IMO: A State Under Seige

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In the last couple of weeks, Governor Rochas Okorocha of Imo State has been responding to criticisms of his administrative style in such a vehement manner that observers wonder whether it is the some fellow who once gave the impression that it didn’t matter to him what people said.

But the worry actually is that his change of style is costing the state much. In a strange and bizarre style, Governor Okorocha seems to have amassed a war chest to fight his critics. This is how we knew: A few months ago, his predecessor, Chief Ikedi Ohakim, handed to him a five-page letter in which the latter urged his successor to review some of the policies of his administration that are compounding the economic and social problems currently faced by the people, he, Okorocha, is supposed to be governing.

That letter got leaked to the press and some newspapers published it verbatim. But how did Okorocha and his handlers respond? They went to town with a six-page advertorial in eight national newspapers estimated to have cost no less than N25 million. That was just to reply one letter. Some pundits quickly weighed in to caution that at the rate the administration was going, the people should brace up to seeing a chunk of the state’s resources expended in replying letters from critics. From the look of things, they are dead right.

A few days ago, Governor Okorocha, through his aides, again went to town with a newspaper advertorial to respond to issues raised by another prominent citizen of the state, Captain Emmanuel Ihenacho in a recent interview with a national daily.

Media watchers reckon that the latest advertorial must have cost the state about N10 million. Yet, this is a state where civil servants and pensioners are owed several months of arrears of unpaid salaries and emoluments.

The sheer frivolity in expending such huge sums of money in replying critics is there for all to see but what is most painful to the highly discerning people of Imo State is that the content of the responses further compound their frustration and confirm their fears that, apart from proving that the administration has completely lost its bearing,

Okorocha has become intolerant of dissenting views and may go to any length to suppress such. What is more, the extremely pedestrian logic and language in which the responses are couched is making mockery of the Imo collective reputed as among the most intellectually robust and sophisticated in the entire country. Take, for instance, a clause in Governor Okorocha’s response to Captain Iheanacho in which he described the latter as “a brief case politician.”

Could that have come from the seat of government of a state like Imo? Or did it come from political thugs just trying to get used to gutter language on account of lack of proper vocabulary and lexicon? Pray, have things gotten this bad for Imo state? But let us even, for the purposes of argument, ignore the almost illiterate texture of that expression and briefly examine the logic or plausibility of it. Captain Iheanacho a brief case politician? Yes, Iheanocho did not succeed in his bid to become governor last year but even the blind in Imo State saw that he ran the most sophisticated and elaborate electioneering campaign.

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His bill boards where not only the most colourful and most ubiquitous, they also carried the best messages to the people; be it is the area of education, youth empowerment, health services, infrastructure development and what have you. Iheanacho ran that election with a pedigree of a fellow who is very much at home with his people, especially the youth.

How did we know? In 2011, the entire of Owerri North local government area where he comes from was a no go area for the then incumbent governor simply because Iheanacho did not look his (the then governor’s) direction. And it was not for nothing. The youth in the area, whom the former minister had empowered massively, vowed to be wherever he was. It is not a secret in the entire Nigeria that Okorocha had no structure of his own, and that he literally begged himself into office. It is no secret that it was Ihenacho’s kinsmen, the Agbasos, that sponsored Okorocha and together with some elements in Anambra State.

They succeeded in convincing the powers that be in Abuja to put the state apparatchik at Okorocha’s disposal. To put it plainly, if Iheanacho managed to carry a brief case in 2015, it is a well known fact that Okorocha in 2011 could not even carry a wallet.

Or has Okorocha forgotten that the main factor that endeared him to the common street fellows, market women, and keke riders etc is that he looked so ordinary in physical appearance that the people believed that he would not bluff them the way the then governor, Ohakim, allegedly did. Okorocha rode in keke; he went to the markets and ate unwashed garden eggs. He hugged lunatics on the streets. All that was because he had nothing to give, no wallet let done a brief case.

But we shall return to that, that is, as to what happened to the lunatics he once hugged the market women and the keke riders whom he once laughed and joked with, which brings us to the major bone of contention currently between Iheanacho and Okorocha. This story is well known in the state but unknown to Okorocha and his handlers, the altercation with Iheanacho will finally expose the under belly of his administration to the rest of the country, even as Nigerians are quite conversant with the shenanigan going on in Imo State. I will illustrate this assertion by making reference to a particular question asked by the journalist who spoke with Iheanacho during the controversial interview that let hell loose at the government house, Owerri.

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The journalist had asked: “What are the main challenges confronting Imo State today because it is always in the news mainly for all the wrong reasons.” I have had to read the interview again and believe me, if I were Captain Iheanacho, I would have stopped the interview at that point.

The reporter said it all. Imo State is always in the news and for all the wrong reasons; and under whose watch? Rochas Okorocha. It is only in Imo State that a governor, I don’t mean government, will send bulldozers to destroy private property of citizens without notice and any terms of compensation.

Unfortunately for the state, it happened that it was only Captain Iheanacho that could challenge Okorocha’s bizarre antics of waking up one morning to decide to render bona fide citizens of a state homeless and jobless as he has done in the last couple of months. Ihenacho happens to be a victim of this barbaric style of administration after his house, in which he has lived for more than 30 years, was put under the bulldozer without any notice. His entreaties that the house was within the permissible limits of nearness to the public thorough fare (road), fell on deaf ears.

He even approached the court which restrained the governor from going ahead with the destruction of part or all of the property. But in acting out what he is best known for – disobeying court rulings – Okorocha led the bulldozers to personally supervise the destruction of Ihenacho’s property.

The newspaper editors who went in search of Iheanancho knew that he was not the worst victim. Governor Okorocha’s high handless. In the Owerri metropolis, there are hundreds of victims of the governor’s road expansion project who, unlike Ihenacho, have been rendered homeless and jobless. Families have even been broken as a result.

The editors sought for Ihenacho first because it must have sounded strange to them that a governor could threat a citizen of his calibre with such disdain, and second, because they know that majority of the victims might fear coming under the harmer of the governor if they said anything. Yet, Ihenacho’s submission in the controversial interview that Imo State is under a dictator is not new.

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Majority of the citizens of the state have a more damning verdict on Governor Okorocha and his administration. In Governor Okorocha’s advertorial under reference, he advised Captain Ihenacho to face his business and leave politics for those who understand it, meaning that he, Okorocha, is claiming that he understands politics.

But does he? Does Okorocha understand politics when all the people who put him in office have deserted him; when the very family that went against the interest of their people to help him into office is now his worst enemies? Does Okorocha understand politics when the very masses – the keke riders, the market women, the artisans – whom he deceived five years ago now denigrate him publicly?

Does Okorocha understand polities when Catholic clergymen who, for one reason or the other, backed his candidacy in 2011, now mount the same pulpits to lambast him? Yes, Okorocha was declared the winner of the 2015 governorship election but he has also been quoted as saying that he owed Imo people nothing. Shortly after his so-called re-election, he said that Imolites owe him over N6 billion.

He did not say what the debt is on but in whatever semantics, such an utterance was a different way of telling the people that they had no input in his re-election.

Today, there is not a single politician of note that is with Okorocha. Let’s even leave the elite alone and ask the question: Are the masses with Okorocha? The answer is there for all to see. The same masses who believed so much in him less than five years ago, have become a pawn in his chess game, experimental guinea pigs in his government of guess work and conjecture.

•Onuoha, a public affairs analyst writes from Owerri, Imo State

Souce: New Telegraph

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