By Comfort Obi
One of the most celebrated Emperors in Nigeria is fast losing his empire. He is working very hard to cling to it. But the empire is slipping. The once beloved Emperor is on a long lonely road. For him, sunset beckons. And dreams seem to be dying fast. And hard. The Emperor’s admirers are bewildered. They want to be woken up from what they think is a nightmare. But not a few people are laughing at him. And the chorus is: Serves him right.
If anybody ever doubted the Law of karma, the recent happenings in Imo state proves them wrong. The looming darkness over a once bright political future confirms the saying that: What goes round, comes round. And, there is only one question to ask:
How did Imo state governor, Owelle Rochas Okorocha, lose grip on things? His empire is crumbling. Friends have become foes and strangers. And the chickens are coming home to roost. It is not a particularly good or easy situation.
To understand why the throne is fast becoming a thorn, one needs to go back to 2011, the year Okorocha was first elected the governor of Imo state. He ascended the throne with so much goodwill. People clapped and cheered. They yearned for him. They were happy he won. An orator and a charismatic fellow, he ‘waoed’ the people. When he spoke, people clapped no end. His speech was like a song. You felt like dancing to it. When he sang, you danced ‘shaku’ shamelessly . He had the energy. And he had the style. In the middle of a speech, he would burst into songs, popular songs, the songs that kept people on their feet. And you needed to listen to him preach the gospel in the Church, yes, in the Church. He not only preached, he quoted the Holy Bible always. And he could hold the congregation spell-bound for long. No boring moment.
Imo people couldn’t wait to have him as their governor. They couldn’t wait to vote out his predecessor in office, the suave Ikedi Ohakim. All kinds of negative stories were told about Ohakim. One of the stories which sealed his fate, and stopped him from enjoying a second term in office, was the patently false allegation that he flogged a Rev. Father. The story spread like wild fire, during harmattan, to all the corners and crannies of the South-east. Christians, Roman Catholics in particular, were up in arms. He tried to tell his own side of the story, but nobody would listen. He was not present when the incident happened. But nobody would believe him. He went, with members of his executive council, to the Archbishop of Owerri Diocese, (Roman Catholic), His Grace, Dr. Anthony Obinna, to explain. But that worsened his case. The conclusion was that he had sinned, badly, and ran down for confession and forgiveness. Rev. Fr. Mbaka, of the Adoration fame, Enugu state, did not help matters. Not one to pull punches, especially when it comes to politicians and politics, he condemned Ohakim without hearing his own version. Without finding out the truth, which was: that Ohakim neither flogged a Rev. Fr., nor sent anybody to do so; that he was not even present when whatever incident happened; that he had only gone to Obinna to explain and apologise on behalf of his overzealous aides. However, that and a combination of other things, not forgetting, Okorocha’s charisma and oratorial gift, sacked Ohakim.
Now, that was not the first time Okorocha would contest for the governorship seat in Imo. In fact, beyond that, he had also contested for the Senate seat – Imo West – and the Presidential seat. A perennial and dogged contestant, not unlike a few other politicians, luck smiled on him, and he won in 2011. The same luck smiled on him, and he won again in 2015.
But signs that things could go awry came early enough. The first was the inexplicable impeachment of his first Deputy Governor, Jude Agbaso. Out of the blues, the governor and his cronies at the government house, a weak House of Assembly, and a weak Judiciary, impeached Agbaso over a patently false allegation of bribery. Discerning people knew the allegation was false from the pit of hell. But a compromised House of Assembly, and a Judiciary which didn’t have the courage to tell the governor the truth, which is: Don’t do it Sir. Your Deputy Governor is innocent, went ahead and impeached Agbaso.
The deliberate humiliation of Agbaso which had its roots in the agreement the governor had reached with the Deputy Governor’s elder brother, Martin Agbaso, was to be the fate of a couple of the governor’s appointees, especially, from Owerri zone. He humiliated Jude Ejiogu, his first Chief of Staff and, later Secretary to the State Government, out of Office. He humiliated his former Economic Adviser, and later Commissioner for Works, Nick Oparandudu, out of office. When he engineered the impeachment of Agbaso as the DG, he replaced him with his long time ally (from Owerri), Prince Eze Madumere. This guy was so loyal to Okorocha that in many circles in Imo state, he was derisively called Mrs. Okorocha. It is tragic that he forced Madumere to turn against him.
Madumere’s crime is public. He dared to show interest in the governorship seat, a position Okorocha had reserved for his son-in-law, Uche Nwosu, and for which he, also, cut-down both Jude Agbaso and Jude Ejiogu. His manner of speech and conduct alienated him from a number of stakeholders in the state.
There is hardly any stakeholder in the state that Okorocha has not either put-down, or bad-mouthed. Before him, nobody is anybody. He is an emperor, one incapable of doing any wrong.
At one point, he said he had retired his predecessors – Achike Udenwa and Ikedi Ohakim from politics. He also said he had retired the likes of Emmanuel Iwuanyanwu and Arthur Nzeribe. And was waiting for 2019 to retire Ifeanyi Ararume.
Beyond all that, no institution has remained the same since Okorocha’s advent in Imo. There is the Traditional institution which he, gradually, diminished. Less than one month in office, Okorocha humiliated the Chairman of the Imo state Council of Chiefs, HRH, Eze Cletus Ilomuanya, out of office and, imposed another. Worse, he also deposed him as the Traditional Ruler of his autonomous community and put another in his place. Since then, at least two courts have given judgements in favour of Ilomuanya. The governor has obeyed none. Ilomuanya’s crime was his alleged support for the re-election of former Governor Ohakim, citing the unwritten, but well known Imo charter of equity which allows Ohakim’s Okigwe zone to serve two terms in office as governor, since Okorocha’s Orlu zone had, through Udenwa, done two terms in office.
Personally, I am not a fan of the rotation of the governor’s office, or any office for that matter. I am, always, in support of the best candidate. But here is the question to ask Okorocha: Is HRH Eze Ohiri, Ilomuanya’s successor as Chairman, doing anything different from what Ilomuanya was doing? Not a few Imo people think he is as partisan as Ilomuanya was. However, Ilomuanya is not the only traditional ruler he dealt with. Okorocha destroyed the Traditional institution in ‘Owere Nshi Ise.’
Here was an autonomous community, rooted in culture and tradition. It had only one recognised, revered traditional ruler, HRH, Eze Emmanuel Njemanze, a British trained Pharmacist, when Okorocha came on board. Out of the blues, Okorocha divided the autonomous community into five mushroom autonomous communities, with each parading a traditional ruler. By doing that, he destroyed the rich Owere culture. At least, one of those traditional rulers, allegedly, is a bonafide son of a neighbouring community. Not a few people insist that the death of Njemanze, a couple of years ago, is attributable to the balkanization of a once proud autonomous community. They allege he never recovered from it.
Then, later, as if the balkanization was not enough, the governor hit the final nail on Owere Nshi Ise’s head. He relocated its ancestral market, Eke-Ukwu Owere, to a neighbouring community. His reason was that the market had become an eye-sore, had become an environmental as well as a security nightmare. While the market was being demolished, tears, weeping, gnashing of teeth and blood were the order of the day. Guns boomed. And, at the end, a teenage boy was killed by a flying bullet.
When the governor demolished the market, the story was that in its place would be a mall or a school. But till date nothing. Instead, the place has become a cocktail of everything bad. Impassable. Flooded. Dirty. A compost. Smells to high heaven. One huge nightmare! And, the governor’s tenure ends on May 29, 2019. When will the project begin?
Okorocha, may have demolished the market with good intentions. But the after-effect has been nightmarish. If he was not ready to make use of that expanse of land, why demolish the market? Why destroy hundreds of millions of goods and property? Why turn several people to paupers? What was the hurry?
Every aspect of the people’s lives have been touched, mostly, negatively by the governor. There is the local government system, from where he created a non-working community government. There is the Educational system where, at times, a bunch of half illiterates are empowered to be a check on primary school teachers. They visit the schools, and do whatever they like. A few months ago, it was students from the Alvan Ikoku Federal College of Education who were assembled to mark examination papers of students, not the teachers who set the examination. So many things seem upside down and inside out in the state, and the people dumb-founded.
The Civil Service has not fared any better. He cut down the number of days civil servants would go to work, and ordered them to go to their farms in the village for two days! No prize for knowing the obvious. It was a flop. Once, during the celebration of his birthday, the civil servants were on holiday for days. Things, absurd at times, are the order of the day. During his most recent birthday, there were 27 extraordinarily large cakes, same shape, allegedly donated by the 27 LGAs.
Perhaps, the only institution the governor has not managed to trample on is the Church. It is not that he has not tried. He has. But it has not worked. So, he holds a couple of Church leaders in contempt. Which was why the APC National Chairman, Adams Oshiomhole, thought it wise to apologise to the Roman Catholic Church in Imo whose leader, Archbishop Anthony Obinna, has tangoed with the governor or his aides and/or supporters a couple of times.
In fairness to the governor, it is not all bad in Imo. One must give him credit for the new look – infrastructure-wise – of the state capital. The only snag is that there are no roads in Owerri. Yes, he opened up the state capital, built a couple of edifices, constructed new roads, but many of those roads have since become impassable. One can also give him credit for the free education he introduced in the state – primary and secondary schools. Even though many say they do not understand it, and swear there is nothing like free education, I give him credit for providing real free education for those who attend his private schools under the Rochas Okorocha Foundation. The university he built in his town, Okpoko, is, also, a beauty to behold. Imo people should be proud of it. What is not clear is: if it belongs to him or the state, or partly state owned. But, that is a problem a new administration in the state, come 2019, will try to solve.
Yet, everything taken into consideration, there will be no claps for the governor at the end of his tenure. The chorus is that: He began well, got greedy and selfish mid-way, and messed everything up. So many things account for this. The most tragic: His penchant for playing on people’s intelligence. A whole lot of Imolites insist that Okorocha sees the state as his personal empire. They hate it that with so much impunity, he appropriated everything, almost, to himself and family. They point at official positions held by his brothers and sisters. They point at those held by in-laws. And, they ask why.
The most insulting to them is Okorocha’s insistence that his son-in-law, Uche Nwosu, must succeed him in office, while his daughter, Nwosu’s wife, must succeed her mother, as Imo’s First Lady.
For the records, it is not that Nwosu, who is also Okorocha’s Chief of Staff, is not qualified. He is. The problem is the way Okorocha went about it. He uses the words, MUST! He insists that without Nwosu, APC cannot win the Imo governorship. He insists Imo will be safe only in Nwosu’s hands. He insists Nwosu is the only one capable of ruling Imo. And he publicly runs down everybody else. Anybody he thinks is a threat to Nwosu’s ambition, he cuts down politically, with the connivance of the Imo House of Assembly. It was the reason he engineered the impeachment of Agbaso. It was the reason he also engineered the impeachment of Madumere. He sacked Jude Ejiogu as SSG because somebody told him Ejiogu had an eye on the governorship seat. Once you are suspected of having any ambition, you are shown the exit door.
It is to save Imo state that a number of people, including some of his loyalists and colleagues, came together and said: Enough is Enough. It is an irony that Okorocha’s humiliation of his most celebrated ally and loyalist, Eze Madumere, triggered the seemingly confused and sorry situation he finds himself today. It was to liberate Imo state from Okorocha’s clutches and, pull the state out of his apron strings, that the likes of Senators Hope Uzodinma, Osita Izunaso, Ifeanyi Ararume, DG Madumere, The Rt. Hon. Emeka Ihedioha and scores of other stakeholders came together. They did because they felt that Imo state has suddenly become a laughing stock. They cut across partisan lines. The chorus is that Imo must be free from the clutches of Okorocha.
Since they came together, things have never been the same for him again. Okorocha touts himself as smart. No doubt, he is. But he has been out-smarted by this coalition of Imo sons and daughters. And, he is now running helter – skelter. He is running from pillar to post. For weeks, he has been in and out of Abuja, lobbying and threatening. But the Adams Oshiomhole-led APC National Working Committee is not moved. When Uzodinma out-smarted him and Nwosu to pick the APC governorship ticket in Imo, he cried foul. From running down Uzodinma, he descended on Oshiomhole, who, before now, he had praised to high heavens. If you remember, he was always saying that the former APC chairman, Odigie Oyegun, was after him because he supported Oshiomhole to oust Oyegun from office. The music has changed. Crucify him, he says of Oshiomhole. And, he calls Ahmed Gulak, who announced Uzodinma as the winner, unprintable names.
I wish somebody would remind Okorocha that he is the architect of his current fate; that he thought money could solve everything. But Gulak alleges he rejected Okorocha’s Two million US Dollars bribe to make him announce Nwosu the winner of the governorship primary. True or not, Imo people are already looking beyond the governor’s empire. And so is APC both at the state and national level. His boasts got at everybody nerves.
Things began to fall apart for him from the congresses – Ward, local government and state. He lost out in all. And he has been losing since then. The engineered impeachment of Madumere as the DG was thrown out as hog-wash by a courageous Judge. When he wanted to swear-in Madumere’s replacement, the Chief Judge of the state, Hon. Justice Paschal Nnadi, cautiously, stayed away. And so did every Judge in the state. So, the swearing-in was aborted. Even though he said his government would go on appeal, nothing has been heard till now. Madumere, legally, remains the DG. It does not matter whatever obstacles he throws at Madumere’s way, including withdrawing his staff and security personnel. Nobody cares really. The truth is that: come 2019, whoever wins the Imo governorship seat, out of the big three – Uzodinma, Ihedioha, Ararume – would definitely revisit the humiliation of Agbaso and Madumere. They will get their entitlements to the last kobo. By that time, there will be no lily-livered and psychophantic Speaker of the House of Assembly. The Speaker, then, will serve the state, and not the governor.
The signs are obvious already. Last week, an Imo state High Court, declared as null and void the indefinite suspension of five House of Assembly members who refused to join in the charade that was Madumere’s impeachment. In 2019, many more things will be voided. Only then can Imo people heave a sigh of relief and chorus: “Imo has, finally, been rescued.”