Before Owelle Rochas Okorocha came to power as the governor of Imo State, he was well known for his entrepreneurial business acumen, national politics and philanthropy. Even as a governor, Owelle had not hidden his ambition to be the president of this country. He had always eyed the presidency before his foray into Imo politics in 2011. He recently participated in the APC primaries that Muhammadu Buhari emerged as the flag bearer from his Douglas House base. To that extent, Owelle is quite consistent in his political quest even though he has changed parties several times as occasions demand.
He reads the political mood of the nation and knows where next he will pitch his political tent. But it is not yet clear his next political move come 2019. Whether Owelle would vie for the senate or presidency is not yet clear.
When Owelle declared his interest to vie for Imo State gubernatorial poll on the platform of All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) not many Imo people, especially the elite, believed in him. Unknown to the political elite, Rochas had large following among the masses. He knows them and speaks the language they can understand. He trusts the masses than the elite.
Owelle came to power on the mantra of his rescue mission. He used this enticing theme and his popularity to defeat the then incumbent governor Ikedi Ohakim and the rest is now history. Most Imo people (the grassroots) bought into Rochas rescue mission epistle and believed in it with almost religious fanaticism.
During the 2011 Imo gubernatorial poll, it was clearly evident that Owelle would emerge victorious because Imo people were desperate for change of leadership and they believed that Owelle was the right man for the job. Even the Catholic Church threw its full weight on Rochas. Okada and Keke Napep operators were all for Rochas Okorocha hence he won.
True to the rescue mission theme, Owelle set out in full throttle building roads and infrastructures in Owerri, Orlu and Okigwe simultaneously. Apart from opening up Owerri with more access roads and beautification strides, Owelle opened up Orlu and Okigwe as well, though some of the roads are yet to be completed. He built not less than 15 km rural roads in the 27 local governments of the state that his political opponents call ‘China roads’ in reference to their alleged poor quality. Even at that, some people are requesting that Owelle’s ‘China roads’ be constructed for their towns as well. Rochas introduced free education for the first time in Imo from primary to tertiary for schools in Imo State. Though his free education may not be perfect, it is better than none.
There is still room for improvement. He can extend it to Imo students in the Federal University of Technology Owerri and Federal Polytechnic, Nekede, since all of them are in Owerri too. And if the state resources can permit, it can also be extended to Imo students in other higher institutions across the country. Despite Owelle’s modest achievements so far, his perception by the elite in Imo is not all that positive. Is Owelle a victim of wrong perception or the cause? His critics had accused him of all man- ner of ills including being despotic and running Imo as a private estate. Some of the elites believed that the rescue mission had lost steam midway and gave way to the pursuit of personal agenda at the detriment of the masses.
They accused Owelle of surrounding himself with subservient individuals, especially business associates and family friends that cannot oppose or question his policies. They accused Owelle of not adhering to due process in the award of contracts and governance. They accused him of owing workers salaries and pensioners as well. Owelle’s dumping of APGA for APC did not go down well with some of his supporters. These were some of the issues that dominated our recent interaction with Owelle in Owerri.
After calmly absorbing the probing heat from his guests, Owelle acknowledged that Imo does not earn much from federal revenue as people think even though it is an oil producing state. He explained that the fall in oil price has also reduced its monthly allocation as well. Moreover, Imo does not earn much from internally generated revenue.
Despite these handicaps, Owelle said he had plugged all loopholes of financial malfeasance in the state hence he had problems with the elite. He had blocked where some of them were ‘eating’ from illegally hence they are calling him names.
Rochas said his second term will be dedicated to job creation through building of industries in every local government area. The people’s governor wants to create more jobs for the unemployed while not hiding his plans to sanitize the civil service and rid it of corruption. Owelle denied owing workers salaries as well as pensioners pay in the state even though such rumours held sway.
After listening to Owelle’s side of the story, it became safe to say that the way the elite perceive him may not exactly be the way he is. He may have his own excesses, no doubt, but he means well for the people of the state. His disdain for due process, which he claimed was to avoid waste of time and money, was unpalatable.
His resort to Community Government Council (CGC) to bring governance nearer to the people and curb crime while Local Government elections are not held is untidy. While he believes that the CGC is working for him, I think that there is still room for improvement. It is my belief that the CGC, if it is constitutionally permitted, should complement the Local Government system and not serve as its replacement. Owelle should muster the political will to conduct local government elections.
Ruling Imo for five years without organizing council poll is not democratic at all. It does not conform to his rescue mission ideology. It is strange that a government that came to power on rescue mission mantra did not see wisdom to rescue the local government by ensuring that there is elected officials in that arm of government as guaranteed by the extant constitution.
While I have no doubt that Owelle meant well for Imo people, I enjoin him to consolidate on his existing projects instead of initiating new ones. He should pay more attention to rural development and education. Owelle should allow due process to prevail in governance and should not distance himself from the political elites including those that have governed the state before him. He should work to change the wrong image people have of him.
He should listen to his critics and change some of his methods that people disdain. That is the way a leader knows his shortcomings and rectifies them. Owelle should leave a lasting legacy that Imo people should be proud of. In all his actions in government, he should remain steadfast to his rescue mission agenda and not depart from it. His government policies should be propeople. Owelle should avoid the succession rancour in neigbouring states from spreading to Imo by allowing democracy take its normal course in the state in 2019 without undue meddlesomeness over choice of candidates for Douglas House.