The year 2017 brought out the good, the bad, and the ugly side of politics in Nigeria. One loquacious state governor particularly stood out in the vista. That fellow is Rochas Okorocha. Either for good or bad, Okorocha has consistently diverted attention to the South-Eastern state of Imo. Through his over-the-top antics and convoluted style of politics, Imo State has been perpetually in the news, quite often in controversial circumstances.
Okorocha’s run of thoughtless decisions peaked in October with the unveiling, in Owerri, of a towering statue of President Jacob Zuma of South Africa. This happened at a time when Zuma’s popularity was at its lowest ebb in his own country. The South African President has been facing a barrage of stiff criticism at home based on his perceived high-handedness and allegations of corruption. Unfortunately, Zuma has always brushed all these aside, just as Okorocha brushes off his own critics.
But it appears the two men have more in common than previously realised. Okorocha may have found in Zuma, a kindred spirit. Both are running governments that have lost touch with the people and are unapologetic about it. The problem is that, similar as the two men may be, there is very little that South Africa has to do with Imo State in Nigeria. Therefore, the cozy reception accorded Zuma by Okorocha last time, was a gross miscalculation by the governor at a time when tensions are frayed between Nigeria and South Africa over the incessant murder of Nigerians in that country.
With his penchant for courting controversy at every turn, one wonders about the quality of advice and assistance that Okorocha’s 27 special advisers and 30 special assistants actually render. After immortalising one of the most controversial presidents of South Africa since the end of apartheid, he went on another spending spree to host outgoing President Ellen Johnson-Shirleaf of Liberia. This was followed by the obscene celebration of Nneoma, his wife, on her 50th birthday.
It was a sheer show of opulence when he threw a whooping sum of Imo State funds into moulding statues, including his own almost month-long birthday celebration in September. The events were televised live. It was nothing but a slap on the faces of Imo workers and pensioners who are being owed by the government.
Perhaps, as further evidence of his insensitivity to the plight of his people, Okorocha may have come to the decision that his people were not happy and lacked fulfilment in their lives. He probably could not fathom why the people were not more responsive and appreciative of his efforts to “open the doors of Imo State to the world”. He, therefore, quickly reached out again to his rich arsenal of comic tools to assuage the sensibilities of his people.
At the swearing in of a whopping number of 28 commissioners to replace the cabinet he had dissolved 10 months earlier, the governor created a “Ministry of Happiness and Purpose Fulfilment”. His thinking was that he had found an answer to his people’s gross unhappiness. So much is the love he has for the people of the state that he appointed his own sister to head this strange ministry.
Surely, one can simply not make these things up and the simple-mindedness of the governor in this regard is truly remarkable. Taken into context, with all the other decisions he has taken in recent times, the insinuation by some that he may be losing his mind begins to sound plausible. Okorocha himself had once declared that his vision for Imo drives him crazy. Perhaps one should take those words literally.
Before the dust had settled on the statues now littering the state, and the creation of a Ministry of Happiness, governor Okorocha again jolted his people. This time, he caused even more unhappiness when his government changed the name of a popular avenue, Assumpta Avenue, in the state capital, to “Muhammadu Buhari Road”.
This was another display of governance by the whims and caprices of the governor. Secondly, to take such a decision anywhere in Igboland that is a heartland to the catholic faith in Nigeria, is a misadventure of the highest order.
As Okorocha’s list of comical miscalculations keeps growing, he may have forgotten the lessons of history. He must have been blinded by sheer braggadocio to forget that it was on the back of a rejection of Ikedi Ohakim, his predecessor, by the catholic faithful for allegedly assaulting a priest that he was swept into office. It was, therefore, not surprising that the name change was swiftly reversed after the Catholic Church in the state quickly began to mobilise against the change. The government later claimed that the new street name was mounted in error – a deliberate error you could say.
Same thing for the Ministry of Happiness, which was originally named “Ministry of Happiness and Couple’s Fulfilment”. A “printer’s devil” was the excuse given at that time. Okorocha’s comical whims in office have become a thread of shame and absurdity, with serious consequences that do not appear to have weighed on his mind at the time of making his decisions.
The governor has brought the quest for national and international visibility of the Igbo ethnic group into high politics, and in so doing, he is neglecting his primary role of addressing the actual needs of the people. His vision is literally driving him crazy and he may end up rather destroying the legacy that so consumes his thinking in its pursuit.
He claims to have built more roads, bridges, hospitals and schools than all other past administrations in the state combined. That might be true. But insensitivity to the smaller needs of the people and losing touch with the realities of their everyday lives, will neutralise all his good works if he does not wake up from the trance he seems to be locked in.
It is obvious that the people are not being carried along in the state, and this has birthed resentment towards his government. That his actions cause the people of Imo State embarrassment also leaves its mark on public confidence in him. When he was asked about the elaborate honour for Zuma, his response was that he admires the man and Zuma came to visit his schools when many Nigerian “big men” do not care.
That sounded like the reply of a person who is unable to separate government functions from personal feelings and ambition. He has often been accused of running the state purse like his personal account and being utterly averse to due process in his decision making.
The business tycoon turned governor who is wont to refer to himself in the third person is known for his predilection for making jokes, general lack of subtlety and his thick skin to criticism. As a man used to having his way, Okorocha is now in danger of disconnecting with his own people through deliberate acts that are perceived to be more self-serving than in any real interest of the people.
Often in politics, a leader hits a quandary where his vision for moving his people forward becomes obscure to the people themselves. This occurs particularly when leadership decisions do not reflect or directly address the immediate needs of the people. In such cases, trust in the good intentions of the leader is crucial and good leaders can also cash out on the goodwill of the people. Sometimes, a leader’s vision just doesn’t include the people anymore, and many suspect this is the case with Rochas Okorocha.
For a man that likes to make jokes, the joke is now increasingly on Okorocha with every miscalculation he makes in pursuit of his dream. The time may have come for him to realise that the dream of the people of Imo state may be different from the dream of Rochas Okorocha, and the former takes precedence. If not, Okorocha may be consigned to the comic halls of history rather than the grand vision he has for himself.
For comments SMS (only) to: 08058354382