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Rochas: Enter the dragon?

By Obi Nwakanma

In just two weeks from today a new governor will be sworn in who will occupy Douglas House, the Governor’s lodge in Owerri. Rochas Anayochukwu Okorocha was elected by Imo people in a hard fought election in which the incumbent Ikedi Ohakim was roundly defeated.

As I had made clear in this column in the run-up to that election, neither Mr. Okorocha nor Ikedi Ohakim nor Ararume was my preferred candidate. I had in fact called those three the “three horsemen of the apocalypse.” I would have preferred the Emeka Nwajiuba/Mezu ticket. I still think that ticket was the better alternative in the general scheme of things.

As it is clear, that ticket lost its deposit for certain reasons, chief of which is t hat Imo people saw them as riding on the wrong party. As it often happens in a democracy, the voice that speaks loudest is the voice of the people. Sometimes the political choices the mass of the people make in a democracy is indeed often inscrutable, governed more by passionate intensity rather than by studied reason.

In the end it is the people’s choice that counts. Thus Rochas Okorocha was elected after two rounds of voting, including the “supplementary voting,” a farcical act that was a little too obvious. The Ohakim campaign tried to deflect an obvious result. The gubernatorial elections had clearly become a referendum on the incumbent regime and its four years of listless and unproductive government. The people of Imo State were primed, ready to embark on defiant actions if that ploy succeeded.

Now, we must be clear:  Imo did not vote Rochas Okorocha, they voted against Ikedi Ohakim. They voted for change. They had always supported the APGA which they have voted, even in the fraudulent elections of 2007 that brought in Ohakim. The APGA was unable to defend its mandate in 2007. But the circumstances had changed, and the tide had turned. Ikedi Ohakim did not understand this. He could not read clearly the mood of the people until it was too late. In 2007, in spite of my misgivings about the circumstances that brought Ohakim into play in Owerri, I was among the first to offer him the benefit of doubt. Here was a young man for whom his “Chi”had cracked the kernel. He was young and he seemed bright.

Greatness had been thrust unto him gratis. A more thoughtful man would have run with it and etch his name in time. But as events came to prove, Ikedi Ohakim turned out like that proverbial child who was sent into the barn of great wealth and all he could come out with was a sickly ram. His first mistake was an attempt to con Imo people with all kinds of fictional projects none of which was viable.

I take the responsibility for suggesting the dredging and expansion of the Otamiri river that runs a circle around greater Owerri and for the transformation of Oguta and Awo-omama into resort towns with all kinds of possibilities. Ohakim rather chose to embark on the white elephant project now called the “Nworie River dredging” – a sinkhole project whose aim lacks conceptual clarity.

In the four years of his administration, Imo felt like a great circus with Ohakim  as the circus master and puppeteer. His images were festooned across the entire Imo landscape. That was his great achievement – the consecration of idolatrous temples to himself, much like the tyrant king of Igbo mythology, Kamalu at Ozuzu who took the title, “Amadi-Oha.”

He had promptly established himself in the great shrine of the Sun-god, “Anyanwu”  – the Igwekala at Umunoha and in another the “Amadioha Ozuzu” shrine to himself at Ozuzu. He subdued dissent, recruited violent men to his army, forcefully conscripted young men to fight his wars, and broke the sacred covenants of the Igbo world until he was destroyed in that catastrophic accident as he attempted to domestic energy. He was blown sky high. Ikedi Ohakim reminds of Amadioha.

It was in a rejection of both his high-handedness and incompetence that the Imo electorate voted to replace him with Rochas Okorocha. As a democrat, I accept the choice of the people. But even so I cannot help but be skeptical about Mr. Okorocha from my own sense of his political past and the choices he has made.

I retain my skepticism and will be glad if Rochas Okorocha proves me  wrong in my skepticism. For starters, I have a sense that Mr. Okorocha does not seem to have any clearly defined economic and social programs. He has promised “free education.” This was the cardinal element of his campaign premised on the fact that as a “philanthropist” he had built a private school in Owerri and awarded scholarships to students. It’s all well and good, but it is important that Rochas understands that charity is only recourse where there is fundamental inequality. What the people of Imo State want is not charity.

They want a well run public system that would guarantee them equal access to the benefits of the state. They do not want “free education.” Education is almost free already at any rate, at the primary and secondary levels. What they want is education reform that would strengthen and upgrade public education and prepare Imo indigenes for the great challenges of the 21st century. They want strategic investment in public education. They want an upgrade of the educational infrastructure that would prepare them with new skills, provide them great learning environments, but above all provide them access to jobs.

It is jobs! Jobs! Jobs! Good paying middle class jobs not Okada-driving or Pepe-na-Pep. Those are the new “kwanangida” – e no be work. Imo must keep its skill base home its greatest resource is its human resource. But a state that is unable to retain at least 65% of its highly trained manpower within its own local economy is not doing well at all.

Imo State cannot afford to keep educating young men and women who migrate into the ghettoes and margins of other societies, providing no direct benefit to Imo in spite of all that education. Rochas Okorocha’s major task therefore is not to begin “free education” – it is to provide subsidized quality education, to rebuild the public sector, the largest absorbent of skilled labor, and to create vast opportunities for employment and for new start-ups through a young entrepreneurs grant program.

The new government must embark on a program of public work that should focus on rebuilding public infrastructure – schools, power stations, hospitals, public housing, roads, sewers, etc. He must embark on a new initiative that will focus on real quality of life issues in Imo state rather than on the show-and-tell fakery of the last administration.

There are those who sincerely believe that Okorocha’s entry is a game-changing moment; an enter-the-dragon sort of event. I am skeptical. But as in the past, I will begin by giving him the benefits of the doubt and say, welcome aboard, governor. May you not thread the same path as Ikedi Ohakim. If you do, Imo people will also cast you into the dustbin of history.


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