BY KELECHI DECA
As Chinua Achebe said, “charity is the opium of the privileged”. Rochas Okorocha warmed himself into the hearts of many people in Imo State through his Rochas Foundation which offered free education to kids from very poor background. Education being the biggest industry in Imo State, he was an instant hit.
And because Ndi Imo hardly ever forgets, when he had a second opportunity to take a shot at the Government House in 2011, they rejected Godson Ohakim, who “forgot where the rain started beating him”, for Rochas Okorocha.
But towards the end of his first term in office, Okorocha forgot that the benevolent spirits cannot continue to crack his palmkernels forever. He got overfed, and challenged his Chi to a wrestling match.
Posterity will swish at the mention of Ethelbert Rochas Anayo Okorocha. History will forever hold him in derision for the eighth years he ran roughshod over the people of Imo State.
This generation, and the ones to come will frame his misdeeds and hang them on the walls for generations yet unborn. Rochas Okorocha had no regard for the young, no respect for the aged, no reverence for our culture and tradition. He imitated “Le Roi de Soleil”.
Like a man on a self destructive mission he governed as if he will be there forever, little wonder he propped up his son-in-law to succeed him in power to continue the Familiocracy he instituted in the State, where every available position is held by close members of his family.
He elevated his siblings into tin gods giving them charge over all internally generated revenue yielding enterprise in the State. And they used the opportunity to add salt to the injuries being nursed by the people of Imo State, forcing them to take their dehumanizing insults in deprecating silence, and counting his remaining years in power, in days.
As he leaves office in few days time, his sins will forever go before him, announcing his presence with same showboating that has become his trademark, through which he held Ndi Imo in unmistakable contempt throughout his “reign”.
Credits to him, he made great efforts to return the state capital to its Master Plan by expanding the city roads and spaces, of which I commended him in an article I wrote two years ago, but the quality of that excercise leaves much to the desired. In his eight years in office, there was no Trunk A road, Trunk B or Trunk road linking Imo State to any of four neighbouring states he touched. Even the roads he constructed across rural communities expired before his tenure ran out. None is fully motorable today.
But even at that, governance is more than constructing “poor quality” roads and building with no institutional plan or policy in place to achieve desired results. Ruling a state like an Emperor, with no respect for rules and regulations destroys the psyche of a people.
Rochas makes policy altering statements at public functions without thinking through implications. And because his words are laws, they take immediate effect. He hires and fires public servants at will without recourse to civil service rules. He has no functional cabinet,holds no cabinet meetings as he governs from a bush bar in the government house premises.
The education and health sector is in a mess. He turned the state University into his fiefdom, where he appoints his lackeys into key positions to do his bidding. Both primary and secondary education board are in shambles. Reason Imo State has lost its position in education in Nigeria. Results don’t lie.
He was anti culture and tradition. Nothing was sacred to him. He talks anyhow, behaves anyhow, and does whatever catches his fancy. He brazenly demolished the Mbari Cultural Centre which holds the etymological anthology of Igbo culture in visual forms.
But in all his sins, none comes close to his treatment of pensioners in the state. The utter disrespect, and contempt with which he maltreated those elderly men and women will haunt him throughout his life. I can’t count the number of them that died out of frustration or through road accidents, as Rochas play Russian Roulette with them on monthly basis. Ordering them to come for all kinds of verifications almost every month, yet refusing to pay their outstanding pension arrears.
At some point, he verbally abused them and turned the Police on them. When he got to his wits end, he wrote all pensioners in the State, armtwisting them into signing off two thirds of their cumulative allowances as precondition before payment. Some out of crunching poverty and lack signed, those who refused were blacklisted and told that they will forfeit everything. The tears from those old people will never forgive. Ihedioha must revisit the case of pensioners in the State.
Rochas started a white elephant project of building 27 “general hospitals” in each local government area of the state. Intriguingly, there are existing general hospitals in about 18 local government areas. Why not rehabilitate them, equip them, and build new ones in places where none existed? Today, none of those so called hospitals he started is completed.
He will start a shopping mall, and midway into construction, turn it into a hospital, and before completion, he will declare it is a school. He brought this confusion to bear on virtually every project he executed in the state. None was purpose built.
In his greed to acquire every open space in Imo State, he displaced families, businesses and turned people into IDPs in their ancestral homelands, outreaching himself. And Ndi Imo will never give Ihedioha a second term if he fails to review acquisitions of landed property in the state in the last six years.
Perhaps, Imo State under Rochas had the most useless House of Assembly in the history of democracy in Nigeria. It would have been better if he reduced them to a rubber stamp. He ensured they had neither stamp, nor ink pad, and as stupid as they are, it was a relief to them because he bought over their conscience. They too should share in this shame.
For Emeka Ihedioha, our elders said that the Chicken that sees where the Guinea Fowl is being dismembered, and is laughing at the physiology of the Guinea Fowl, should know that same process of dismemberment is applicable to the Chicken also.
Maybe, someday, a future governor will follow his footsteps and erect a statue of infamy in his dishonor somewhere along Nworie River he has snuffed life from, where men like him will have a permanent place. As a man dances, so the drums are beaten for him.
According to Chinua Achebe, “privilege is one of the greatest adversaries of the imagination; it spreads a thick layer of adipose tissue over our sensitivity”.
•DECA is a celebrated Nigerian Journalist