1st February, 2012
Since he came to power as Imo State governor through a widely acclaimed popular mandate, I have written just two articles on the governance of Imo by Owelle Rochas Okorocha. In the first, I evaluated the early signals emanating from the brand new government and felt that there was something good in the offing for the starved Imo people, should the governor continue the way he started. I however, volunteered some suggestions on how the governor can get to give Imo people what they have been yearning for since the Mbakwe days. In the second article, I raised my objection to the governor’s pledge to strengthen the traditional institution and make traditional rulers the focal point of his promised fourth tier government. I drew handsomely from the age-old repulsion of Ndi Igbo to regimented traditional rulership, the disgraceful reduction of the traditional institution in Igbo to just a shameless tag for politicians and the overwhelming sentiment on ground that the traditional institution in Imo State shed tremendous worth in recent times to counsel that the governor abandon the plan to make traditional rulers more powerful in Imo State.
I had refrained from doing further reports on my state Imo because I felt the governor needs the time to sit down, articulate and launch into his vision on Imo State. I deigned the distractions in form of adverse reports peddled by his political opponents, just as he was yet to sit down effectively as not worth the effort and I didn’t quite put much in the moves of his media team to play up the governor when we all knew he had many days to give practical teeth to his well rehearsed resolve to match the enviable Mbakwe record. In my first article, I did remind the governor that it will take the next home coming at Christmas for Ndi Imo to ascertain whether he will live his words and promises or end up in the long list of governors who professed intent to march the glorious Mbakwe record but usually end up woeful failures in a state that is parched and thirsty for good governance.
So the period of the last Christmas and New year and of course the fuel subsidy strike offered me the opportunity to move around my state and weigh whether indeed, Governor Okorocha is living the promise and the expectation that swept him into office in a blaze of popular acclaim. I know my state very well, I know what I was looking for, so I needed no guide to tell me where improvements have been recorded and where decay have been wrought. The Owerri I saw last Christmas was a capital city that is on the move, a city that has recovered its energy, reclaimed its allure! It is a beehive of works, especially on roads and public infrastructure.
My first observation was that the existing roads in the city have been re-asphalted and the age old potholes that had hitherto made driving in Owerri one big excruciating torture had been fixed. I saw new and existing roads being paved and constructed in every nook and cranny of Owerri in perhaps the most ambitious city development effort since the Mbakwe years. Roads that have long been interred in the burgeoning graveyard of government neglect and incompetence are being constructed with a frenzy we have not seen in Imo State for many years now. Drainages are being built all over the city and the bold expansion of the city beyond the provincial dream that has restricted the city to the boundaries drawn by Mbakwe decades ago. I visited New Owerri, the area housing the Concorde Hotel and other important state complexes and I marvelled at the level of transformation that has happened in just a few months. The roads in Ikenegbu, Ikenegbu Extension, Aladimma, World Bank, Amakohia, Akwakuma, Orji and other suburbs of the city are receiving equal attention and all at the same time!
New buildings and facilities are springing up all over the state capital, government buildings that are being constructed with such haste that visitors within the last six months are bound to miss some traditional landmarks that dotted the city as it struggled effortlessly to beat the restricted prisms successive governments have imposed on it. I saw new complexes springing up in the then Imo Newspapers and Imo Broadcasting Services premises on Egbu Road. The dilapidated colonial buildings that form part of the state civil service offices near the government house have been bulldozed and new complexes are being constructed there. The government house itself is a beehive of construction as I gathered the Multi-Purpose Hall and the Banquet Lodge have been demolished and modern replacements are almost at completion stage. I didn’t really visit the other two towns of Orlu and Okigwe but I heard that similar cheery activities are going on in the two towns to elevate them to real urban areas.
In the rural areas, roads are being frenetically constructed everywhere. I understand this is in line with the pledge of the governor to construct 15 kilometres of roads in each of the twenty seven local councils in the state in his first year in office. I moved around and saw that each local council I visited is benefitting from this noble but ambitious work plan that will go a long way in opening up the state and practically stemming the rural-urban drift in Imo State. I observed that the free education programme of the Rochas government is going so smoothly and it has indeed inflated the confidence in, enrolment and credibility of public schools in the state. I noticed that most of the private schools in the state are experiencing deep haemorrhage in enrolment as most of their students have withdrawn to enrol in the free public schools. I noticed that the governor has gone further to include the provision of school sandals, uniforms, books, meals and even emoluments to pupils of public schools in the state, which are very laudable attempts to restore confidence in a battered system that has opened the vista of exploitation by private profiteers that have invaded the education sector in recent times. I was gladdened by the design and impression for the new state schools the Rochas government is planning to build in each of the wards in the state.
There are so many other projects going on in Imo State and this has fuelled fresh fears in me as to whether the government is not taking so many projects at the same time. I hope it would not be weighed down by the sheer burden of the many projects it has taken up at once in so little a time it has been in power. But then, I cannot but speak of the high level of confidence the Rochas government has imbued on the people of the state and this is a critical factor in the government-governed relationship. He has been able to sow trust in what he has been able to do these past eight months and one hopes he does not deviate from this popular stretch. With good governance, Rochas has been able to seduce even his opponents and those that never bought into his very popular mandate. He is cutting the image of a governor that does it as he promises and this is a positive aspect that will stand him in good stead as he governs Imo.
However, as I was about to return to base, there was this disturbing development that the governor has concluded plans to relocate the Imo State University from Owerri to his Ideator local government. First, I treated this with a pinch of salt but the fact was confirmed later by the official explanation to a barrage of criticisms that trailed that plan. I don’t know what prodded the governor to take this decision that reeks of clannishness and which may not outlive his regime, no matter how deep he tries to structure the latest effort. I will do a report on this in future but I want to let Rochas know that this can never be the best action from his regime. The adverse effect in this type of pandering to the idol of clan or village is that such actions stand to belittle the great works he is doing in Imo presently.
For whatever it is worth, Rochas does not need to take Imo University to his village. He does not need to appease the gods of village or zone who impress him with the beauty of this idea. The mere suggestion of this idea is a huge insult and spat on all those that forsook their own idols of zone and clan to stake their lives to ensure his mandate was not violated last April. It is an insult to all those, especially from Owerri zone, who forsook the so called zoning arrangement to return the governorship to an Orlu man when it was seen as riding against the traditional power arrangement in the state and when it further postpones the prospect of an Owerri man governing the state. It is an insult to fair mindedness and the type of urbane thinking that produced a Governor Rochas and has stood him in good stead to weather the storm ignited by those that were worsted by his emergence to incite public opinion against his regime. The idea is not good for the cosmopolitan image he has cultivated, the detribalized persona he has built and his penchant to stand out for his broadmindedness. It will do incalculable damage to his profile, even if he goes ahead to force his way through and I wish his friends and advisers can convince him to know that this, more than anything, will shred the public confidence he has garnered, especially in the last eight months.
Rochas should balk at the present move for it is a needless distraction to the speed he is working with at present. He certainly does not need such distraction, which will only benefit his political opponents who are handsomely tapping into the present fur ore being generated from this needless distraction to launch their battered selves into the political space again and puncture the singular most important factor that swept him into office. Sadly, they are finding converts to their wearied messages among those that swore to stand by Rochas to the end not minding where he comes from. In a tricky game like politics, it is easy to slay reason, kill goodwill and puncture trust. When this is the case, all that Rochas has been doing or plans to do will be interred in the murky debris of bad politics. I bet this can never be his target or the target of Imo people who are savouring the dawn of a rescue era that should elevate the state from the doldrums of the past. I guess Rochas is not aiming to be that excellent cook who cooked a good meal but garnished it with a drop of poison. Let him concentrate on the laudable works he is doing in Imo presently and let him be assured that history will glare him in better light than one who took a state university to his village.
•Oparah wrote in from Ikeja, Lagos. Email: [email protected]