By Shaka Momodu,
In October 2015, I wrote an article titled, ‘Okorocha Puts Imo in Chains.’ That piece was written as a direct response to Okorocha’s incompetence, maladministration, mismanagement of bailout funds, failure to pay workers’ salaries and pensioners’ entitlements, and the state’s poor infrastructure, particularly in Owerri. His government was riddled with corruption, outright thievery and official celebration of inanities as achievements. But the comic has shown an unrelenting inclination to betray the trust of the people by beating his own worst record of poor performance.
I had posited in the referenced article that “one is tempted to call for a psychiatric evaluation of the governor because clearly, something is wrong with a chief executive who wouldn’t construct roads, and who begs for a bailout to pay workers’ salaries – only to go on a wild spending binge abroad with scarce foreign exchange in the name of attracting foreign investors to his state. It is almost unbelievable the level of decay and rot that confronts anyone who visits Owerri”.
It is a shame that the situation in Imo has grown progressively worse such that it has reached a crisis proportion. Angered by my article, the boy-boy deputy governor wrote a disparaging and utterly vacuous counter-narrative to please his master. He tried to practise new highfalutin words he had just learnt on me. But today, we know better.
Particularly worrisome is the personal stability and state of mind of the governor, Rochas Okorocha, who increasingly exhibits disturbing behaviour in the performance of his official duties as the governor. He has taken governance on ridiculous ride.
If you had any doubt about my call for a psychiatric evaluation of the governor two years ago, his recent behaviour in the performance of official duties is your answer. The situation is spiralling out of control. Something urgent must be done to evaluate the mental state of this man. The House of Assembly must rise up as a matter of fierce urgency and do what is required by law and due process to end this nightmare. In the absence of that, the people should rise up in protest against the house and the government.
In Imo State, roads are in bad shape, schools are broken and dilapidated, hospitals are in a disgraceful state, and workers’ salaries are several months in arrears. Pensioners are in worse shape ever, as Okorocha fastens the chains of misery. A mistake by a gullible electorate at the ballot has turned into a massive tragedy of monumental proportions. An atmosphere of despondency now envelops the state that will still have to endure this mean man for another 17 months to see his back. By then he would be leaving a lasting damage to the psyche of his people.
But while the people have been badly savaged by their governor, they bravely seem sanguine about the future despite the apparent bad situation they have found themselves. Okorocha keeps pushing the boundaries of their tolerance.
In 2015, Okorocha in the guise of trying to attract foreign investors to Imo State travelled to Turkey with a delegation of over 100 business people from the state twice. Two years after the Turkey odyssey, we are yet to see results. Turkish investors are yet to come to Imo to take advantage of business opportunities that abound in the state. How would they come anyway, when there are no good roads, no functional health care system, no electricity, no water, no security, etc.?
Under Okorocha, the quality of education in Imo State has witnessed a rapid decline, Faculty of Law, Department of English, Theater Arts, Pathology department, Medicine and Surgery all in Imo State University were reported to have lost accreditation because of unacceptable learning environment.
Last year, JAMB said that no fresh students would be admitted into Imo State University (IMSU) for the 2016/17 academic year because those it offered admission for the 2015/2016 were yet to resume because of a protracted industrial action embarked upon by staff of the institution. Meanwhile, Okorocha’s private school is running smoothly without a hitch in the world.
Recall also that in 2015, Okorocha travelled with then-freshly-minted President Muhammadu Buhari to the U.S. to honour an invitation of then President Barack Obama. The only thing of “value” Okorocha came back with was a photograph of himself shaking hands with President Obama. He wasted no time on his return as he reportedly erected massive billboards at strategic locations in Owerri, and decorated them with the pictures. I was amused by that shameless inferiority complex he displayed and did call him out then.
Little did I know that two years after, Okorocha would continue to disturb our peace and sensibilities with his embarrassing behaviour.
The latest in a bizarre chain of behaviours was on show nearly a fortnight ago when he hosted the corruption-plagued South African president, Jacob Zuma. Why it was even necessary to pull out all the stops to host Zuma remains a mystery, except to add to his medals of dishonour and perhaps further his bloated ego as the governor. I see no reason for Okorocha’s latest tragicomedy. I cringe to even think that this joker once tried to get a ticket to contest for the president of Nigeria. What a sorry pass this country has come! The system needs urgent reforms to stop someone like this from getting close to government office at any level. The troubling drama unfolding in Owerri has defied our worst instinct and once again underscores the fact that when good men stay away from politics, evil men take over and chart the destinies of millions. The result is usually not good. Elections they say, have consequences.
Okorocha handed Zuma, the Imo Merit Award, the highest award in the state which is usually reserved for persons that have distinguished themselves in various fields of human endeavours. Can anyone tell Nigerians which field of human endeavour Zuma has distinguished himself other than endless charges of corruption? Now, it is open to question whether this merit award has any meaning in the true sense of it, or it only means something else in Okorocha’s warped sense of merit.
Since coming to power, Zuma has practically wrecked the economy of his country through bad policies. As if that weren’t enough, a chieftaincy title (Ochiagha di oha mma of Igboland, meaning the people’s warlord) was conferred on Zuma, and a street was named after him. What on earth qualified the South African president for the title of warlord of Imo people? What has Zuma done to be deemed worthy of these honours? It should also be noted that this is all happening at a time Zuma’s country is becoming a vast slaughter slab of Nigerians who are mostly of Okorocha’s ethnic tree. Zuma who is now the warlord of Igbo people has always looked on helplessly as this happens on a near daily basis.
To make the visit memorable, perhaps in infamy, Okorocha unveiled a giant statue of Zuma who the South African Supreme Court just days earlier, upheld reinstating 783 corruption charges against.
It is the height of irresponsibility and unconscionable betrayal of the people’s trust to honour a man whose countrymen are killing our people at the slimmest of reasons with a statue said to cost N520m of taxpayers’ money. I am confounded by this man’s sense of values.
On the 22nd of September, Okorocha wasted state resources on an elaborately obscene party in the stadium in Owerri to mark his 55th birthday. To make it unforgettable, and knowing how men of power behave in our clime, Okorocha may have compelled the 27 local government areas of Imo State to present 27 cakes (baked with taxpayers’ money) to him “in appreciation of his good works in their land”. All this in a state where nothing works, governance is in abeyance and there is a complete failure of imagination; a once beacon of hope in the education industry has been reduced to a distant memory of a once promising legacy.
While Okorocha throws elaborate parties and builds statues to honour dimwits, he owes pensioners 22 months of unpaid pensions. After begging for and receiving a bailout to pay workers’ salaries, and pensioners’ entitlements, Okorocha wasted no time diverting the money to personal use as the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) revealed. Three top officials of Imo State government were arrested for allegedly diverting the sum of N2 billion bailout fund given to the state by the federal government for the payment of workers’ entitlements. The suspects are Dr. Obi Paschal Chigozie, Principal Secretary to the Governor; Uzoho Casmir, Director of Finance; and Iheoma Kenneth, Treasurer.
To shortchange the pensioners, he made them to go through five excruciating verification exercises, then coerced the hapless pensioners to sign away 10 of the 22 months with a promise to swiftly pay them the remaining 12 months. The desperate pensioners having waited endlessly for years agreed to sacrifice 10 months of their entitlements. But this wicked clown had others plans up his sleeves. He yet again came with another vexing demand that the pensioners should sign to accept only 40 per cent (of the 12 months) as “full and final payment”. Who maltreats his fellow humans this way? Okorocha’s casual cruelty to pensioners and workers is perplexing. His meanness contrasts sharply with his propensity for partying and extravagant waste. Last year, Okorocha was reported to have squandered N600 million to build the tallest Christmas tree in the country in Owerri just to mark the Christmas celebrations in a state that can’t provide public infrastructure.
While Okorocha has so far failed to show leadership, he was one of the first persons to start the campaign for President Muhammadu Buhari to run again in 2019 even when the man was lying critically ill in a London hospital. This is the same Buhari that has marginalised the South-east more than any other leader in Nigeria’s history.
Nigeria is no stranger to poor and insensitive leaders but what we are seeing today in Imo and many other states beggars belief.
THIS REPUBLIC By Shaka Momodu