“If you have to say or do something controversial, aim so that people will hate that they love it and not love that they hate it.”
The immediate past governor of Imo State, Owelle Rochas Anayo Okorocha comes through as a man of controversy. What the 59-year-old former governor says and does, leaves controversy streaming his way, falling all over him like a waterfall. Perhaps, he enjoys the swing of it and all the delight it holds in anyway. And he can tell all about controversy’s many sheds and colours.
Between 2011, when Okorocha came to power in Imo State and now, things have not stayed the same for him. Rather, they keep changing and keep shifting – thus thrusting him on an overdrive.
Until 2011, Okorocha had remained at the fringes of sorts. Although he was seemingly active on the political turf, he never won any elections and never wielded any executive powers. But that later changed.
Okorocha, it would be recalled, contested the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) primary election to become the Imo State governor in 1999. But he was defeated by Chief Achike Udenwa who later became the governor. Later in 2003, Okorocha went on to compete in the primaries of the defunct All Nigeria’s People’s Party (ANPP) as president. Again, he lost.
Then like the average Nigerian politician, he turned nomadic, and had to change parties severally until 2011 when he ran in the Imo governorship election on the platform of the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA). He later won after the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) had declared the contest inconclusive. He was to serve in Imo for two terms of eight years.
Until Okorocha became a governor, not many in Imo knew him. Some at the grassroots only knew he ran the Rochas Foundation Inc. In their estimation, he was a philanthropist and flamboyant politician. But he blossomed politically when the Imo governorship pie fell in his palm. Only then was the real Rochas revealed.
Now, ask any Imo elder, Rochas’ reign in Imo came with a huge cost. It gruesomely destroyed the Imo Charter of Equity equation. It was a gentlemanly agreement which the elders made, enabling the three zones in the state – Imo North (Okigwe), Imo West (Orlu) and Imo South (Owerri) – to take their turns in producing a governor. It handed Orlu such disturbing advantage which they still enjoy.
After Chief Achike Udenwa who is from Orlu had done eight years, the pendulum swung to Okigwe. Ikedi Ohakim took the chance. But he had only done one term before the Okorocha default. The Okorocha coming further destroyed the charter following the emergency of Hope Uzodimma again by default; he was foisted on the state by the Supreme Court of Nigeria.
Indeed, the early days of ex-Governor Okorocha in office were replete with good beginnings. He did his best to curry the favour of the people. His relationship with the army of state civil servants was excellent. He got them with that popular call: “My people, my people!” And they roared back: “My governor my governor!”
Then down the road, it dawned on Okorocha that he might not go far with APGA. Re-election was right on his mind. Then his appetite for a grip on the grassroots grew. Pronto, he went on to conjure the unthinkable – the fourth tier of government. It was government of town unions that was nowhere in any law books. But he got away with it anyway.
Further down the road, a need to jump ship popped up. The present All Progressives Congress (APC) was then at its formative stage. That was how on March 2, 2013, Okorocha tore away from APGA and pitched his tent with APC, his new party. He was later rewarded with the chairmanship of APC Progressive Governors’ Forum.
Then in 2015, he entered to contest in APC presidential primaries. For him, it was a mock outing – more of a drama scripted for him to act and add vitality to the candidate, Muhammadu Buhari, who won with ease. Then the show was over and he gladly returned to Owerri to secure his re-election as governor.
As soon as Okorocha returned for a second term in office, the bizarre began to tumble in.
Progressively, things grew sour between him and the state workforce. He lost favour with them. He began to owe them months of salaries. Chants and shouts of acclamation with them and between them ceased to erupt at their meets.
Then, he created bizarre ministries and portfolios. Then he went clannish, peopling them with his next of kins.
Going forward, the opposition began to kick, citing corruption. Citizens ramped up complaints that their lands were being snatched by the Okorocha government. Then it went on to hewing down market after market in the state, leaving their rubble crunching under the government bulldozers. Many lost not only their lives, but their livelihoods in the debacle that was to follow. But the Okorocha government did not listen.
As his tenure inched towards the end, Okorocha set a battle for his successor. He oiled the machinery of his defunct party, the Action Alliance (AA) and went on the rampage to hoist his son-in-law, Uche Nwosu, who was his Chief of Staff as governor. What an audacity, but it finally failed and fell!
Going on simultaneously at that time was Okorocha’s bid to represent Imo West in the 9th Senate. Again, that turned controversial, characterised by accusations of rigging, and coercion of the local electoral umpire to declare him the winner. He had his way. INEC affirmed his victory; he got sworn in on June 13, 2019, by the Senate leadership as the senator representing Imo West.
Funny enough Okorocha gets accolade for introducing “Iberiberism” to the Nigerian street lingo. He coined it from the Igbo word Iberibe, meaning either stupidity or foolishness, thus leaving his power to amuse matchless.
The election of former Governor Emeka Ihedioha had opened new vistas for Okorocha. The former stepped up interrogation of his eight-year reign. But that ended as soon as the regime was scuttled.
But at the moment, Okorocha is still mired in an unending battle with the current Uzodimma government – everything centreing on corruption and self enrichment. Uzodimma in particular vigorously wrestled from him, the university he built in his native Ogboko in Ideato North council, allegedly with government cash and Uzodimma succeeded in the battle.
Sadly, since the assumption of the Uzodimma administration, Imo has not known peace. For the first time in history of the state, unknown gunmen have been on the prowl, spreading terror everywhere. There is no part of the state that has not experienced unprecedented violence.
At the moment, Orlu zone has witnessed much of that. The army and police have been accused of extra-judicial killings there while on crack down mission. Traditional rulers and the youths are being taken down brazenly.
The governor had earlier said he would name the perpetrators of the violence, while accusing his political opponents of the crime. But so far, he has not mentioned names, leaving accusations and conjectures flying in the air.
However, the refrain on most lips is that the Okorocha-Udodimma rift should be resolved and quickly too, saying that Imo people have suffered the most. Last week, when Okorocha joined his son-in-law, Nwosu, to bury the mother in Eziama Obierie, Nkwerre LGA, Imo State, he lamented that the state he held sway as governor for eight years is bleeding because of insecurity, claiming that it was caused by bad governance. He begged the youths to stop shedding the blood of the royal fathers.
Rochas Okorocha born in 1962 is from Ideato, Imo State.