ROCHAS OKOROCHA ATE MY LUNCH
Except for some political fat cats in Owerri who are taking exception to the rumored relocation of Imo State University (IMSU) to Ideato, the buzzword here is Rochas. The buzzword in Imo is Rochas. And the buzzword amongst internet chatroom fobs engaged in dispassionate discussion about happenings in Imo State is Rochas.
Warning folks: I'm not on a praise singing expedition here. My interest is human progress and by extension the progress of Imo people.
Personally, I do not know Rochas. I have not met him before. I am not from Orlu. Not even from Ideato South nor am I from Ogboko, his hometown. I am from Osuh in Isiala Mbano.
Osuh is the clan of Ikedi Ohakim (Osuh-Owerre) and Godwin Araraume (Osuh-Achara). As you can see, the two are my kinsmen. During the last elections, I supported Ikedi Ohakim against Araraume who is of a closer kinship. I am from Osuh-Achara. Focused on defeating Araraume because of internal political dynamics and contradictions, most of us in the Ohakim camp never knew that Rochas and his invading rag-tag army of tireless campaigners were like the advancing objects you find on the passenger side of a car mirror - closer than they appear.
And so came Election Day 2011, when the man we thought was very far on our radar, came from nowhere and trounced us - the supposedly, better prepared army. Phew! I was confounded. It was a shellacking experience. I was angry. I was sad that the gubernatorial political baton of Imo State had shifted from my zone Okigwe and gone to Orlu. It was a deafening bombshell which shell-shocked most of us almost into political comatose.
To be candid, I was angry that Owelle Rochas trounced my kinsman, Ikedi, the acclaimed Ikiri of Imo politics at the polls.
Like many others, I'm still licking my wounds! Down in my heart, I never wished Rochas well. I had hoped Rochas does not perform so that in four years time, my brother the Ikiri, or someone else from my area of the state will mount the soap box again and in an epic-like re-enactment of 2011 drama, defeat him (Rochas) in order, to reclaim a political mandate carelessly relinquished. I had wanted the beauty of competitive politics manifest and the beauty of democracy blossom. But in my innermost of heart, I knew it would not be easy to defeat a populist incumbent.
I did not despair. Didn't Professor Ola Rotimi warn us not to despair? 'To resign to fate' he warned in his play, (The gods are not to blame) 'is to be crippled fast.' So I began, from the day after inauguration on May 30th 2011 to tabulate Rochas' administration's political missteps. Call it the assemblage of ammunition to help dislodge him from Douglas House, come 2015. Regrettably, as it has turned out for me, Rochas Okorocha is a smart, political Alec. He has disappointed me! He is not only formidable; he is waxing to be a political hard nut.
Yes, I started to compile the failures of Rochas from day one; the resurgence of Okada people in some parts of the city of Owerri (that alone nauseated and riled me); the uncollected trash that spilled out of control and was almost evolving into an epidemic nightmare.
Then the rains did not help matters for Rochas, as flood after flood made a mess of the already messed up situation. A putrid stench enveloped Owerri. Yeah, I grinned aloud, baying for the political blood of Rochas – this man that ate my brother's political lunch; this man that ate my lunch. When a month or two passed without any visible signs of a new administration in Owerri, my appetite for a revenge attack wetted. I could not wait to begin trashing him on the pages of the newspapers, at least.
I sniggered at Rochas, who using his deputy – Jude – as his commissioner for works, began with the resurfacing of the major road networks (like they do in America) in metropolitan Owerri. He poured asphalt on them as some of the major potholes that had been accepted as a way of life on most roads in Nigeria, especially, in Owerri, disappeared - overnight. Still, I wasn't bought over. Thereafter, he moved from one major street to the other, rehabilitating them, resurfacing and sprucing them. Still I was not convinced. Rochas is a politician. Politicians are like leopards.
They do not change spots easily. He will turn out to be like one of his ilk. He was playing to the gallery. Tired of seeing what I believed was cosmetic approach to governance especially after work on the construction of the Owerri ring road had been halted, I boxed my appreciative instinct into a compartment. I waited for the man to further slip. Then I took a month's vacation hoping that before I returned, Rochas' euphoria and phenomenon will wane or disappear - out of his own making. Son, I was in for a big surprise. When I came back, I found out that instead of wane, Rochas' political stature had not only grown in leaps but also in bounds - out of his own making. He had wiped out the entire unpaid pension debts particularly those owed to teachers in the state.
He had paid 20 thousand instead of 18,000 naira as minimum wage. He had instituted lunch monies for primary and secondary school pupils and had abolished the payment of tuition by Imo indigenes in tertiary institutions owned by the state!
A friend of mine - a top federal civil servant – an Anambra State indigene visiting Imo for the first time after a long while could not believe his eyes. He made a true confession. He it was who told me a lot I had deliberately refused to see having been blinded by my wish to see the man fail.
He aroused my almost subdued consciousness occasioned by a sense of injured merit. A fastidious fellow, he it was who began to point to my admiration, the wonder and beauty that is Owerri. He called my attention to the numerous works in progress in Imo. He was awed as to the strides and beauty that is Owerri, this little Owerri and Imo State. He had a function to attend in Orlu, which forced him to behold the work Rochas was doing in Orlu. From Abuja, he had driven past Enugu through Okigwe and into Owerri, which enabled him to appreciate the work Rochas was doing in Okigwe.
He spent two nights in Owerri, which enabled him to appreciate the extent of work Rochas was doing in Owerri. It was after he had gone back to Abuja that I summoned up the courage to visit Orlu and Okigwe, deliberately on a fault finding mission. I wanted to go see the bloated Rochas achievements in those districts. I was shocked at what I saw. The bulldozers, the graders, the engineers and the technicians were all at work, altering and influencing the landscape for good.
It was after that, that I began to take a closer look at Rochas' Owerri municipal where I noticed that he had opened up a road link from Orlu Road junction to connect Nekede. I noticed that he had entered Aladinma and the prefab area of town and even Ikenegbu and Works layout. At the World Bank and Federal Housing Estate area, too. He had opened a road that ran through the Government House to Works Layout – a road I never knew existed. He had brought down the old multipurpose hall and in its place an edifice with all amenities that spell modernity.
He had completed two more buildings to augment the one built by Ohakim in the heart of Government House. He had moved into the new Owerri area where the bulldozers groaned day in day out, tearing down old edifices and replacing them with modernity. He had changed the face of the commissioners' quarters. He had cleaned up all the dirt hidden in the nooks and crannies of Owerri. He had transformed the almost abandoned Imo Newspapers complex. There, a chain of modern buildings has sprung up. I hear he wants to turn the place into Imo Science Academy. Rochas! In seven months! If this is happening only after seven months in office, what will happen in four years?
Now, come let's take you to the Heroes Square in Owerri. It is an entirely new Rochas Innovation. The square is directly opposite the Imo Concorde Hotel. As we write, work is still in progress, day and night. But from the little I could make of his intentions, looks like the man wants to create his own Eagle Square or its imitation, where parades and anniversary events like the Independence celebration would hold. It is being built, I hear, in honor of a departed Igbo icon named Dim Odumegwu Ojukwu. Close to the Heroes Square are the Commissioners Quarters which vicinity has witnessed a rapid transformation. Those quarters were built, I think during the Mbakwe era but had been neglected and ill maintained by successive administrations.
Then simultaneously he converted the multi-million Naira multi-apartment complexes that lay directly opposite the Concorde Hotel, which at a point became a sorry site. I hear he wants to make the building an extension of the Concorde Hotel. Talk of Concorde Hotel, which was rodent-infested in recent past but which has now been fully concessioned to a private concern. It has been refurbished to look like what it really ought to be. The Imo Transport Corporation too! I learnt reliably that that outfit, which received Rochas' concession shot in the arm, now, pays the sum of twenty million Naira every month into the coffers of the state government.
I also learnt the man has concessioned Adapalm - the hitherto drain pipe Imo palm plantation. The concessionaires now pay up to 200 million Naira into the coffers of the state every month. At this rate, what is my hope of dislodging Rochas from the Government House come 2015? The man after all, may have eaten my political lunch for good!
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