Rochas Okorocha and the despoiling of Imo State
By Anthony Opara (just back from Owerri)
Owerri, the Capital city of Imo State is a shadow of what it used to be. A visitor coming into Owerri will think the Nigerian-Biafran civil war just ended. In fact, some will say that Owerri didn’t look as devastated then as its looking now. And the visitor will not be mistaken if he thinks the town had been hit by a bomb.
The Imo state Governor, Rochas Anayo Okorocha woke up one morning and decided that the city needs a facelift; or make up for want of a better word. He decreed that the roads in the state must be expanded and that all buildings must be pulled down to make way for the expansion of the road network in the capital. Rochas thinks he is an Emperor. The State House of Assembly was not consulted; not that it would have changed anything because the Assembly exists only in name as they are clearly locked up in the pockets of the Governor. An observer will even wonder if there is an opposition party in the state because the PDP members in the state do not even whimper.
It is within this climate then that people woke up one bad day to see bulldozers pulling down buildings and fences; even those belonging to the government! For instance, the fence of the Federal Medical Center was pulled down and to avoid confrontation with students of Alvan Ikoku College of Education, they were quickly sent home on a forced closure to pave the way for the bulldozers to carry out their destruction without any resistance. It was clear that the entire exercise was an act of vendetta because he went as far as pulling down the fence of the house of the candidate of the All Progressives Grand Alliance, APGA in the last gubernatorial election and this is after pulling down his petrol election. The matter is now in court. If all the affected persons sue the Governor or the state, the courts will do nothing for the next decade than adjudicate on the suits. An uncle of this correspondent and a lawyer is on vacation in the United Kingdom but he on his return, he clearly would not be able to gain entrance into his house on MCC Road because of the action of the Governor. You can however bet that upon his return, he will surely sue because he is not a man that can stomach intimidation of any sort, and for him also, having lived in the UK for a long time, all disagreements must end in the law courts.
The word on the lips of many Imo indigenes is that Rochas may very well need to be examined because no sane individual will ordinarily carry out the level of destruction in a state capital as its being witnessed now. Also, if curses kill, then Rochas would equally have died several times. Owerri women had gone to the government area to protest the planned relocation of the main market saying that the action was an affront on the tradition of Owerri people as that market called ‘eke ukwu owerre’ was no ordinary market adding that it was the Governor’s actions that may have contributed to the untimely demise of the town’s monarch, HRH Emmanuel Njemanze, the Ozuruigbo the 5th by destroying his petrol station and showing him disrespect at every opportunity when the Eze was the landlord of the state Government.
At his burial the Governor was heckled out of the occasion that had in attendance all former Governors of the state. He left in a hurry as it was apparent that the youths were clearly in a showdown mood. Rochas is the first and only Governor of Imo State to live in his private residence which makes the government house look like a kitchen in comparison. He acquired the land on which he built the several mansions illegally from the villagers. He attempted same in a place called Area K but he was frustrated by Owerri youths who occupied the area for several months rejecting all entreaties and alleged inducements from agents of the Governor. At the end of the day he left the area for them. He will suffer another defeat because this time he would be confronting not only Owerri youths but youths from the entire Owerri zone on the current demolitions saga.
To avert disturbance of the peace, the Imo State Police Commissioner called a meeting with the youth leaders where he pleaded with them to remain calm and enter into discussions with the Governor but with one voice the youth leaders told the Police boss to tell the Governor to retrace his steps on the relocation of the market as it would only happen over the dead bodies of Owerri people. They told the police boss that it was unacceptable for Rochas to come all the way from Orlu to relocate the market of an ancient town like Owerri, querrying whether any Governor in Edo can tamper with the Oba market in Benin.
Rochas who has literally not created any single job in the state but is now proposing a three-day working week to enable him scale down the salaries of workers has been destroying companies employing Imo youths. He has concluded plans to ban the tricycles, aka Keke Napep, that are the major source of inner city transportation and a huge employer of labour and bring in taxis painted in blue which he would give out to APC sympathisers on very exorbitant hire purchase terms. These party men who cannot use these taxis will now sublet them to tricycle and motorcycle riders on even more outrageous cost-push inflation terms. For Rochas then, everything is centred around making money which then goes into the private pockets of his friends and relations.
Rochas is the first Governor of Imo state to ask his family to join him on the podium on his inauguration and took an oath with his family in tow not to steal money belonging to the state. The same Rochas down the road built a Christmas tree for N600 million in a state where civil servants were owed up to eight months salaries. It was a very bleak Christmas for Imo people in 2015. This is a man who came into Government on a groundswell of public adulation supported by the entire Catholic Church but as soon on getting to government, gave notice that he would run Imo like a fiefdom. While mismanaging the economy of the state in a very vindictive manner, he is busy buying up the entire state for his family members and friends. He bought two aircraft and said he was a wealthy man before becoming the Governor of Imo state, easily the poorest of the poor states. He is busy frittering away the lean resources of the state through projects like the building of a secretariat for Ohaneze Ndigbo, the apex socio cultural association of Ndigbo. He also called a meeting of Igbo leaders in Owerri to chart a new course which publicly signposts his ambition to further his political career at a higher level given that his eight year tenure as governor will soon be over.
To say that the Government of Rochas Anayo Okorocha is a disaster is therefore to put it mildly. For many in Imo today, he is simply a bad dream that should just go away.