It seems that the biggest heist pulled off on the people of Imo State is the miraculous transformation of the Eastern Palm University from a state-owned university to a private university through a supposed public-private partnership (PPP), whose agreement no one has seen, where the private partner is said to be Roche Foundation (Rochas Okorocha) that allegedly owns 90 per cent, while the Imo people were allotted a paltry 10 per cent and landowners in Ogboko and adjoining villages, whose land was forcefully annexed by the principal agent in the signing of the partnership deal, got no equity share.
Perhaps, Okorocha saw things turning out against him and moved fast to forestall them. Recall that at the submission of the report of the panel set up by Governor Emeka Ihedioha to probe and determine ownership of the university sometime in 2020, Governor Uzodimma had disclosed how the former governor approached him for two favours: first, to allow the Dan Nwafor leadership of APC in the state to remain because he (Okorocha) planned to run for the presidency in 2023 and would need the executive, secondly, Uzodimma disclosed that Okorocha asked him to stop all panels constituted by Ihedioha to probe his administration.
The recent action of the Imo state government in taking over the university points to why Okorocha had asked for a stop to all probes into how he managed Imo State.
I still recall Okorocha, as governor over Imo State, where he reigned with absolute recklessness and total disregard for the rule of law, describing the state’s equity in Eastern Palm University as “infinitesimal.” Synonyms of infinitesimal include: “minute, tiny, minuscule, inconsiderable and insignificant”. In other words, Imo State’s equity in the university, in the Okorocha’s mind, was insignificant. The implication of this is that as absolute ruler of Imo state, Okorocha, now a senator representing Orlu zone, was at liberty to demarcate or annex any portion of the state and allocate same to himself. He did not care about the rule of law because he was a law unto himself and over the state. For this reason, he presided over a university investment meeting where the representation probably consisted of him as state governor and representing government, him as owner and representative of Roche Foundation and him as ruler and representative of the Imo people.
At that meeting, he decided on which part of Imo state was to be annexed for a university project that satisfied his gluttonous desire for property acquisition. He found Ogboko a very suitable space. Not only did he allegedly usurp lands, but he also hoodwinked aged and poor landowners with tales that he would build factories on the land and create employment through which their children would get jobs and make money to cater for them. Some allegedly bought into his tales and offered their lands for compensations of about N30,000 per plot. Many others refused to give up their lands but had them forcefully fenced off as part of university land. Many of those in this category are now seeking to reclaim those lands through the courts. They had to wait for Okorocha to leave office before approaching the court. He also annexed a popular community access road and converted it to become part of the university. Users of the road had to find alternatives.
Controversy trailed the commencement of construction of the university. The first information that filtered out from the Okorocha government was to the effect that it was to be the permanent location of Imo State University. It was thought that the present location of IMSU had become unhealthy for the sanity of the state capital, which houses about six tertiary institutions. Previous governors of the state had toyed with the idea of relocating IMSU but met stone walls. Okorocha had begun construction before he was literarily forced to disclose that he intended to move IMSU to Ogboko. The protests that followed forced him to change gear and announce that there was nothing wrong with Imo State operating a second university. For this reason, the idea of relocating IMSU was jettisoned. But construction continued. Imo people were later told that the new university would become Imo European University, the first of its kind in Nigeria. Few Imolites believed. However, the point at which the university changed to Eastern Palm, owned 90 per cent by Okorocha’s Roche Foundation, became one of the mysterious developments of his administration. Imo people did also not know how the university metamorphosed from a state-owned to one privately owned by Okorocha and Roche Foundation even while still being listed by the National Universities Commission (NUC) as the 42nd state-owned university in Nigeria.
But some heists are difficult to cover. EPU may be one. The website of the university holds this information: “Eastern Palm University was established by Imo State law No. 13 of 2016.” This particular line raises a question that is germane to determining the owner of the university. Do privately-owned universities need an establishment law by a state House of Assembly and assented to by a governor to be established? Do Houses of Assembly make laws for the establishment of private businesses/universities? Ask further, what sort of House of Assembly will make a law to shortchange the people of the state by awarding only 10 per cent equity in an investment where the state invested over N30 billion, as alleged by the Governor Hope Uzodimma administration?
Okorocha owes Imolites, and perhaps the world, detailed explanation on the sort of miracle that transferred ownership of a state-owned university into private hands. He may also need to graphically convince Imolites as to how much exactly he and his Roche Foundation invested in the university. He may also have to disclose the source of the funds. At least, the Imo State government had given details of funds transferred from the state’s coffers towards the construction of the university. The records are now rolling about the Imo State capital. Okorocha needs to respond and shame the government by publishing details of cash injections from him and his foundation towards the construction of the university. He may also show the source.
Beyond laying claim to ownership of the university, Okorocha had no plan for academic excellence at EPU. This is demonstrated by his decision to appoint his son, Aham, as president of the university. The website of the university lists him as ‘president” and writes of him thus: “Ahamefula B. Rochas is a dynamic and determined entrepreneur and an avid contributor to societal development. Mr. Rochas’ drive for business excellence and social activism and philanthropy is fueled by the recognition of the myriad of opportunities available on the African continent as well as a poignant awareness of the ubiquitous predicaments that face the region especially as it regards the absence of quality education. Having graduated from the University of Manchester and Imperial College, London, with a BSc and MSc in Mechanical Engineering, respectively, he is founder and managing director at Aham Rochas Group of Companies. Aham Rochas is president and founder at the Aham Rochas Foundation and is also a member of the board at the Rochas Foundation.”
The president of the university has no record of managing a university. He is not listed as having obtained the necessary qualifications to manage one either. Yet, he is listed as president to oversee the administration of a university that ought to be a centre of academic excellence. The action of the Imo State government on EPU is timely.
This is not the time for Okorocha to scream that Governor Uzodimma is after him. It is common sense to stop digging once you dig yourself into a hole. Perhaps the recent revelations by the Imo State government about EPU were part of many other reasons Okorocha fought like a hyena to enthrone his son-in-law as his successor. Somehow, Imolites are now offering thanksgiving to God that he failed. For now, his successor is leading a charge by the Imo people. The people want Okorocha stripped of the proceeds of his greed. Such proceeds dot every space in Imo State. A further probe will reveal more.