When he made it as Governor of Imo State in 2011, I saw in Owelle Rochas Anayo Okorocha a glimmer of hope in gubernatorial governance in Nigeria.
His relatively youthful age, (born 22 September 1962) and the fact that he was a self-made businessman with philanthropic educational institutions that gave scholarship to the less privileged children in the Nigerian society – spread across Nigeria – cast him in a different mold from the run of the mill Nigerian politician.
When in one of his first pronouncements as Governor, he declared that he was not going to have anything to do with ‘security vote’ – that huge honey pot where state governors enjoy billions of state funds without the inconvenience of accountability – I said to myself “a Daniel has finally come to judgment.”
Rochas Okorocha brought a breath of fresh air. Since democracy returned in 1999, the People’s Democratic Party PDP, the self-declared biggest party in Africa instituted a system of democracy that gave disproportionate power to state governors. Elections into Local Governments were a complete sham. State Governors hijacked the State Independent Electoral Commissions and dictated the names of those to be elected Councilors and Council Chairmen.
The State governors also had the power to appoint the members of the State Executive Council, known as Commissioners. For those of them in the ruling PDP, they also had the prerogative to nominate who would represent their states in the Federal Executive Council, which the 1999 Constitution makes it mandatory for each state to be represented. Then the President also counted on them to nominate members of Federal Boards and Ambassadors.
From the Local, State and Federal levels therefore, one could see the chocking grip that the state governors, especially those of the PDP stock had in the running of the country. I remember pointing out this undemocratic anomaly to my big uncle, Professor Jibril Aminu, when he returned from the United States as Nigeria’s Ambassador there to contest and win a seat in the Nigerian Senate at one of our fire side, after dinner chats.
The genius gave me his Senatorial ear, listened to my complain attentively after which gave me the wise crack: “Emmanuel, in Nigeria one with Governor makes the majority”.
The emergence of a man of independent means and hopefully independent thinking like Okorocha, I thought would gradually show us an alternative route. But I was given a rude shock by my man in his second term when in 2017, he appointed his own sister, Mrs. Ogechi Ololo (nee Okorocha) the Imo State Commissioner for Happiness and Couples’ Fulfillment. If there was great need in Imo State for a portfolio with such an odd name, why must the governors own sister be the one to head it, I asked myself.
But my man Okorocha was not done with me yet. In a grand demonstration of amazing vanity,
Okorocha held Imo state hostage for two weeks to mark his 55th birthday anniversary. School children, whose parents were still being owed salaries of up to three months, were lined in the streets of Owerri to salute the governor.
As for pensioners whose long arrears are being paid in dreadful bits, they watched Okorocha’s parade from the discomfort of their homes as their August/September cheques bounced again.
Twenty-seven pre-selected women, each representing a local government, brought cakes to the governor.
My man took his folly to a whole new level at the time when he invited South African President, Jacob Zuma, to crown the activities. As Zuma was boarding the plane to Nigeria, the Supreme Court in his country ruled for the reinstatement of 783 charges of corruption and fraud against him. Zuma, whom Okorocha was celebrating in Imo was alleged to have taken bribes worth over $304,000 and was involved in racketeering, fraud and money laundering.
This was apart from charges that he used $23 million of state money to refurbish his sprawling apartment in Nkandla – funds which the courts ruled that he must return. On top of all this, are charges that Zuma’s bosom business friends, the Guptas, had used their influence with him to capture the South African government.
As Zuma was landing in Owerri and Okorocha was unveiling his 30 feet statue, built at over N500 million, naming a road after him and awarding him a chieftancy title, protests were going on in South Africa, calling for Zuma to resign because his government has been overwhelmed by corruption.
Not embarrassed by the turn of events, Okorocha went ahead to build another statue in honour of President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf of Liberia.
“I erect statue to immortalise people so that children yet unborn can know about them. History is dying in Africa, we must keep it alive,” he defended the senseless project.
But the grand finale of his acts of profound irresponsibility was still on its way. After eight years as Governor of Imo, Okorocha wanted to have a seat in the Nigerian Senate while the keys to the governor’s office should be handed over to the man who married his daughter, Uche Nwosu. He lost both.
In Ibadan, the capital of Oyo state a similar drama has just played out. I visited Ibadan during the first tenure of Governor Ajimobi and I was very impressed with the work he was doing in giving the ancient city a new look. The people of Oyo state must have been impressed too for they gave him the rare hunour to break all jinxes, including the popular Ibadan one that no governor serves two terms in the state.
Maybe the initial success went into his head because the man is alleged to have turned himself into an “emperor” running the state with a lack of caution and decorum in terms of verbal and administrative engagement. His involvement in the demolition of Yinka Ayefele’s ‘Music House’ and Ibadan Obaship tussle were costly missteps. The people were angered and this was reflected in the election of 9th March where his party lost to the PDP.
If the two fawning governors in Imo and Oyo were shown the way out by the electorate, the opposite appears to be the case in Benue. Since the creation of that state in 1976, no governor has performed as woefully as Governor Samuel Ortom, the self-confessed ex motor park tout. There is no single project he has executed for four years.
With Federal allocations of over N400 billion, he has not only failed to execute any project but also to pay workers and pensioners. His greatest achievements is to shout about Fulani invasion of Benue when questioned about his record of service to the people who elected him.
Amazingly, he appears to be getting away with it as the poll results in Benue where a rerun is due next week show. When I asked a voter in Benue last week why they should allow the man to get away with blue murder, he simply gave me the answer in Tiv that “de un aya ayem”, meaning allow the man to eat and go.
If the current voting pattern in Benue is manipulated as suspect it is, then INEC has a big question to answer. If the figures are a true reflection of the real will of the people, then this is the most fatalistic side of democracy. A people who treat corruption, fraud and incompetence with such casual indifference will soon have themselves to blame.