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Imo under Okorocha: A tragedy foretold!

By Oma Djebah
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Governor Rochas Okorocha of Imo state continues to attract unnecessary attention to himself and ridicule to the country for wrong reasons. His recent creation of the Ministry of Happiness and Purpose Fulfillment and his appointment of his younger sister, Ogechi Ololo (nee Okorocha) to head the new Ministry- has once again thrown Imo State into public opprobrium. Technically, there is nothing illegal with the appointment if she is qualified or possess the requisite expertise, experience and capacity. But there is everything wrong with the establishment of a Ministry of Happiness and Purposes fulfillment and naming an Okorocha as lead at this time! It raises serious ethical, political and moral questions in a poor state where Okorocha has already appointed his son-in-law as Chief of Staff to the Governor: Is Imo State a family business concern?

In a state where the level of unemployment is abysmally high with an established nexus between high unemployment and increasing criminality, going by data released by the United Nations Global Multi-Dimensional Poverty Index and National Bureau of Statistics (NBS), Okorocha should have focused on matters of Sustainable Development and job creation than courting controversy. A governor’s performance and legacy rest much more on tangible accomplishments than ephemeral and comical deeds.

Tragically, every facet of Okorocha’s administration has seemingly been characterized by attempts to normalize abnormalities!. The honoring of South Africa’s President Jacob Zuma – with a statue and a street in his name – a man highly derided back home with corruption charges swirling around him, leading a country economically in recession with unemployment high, is the height of diplomatic blunder and egregious political errors. Worse still, it was alleged the official visit cost the state a staggering N520m ($1.4m) when civil servants have not been paid salaries and entitlements for months!

Curiously, this is the same state where Samuel Onunaka Mbakwe of blessed memory who by all accounts, remains its father, once governed with exceptional competence and pragmatic leadership. Okorocha’s actions remind me of ‘’The Adventures of Finn’’, by Mark Twain, the late American satirist, with the theme knitted around how the lead character and a runaway slave set out on a sailing expedition on the Mississippi, away from civilization, mirroring all the contradictions in the US! Imo is currently characterized by too many contradictions with men of integrity setting out on a sail while the state is being debased!

Okorocha’s emergence as governor appears to be a tragedy foretold! He seems to have come on board ill-prepared for the task. For, prior to his sudden emergence in the political arena during Olusegun Obasanjo’s Presidency as Chairman of Nigerian Airspace Management Agency (NAMA), not many would attest to an inspiring career or background.

Back to the hackneyed official position for establishing the Ministry. It is platitudinous and most tenuous to attempt to compare Imo State with United Arab Emirates. One is an absolute Monarchy while the other is a sub-national within a Presidential system. Most importantly, modern nations or states create Ministries based on compelling necessity with responsibilities and schedule of duties well outlined. For example, in Sweden, the Ministry of Financial Markets and Consumer Affairs, which deals with matters of consumer regulations, etc. was established to institutionalize reforms in that sector under an accountable framework. In the case of Imo, what is the compelling necessity for a Ministry responsible for merriment? Okorocha must realize that history would be very harsh on him if he persists in his rather amusing and flawed approach to governance.

Interestingly, this reminds me of Adolf Verloc, the central character in Joseph Conrad’s novel, The Secret Agent who promoted acts that generated public outrage in Britain in the late 19th century. The first time I knew Imo was in for a shocker was during the early days of Okorocha’s election when he unilaterally announced the dissolution of 27 local Government councils when their tenure had not elapsed without being empowered by the State House of Assembly. He probably forgot to differentiate issues that require administrative procedures and constitutional processes. Expectedly, there was public outrage!

Sadly, this is the same state where Mbakwe, presided over, with charming dedication, visionary leadership and abiding faith in the values of industry and honesty. Mbakwe’s tenure as Governor between1979-1983 marked a watershed in the annals of Imo history. De Sam, as he was fondly addressed by all men of honour, was a leader whose exploits produced excellence in politics and distinction in governance. As already mentioned, Mbakwe came into office well-equipped for the job and most prepared for the task. Born in 1929, in Avutu, in present day Imo State, he studied at Teachers Training College, Oleh, Delta State from 1946 to 1947 and Fourah Bay College, Sierra Leone in 1952. From Fourah Bay, he proceeded to the United Kingdom (UK) where he qualified as a lawyer having attended the University of Manchester (1953-1956), University of Hill (1956-1958) and the Inns Court (1958-1959).

Mbakwe, is referred to as the father of Imo State on account of his transformational leadership which saw him nurturing the then young state into centre of industrialization between 1979-1983. Prior to his election in 1979, he had served as member of the Constituent Assembly in 1978 and immediately he assumed office, he quickly completed all major roads in Owerri, Aba and Umuahia respectively and embarked on rapid industrialization based on a zonal model of development. During Mbakwe’s era, Imo State was a centre of excellence in every sphere of public administration. Why? Three factors: knowledge, vision and commitment.

Tragically, can we really say the same about Okorocha’s administration whose series of actions tend to cast a slur on its capacity? To hark to the inimitable words of the superlative Chuba Okadigbo, where political leaders lack capacity, the net result is awful disaster!

Oma Djebah, Journalist, public policy analyst, former Delta state Commissioner for Information and founder of The New Diplomat is on the Visiting Scholar Program at the School of Advanced International Studies(SAIS), Johns Hopkins University, US. e-mail:[email protected]