Since he came to power as governor of Imo State on May 29, 2011, Rochas Okorocha has always been in the news often for the wrong reasons. If he is not sacking duly elected local government chairmen and councillors and replacing them with puppet transition committees, he is dumping and badmouthing the party that brought him to power on a platter of gold, or he is busy dissolving town unions and working to constitute an unconstitutional fourth tier Community Government Council, or constructing, demolishing, and reconstructing useless roundabouts, or naming a government building after his first daughter Uloma, or slashing salaries of civil servants and reducing their work days to three instead of five compelling them to become farmers overnight, or issuing dud cheques to pensioners, or pulling down residential homes of his opponents in the guise of road expansion, or erecting billboards showing him in a handshake with Barack Obama, or publicly threatening to deal ruthlessly with journalists and chase them out of Imo State for daring to ask him to account for the state’s revenue and expenditure since 2011, or turning the state legislators into errand boys and girls or heads of all manner of task forces, or celebrating his 55th birthday with 27 giant cakes, or telling Imo people to plant palm trees to make the state financially self-sufficient while the state-owned Ada Palm Plantation, formerly a viable source of revenue, lies waste – or simply carrying out any other absurdity that his mind can conceive.
This was a man who waxed lyrical during his swearing-in in 2011, telling the mammoth crowd of Imo people who gathered at Dan Anyiam Stadium, Owerri that he was on a rescue mission and in a hurry to develop the state.
“Today, the Lord has loosened the captivity of Imo people. Today is indeed the day of freedom, the day of emancipation, the day of resurrection. I know you expect so much from me. I know you believe in me. I know you believe I can deliver. And I promise I will deliver. If the only reason that I will be poor in this life is to serve my people without being corrupt, then I declare myself a poor man from today onwards,” Okorocha had said, punctuating his speech with elaborate Bible quotations.
However, with the passage of time, many Imo citizens have kept wondering how they walked into such a deadly trap with their eyes wide open as they see that the only rescue that has occurred in the state in the last six-and-a-half years is that of the Okorocha family and their near and far relatives.
Now again, Okorocha was in the news for the most part of last week – for the wrong reason, as usual. It had to do with South African President Jacob Zuma’s visit to Imo State. During the two-day visit, Okorocha got the puppet chairman of the Imo State Council of Traditional Rulers, Eze Samuel Ohiri, to confer Zuma with a traditional chieftaincy title of Ochiagha Imo and former President Olusegun Obasanjo to issue the title certificate, unveiled a life-sized bronze statue of Zuma standing at over 25 metres, named a road in Owerri after Zuma, and conferred on Zuma a superfluous Imo Merit Award.
This was even while the dust raised by a similar 30-ft monument in honour of Zuma in the North West region of his own country in the first week of October was yet to settle, with aggrieved South Africans asking that the statue be pulled down; while 783 charges of corruption, fraud and racketeering stare Zuma, whose presidency has been anything but inspiring, in the face; while Nigerian citizens living in South Africa face constant harassment in the hands of the locals and several cases of Nigerians murdered in series of xenophobic attacks by South Africans remain unresolved; and just a few days after yet another Nigerian, 35-year-old Jelili Omoyele, was killed in Zuma’s enclave.
But why was Zuma in Imo State in the first place? Of what benefit was his visit to Imo citizens?
Zuma was in Imo State, on behalf of his Zuma Foundation, to sign a Memorandum of Understanding with the Rochas Foundation. Okorocha himself admitted this.
If that were truly the case, then Zuma’s visit and the meeting between the two men was an entirely private affair, in which case there was no need for the pomp and glamour that attended the visit, no need to confer Zuma with an Imo Merit Award, even if superfluous, and there was absolutely no need to waste public space and about N520 million of public fund to erect and unveil Zuma’s statue or to name a road after him. The right thing would have been for Okorocha to take Zuma to his private living room or to the premises of a Rochas Foundation College, sign whatever needed to be signed and that would have been it. If he incurred any cost in the process or if he needed press coverage, that should have been settled from his private purse. That’s what private businessmen do.
But Okorocha says no, you don’t get it. It was not just about the MoU; there was something else, something bigger and with public benefit. His administration decided to honour Zuma so as to encourage the South African president to do more and appreciate him for visiting the state, Okorocha said. He said the South African president during his visit met with some businessmen at the Ikemba Ojukwu Centre in Owerri, including Leo Stan Ekeh of Zinox Computers, Pascal Dozie of Diamond Bank, Innocent Chukwuma of Innoson Motors, among others.
Well, it is good to encourage someone who has done something good to do more. But saying you are encouraging Zuma to do more means he has done something already. So, what is this thing that Zuma has done for Imo State? How much benefit did Zuma’s visit bring to the ordinary people of Imo State who have in the last six-and-a-half years borne the brunt of Okorocha’s malgovernance and often impulsive, irrational policies? And what does meeting with a group of private businesspeople whose businesses have no footprint in Imo State have to do with the development of the state? How does erecting Zuma’s statue in Owerri attract investments to Imo? How many South African businesspeople accompanied Zuma on that trip? In what sectors will their investments go, assuming that there are even potential investors? Does the Okorocha government even know where investment opportunities exist in the state?
But the avalanche of negative reactions, from Nigerians and South Africans alike, did not deter the All Progressives Congress (APC), the ruling party at the centre, from singing that all-too-familiar solidarity tune for one of their own. At a meeting of the party’s National Working Committee with its 24 state governors and principal officers of the National Assembly, John Odigie-Oyegun, its national chairman, praised Okorocha’s efforts at attracting foreign investment to the country and for his “feat in bringing some of the significant figures from the African continent”. And that includes Zuma?
Amid the widespread controversy, Okorocha turned around to grind axe with the opposition People’s Democratic Party (PDP), just as the APC-led Federal Government continues to blame its inadequacies on either the immediate past government or the opposition PDP as a whole.
“If it was in the days of PDP, schools and markets would have been shut down and roads closed because President Zuma was coming. But none of such things was done because Rochas and his government have human face. The PDP for the 12 years they held sway never attracted any meaningful visitor to the state except PDP NEC members who were coming to loot the state,” the state government said in a statement signed by Sam Onwuemeodo, the governor’s chief press secretary.
The statement further said the governor owed no apology to anyone for erecting the statue and that if erecting statues would develop Imo State, the government was ready to erect as many of such structures as possible.
And while we were still on the question of the relevance of the Zuma visit, an unrepentant Okorocha sycophant who used to have some sense in his former life wrote on his Facebook wall, “With Zuma’s visit, commitment towards stopping xenophobic killings of Nigerians have [sic] been made. That’s a remarkable point scored by Owelle!” Owelle, of course, is an unmerited title that Okorocha gave to himself and parades everywhere to give him a false sense of importance.
Clearly, Okorocha’s association with Zuma will bring the governor some personal gain, but it has absolutely nothing to offer Imo citizens or Nigerians in general. And for those who are surprised that Okorocha may find Zuma or his style of governance admirable, don’t you see that both men are hewn out of the same stone? Both are impunity personified.
The greater worry is that Zuma is standing in the middle of six other images – three on either side – that are yet to be unveiled. The guys behind those veils may even be worse than Zuma.