BY KANAYO ESINULO
The macabre dance started in the early part of July 2011, soon after Rochas Anayo Ethelbert Okorocha became the governor of our beloved State. It was unfortunate! I say “unfortunate” because of the strange circumstances and the coalition of social forces that threw him up as the Number One Citizen of Imo State.
To deceive the people with fake humility and open identification with the labouring poor in the State, Okorocha craftily and ingeniously arranged for press photographers to capture him eating ‘Akara’ (bean ball) on the streets of Owerri, our State capital.
The photographs were deliberately and widely used in the media, the restless Owerri tabloids even used them on their front pages, in an attempt to depict the new governor as humble, pro-people and could be accessed easily by the ordinary man in the state. It was all photo trick, calculated to showcase Okorocha as “the man of the people”. And the unwary bought into the trick.
When he finally settled down to governance proper, the real Rochas Okorocha began to emerge. His style, lack of decency and open disdain for bureaucratic procedures completely took over, along the line. Imo State became the new governor’s huge laboratory for all kinds of political experiments. And these experiments ranged from his collapsed Community Government Council, his three-day-a-week work formula that allows Imo civil servants to work on their farms for the remaining two work-days to what Okorocha called “Direct Labour In Contract Execution”. All kinds of experiments were introduced and mindlessly deployed to make Okorocha’s government look different, super, answerable and in tune with the popular wishes of the people.
It was tragic, and before long our governor was already running his government on flat tyres. Nothing was working, the notable legacies of his predecessors – Sam Mbakwe, Achike Udenwa and Ikedi Ohakim – were either dumped, ill-maintained or totally neglected to create the impression that he was his own man and pursuing his own vision. There was nothing specifically wrong with carving out his own niche, except that the overall impact was negative. The ordinary people, even the elite, began to grumble, complain and regret the day that Okorocha became our governor.
Some of us began to write, grant interviews and spoke at seminars and workshops on what our State was rapidly becoming and we expected our elders, experienced and tested hands in administration, academia and political offices, to speak out and remind the young man now occupying Douglas House, the seat of government, to apply the brakes and re-organise his governance style and listen to genuine and sincere advice. Even the Catholic Archbishop of Owerri Diocese, whose regrettable support for Okorocha helped him to win the controversial governorship elections in March 2011, may have been embarrassed by the new and awkward direction that Okorocha was driving the State.
The prominent political elders whose voices carried weight and authority saw what was happening, but chose to be silent because of stomach infrastructure, political considerations or primordial sentiments. Yes, they refused to shout out or speak up. Men of God who command so much influence in the State and who have absolutely nothing to lose, preferred silence and refused to come out boldly to warm against consequences. Nothing like that happened and Rochas Okorocha continued to drive our dear State on flat tyres.
Then came the year 2015. Those who knew that Imo State was headed in the wrong direction and needed to be pulled back from the brink, thought that sincere-minded politicians would easily form a political coalition or partnership that would rescue the State from the grip of one man. Before this time, Okorocha had effortlessly removed his Deputy, Jude Agbaso, whom he accused of all sorts of crimes, not minding that Jude was donated to the Okorocha ticket by Jude’s elder brother, Martin Agbaso whose political shortsightedness and miscalculation often prevent him from getting his political permutations right.
Having humiliated his Deputy, Jude, out of office and ensured that the coast was now clear for him to do as he liked, Okorocha began to consolidate his grip on a State that he inherited a few years before from Ikedi Ohakim that had a vibrant and resilient economy, energy-filled civil service, good infrastructure of maintained roads, clean and green environment, running taps in, at least, the state capital, and an Imo state that recorded low crimes rates as a result of deliberate security networking put in place by the Ohakim administration.
The failure of the political elite in Imo State to construct a viable partnership that ensures that Okorocha was defeated in 2015 gave room for more amazing excesses that now characterise the administration. Yet, no strong words have come from our elders to advise on consequences or to collectively mobilise the people to stop him.
Not too long after his re-election, his penchant for turning the State into a family business grew, and he continued to engage one accelerator gear after the other, and was gaining terrific speed. His two sisters were given sensitive appointments where State revenues are streaming from, then the appointment of his younger sister as our Commissioner for Happiness, a new ministry that distinguishes our State from others.
He re-appointed his other sister as Chairperson of government organs in-charge of revenue from all markets in the State, then allocated three government ministries to his wife to supervise; shifted more duties, and therefore more powers, to his son-in-law in Government House. But when he recklessly started positioning the young man to be his successor as his second term began to thin down, Ndi-Imo began to resist.
While these excesses and greed were going on, plus Okorocha’s poor governance style and known disdain for procedures and processes, all having their toll on the once peaceful and vibrant State, our elders who should have spoken out and call our governor to order again preferred to keep quiet as the State sank deeper and deeper into something infinitely more difficult to describe. The Okorocha administration began to be called, openly, by Ndi-Imo as “Familiacracy” – a government of a family, by a family and for a family.
Nor did any of our prominent traditional rulers, to my knowledge, speak out against the direction our governor was taking the State to. If our respectable chiefs and clergymen had protested the way the State was being governed, we would not have found Imo State at this awkward trajectory. And I remind myself that no strong voice in the State protested the abandonment of the popular Imo Equity Formula, which our more dedicated second-generation elders/leaders (after our first set of Mbakwes, Okparas, Mbadiwes, Njokus, etc) carefully put together at Emmanuel Iwuanyanwu’s Glass House office in Owerri in 1999. If Okigwe zone had not been denied the space to complete its full eight years, the spirit of the Imo Charter of Equity, otherwise called Imo Equity Formula, would not have been so grossly violated or seriously offended. That violation has brought us where the State has found itself today.
It is still not too late to correct the mistakes that have been made and chart a new direction. Our elders need to urgently – even today – admit that a serious error has occurred in our political arrangement and recognise the need to put things right. The elders must realise that their silence has not been too golden and that the injustices of today may haunt us tomorrow. They now need to help put Imo State on the track. And this election period, and with the governorship election some few days away, is perhaps the appropriate time to pass information around, as a first step, directing and instructing our people on the critical issues at stake, and what must be done to reconstruct our society and chart a new way forward, usher in a new era of trust, better understanding and respect for the feelings and fears of our people in the three senatorial zones of the State. And finally, our people need to know that because of what Imo state has passed through these past difficult years, our next governor should, and must, be someone who possesses the experience, the vision for a totally raped state, and who can hit the ground running from Day One. Let’s re-start the re-construction of Imo State whose development and cohesion was interrupted by social forces who do not fully understand and appreciate out values and collective worth.
- Esinulo, former Senior Media Aide to General Chukwuemeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu in exile in The Ivory Coast, writes from Lagos