I MET Anayo Rochas Okorocha for the first time 24 years ago at the Jos national convention of the defunct Social Democratic Party, SDP, which produced Chief Moshood Abiola as presidential candidate. On the morning of our departure at the Hill Station Hotel, a large number of brand-new police vehicles which did not yet have number plates drove in. A Jos-based colleague, Peter Kuptong, told me that they belonged to an Igbo man, who was a big-time contractor for the Police.
A youngish, thickset man in dark safaris came out of one of the vehicles. As he walked with a slight limp towards the entrance of the hotel, Pwajok introduced him to me and we exchanged call-cards.
We met again in 1996 during a convention of the main Abacha political party, the United Nigeria Congress Party, UNCP, which Chief Emmanuel Iwuanyanwu was chiefly fronting in Imo State, with Rochas tagging closely along. Since then Rochas, who later acquired Owelle, Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe’s traditional title, has run for governor, senate, president and back to governor. He eventually became governor through Dim Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu’s All Progressives Grand Alliance, APGA, in 2011. I was shocked about a month ago when Rochas invited some editors to tour his projects, and he called me aside and reminded me: “you predicted my governorship”. I am not sure about that.
In the past seven years, I had deliberately withheld my comments over Okorocha’s eccentric rule, both when he was enjoying rave media hypes over his free education programme (which some swear is a sham) and when the tide turned against him. I don’t like to comment based on mere media hype. But in the past two years, I have seen some of Okorocha’s work in Imo State, and I can now confidently comment.
Rochas Okorocha is an eccentric man. He runs a government that has absolutely no regard for public opinion, convention or due process. On the good side, Rochas has opened up Owerri, the state capital, and almost cured it of much of its traffic snarls due to its narrow streets. He has opened so many new roads into, and out of, the city. He had to knock down people’s houses to widen some of them. But the quality of the roads is generally nothing to write home about. Owerri people swear that Rochas roads don’t last longer than a couple of months. The evidence is there for you to see: potholes galore.
I am impressed by the cargo wing of the Sam Mbakwe International Airport which Okorocha is putting up with Imo people’s money. It consists of the main terminal and eight massive warehouses and cold-rooms. Owerri will possibly become the first true cargo airport in Nigeria outside Lagos and (perhaps) Kano.
Also, the Eastern Palm University, which he sited in his hometown Ogboko in Ideato South LGA, is also a massive, ambitious project, with well-furnished students’ hostels. But, there is a lacuna here. Okorocha calls it a “public-private” project, PPP, but to all intents and purposes, it is his personal acquisition.
It is improper for a sitting governor to combine government business with private business. But here in Nigeria, people like Okorocha do not care to know where to draw the line. He completely rebuilt the Imo State Government House (also known as Douglas House) and named the structures after members of his family. There is a diagnostics and dialysis centre near Imo Concorde which he named after his father.
The current subject of outrage is the unveiling of a giant statue in honour of the massively-blighted President of South Africa, Jacob Zuma. Rochas and Zuma have foundations which are apparently collaborating in manners that should be none of our business or that of Imo people on whose money he freeloads. Rochas invited Zuma, gave him what he called “the highest Imo honour”, named a street after him and unveiled this annoying statue of a man whose countrymen have done everything to remove from office over alleged serial corruption.
Worse still, Zuma’s South Africa, which Nigeria was the main liberator from Apartheid, and to which Nigeria under Olusegun Obasanjo flung open its gates for profitable investments, has been very hostile to our nationals and their businesses. Rarely does a week pass without Nigerians being killed or jailed extra-judicially, their businesses looted and many of them summarily deported. Under Zuma, the xenophobia that South Africans have visited on Nigerians has blossomed. This individual is the last person Nigerians want to see on their soil, let alone being honoured in this provocative manner.
Imo people can be very funny when it comes to politics. They share this ugly trait with my own Abia electorate. Rochas is reportedly determined to plant his son in-law to succeed him in 2019. I had thought he would do that favour to his Deputy, Eze Madumere, his-long time lieutenant and soul mate. Apparently, Rochas does not want to risk taking the baton far away from his blood relations. It is only under a blood relation as governor that the chaos of the Okorocha era can be perpetuated.
I will not be surprised if Rochas succeeds in his rumoured plot. If Okorocha could win his second term even under a People’s Democratic Party, PDP, president; if he could overawe an Imo State House of Assembly that had a commanding majority after the 2011 polls and later grab the majority (APC-21, PDP 6) in 2015 under a PDP regime, and if he could send an APC candidate from his home zone, Benjamin Uwajumogu, to the Senate, it will take a miracle for Rochas not to replace himself in Douglas House in 2019 with his son in-law. The political setting is much more conducive for him, being a well-rooted APC Governor.
“Over to the Imo electorate”, as we say. But for now, right now, Zuma’s statue must come down.