By Obi Nwakanma
First, let us start by where Rochas Okorocha began: he was swept into government on the wings of the APGA, following a populist revolt at the polls in Imo state that threw out the PDP government of Mr. Ikedi Ohakim in 2011. Ohakim was a man of ideas. He just had trouble with implementation, and so his program sounded too futuristic to a people who wanted immediate relief, and immediate benefit from government programs.
Take for instance the dredging of the River Nworie and the rebuilding of the ecological floodplains and swamps that might serve to provide both recreational and ecological benefits to the city of Owerri: it was a possible, laudable, actionable project, which was mismanaged, misrepresented, and ultimately bungled because that administration failed to secure citizens buy-in for such a monumental project.
Ohakim was also perceived as brash and alienated in the views of most people, and could not connect with the electorate at the very popular level. He was also believed to have squandered much of the state’s revenue, and like previous governors before him saw Imo state as no more than a honeypot, and Imo people, as no better than troglodytes requiring weekly “how-to” lectures that were big on pictures but small in details. Everywhere you went to in Imo state in those days, all one saw were idolatrous pictures of Ikedi Ohakim hung on proposed projects. It was the subject of a fierce exchange I had with my late friend and colleague, Pini Jason, who insisted to the very end that Ohakim was on to something.
The problem was that I couldn’t see it. And Imo people apparently couldn’t see it, and they rebelled at the poll. The upsurge of the faith the Igbo always had in Emeka Ojukwu, not on the upstart Okorocha, propelled the present governor to Douglas House. On the strength of a party supposedly backed by Ojukwu, on one hand, and on a capacity for populist demagoguery on the other, Rochas Okorocha was swept into office as Governor of Imo state. It was one of the greatest mistakes the APGA as a party made in 2011.
So, in a terrible misjudgment, APGA handed Rochas Okorocha, a bird of flight in that party, the slot for governor. It also so happened that aside from his personal capacity for street drama, Okorocha is an astute politician. His politics of course derives not from solid or fundamental ideas, but on simple notions of power and the drama on which power is sometimes staged.
And so, he presented an alternative face to the Imo people, and for a very brief moment, the Imo electorate, normally informed and discerning bought into his melodrama. He even put up a great show at the debate organized that year by the Catholic Church for Gubernatorial candidates in Imo state. Some who knew a little about Rochas’ background cried out against a great mistake that was about to be made in electing Mr. Okorocha. He had promised a great load of bullshit. Among these, “free education” for Imo children up to the tertiary level.
I knew personally, as does anyone who does a bit of strategic policy analysis that this was a promise wrapped in wonder and full of wonder. Imo did not need “free education;” what Ndi Imo needed and still need is “quality education” and there is a material difference in that. Quality education is what prepares people with new sets of skills, expands their horizons, and updates their learning environments in ways that would make them compete with their peers all over the world.
Besides, Okorocha did not clearly establish how he would pay for the “free education” and the monthly stipend to primary and high school students he had promised. What was Imo state’s tax base? He had no clue. What is the property stock of the schools in the Imo school system? He had no idea? What is the population and distribution of children in early child and Infant programs; the Primary School system, the secondary schools?
He had no clue. He simply came like Falstaff full of beer and hokum. It was a policy and a program driven by a highly uninformed mindset. A census of schools and of teachers in public schools in Imo state should reveal a number of things: one, the quality and number of teachers in the Imo state’s Public Schools have so radically declined, yet the state government continues to post a high payroll unaccountably.
But something even more tragic has happened in the five years Rochas Okorocha has been governor in Imo state: it is called the tragic decline of education in Imo state. For all the years WAEC figures, and JAMB results have been published, until three years ago, Imo state had remained consistently on the top with the highest number of student enrollments, often sidelining the next state to it with as much as 100, 000 students. Since Okorocha’s government, Imo has slid to the 8th position on the table!
This is radical diminution. Not to the second or third positions, but to the 8th position on the list of School certificate enrollment and passes, and on the JAMB scores table, for the first time in its history! Sam Mbakwe used to say that education was Imo’s number one industry. Not anymore.
Poverty is Imo States number one industry by all accounts these days. Okorocha has achieved the one thing that eluded every of his predecessors however they tried: his government has finally brought a resilient state like Imo to her knees. He has destroyed the school system, and the system of public service on which Imo had established a long tradition. Teachers are not paid. Civil servants are not paid. Retirees are not paid, and yet, no one knows exactly what Imo state’s revenue is used for. Okorocha’s tenure has not registered a single investment in any industry. He has built third-rate roads, and opened up, to be fair, roads that now give people some access in Owerri.
But the quality of work he has done with these rather basic examples of public work is terrifyingly below standard. In actual fact, some of those are simple municipal roads which a well-organized Public Works Department should do on a routine basis. Now, just last week, reports indicate that the government of Mr. Okorocha has succeeded in evicting retired residents of the Alvan Ikoku College of Education from the Alvan quarters at the famous Shell Camp, and according to Imo Commissioner for Information, the government is putting these government lands and property up for the highest bidders.
“Anybody who is able to put down N50 million will have any one of these lands” says Vitalis Ajumbe. This is unconscionable, and this must be stopped by all means necessary. The eviction of retires from government quarters, and the sale of public property by this administration to individuals must be counted as one of the highest acts of brazen robbery of the commonweal by official means. Over and over again, Rochas Okorocha has demonstrated that he has no respect for Imo people, he has no regard for the highest public interest, and he has no interest in public opinion. He is playing an endgame with Imo, after which he would retire to Abuja, and let the state and its inhabitants suffocate from the bad effects of his actions today. He may yet force Imo people to rise and do “Otokoto” on its own government, and its government officials!
Imo people have been pushed to the very end of their wits with this government which last week also announced the reduction of the five-day work week to three days, without annual leaves or sick leaves. This is a terrible policy, and it is really not up to the executive arm to impose this. It requires an act of the Imo state House of Assembly to change the Labor Laws, and the laws governing public service in Imo state, not an executive order. But Imo State has only a “photo Assembly” – legislators who have never sat, or represented the will of the people. As a body it one of the most useless parliaments in the land. It has never held the governors to account.
Okorocha has committed all kinds of impeachable offences against Imo state, yet the Imo Assembly remains in perpetual vacation. It is now up to Ndi Imo to begin a massive recall process of their legislators who fail to rise in defence of their mandates. The Imo people must rise up and defy this aberration called the government of Imo state, or go to sleep and wait for death itself. Okorocha must account to citizens in Imo: how much of Imo’s revenue went to the campaign to elect Buhari, and what has this governor done with the bail-out money? It is urgent matter.