By Shaka Momodu
There is this man with a deceptive appearance from the South-east, Imo State to be precise, who pretends he has what it takes to be the president of Nigeria. In his convoluted and banal imagination, he believes he is the best thing to have come out of the South-east. His snow-white teeth and seductive smile were put to good use in the 2011 governorship election which he won. He won not necessarily because he was the best of a bad lot, but more because the people got carried away with the freshness of his candidacy and maybe his charming smile.
I dare say his pledge or should I say – message that he would fix Imo didn’t quite resonate with the voters as much as his cheerful beaming face. In the process, the people either glossed over his shortcomings, or forgot to interrogate his background, acclaimed business successes and his spectacular failure as a presidential aspirant. When the people fail to look deep beneath the veil of make-believe; when they allow momentary emotion and media hysteria to becloud their sense of judgment; when they see the truth and embrace well packaged falsehood; they usually pay a price – and for Rochas Okorocha’s Imo, it has been a huge one.
Owelle Okorocha’s first term appears to have been a curse rather than a blessing. His re-election means the people of Imo State will have to endure another four harrowing years of the same non-performance, wastefulness and the elevation of the merry-go-round of inanities to statecraft – which the man with snow-white teeth has come to personify.
Before now, he could even pretend some deference to the people. Unfortunately for them, he is now emboldened to be more reckless and wasteful than ever before since he feels he is no longer eligible to seek another term in office as governor and as such, he is no longer beholden to the people. That is the nature of politics in this part of the world – politicians appear to prefer to be remembered for their vain indulgences to enduring legacies of peace and economic growth that usher in prosperity for the greatest number. And it is precisely why Nigeria is languishing at the very bottom of the development ladder vis-a-vis other nations.
In a rather outlandish move that has confounded many, the governor has embarked on a futile and wasteful exercise of running adverts on Cable News Network (CNN) presumably to showcase the economic potential of his state. A state that is staring bankruptcy in the face; a state that cannot pay workers’ salaries; a state that lacks basic infrastructure is spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to advertise on CNN? To advertise what? Owerri, the capital of Imo State is in a sorry state, with no good roads, no public water supply, and no standard health infrastructure.
The problems are further compounded by poor sanitary conditions. These harsh realities provide a cautionary tale for any foreign investor. Now, if I may ask, is this the place Okorocha is wasting taxpayers’ money on frivolous foreign trips calling on foreigners to come and invest in? Is it not an irony that a governor who is showcasing the potential of the state he superintends to the global community — a state which has been in the doldrums for many years — cannot harness the very same potential he chest-thumps to revive the state, and create an atmosphere conducive to foreign investments to complement the efforts of his government? Anyone who has been to Owerri recently would find it hard to reconcile the promises he made in 2011 and the revenues that have accrued to the state’s coffers, with what is on ground. It is a tragedy of unimaginable proportions that instead of moving the state forward, Okorocha has engaged the reverse gear. How can one explain that five months after his re-election, Owelle is yet to constitute the state executive council? He has become an absentee governor practically leaving the day to day running of the state in the hands of his relatives.
How can a leader be so unmindful of the precarious financial situation of his state to the extent he flew a 100-man delegation to Turkey to showcase business and investment opportunities in his state less than a year after he first flew a similar number to the same country for the same reason? And the binge was at the taxpayer’s great expense. One is tempted to call for a psychiatric examination 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. The roads passing right in front of the Government House gate, leading to the State Police Command and the Department of State Security (DSS) front gates are impassable.
Likewise all the roads within the Works Layout (Madonna Schools, FMC to Okigwe road, Police Command to Alvan Nursery School, IMSU roundabout to Works Layout). Chukwma Nwoha road, Ihechuwa street, World Bank road, Egbeada Housing road, Orji road, Nwafor street leading to Chief Emmanuel Iwuanyanwu’s residence, Trance Egbu road, Amakohia roundabout, Okigwe road roundabout and many more within the metropolis and beyond are in such bad condition that you are left wondering whether there is governance in the state or a vacuum has yet to be filled. But unfortunately, there is a governor who is wasting taxpayers’ money chasing imaginary foreign investors. The people of Imo State should ask Okorocha about the state of the roads he drove on in Turkey, and he should make a comparison with what obtains in Imo.
I am sure his Turkish hosts must have been stunned beyond belief at the size of the so-called delegation, beginning from the embassy right here in Nigeria, which must have had a Herculean task, processing visas for 100 people in one fell swoop. I am sure they must have shaken their heads several times in pity for this nation, wondering what drives the black man, especially Nigerian leaders. I would imagine they were greeted with jeers and snide remarks as a result of the sheer waste of resources in pursuit of the illusive foreign investors. I would think they advised Okorocha to rehabilitate the state’s infrastructure, and that investors would come either from Turkey or elsewhere, when the environment is conducive.
When I read the governor’s media aide, Mr. Sam Onwuemeodo’s statement, gleefully announcing the trip in September, I could feel some zest and a conniving immodesty in it. He was even exhorting the people to pray for the entourage, saying the trip which was in line with the ‘Industry, Industry, Industry; Factory, Factory, Factory; Job, Job, Job’ policy of the governor’s second tenure would lead to a replication of similar policy of free education in the state. The tragic irony of the state’s financial situation was not lost on me and I dare say others, who have watched with horror and trepidation, the state’s dramatic slide into bankruptcy. According to Onwuemeodo: “The Rescue Mission Government in the state wishes to inform the general public that more than 100 indigenes of the state have left for Turkey on industrial trip at the instance of the Governor, Owelle Rochas Okorocha and the government. Those on the trip are mainly industrialists who are indigenes of the state, and few other personalities including selected media practitioners and businessmen.
The industrialists who constitute the bulk of the contingent are men and women whose vocations have been in various aspects of industrialisation including agro-based ventures.” Is it not an irony that after four years in the saddle, the strap-line of his second term in office is “Rescue Mission Government”? But what is very clear to all right thinking people of good faith, except to Okorocha and a few of his aides is that, the people of Imo State actually need an urgent rescue mission from both his strangulating firm grip on the state’s finances and his poor leadership.
I will not be surprised if in the next few months we start seeing goods bearing labels such as Made-in-Turkey/Imo launched in a lavish ceremony as evidence of the dividends of Okorocha’s Turkish odyssey. Just like his recent trip to the United States of America yielded massive billboards of himself shaking hands with President Barack Obama and positioned at strategic locations all over the state capital. If I may ask, what was the rationale behind such a raw display of inanity? Not for nothing I called for a psychiatric examination of some of our governors. This is a man who still nurses the ambition to govern Nigeria someday. May God forbid!
It is noteworthy that Okorocha embarked on this second trip just weeks after collecting the state’s bailout of about N26 billion from the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN). This is a state that still owes workers several months’ salary arrears. The pensioners are also being owed up to 29 months of their pension while their gratuities have been unpaid for years. Okorocha recently applied to be allowed to borrow another N20 billion from the banks. It is a shame that Okorocha has largely succeeded in “changing” the fortunes of Imo people from bad to worse. Former Governor Ikedia Ohakim left Imo in very bad shape no doubt, but it appears Okorocha is eager to outdo and outclass Ohakim in his morbid delinquency and mismanagement of public resources.
It appears campaign promises mean nothing. After an election has been won, the darkest part of our human instincts – peculiar to our race more so, to Nigerian leaders suddenly and inexplicably kick in, propelling their wild propensity for vain pursuits and self-glorification of their vanities. This is because it is only in Nigeria that money meant for the construction of roads, provision of safe water, and building of hospitals is stolen and diverted into private pursuits without consequences – typified by Babatunde Fashola’s N78.3 million personal website upgrade with taxpayers’ money.
It is only in Nigeria that a public officer brazenly mismanages public money and runs to court to procure immunity from pliant Judges, who have desecrated the temple of justice, and turned it into a casino centre – from being called to account. Recall the Peter Odili and Rabiu Kwakwanso’s infamous court injunctions from being arrested or prosecuted. It has lately become the trend in political circles for crooks who tragically have mastered the art of stealing, wining and having the last laugh over society. They even scoff at our moral outrage by putting themselves forward for public office with the now familiar refrain, “all the accusations are mere allegations”, irrespective of how self-evident and weighty the alleged crimes are.
As Imo State continues to bleed under the Owelle’s chains of misery wrapped firmly around its neck and the abyss within shouting distance, Okorocha continues to thank his luck and swelling fortune at the expense of his people.
- Momodu wrote this back-page column for Thisday.