In addition to his many controversial engagements, governor Rochas Okorocha of Imo State recently led some South East politicians to Aso Rock. Their mission was quite simple: To assure President Muhammadu Buhari that he could bank on their support in his rumored desire to have a second shot at the Presidency in 2019. Some commentators have been at pains to explain that it was “Igbo APC” and not Ndigbo, that went on the much-maligned trip. The governor is however unperturbed. He is a man of great energy, self-preserving populist gestures and (sometimes reprehensible) creativity. Whether you like him or not is, therefore, a matter of complete indifference to him. But it is time he looked around him a little more closely ….. just in case.
The governor must know that there is little consensus on the wisdom of many decisions and actions of governor Okorocha. There is even less consensus on his real intentions. One thing is clear, however: The governor is very active and what he seems to lack in credibility he tries to make up for by irrepressible eloquence and repeated avowals of good intentions.
My first encounter with Chief Rochas Okorocha was in far away US, some 15 years ago, or thereabouts, after the World Igbo Conference of that year. He had convened a gathering to announce the setting up of what he called the Igbo Development Fund. Ikemba Nnewi, Dim Chukwuemeka Odimegwu Ojukwu, and Senator Ben Obi were among the prominent persons in attendance. The logic of the initiative, as enunciated by Okorocha, was that Ndigbo have the resources to develop Igbo land and should pool their resources and get on with it; rather than wait on Nigerias federated resources and the takings from the Federation Account. This created a stir among most of those present, especially Igbos resident in the US. Many among this latter group fleshed out the idea to mean that Nigeria should go to hell with its money.
While the idea of a development fund was intrinsically good in itself, I felt that it must not be so idealized as to discountenance the fact that Ndigbo must also get their entitlements until the much-vaunted day of total liberation comes. Such a Development Fund should be the much-needed financial adjunct to a group resolve to maintain relevance and live well in the present while working towards the future.
Okorocha`s idea was, at once, a striking proposition and also a pipe dream. I shared my skepticism with my long time friend and publisher of US-Africa, Chido Nwangwu, who was also present. He was also unsure of how the logistics and processes of such a proposition could be administered. But our conversation was interrupted by Rochas when, without warning, he flagged off the creation of the Igbo Development Fund with a fat cheque he displayed as his own contribution. Then came the bomb shell!
He stood up and, with an inexplicable swaying to and fro, a dramatic shaking of the head and a sonorous tinge to his voice (like someone overcome by drink or invisible forces), declared that the processes of the Igbo Development Fund would function “as the spirit moved you”. Forthwith he announced the setting up of a committee. He was also moved by the spirit to announce himself the Chairman of the committee to manage the fund, beginning with his “donation” of the hour. He then selected committee members from the floor, without consultation, and fixed the first meeting of the committee to hold shortly after the event. The venue of the committee meeting was his hotel room.
Speechless with consternation, I told Chido that it was time for us to leave. He urged that we hung on a little longer, since we were part of the committee. I obliged and we ended up in Okorocha`s hotel room for the committee meeting. I left barely five minutes into the proceedings of the “committee”. I am not quite sure what happened to that Committee and its project.
My other memorable encounter with Rochas was at the lobby of the Hilton in Abuja, around 2008 or thereabouts. We met as I walked in with Dr. Sam Egwu, former governor of Ebonyi State, whose campaign organization for chairmanship of the PDP I headed at the time as Director General. With pleasantries done Rochas expressed frank admiration of what he called my “person, great analytical ability and eloquence in all appearances on national television and writings”. Then, turning to Egwu he said: “Please Your Excellency, biko ask this my brother why he keeps running away from me”, etc., etc. While I must confess to have stylishly avoided him whenever he came for meetings at the residence of my former boss, late Chief Ojo Maduekwe, I was not sure that was the basis for his comment. The truth is that I have watched Chief Rocha Okorocha for years, but can`t seem to understand his ways and his politics.
When a golden opportunity for a close encounter presented itself in 2016, and remembering what Okorocha said at the Hilton and also because of my friend Dan Onwuke, I grabbed it. After listening patiently to his personal review of Imo State under his watch at the time, and also from some evidence on the ground, one came away with the clear impression that Rochas had many good ideas, had made some commendable inroads in infrastructure development and needed to have his positive brain waves consolidated and better coordinated via wider consultations. But I still had this sense of unease about what really moved the man. He kept presenting his whims as state policy and every conjecture, no matter how absurd, as divine revelation.
In the intervening period since that encounter controversies have raged around Okorocha, his government and the quality of infrastructure he put in place. I therefore did not miss another opportunity, earlier in 2017, for a review of the earlier impressions. First, he was at his grandest best in self-inflation. There were just too many bad and uncompleted roads in the state capital. The bad roads included some of the newly built ones. He blamed that on the rains and the stubbornness of drivers of heavy-duty vehicles. There were also too many grandiose side attractions, too much self-deification and a reckless leaning towards impunity and megalomania. He did not seem like one who could be easy to advise any more. But why?
Governor Okorocha created a parliament for traditional rulers, with the newly created (elected) Eze Imo as head. This is because he believes, rightly, that there should be a further link in the governance chain beyond the received Western democratic institutions of Local Government and State House of Assembly. This “parliament” is closer to the people and may bring up and deliberate on issues which would then be forwarded to the State Assembly for legislation. Brilliant! No well meaning person can fault the thought about such a culturally sensitive peoples platform. But the costs, the politics and other things connected with it, may yet breed something unmanageable in future.
The Office of Eze Imo has a massive palace and impressive quarters. Part of the quarters is a duplex built for the “four concubines” Eze Imo is said to be entitled to by his status and “according to tradition”. Okorocha`s argument is that we Africans are polygamous and, therefore, should live according to our norms. The issue, for me, here however is not whether an Eze Imo actually populates the building with concubines, but that the governor is a Christian presenting templates for a 21st Century generation. I raised this in 2016 when the building was still under construction and repeated the concerns to him last year. Perhaps Okorocha is being futuristic and the structure is anticipatory of a non-Christian Eze Imo.
With statues, Happiness Ministry and much more dominating the Imo landscape today, one cannot say that one has come any closer to understanding governor Rochas Okorocha. While he is still governor he should be helped to manage his energy and influence better; for the greater good of all. Imo State does not need five indigent young people imported from several African countries for a life time of free education at this time the state also does not need massive statues of no moral, leadership or spiritual value at great expense. The self-adulation, reinterpretation of known scripture and sundry prancing ill Imo State.
While the governor is redefining statecraft, he and Ndi Imo should remember that every self-proclaimed messiah will have honour among his people while he is around because he is a false prophet. Okorocha should build on solid ground of measurable integrity. Is it that he has no advisers or that he does not listen to them? Does Imo, the state of Dee Sam and Sir Warrior, not have elders anymore? Wont someone tell the governor that there is no celebration in the direction he is headed with his dancers and drummers. Society and humanity stand diminished whenever, and wherever, leadership stands truth and values upside down.
It was the late Sir Warrior, the Imo born great musician, who told his people, via a song: “Agamevu ari nma na aju”. Agamevu is a thorny plant with great capacity for discomfiting anyone who so much as brushed against it by mistake. Thus the statement “Agamevu ari nma na aju” is a truism. You do not reduce the pain and pressure of a heavy burden by using a thorn-filled object between your head and the load, as head rest. Anyone who really loves Rochas Okorocha, incumbent Governor of Imo State, should help him to see that many now regard him as Agamevu that is trying to pass itself off as aju.