable tag as robustly clued up and politically sophisticated group of people. They are also fair minded and prepared to give their leaders the benefit of the doubt. Despite this sense of magnanimity of Imo indigenes, the above scored card shows that the people’s expectations have been dashed by the Okorocha administration. The hope is that when the baton is handed over to his opponent the Emeka Ihedioha after the election on the 11th of April, 2015 he would work in full concert to restore faith in the long suffering people of Imo State and he must remember that our rights, values and dignity are sacrosanct. Short term political cycle predicated on the people’s electoral duty will be evoked no matter who is in office.
Kelechi JK Onwumereh (KSC)