By Chinonso Alozie
Owerri— The latest news in Imo State is that the state House of Assembly has approved Governor Rochas Okorocha’s request for his son in-law, Uche Nwosu, to succeed him in office in 2019. Nwosu is currently the Chief of Staff to Okorocha.
This is coming on the heels of the hullabaloo over Okorocha’s appointment of his younger sister, Mrs. Ogechi Ololo, as the commissioner for the newly created Ministry for Happiness and Purpose Fulfilment in the state.
Before her appointment as commissioner, Ololo had served as the Chief of Staff, Domestic Affairs in Okorocha’s cabinet apart from being in charge of the Christmas Decoration Project, since the inception of Okorocha’s administration about seven years ago.
Since assumption of office, Okorocha has never joked with the issue of Christmas decorations. It is one of the projects given serious attention by the government even as workers and pensioners are owed salaries and other legitimate entitlements. During Christmas as we have now, huge amount of money is spent in buying the tallest Christmas trees available in the market as well as variety of ornamentals like Christmas lights that are spread across the length and breadth of the state in addition to other materials that could attract the attention of passersby. The project usually gulps between N600 million and N800 million yearly.
Also, another of his sons-in-inlaw, Uzoma Awuka, is also an important personality in Okorocha’s government. Uzoma is the son of the current Minister of State for Education, Prof. Anthony Awuka.
Chief Okorocha was the first governor to create the office of Chief of Staff, Domestic Affairs, since the creation of Imo State on February 3, 1976.
Ohorocha’s wife and deputy Chief Executive Officer, CEO, of the state, Nkechi also supervises five other ministries and departments. According to a statement by the Secretary to Imo State Government, Mr George Etche, on December 15, 2016, the key ministries include the Ministries of Works, Health, Women Affairs and the Office of the Secretary to the Imo State Government as well as the state Amnesty Committee which was announced on September 26, 2016. The Amnesty Committee has the mandate of ensuring the welfare of those who denounced militancy in the oil-bearing areas of the state.
All the appointments were greeted with loud protests which were largely ignored by the governor, just as questions had always been raised about the modalities used in allocating funds for the projects handled by the governor’s sister as no official figures were mentioned for such “special projects,” including the Christmas Decoration Project.
In what some Imolites have described as the Okorocha Conundrum, the people of the state are worried about how a ministry which operations were not captured in the state’s yearly budget could be run without running into trouble with provisions of the 1999 Constitution over such unapproved expenses.
Those who spoke to South-East Voice in Owerri lamented the situation whereby Okorocha was running key ministries with his brothers and sisters as if the state was his private estate.
The former Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives, Chief Emeka Ihedioha, who spoke on the situation said: “Honestly, I am completely tired of talking about this man and his style of administration. You can be sure that before we finish talking about the creation of Ministry of Happiness, he will come with a more bizarre thing.
“The reactions of most Nigerians, not just Imolites, will show you the level of frustration of people in the state. Real crisis has engulfed the state.”
Also, commenting on the issue, the immediate past governor of Imo State, Chief Ikedi Ohakim said: “This is a sort of abomination. How can this man continue to insult the sensibilities of Imo citizens?
“Whose happiness are they looking for when salaries and pensions are not paid? Are we looking for the happiness of the Okorocha family and friends?
“I have not heard about such a ministry anywhere in the world before. It is not in Britain that gave us independence. It is not in the United States of America whose democratic system we copied. It is not in Canada. It is nowhere in West Africa.
“I have searched through the internet and I am still searching to see where it was practised and I have not found any. Honestly, this is bizarre and I won’t be surprised to see the Governor’s aides struggling to defend this indefensible act.”
Also, the former commissioner for Information, under Chief Okorocha, Mr. Vitalis Ajumbe said: “The governor has a right to do anything he likes in the process of governance. For him to have appointed a commissioner in charge of Happiness, that means Imo people are not happy. Somebody should be there to make Imo people happy.
“May be, he has noticed that Imo people are not happy, so he decided to put a commissioner that will make Imo people happy.”
In his comments over the issue, the State Organizing Secretary of Labour Party, LP, Mr. Igboayaka. O. Igboayaka said: “Let me start with this, the person the governor appointed as Commissioner for Happiness is his sister. She is also the Deputy Chief of Staff, Domestic Affairs.
“This is the high level of mediocrity and nepotism. Okorocha’s government does not consider expertise in governance. If you look at his commissioners, they are the same.
“What Imo people are currently facing is the inability of the government to pay workers and pensioners. This is what we call administrative prodigality.
“The governor and his family members are running Imo State as it was their personal business. It is unfortunate but this is where we have found ourselves. Can we call this familiocracy because we cannot find the appropriate description anywhere in the dictionary? We do not need this kind of ministry.”
In the same vein, the Director- General, New Media, Imo State chapter of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, Mr. Aic Akwarandu, said: “I have always believed that nothing about Okorocha interests me. I wish I can stop talking about him but it is not possible.
“We all know that whoever the gods want to destroy, they would first make mad. He will continue to make mistakes to the detriment of the people who are at the receiving end, but these things are temporary. Everything that has a beginning has an end.
“How can a governor create 27 ministries and a Ministry of Happiness and Purpose Fulfilment in a state where pensioners are being owed their entitlements in this period of recession? This is the height of insanity.
“This is a government of just family members. You can see that the key ministries are not given to any other person except members of Okorocha family or others around him.”
All those who spoke found objectionable, the seeming plan by Okorocha to turn government into a family affair.
But reacting to the barrage of criticisms, Okorocha said, “At the end of the day, the achievements of the new Ministry of Happiness and Purpose Fulfilment, will be so amazing that the critics of the initiative, will not only be shocked but will also regret to have drawn the curtain for the new Ministry even before it took off.
“Ideas are like bullets. They pierce greatly. And Rochas Okorocha is a man of tremendous ideas who thinks about the present and the generations yet unborn.
“He does not misfire on any issue, the attendant criticisms notwithstanding. When the new ministry begins to bear the expected fruits, the accolades will envelop the early criticisms.
“Some people have also talked about Jacob Zuma’s statue as a referenced case. The criticisms that greeted Zuma’s statue were all anchored on the corruption allegations against the South African president.
“Yet, the fact remains that the man is still the president of that country. He has neither been sentenced to imprisonment nor impeached as president following these corruption claims.
“We also want to let the public know that the former governor of the state, Chief Ikedi Ohakim and the 2015 PDP governorship candidate in the state, Chief Emeka Ihedioha are the least qualified to criticize Okorocha on any policy or programme.”