Imo, one of the states created out of the old East Central State on February 3, 1976, by General Murtala Muhammed, is basking in the glow of a rebirth with the imminent swearing in of Rt. Hon. Emeka Ihedioha, a former federal legislator and Deputy Speaker of the federal lower legislative chamber, as the next governor. Imo State had always occupied a prominent status among states in Nigeria. It is reputed to have the highest concentration of the educated elite in Nigeria thus making it a fertile ground for sourcing of human resource capital, a critical ingredient for social, economic and political development.
The state’s glory days were unarguably during the Sam Mbakwe administration, which saw the exponential growth of industries, solid road network, water schemes and a vibrant civil service, among other strides. Today, Imo State is lying comatose, kidnapped, robbed, raped and left with a huge debt burden. Its bewildered and helpless citizens are still coming to terms with what hit them some eight years ago when the populist and smooth-talking Ethelbert Anayo Rochas Okorocha, a real estate developer (some say land speculator), took over the governance of the state.
Rochas Okorocha, a very skilled orator and political strategist, took the state by storm. Feeding on popular anger at that time, Rochas cut the image of a messiah, and tapped into the pent-up frustrations of the people. He created an anthem for Imo State, designed a neck stole worn on top of free flowing caftans by him and his acolytes and adopted the slogan “Rescue Mission.” It was easy for me to see through the façade and detect the early signs of the emerging fraud. But as usual, the masses, easily hoodwinked, were beside themselves with joy. Rochas, as he was popularly called, was mobbed by youths, old and young women everywhere he went. He was a rock star. A consummate showman, he brought some drama into the adulation, sometimes, stopping by the roadside to “buy” banana and groundnuts to the roaring approval of ecstatic bystanders. Screams of “my governor, my governor” would rent the air at such comic stops. While the show was going on, the master strategist was quietly dismantling all structures and institutions of governance, paving way for him to be the sole administrator of the state. He succeeded.
As he leaves office, Imo State has no viable civil service, no elected local government officials in eight years, no visible State House of Assembly.
Rochas ran a “kiosk” government where everyone desiring to do business with the state must do so through the “kiosk” window. His family and friends took turns to run the kiosk. As he leaves office, nobody of substance or consequence in Imo State is part of the Rochas scam. The reason is that it will take exceptional “hunger” on the part of any self-respecting individual to join the tomfoolery that took place in Imo for eight years. Even traditional dependants on government patronage, otherwise known as AGIP (Any Government In Power), kept their distance and endured their hunger. A lot has been written about the appropriation of the Imo State’s commonwealth by Mr. Okorocha and his friends. I am confident that the incoming administration will do its best to recover those assets in a lawful manner. The perpetrators must be given fair hearing before any panel set up to recover these assets. That’s who we are and that is what our democracy demands. The people must not take the law into their hands or embark on the destruction of these assets after May 29, 2019. They should realise that the destruction of these assets serves no useful purpose, as it may turn out that they were acquired with taxpayers’ money and ought to revert to the state if that be the case.
However, the tragedy of the Rochas era goes beyond whatever he may have appropriated to himself but the loss of eight precious years that would have seen Imo move up in sustainable development. These shoddy and show structures of the last eight years will not survive the next few months. I drove past the Imo International Conference Center the other day, the roof has already caved in, blown apart by the wind. Those shoddy structures and “china” roads will not survive the next rainy season. Imo people should look past the Rochas aberration, learn the necessary lessons, and move on. Our wealth does not lie in the plots of land Rochas carved out for himself or the wasted and allegedly stolen billions of naira that accrued to the state in the last eight years but in our PEOPLE. The future of Imo state lies in developing our human capital and utilising it to build and grow the state.
Rt. Hon. Emeka Ihedioha has shown that he understands this simple fact by involving the best and brightest brains in Imo State to help him breathe life into his manifesto. This is a foretaste of the trajectory of his administration: people-based and result-oriented.
I have the privilege of knowing the governor-elect well, especially in the last four years, when we worked closely to extricate the Peoples Democratic Party from the hands of fifth columnists. I can attest that he is a man of tremendous energy, knowledge and vision. He is also a man that is afraid of failure and has a name to protect. He will not let Imo people down. What every Imo man or woman should be asking today is not what they can get from the state but how they can help the incoming administration to restore Imo to its former glory and pride of place. We must all join hands to restore the years the locust has eaten. We shall all look back in time and remember the Rochas era as a dark spot in our continued search for good governance, equity and justice.
I know that there is no more premium on integrity and good name, yet the fall of Ethelbert Anayo Rochas Okorocha from an idolised governor of Imo State to an object of contempt and ridicule should serve as a warning to all public officials who erroneously believe that public office is an opportunity to self-aggrandize and indulge their banal instincts.
•Chief Odom, former Minister of State (FCT), hails from Imo State