By Collins Obibi
FOR the governor of Imo State, Owelle Rochas Okorocha, it is the month of May, time to hand over to another. Indeed whatever has a beginning will definitely end someday. In the past few years of his administration, this season looked too far, but it is here already. Even if his tenure is extended by another four or eight years through his son-in-law proxy which he attempted to foist on the state, it will still end someday. But that is good history, hence it is easy to see where his disputation of the recent election of Chief Emeka Ihedioha as governor of the state is headed.
But what is the hullabaloo in Imo about this particular hand over? The answer is simple: Okorocha warmed himself into the heart of Imo people by courting the church, the traditional institution and the ordinary man on the street. He was seen as a lover of education, Imo’s pride, and began a scheme which reduced the burden of education on some indigent families. At a point, he sought nomination for some of the children through the churches. With this, he was then able to defeat an incumbent governor to enter the Douglas House seat of government which he so treasures. Today, go back to these constituencies and ask for an appraisal of Okorocha’s tenure and get the answer you seek.
By his acts, he has, even if unwittingly, strengthened the hand of Ihedioha who will be sworn in on May 29. Ihedioha’s election is simply put, a call to duty for Imo people. His role is basically to utilize the free-flowing goodwill of the people at home and in the Diaspora and make them own the government and achieve the development they need. Okorocha’s story is like that of a child who ate fat and decided to challenge the gods. Indeed he challenged the gods, for instance, the hurricane Owerri spirit that cut stubborn politicians to size.
The Owerri spirit is more or less the Imo spirit. It was the same spirit that installed Okorocha after humiliating his predecessor. For want of a better definition, I stick to the one I made a few years ago: “The Owerri spirit is the spirit of justice, fair play and integrity. It is conscientious and defends human dignity with passion. It has an enormous capacity to mobilise all classes of people to fight its cause. It can be enduring and long-suffering, but it can also move spontaneously and in such a case with great venom. It moves sparingly, in fact, only when provoked, but as a virile and potent force when it moves it teaches the target hard lessons. It is a force that has cut short the career of many politicians in the state.” Any surprise, therefore, as to the turn of events today?
First, Okorocha has been running a one-man show and has reduced the government to a family affair. He repudiated his entry slogan of “my people my people” soon after winning the election and adopted a new one: “my family my family,” in government patronage. He humiliated the first deputy governor, Chief Jude Agbaso out of office, and has been hounding the current deputy, Eze Madumere. Considering Madumere’s sacrificial contributions towards his election which all attest to, Okorocha is seen as an ingrate.
Public servants have had a taste of his bitter pill through cutting and non-payment of salaries and sidelining. He made retirement a nightmare for senior citizens and superintended a scheme that robbed them of their entitlements. Discountenancing the sensitivity of the people he lavished public funds in erecting statues of individuals in the state capital, many of whom are corrupt African heads of the state some of whom he hosted to state banquets. The akpuola gi akpuo phrase will live with Imo much longer after Okorocha, just as ohashierism which makes it’s non-adherent to end up in Iberiberism. Good lexicon from Imo.
Again, Okorocha did the two terms allowed by the Constitution and wanted to forcefully install his son-in-law as successor, an indirect way of extending his tenure, notwithstanding that he is from Orlu Zone that has held the governorship position for 16 of the 20 years lifespan of the current democratic dispensation. If it was by consensus as was the case when he came in eight years ago, it would not have mattered. But by forcefully pursuing it and disparaging the people’s call for equity, justice, fairness, mutual co-existence, peace and harmony, he stirred the hornet’s nest. Imo sons and daughters grouse with him is indeed a catalogue.
Banking on the fact that in this second term, his party, the All Progressive Congress, APC, won elections in the state and at the federal level he converted to an ‘Emperor’ whose words are law and sacrosanct. Doing so in a state like Imo would definitely yield unpalatable results. His quest for a Senate seat, just in a third of the state is even herculean. Without prejudice to the exploits of lawyers at the election tribunal and the Independent National Electoral Commission final decision on the matter, what is already in the public domain is that the returning officer in his zone was held ‘hostage for two and half days’ and he announced the senatorial election result under ‘duress’.
However, there are some pluses of his eight-year tenure. For instance, the concept of broad roads. He has shown that it is indeed possible to dualise link roads to all the senatorial zones in the state and have a broad network of roads, particularly in the state capital. There are also testimonial buildings and structures too. Even if credit is not found in the quality of the structures, particularly the roads, the concept is commendable. Okorocha will not easily be forgotten in IMO. He will be remembered, quoting his own words at the recent birthday celebration of Chief Emmanuel Iwuanyanwu, for “the good, the bad and the ugly”.
For Ihedioha, the starting point is taking a decision on style – either to be humble and humane or be proud of the seat. He has living witnesses in his predecessors. Compare Chief Achike Udenwa with his successors. The position of governor is already exalted as the number one citizen of the state who holds the yam and the knife. No need to push it further.
Two, times are hard and the governor and his aides should not be seen to be living in affluence while the people are suffering. No matter the projects embarked on, if salaries and pensions are not being paid, that the government has failed. Salaries have better spread among the citizens and impact more than any project. Non-payment of salaries is bad public relations for any government as the news reverberates at home and to all Diaspora relations who care about the well being of their parents and other relations at home. The concept of governance as erecting of gigantic buildings and edifices at the expense of people’s welfare is faulty.
Ability to identify and embark on policies, programmes and projects that appeal to the people makes the difference. This is where Chief Samuel Onunaka Mbakwe of blessed memory excelled. Expectations are high on the incoming administration. But where are the resources? Has anyone seen the handover account of the Okorocha administration? If Ihedioha comes plain and makes IMO people own the government, improve security and emphasize production and agriculture, not taxes, then it will be a new dawn for IMO.