Governor Ikedi Ohakim lost reelection in Imo State in 2011 because it was alleged that some security officers in his convoy manhandled a Catholic priest for not clearing from the road early enough for the governor to pass. The state, like the rest of Igboland, sees itself as the Vatican of Nigeria because of the pervasive influence of the Catholic Church, which brought modern social services like education and health care to the area and also helped to end such evil practices as killing of twins and the caste system.
Yet, the greatest beneficiary, Owelle Rochas Okorocha, who was elected governor because of the allegation against Ohakim, is now embroiled in a controversy over disagreement with not a mere priest but the Archbishop of the Ecclesiastical Province of Owerri, Most Reverend (Dr.) Anthony Obinna, highly revered academic, author and conscience of the people of Imo State. By the way, Dr. Obinna, two weeks ago, presented a certificate of merit to Ohakim at a ceremony chaired by MTN chairman, Pascal Dozie, who is also the founder of Diamond Bank.
While preaching at the weekend, at the funeral of the mother of a businessman, Alex Mbata, at St. Michael’s Church, Ngwoma, Owerri North Local Government Area, Archbishop Obinna took exception to Governor Okorocha’s unilateral decision that his son-in-law, Chief Uche Nwosu, who is currently the Chief of Staff after serving as the Commissioner for Lands, would become the next governor of Imo State. Okorocha had, a few days earlier, announced that his deputy, Chief Eze Madumere, would represent Owerri senatorial zone from next year. He also announced unilaterally that his Commissioner for Information, Prof. Nnamdi Obiaraeri, would represent Okigwe zone. Not to be forgotten is that the governor has now announced the other persons who would be in the House of Representatives, and the list includes one Deacon Chike Okafor and Ugonna Ozuruike.
Though Okorocha’s wife, Nkechi, and her son-in-law, who is married to her first daughter, as well as the Speaker of the House of Assembly, Chief Acho Chim, were right there in the church service, Archbishop Obinna called a spade a spade. He stated fearlessly, as is the hallmark of all those who fight for their people: “The state needs a seasoned administrator, and not a handpicked successor. Not the governor, not his deputy, not me can determine who governs Imo State without recourse to the will or votes of the people.”
Before he could finish asking the people to go and register for the 2019 general election, members of the All Progressives Congress (APC), allegedly led by an appointee of Governor Okorocha rushed to the archbishop, took over the microphone and began to hurl abuses at Dr. Obinna. Other APC members joined him. Fearing the worst, young priests at the service formed a ring at the altar to prevent the APC people from physically assaulting the archbishop. It is interesting that the profanity happened in the presence of Okorocha’s wife and her in-law, Nwosu. They made no effort to keep the APC members in check, thus fuelling speculations that the state government had no qualms about the attempt to embarrass the man of God, who had, on February 14, released his Lenten Season message in which he advised the people to bear with philosophical equanimity the enormous pain and suffering the state government has been inflicting on them.
As if not bothered about the irresponsible behaviour of the thugs in the holy precincts of the church while the mass was going on during the special season of lent, Governor Okorocha said: “No amount of blackmail or tricks would change the plan of God on (sic) for the young man (that is, his in-law) to govern the state. Anyone fighting him is fighting God.” It is self-evident that Okorocha sees himself as the God of Imo State, so he regards his own plan for his son-in-law as God’s plan for Imo State.
Imo State is in its worst state of anomie ever. Markets are destroyed in these hard times without consideration for the victims who are quite many. Workers are owed, despite President Muhammadu Buhari’s release of two tranches of the Paris Club refunds and Buhari’s granting of bailouts on two occasions, running into humongous amounts. Pensions and gratuities are owed for several months, even though Imo is an oil-producing state.
Okorocha’s government has compelled starving and old retirees to accept fractions of their entitlements as full and final payments. The hungry men and women accepted because they did not want to die from hunger and malnutrition. State high court judges were owed for 16 months, but a few days ago got paid for six months following ex-Governor Ohakim’s raising of the alarm about the plight of these judicial officers, and thus made the nation become aware that judges were owed their entitlements for more than one year on the grounds that they were giving unfavourable judgments against the state government. The Owerri branch of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) has taken the matter before the National Industrial Court.
By adding open fight against Archbishop Obinna and the entire Christian church in Imo State to the endless crisis in the state, Governor Okorocha’s APC regime is doubling down, as the Americans say. The regime brings to mind the case of King Rehoboam in the Bible who told the Israelites when they were pleading with him to ameliorate their harrowing condition when he assumed the throne from his father, Solomon: “My father laid heavy burdens on you, but I am going to make them even heavier. My father beat you with whips, but I am going to beat you with scorpions. My little finger is bigger than my father’s loins” (I Kings 12: 15).
This callous declaration resulted in a popular revolt against the king. Israel became divided, and it was so easy for the Babylonians to conquer it.
Okorocha’s government is making history, but in a terrible way. Not even during General Sani Abacha’s malevolent dictatorship were men of God of any sect ever attacked by those supporting government, all the more so during service. If Anthony Cardinal Okogie, Rev. Monsignor (Prof.) Obiora Ike, Bishop (Dr.) Matthew Hassan Kukah, Archbishop Chukwuma and other religious critics of societal ills had come from Okorocha’s Imo, perhaps, they would have long disappeared.
The Imo governor has taken his circus show of governance too far. It is a tragedy of colossal consequence that the Okorocha government and its supporters have absolutely no respect for the sacred. More tragic is that the APC has refused to call Okorocha and his acolytes to order.
Imolites cannot wait for the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) to install a clear-headed and progressive administration as in Anambra State. An APGA government can never tolerate sacrilege anywhere. As Anambra State has demonstrated eloquently over the years, APGA is purposeful.
• Chief Duroha is senior member of the Nigerian Bar Association, based in Owerri, Imo State.