ROCHAS: BEWARE OF DOGS
Every political campaign has its own cadence and rhythm, an atmosphere that sets it apart. Few campaigns during the April general elections in the country would beat the effervescence and brinkmanship witnessed in the governorshi race in Imo State. It was so, perhaps because, in politics, no less than war, the lessons of the previous campaign are often prized beyond their application to the one at hand.
If the contours of the political campaigns of the All Progressive Grand Alliance (APGA), especially that of its governorship candidate, now governor, Owelle Rochas Okorocha, remains something to talk about even weeks after the elections were over, it may not be unconnected with the outcome of the experiences of 2007. This is largely because in life and in the affairs of power struggle, people's memories of experience are shaped by peak moments, whether good or bad, and by how those experiences ended. For APGA faithful and its standard bearer in 2007, Chief Martin Agbaso, it was a case of 'once beaten, twice shy.
But, you require diligence, flair and skill to mobilize a disillusioned mass of people and galvanize them into action, to believe that 'Whosoever shall have whatsoever. That was exactly what Rochas Okorocha's candidacy meant to thousands of Imo Electorate. That was how APGA and its candidate kept going as long as it did. Of course it came with a huge prize to the messenger and the hearers of his message. No party supporters took more beatings, more intimidation and detention as APGA supporters in Imo state, from the then state government in power. Rochas himself was underestimated too long, but he came back too often. No candidate was written off so often and so easily as Rochas. But, none bounced back with more tenacity and a sense of mission as he did.
It is fair to say that Okorocha is one governor who took office without owing anything to anybody. Playing directly to the people to get elected, he will remain relevant as long as he continues to go directly to the people in his plans and actions. And, if the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) needed any reason to argue its case for Prof. Jega's promise to deliver a free, fair and transparent elections in 2011, Imo election and the emergence of Governor Okorocha, was a perfect pitch to drive home such a case. It demonstrates the fact that a perpetual optimist can be a force multiplier, and to offer oneself for public office requires a genuine and consuming devotion to the cause and commitment and passion to run the race and succeed in the quest. Such a commitment must have a bond of trust with the people. It is fair to say that Rochas would never have won if the time had not been right for him.
Rochas' election is exceptionally peculiar. The people wanted him by all legitimate means, to save them from the hand of Pharoh which Ikedi Ohakim government represented. As Rochas said in one of his campaign stumps: 'these Egyptians you see now, in a little while, you will see them no more.' That prophecy has come to pass. But maximum attention in minimum time is needed to actualize what he says is his mission: 90 days in Entebbe:
We all know what that means in practical sense. Imo is a state in emergency situation and needs desperate solution. But, to have the needed determinative impact, the governor must focus like a laser on the areas he has made his agenda. He has promised so much. He should create boundaries for his tenure and select among possible goals that are close to the hearts of the people and give timelines for achieving result within the specified period he has set for them.
Experience teaches that often public office holders run aground when they allow their virtues to become their vices. For many, making promises without keeping them become nothing new, after all, 'I am not alone', and therefore words spoken in public become of little consequence to the practical conduct of daily life. But, it will be important, and in the best interest of governor Okorocha, and for public good, to align his words with action. His action in the first two weeks such as the drastic slash in the governor's security vote, the dissolution of Local Government Councils, suspension of the so-called 10,000 jobs by his predecessor, chief Ikedi Ohakim, as well as the dissolution of the state council of traditional rulers, resonated well with the people.
However, Governor Okorocha should be aware of this fact: there is nothing more difficult to initiate than a new order of things, understanding and putting in place a set of principles that will guide the running of government. Machiavelli captured it thus: 'the reformer has enemies in all those who profit by the old order, and by the new order and only lukewarm defenders in all those who do not truly believe in anything new until they have had actual experience of it.'
The significance of this new power in the hands of Governor Okorocha and the potential to use it to make things happen will serve him well if, he will follow the example of apostle Paul when he admonished the Philippians to 'beware of dogs, of evil workers…' (Philippians 3:2). It is not unkind to say that Imo politics is full of treachery, of questionable characters, of sincere deceivers, of sycophants. Indeed, if betrayal, blackmail and outright deceit were disqualifying offences, perhaps half of the politicians in the state would be out of work. It is safe for any governor who wants to succeed to keep a long distance from them, many of them smell and act like Judas Iscariot. Ohakim left office in disgrace for many reasons. He failed to realize early that a politician fails or succeeds by his own decision or error of judgment. He acted like Nero when Rome was burning. He ignored sound advice. By the time he realized what hit him, Rochas has struck the red sea and the Egyptians moved in and got drowned. Instructively, the downfall of Ohakim is one huge political event of the ultimate lesson in failure and how to learn from it. Though no one can lead without first acquiring power in the same way, no politician can be great without knowing how best to use power. The two skills are rare, but necessary.
To succeed, Rochas must be real. He must look facts - even unpleasant facts - in the face and not let himself be deluded by wishful thinking. Finding common ground in the daunting tasks will be like the clichÃ© which says, 'Sit at the feet of an older man to absorb his knowledge'. One of the things Rochas should do is build a culture of trust by telling the truth, even when it is hard. The essence of leadership is using 'great power for great purposes'. The leader Imo needs is not just a value creator, but also a football equivalent of a game changer, a 'deadly striker' who can change the rhythm of a game and get victory for his team.
Rochas ascendancy is the triumph of the human spirit, especially for someone like him who cares passionately for people. His philanthropic gestures were real, and his victory is a reward for making the concerns of the needy his own.
I am an 'extended' beneficiary of his large heart. I first met him in 1994 as a reporter for Champion newspapers in Imo state. He was then an upstart politician just trying to break into the maze and labyrinth of Imo politics. My full coverage of his entry into politics earned me a query and subsequent redeployment to Lagos as punishment. Seven years later, I met him again, by chance this time, at NICON-HILTON hotel in Abuja, we met. The occasion was the NNPC end of year media dinner. Rochas wasn't part of the show. We chanced on each other on the hotel's foyer.
He looked at me and chuckled. 'Your face looks familiar. I asked him to guess where. My colleagues Messrs Emeka Omeihe, Alvan Ewuzie and Austen Adamu (now late) watched with keen interest. We ended up in his hotel room. After we declined his offer to go to his Abuja home, I recalled he asked me. 'Dan, what do you want me to do for you'? I said just one thing: that I have a friend, Mr. Eddy Emekoba, a lawyer who was down with renal kidney failure, but no money to send him abroad for a transplant. Rochas agreed to foot all the expenses in excess of N4 million for Eddy's transplant in India. I recall this event now because, I am not sure if Rochas still remembers, but, experience has taught me that when you help someone in need, you store treasures for your future. Mr. Emekoba is just one of thousands who benefited from his kindness.
All in all, I believe, Rochas as Governor will do well if he gives Imo citizens a bigger say in the decisions his government makes. The kind of transformation Imo needs now requires purposeful action, not just words. Only if Governor Okorocha will be willing and listen.