By Charles Onunaiju
- Mr Rochas Okoracha, governor of Imo State in South East Nigeria, obviously has strings of weird ideas about governance, ranging from the humorous to the absurd and even the tragic. He once abruptly cut working days from the normal five days in a week to three, asking the bewildered state public service workers to use the two days to farm. He neither provided farmland nor any equipment to cultivate.
Defying commonsense and extant public service rules in proclaiming the three working days a week, the weird idea flopped and died a natural death.
But not done in hoisting the state public service workers as the guinea pig for his experimentation, he sliced the work force by almost half without reference or regards to the extant rules of public service. It took a prolonged face-off with the organised labour movement to rescind the obnoxious act and recalled the sacked workers.
Owing the state public sector workers several months of salary arreas has become “a new normal” for Governor Okorocha. One of his commissioners even suggested that workers take -home pay was not their right but the act of his benevolent helmsman, which he can only dispense at his pleasure and at his own chosen time.
But all these nearly paled into insignificance when governor Okorocha dragged out the state pensioners, blackmailing them to sign off a whopping 40% of their pension and other retirement entitlements, if they were ever to get any at all. He claimed the state is bankrupt and cannot fulfill basic obligations to even senior citizens who toiled to foster a state that Mr. Okorocha misgoverns with remorseless arrogance.
Staging fanfares with his whole family on parade at public expenses and hosting endless meetings and conference has become his governance turf. While the state’s infrastructures, even those as simple as rural feeder roads and minor bridges, have collapsed, cutting off communities from one another and disrupting basic and rudimentary economic activities through which the largely peasant population maintain a subsistence live hood, Mr. Okorocha wallows in a vain pursuit of a birthday bash and moulding of statues.
Away from browbeating retirees to forfeit their statutory entitlements, he let his acolytes hoist billboards of a handshake with former US President, Barack Obama, in all corners of the state.
The hint of Governor Okorocha’s imperial and vain rule was clearly on notice when he edged out the Deputy Governor with whom he campaigned and won the election, replacing him with his immediate personal assistant, Mr. Madumere, before he became the governor. Mr. Madumere, even when elevated to a deputy governor, has continued his role as a personal assistant to Okorocha, meaning that effectively, Imo State has no deputy governor. With a personal assistant as a decoy for a deputy governor, commissioners among whom was one that uttered the thorough baldersh that state workers salaries are not rights but act of benevolence of the governor, Imo State has no effective government, except for a network of hapless surrogates linked to Okorocha’s personal family.
Okorocha has conflated the interest of the state to his family ties and integrated them to Okorocha business incorporated. No wonder, President Jacob Zuma, the South Africa’s beleaguered leader’s visit to Owerri, the state capital recently was a family affair but obviously lubricated and consummated with public funds. The memorandum of understanding signed between Zuma and Rochas Foundations are doubtless a private affair, but the two men shamelessly put the use of formal government machinery to it. As if that shameless act is not enough, Governor Okorocha caused to be erected a statue of Mr. Zuma in the state capital. In the face of popular outrage and wide indignation at Okorocha’s shameless effrontery, he has claimed he has no apologies suggesting that he is marketing the state for foreign investment by his thoughtless action. As a former businessman, he should tell the public the number of statues he erected to grow his business.
Imo State, the heartland of the South East region of Nigeria, was famous for the finesse of its people, associated with the legendary education industry and civic mannerism, is con-temporarily the darkest spot of the region. Serially misgoverned, abused and traumatised, the state now is heaven for formerly social dregs and miscreants who have exploited the ethical lapses of contemporary politics to buy themselves into strategic political offices both at state and federal levels. They ooze assumed respectability but the odious configurations of the state in its current pitiable condition bear the foot prints of their criminal scavenge. Because the state was in its worst desperate form for years, Okorocha’s claim of solo single rescue mission made sense, and rightly so, to the bemused people of the state. But, now that the rescue mission has turned full circle to a capture mission, the agony of the state and her over-duped inhabitants are even more desperate than before. However, Okorocha and his entourage have squandered a historic moment after people exposed their skin and defied the formerly rampaging PDP-led Federal Government rigging machine to have him elected as governor. Today, with arrogant swagger and reckless bravado, Mr. Okorocha lumbers and blushes around, dismissing well-meaning and constructive critiques of his excesses as political distractions.
Despite perennially bungling governance, Mr. Okorocha was far more the consistent and constructive voice of reason among his peers in the region at the height of the reckless obstinacy of the Nnamdi Kanu-led Indigenous Peoples of Biafra, IPOB, whose members and amorphous leadership does not seem to have the slightest idea of what it really means to create a sovereign state, imagining it to be as simple as a woman walking into a labour room to have a new baby, which even for its presumed simplicity is fraught with many deadly uncertainties.
Unlike other governors and political actors in the region who sought to milk political advantages from the travesty of the IPOB’s Biafra agitations, governor Okorocha was forthright that the rump of IPOB agitators does not represent the Igbo nation and cannot define its platform. With the lightening fizzling-out of IPOB in their first encounter with Nigerian security, it is in retrospect justified of governor Okorocha’s reluctance to engage with the group.
As Okorocha’s tenure races to an end, prospective successors from available pool of political gladiators in the state are not hope-inspiring. Political make-overs who migrated from the dark under world of crime to strategic political spotlights appear to be what is on offer. With deep pockets and network of blood-cuddling criminal gangs, they are set to triumph with a consequence that the foremost oriental state, from where wise men and women have bestrode the Nigerian political landscape will tarry a while, in the political equivalent of the Catholic purgatory.
*Mr. Onunaiju, a journalist, wrote from Abuja.