By Obi Nwakanma
Mr. Anayo Okorocha, governor of Imo state, known to many as “Rochas” is a man of theatre. I guess all politicians are actors. But Okorocha takes the marble! His particular gift is for histrionics- the goofy, the melodramatic, and the outlandish. I think he would do well after his political career, in a new career in Nollywood.
He would make a killing in the market for stock characters. I am confirmed in this view after last week’s reshuffling of his cabinet in Owerri, and his creation, without legislative guidance or vote, of a Ministry for Happiness in Imo state.
First is that we do not need 28 commissioners to administer Imo state! And then also, a ministry for Happiness! It sounds like something straight out of the Orwellian satire, Animal Farm. This is quite serious! I am still not quite certain how my man, Sam Onwuemedo, the Governor’s Chief of Communications, is able to explain all these to the media, and the rest of the conscious world, with a straight face. Good old Sam himself must be quite amused by all these, I feel certain, and frankly, there is much to be amused about.
It is impossible to be angry with Okorocha once you come to understand the simpleness of his mind and his past. He reminds me of the character in Frank Mccourt’s Angela’s Ashes, his mother Angela Sheehan’s brother, and Frank’s uncle Pat, “the Abott” Sheehan, who was dropped on his head as a child, and who went through life as a result, with the simplest of minds. Thus Okorocha’s solution to solving the problem of discontent in Imo state is to create a “Ministry of Happiness.”
Imo State has now joined the ranks of the absurd, and Okorocha is now, like the one-time governor of Kano, the late Barkin Zuwo, who legend conferred the plaque for political silliness in the second republic, for when he was asked why he stacked Kano state’s money under his bed, allegedly gave the piquant answer that as governor, he wanted it for easy reach given his distrust of banks.
But beyond the hilarity of Okorocha’s amusing act of the simpleton, is the less amusing part: it is that Imo is the victim of a divine irony: how could a state with perhaps the most educated population of people in Nigeria be governed by a man like Okorocha? The last six years of his leadership of the government in Owerri has thrown up profound and startling contradictions.
The first is the very sorry state of civic organizing. Okorocha has proved that Imo people are cowards, and have been reduced to infants by a single man with hardly the capacity to muster anything but a few policemen and a handful of soldiers from Obirinze!
The failure of the Imo people to mobilize against Rochas Okorocha’s serial lawlessness makes them complicit in their own misfortune, because everywhere in the world, people who feel themselves oppressed rise up to confront their oppressors.
It is either the people love what Anayo Okorocha is doing in Imo state and support him, or they have been silenced by fear and self-doubt, and that is a terrible condition for any individual endowed with liberty and autonomy to exist in!
I have a theory of this of course: my sense is that the political culture of the people, steeped in a tradition of dialogue and negotiations, and open Assemblies historically offered people democratic outlets to air their passions and convictions. Because of the republican ethos, Igbo have no history of the use of mobs in mobilizing – yes indeed – in creating cadres of the disgruntled public to rise for public action except in extreme circumstances, and unless it is agreed upon. But the means for convergence and for public discourse and action – the “Okpu Oha” – has been dismantled with the creation of fragmented communities, and the institution of the “Ezes,” through which these governments now address and master the people.
This is the contradiction of Nigeria’s democracy and claims to republican status. In a republic, we do not need middle men, for all men are endowed with equal citizenship. We create Legislative Assemblies, and elect the servants of the public to represent their collective interests in these Assemblies: they make the laws that would govern these interests, and use this Assembly to create the laws that should regulate, and prevent the potential for the misuse of power granted the elected executives who govern.
That is why the most powerful arm of government in a democracy is the Parliament – a well-established Legislative Assembly. They hold the yam, and they hold the knife. They control the purse of government, not the governor.
The governor only spends the money approved for public spending by a law of the Assembly, and is held accountable by that Assembly, which must constantly demand, and oversee how the approved expenditure is spent. Every year during a budget session, the Executive office brings a budget proposal before the elected Assembly. It is only a proposal until it is debated, and the various parliamentary committees have approved, or even in many cases, tweaked it, and then passed it under the financial Act for the year.
If therefore by the middle of the year, the governor returns for extra-budgetary approval, a special session of the House is held, with a Ways and Means committee investigating and raising questions about the performance of the approved budget. If the state for instance fails to pay its public servants either their emolument of their pensions, in spite of approvals made by the Assembly, the governor must account for this failure, or resign, or be impeached. It is the highest example that a government has failed when it is unable to meet with its payroll obligations.
The governor cannot create any new department or ministry under the laws of establishment until a reform proposal is placed before the Assembly, and such an office created by Law, because it would require funding from the public purse, and moneys approved for services in the year cannot by law be diverted to other purposes without coverage. As it is, the Ministry of Happiness now created by Okorocha is an unfunded mandate because it has no basis in law, and it has not been approved under the establishment Act of Imo state.
This is where the Imo state Assembly, and the State High court should step in. But, in Imo state, we have long had a state Assembly in induced coma, and a judiciary that operates worse than a kangaroo court. No spine or backbone. No capacity even to enforce its own judgement.
Okorocha has appropriated the purse of the local governments, dismantled the Judicial authority of Imo state, and yet the elected Assembly of the state, which is created to establish oversight on government, has not deemed it within its mandate to initiate impeachment queries on this governor, who has basically appropriated the powers of the state Assembly, and unified it in his office, while elected legislators dishonor their mandate and go before Emperor Rochas to kiss his rings! Shame! This is shameful and dishonorable dereliction of duty, and a crime against the people whose sacred mandates they hold in trust, and against God, through whom the people speak in a democracy.
They will rot in hell who cause the oppression of the people for power is not a personal but a sacred mandate. Speaker Ihim should bow his head in shame for leading a spineless, rubber stamp Assembly and living in fear of Okorocha who has manipulated that Assembly, and made appropriations, and established extra-legal mandates. He and his colleagues must rise now to their role as the heart and soul of the peoples mandate or resign. If they choose not to hear the cry and the anguish of Imo people whom it pleases providence to make them serve, the same providence has a way of striking back. Okorocha must be held to account.
I hear that finally there is a rustle in the Imo state House of Assembly, and that it had finally found some courage to ask the governor to account for the last three years of his stewardship. This is an important first step, and the best news yet to come out of this cowardly Assembly.
The next move is to compel him to sign the electoral act necessary to conduct local elections, failing which override him, and initiate the conduct of the elections. There is also talk that a faction within the Assembly is intent on frustrating these moves.
Here then is where the people of Imo state must come in – men, women, and the youth – they must rise and compel their elected representatives to act in the public’s interest, failing which begin a massive recall movement against those who fail them.
There is of course, an object lesson: parliament is a highly strategic and cerebral place; Imo people must never again send village idiots to represent them, who have very little idea the dimensions of their parliamentary duties.
We must send the brightest of the land to the State Assembly in future, otherwise, the executive, as Okorocha has proved, will grow fangs and eat us all. This ministry of Happiness is a sick joke and a profound distraction, and should never be funded by the Imo state Assembly.