By Uche Igwe
I learnt about the fate that has befallen the former governor of Imo State, now Senator, Ethelbert Anayo Okorocha. Like many discerning citizens of the state, one will say that it serves him right. It has been reported that so far more than fifty cars, schools, hotels, supermarket and residential buildings have either being marked or seized from him. It is apparent that the true picture of the scale of his larceny is still emerging. Ostensibly even in areas that the former government built any infrastructure, they did so shabbily and at outrageously inflated costs with the sole purpose of disingenuously siphoning public funds. I must confess that from the revelations, it is now clear that the former governor cleverly crafted a self-serving strategy for his looting by masking it in false eloquence, misguided populism, deceptive sloganeering and disingenuous comedy.
The graphic exposition of the extent of looting which he masterminded is both surprising and sobering. His greed consumed him to the extent that he lost every sense of decorum and could not even do it intelligently. Imagine that he awarded different contracts amounting 20 billion naira (including over 1.5-billion-naira worth in one week) to one unknown company. The headquarters of the said company is in one village in Ideato South. One approval for the construction of a Community Health Hospital in Ogboko his hometown was at a whopping sum N683 million naira. It was learned that the project is yet to take off, months after payments were allegedly made. One does not need any diviner to know that the shareholding of such a company will have something to do with the man and his family. For someone who has lost every sense of shame, I can only say that I am embarrassed on his behalf.
I met Rochas Okorocha a few times and had a conversation with him once. He might not be as qualified as he claims but one must admit that he has abundant street wisdom and understands Nigerian politics. There are several versions of stories about his background and initial source of wealth, but one must admit that he did gather some followership across the country through his educational philanthropy. However, some of his achievements in this area have been deliberately exaggerated partly for political reasons. I was once in Liberia the day Okorocha visited former President Ellen Johnson and many people were applauding the achievements of his foundation in the area of education. Apparently, he made some people believe that he will extend the activities of his foundation all over Africa.
His emergence as governor in Imo State was not completely surprising as he received a lot of support from the civil society and the media. This was after the former governor Ikedi Ohakim allegedly fell out with vital stakeholders in the state. Market women even contributed money to support his campaign. Many people in the state had high expectations of Okorocha until he started some alleged mindless accumulation of public resources. His appetite for amassing landed properties and estates is well known across the state. Those he cannot own directly he passes on to his wife. His wife’s prime properties are allegedly situated on pubic owned lands. He deliberately appointed his son in law first as commissioner in charge of lands to help convert choice locations for the governor and his family. Today, the young man is said to own many landed properties and a sprawling hotel within the city known as Wesbrook hotels. The former governor was on an intrepid mission to convert the state to a personal fiefdom. He treated the state as a conquered territory and still parades himself within the city till date. All the revenue generating agencies in the state were handed over members of his family. It must be the level of infractions that the governor committed in office that made him feel that he will be safer after office by anointing his son-in-law as his successor. In saner climes, Mr. Okorocha and his family members should have gone into hiding.
Recall that the former governor had a penchant for comedy targeted at ordinary people. It is now clearer that all those comedies were carefully crafted and rehearsed to distract the unsuspecting public. Okorocha’s greed and incompetence rank in the superlative dimension. If you move around Owerri, you will appreciate the level of degeneration hatched by the governor. The arbitrariness in the citing of projects is palpable and nauseating. For instance, he brought down the famous state library to erect a chapel. The few roads constructed during his tenure have started falling apart. I had a recent misfortune of passing through his supposedly flagship Akachi road and had an experience of how decrepit it has become. These roads that have become deadly gully erosion sites were constructed at exorbitant costs only a few years ago. Commuters complain regularly about how risky the two flyovers he constructed in the capital have become. Someday, I came across a building erected in a primary school in my village. The roofs are already leaking, the hand rails have fallen apart exposing a very shoddy construction work that could endanger the lives of pupils. There are a few other relics and irrelevant projects like Aguiyi Ironsi tunnel and other statues that suggest that the person moulding them has an agenda that has nothing to do with the priorities of the citizens of the state. It has been revealed that these sculptures were moulded at inflated costs as conduit pipes just to fill up the former governor’s private pockets.
Based on the above, any effort invested to recover stolen properties and funds from the former governor should be commended. However, it should also be done systematically. Such repossessions must be made to transparently manage the investments as proceeds of crime that will benefit the state directly. If possible, an agency can be established to take charge of this. In the past, some states have made recoveries from political exposed persons and only to allow the investments rot away and risk being re-looted. Bayelsa State is a clear example. Many properties that were allegedly recovered from the late former governor Diepreye Alamieyesigha are rotting away today. A magnificent multi-million-naira edifice like the Chelsea Hotel in Abuja has been occupied by rodents since it was recovered. Imo state government must try to avoid this.
Let me state here that the havoc caused by Rochas in Imo State has put this current administration under so much pressure to perform. They must take up the challenge to show a positive example that will bring out the true picture of the decay under Okorocha. So far it is noteworthy that governor Emeka Ihedioha has assembled very competent hands like Hon. Uche Onyeaguocha and Mr. Paschal Egwim to take charge of very important positions in his administration. His intentions seem genuine if the calibre of some people in his team is a yardstick. However, observers are looking up to him to create an alternative approach by raising the bar of governance and carefully leading the people towards recovering from the deficit created by his predecessor.
For instance, one expected that the governor should have initiated a special program to boost security in the state. Improved security will make the state a preferred destination for investment capital. Owerri has the potential of becoming the tourism hub of the old southeast region. Many people from neighbouring states prefer to spend their weekend in the city. There are already more than seven hundred hotels located within Owerri metropolis. If visitors feel secure in the state, the hotels will generate more revenue and employ people. With a thriving nightlife, there are also opportunities for other related businesses to sprout and flourish. A bipartisan collaboration among southeast governors to develop in their respective areas of comparative advantage is a way to go. Imo can also tap into funding opportunities provided by regional institutions like the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) and multilateral donors in the area of infrastructural development. Such positive policies and initiatives are needed to heal the sore memories of bad governance inflicted on the state by Rochas Okorocha and his family.