The political rivalry in Imo State is reminiscent of a dramatic form which depicts the circumstances surrounding the fall of despots. The state has been in dire need of such a dramatic conflict, blighted by a long history of poor leadership.
Its last notable civilian governor remains the late Samuel Onunaka Mbakwe, who ruled the old Imo State comprising the present-day Imo State, Abia State and parts of Ebonyi State. Since that seasoned administrator, whose concern for the down trodden earned him the appellation of ‘weeping governor,’ left the saddle 35 years ago; the state has been unable to fill the vacuum. Those who succeeded him all failed to display a similar sense of responsibility, intellectual depth, and social empathy.
Of the lot, Rochas Okorocha’s lame-duck administration has attracted the greatest outrage and caused serious embarrassment to the indigenes of the state. By a fortunate turn of events, Okorocha is now grappling with the fate of despotic leaders, following his humiliating defeat in the ward congresses of the All Progressive Party (APC). He cleverly avoided the local government congresses that followed to forestall a deepening of an unpleasant situation.
Contrary to his claim of paying the price for his role in APC’s tenure elongation saga, Okorocha’s tribulations stem from his quest to perpetuate himself in power by pushing for a successor whose only qualification is being his son-in-law as well as his dismal performance in office. What he is up against is nemesis, which, for deserving persons, is not only inevitable but also irreversible. Okorocha’s attempt to alter this fate is certain to be his last performance on the State’s political rostrum. It is a prelude to his quitting the stage as party leader, politician of note and an enigmatic political godfather.
Okorocha probably thinks that Imo State has become an extension of his Rochas Foundation. The fellow he favours to govern the State lacks the credentials to win a councillorship election. This son-in-law of his rose to his current status through exploiting opportunities at his disposal rather than hard work. The Urban and Regional Planning graduate is said to have secured employment in Rochas Foundation by the grace of Okorocha’s now estranged aide. There, he got close to Okorocha’s daughter and married her. Then, he got very close to his father-in-law, through whose grace he got into the State’s executive council and through whom he wants to secure the governorship ticket on a silver platter.
Happily, Okorocha’s plan of having a son-in-law succeed him while he takes the Orlu senatorial seat has become a pipe dream. He has been taught that Imo people are not as docile as he imagines. Surprisingly, the architect of “funny politics” is embittered that he is trapped in a web he crafted and which his opponents have endured with stoicism over the years. He has turned into an apostle of democracy, proselytising about the same principles that he has always trampled upon He wants an election he never participated in annulled for no better reason than that he failed to retain his hold on the party, which foreshadows what awaits him at the party’s primaries as well as next year’s general elections.
It is hard to believe that Okorocha, who commenced his tenure as a man of the people, has through his own error of judgement destroyed his political career. His early days in office witnessed people-centred projects, raising the hope that his administration was truly on a mission to rescue a State destroyed by bad leaders. At his inauguration, he pleasantly surprised everyone by sacrificing his entire security vote, which other beneficiaries jealously guard, for human capital development. He also initiated and completed some developmental projects including network of roads in the capital city and other parts of the State.
Thereafter, Okorocha, like those before him, drifted into dictatorship forgetting he had only been given a temporary custody of an office which belongs to the people. His shift from a liberal to an authoritarian leader had telling effect on democratic structures and the welfare of the governed. First, the State legislative House was reduced to a puppet show to pave the way for the passing of executive bills without questioning. Just as puppets are controlled from external sources, so has the House been manipulated by the executive arm to its advantage.
With the weakening of the legislature, Okorocha assumed the status of a superman. His irritating actions and inactions on assuming excessive political powers are too well known to deserve any elaboration. Among these are the flooding of the State’s executive council with his relations; the construction of statues of discredited African leaders with tax payers’ money; the creation of bizarre ministries; the demolition of churches, markets, as well as acquisition of land without compensation; and his refusal to conduct local government elections for seven years. The ease with which all these and more received the blessing of the rubber stamp legislature speaks volumes about the quality of those that represent Imo State in State and national assemblies.
Okorocha also served up nothing to Imo people but poverty by his refusal to pay workers’ salaries, pension, and contract fees. So badly has the State been enveloped in penury that every face therein tells a pathetic story of despair. The controversial Happiness Ministry was apparently conceived to plant cosmetic smiles on the faces of the socially and economically deprived. The ministry is an eloquent admission by Okorocha of his failure to deliver the goods of democracy, which naturally make and keep the electorate happy. The recent mass promotion of workers was similarly aimed at inducing a collective amnesia in a workforce that has suffered untold hardship for years. Coming in an election year, it is also a ploy to lure workers to vote for him and his son-in-law.
The passivity of the State’s legislative arm in the face of these atrocities attracted so much sympathy to the State from Nigerians of different extractions and creeds; and compelled some of them to assume the role of unacknowledged legislators of Imo State. But for such professional bodies as the Council of Registered Engineers of Nigeria (COREN), which voluntarily took up the oversight functions in respect of road and flyover bridge constructions, the world may never have known that what has been going on in the name of flyover bridges in the State are death traps.
After the silencing of the legislature, came the ban imposed on correspondents of certain media outfits from the Government House thereby denying the people the right to know the truth about the activities of those they elected into office. In the place of the correspondents, a team of panegyrists was assembled to air falsehood on national televisions about an imaginary rescue mission. The pipers were also saddled with the arduous task of deluding Nigerians into believing that their benefactor is a philanthropist. But I digress.
The members of Imo State chapter of APC, whose gallantry has rescued the State from one of their own and his cherished son-in-law, deserve commendation. That they achieved this feat in the face of incumbency powers and the hatchet men stationed as caretaker committee members in the 27 local governments of the State, demonstrates a rejection of their opponent and all he represents. Had Okorocha survived the fury of his party men, he certainly would have received a greater shock in the hands of Imo State electorate.
As Okorocha and his relations prepare to quit the political podium, the intellectual elite in the State must rise and seize the political space. The idea of leaving party politics to charlatans and money bags to either impose people of questionable characters on the State or give the electorate the difficult task of choosing a one-eyed man among the blind must stop.
• Dr Nnadi, a former editor and member, editorial boards of several national dailies, wrote from Lagos.
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