Sometime in 2016, the Executive Governor of Imo state, Owelle Rochas Okorocha, hosted senior journalists and editors of Imo state origin at a meeting held at Government House Owerri. During the meeting, which was his first since he became governor, he took time to explain his vision for the state. He also took his guests on a tour of projects in Owerri. A high point of the meeting was a video show. He had all the journalists seated at the executive chambers of the state government and had a documentary of his projects relayed to them. I was there.
After the video show, the governor asked for two questions or remarks before the group would proceed on a project tour. He was surprised to see all hands up. Everyone indicated interest to ask some questions. He adjusted his seat. Got a pen and paper and started recording the questions. To his disappointment, he got more than what he bargained for. Some of the journalists upbraided him for destroying Imo state. Others put him on the spot with critical questions about his management of the state and its resources. But trust Rochas. He did well to parry all questions and defend himself. However, his aides were to tell some of us that no group had spoken to Rochas they way we did. Away from Rochas, his aides commended us for being courageous to question and upbraid, the governor the way we did. Later at a diner same day, Rochas told the journalists that “no group has spoken to me the way you did today”.
As I later found out, no group was allowed to speak truth to Rochas because he cleverly surrounded himself with persons who lacked self-respect and honour. He chose persons who saw him as their economic messiah on account of appointment to a public office which they did not merit and as such, won’t allow anyone to question or advise him. To be close to Rochas, and liked by him, means being able to play the ostrich. Rochas, as a leader, prefers being told how wonderful he is even when it is public knowledge that he has been a disaster unto himself and the state. Rochas loves being attended to like an emperor. He listens only to himself and believes his own lies.
In all his public discourse, Rochas never fails to refer to himself. He sees himself as the messiah and liberator of Imo state. That suggests why he constantly, and without restraint, insults the sensibilities of the people with his boast as having performed better than all previous governors of the state put together. He may have done so, but why does he shy away from telling the people the differences in revenues accruing to the state from federation account and internal revenue generation, between those previous administrations and his? There is no doubting the fact that Imo state has earned more from IGR and federal allocation under Rochas than under all previous administrations. This is a fact the Rochas’ government will not like anyone to x-ray. Yet, roads constructed by Sam Mbakwe are of superior quality and have lasted longer. He has however had to destroy many of them to pave way for his “China roads”. Rochas successfully turned Owerri into a flood-prone city by the systematic destruction of drainage systems constructed by Sam Mbakwe. No tap in Owerri has had water dropping from it since Rochas became governor. That’s a legacy he is leaving.
A critical examination of Rochas’ mindset shows exactly why he enjoys substandard jobs. In his first major interview with Tell Magazine, Rochas argued against due process. He explicitly said he abhors due process. His reason: according to him, the due process allows for corruption. He made an analogy, in the interview, with the purchase of Prado SUVs. He argued that the street value of a Prado SUV could be N10m. But since due process demands that he takes the best price quoted, if the best price is N30m, he is forced, by due process, to pay N30m for a unit of Prado SUV knowing fully well that the market value is N10m. He argued that so doing, due process encourages corruption. The alternative he proposed, and adopted, is what he called ‘direct labour’ where ‘contractors’ use shovels to mix cement, sand and stones for road construction. For this reason, he has delivered more substandard public infrastructure, some of which had forced the Council for the Regulation of Engineering in Nigeria (COREN) to warn that bridges being built by Rochas in Imo state are death traps and disasters waiting to happen. Some of the bridges, built with bricks, collapsed before him.
For these reasons, Rochas boasted publicly that he will not fail, like his predecessors, in installing a successor. He said he will break the jinx. His ‘do or die’ disposition in seeking to foist his son-in-law, Uche Nwosu, on the state stems from the public perception of his mis-governance of the state. He needs a cover. Imo people believe he has ruined their state. They also believe he grabbed too much to sleep peacefully outside the office. His mission to impose Nwosu is believed to be his best cover for the impunity with which he allegedly annexed community land for Eastern Palms University, a state project he allegedly diverted to private ownership. Nwosu was his Commissioner for Lands when land belonging to four autonomous communities were annexed for the university. Owners want their land back.
In his quest to seek cover for his mis-governance and systematic destruction of Imo state, weaponization of poverty and glorification of his egotistic self, Rochas has engaged in fights against elders of the state. He dishes out, through his Press Secretary, something he calls ‘Press Release’ through which he insults, abuses and pours invectives on anyone who disagrees with his decision to impose Nwosu as successor to his vanishing empire, irrespective of their social status and age.
His most recent diatribe was against ex-governor Achike Udenwa, Archbishop Anthony Obinna, Engr. Ezekiel Izuogu and Eze Cletus Ilomuanya, Chairman of Imo State Council of Traditional Rulers who he deposed but was restored by the court. He called them names. He abused them. He insulted them. All for one reason: they do not support his plans to foist Uche Nwosu on the state. By constantly insulting leaders of the stage through his press secretary, Rochas fails to understand that those leaders represent the conscience of the state and also speak for the people. Rochas only needs to read into the history of the Church to understand the place of Liberation Theology in the liberation of the people from the hands of despots and maniac depressives who masquerade as leaders. Archbishop Obinna may well be Imo state’s version of Archbishop Oscar Romero of El Salvadore who was recently canonized by Rome. Archbishop Obinna is pubic conscience of Imo state.
Rochas ought to understand that to speak up, and work, against a narcissistic despot, is both a civic and religious duty. So, those who are working against the plot by Rochas to domesticate Imo, are discharging a responsibility that is eternally rewarding. The interesting fact is that Udenwa, Ilomuanya, Izuogu are all from same Orlu zone as Rochas. It is significant that it sinks home. It goes to tell that even his home zone is not comfortable with his plot to destroy the peace of Imo state. There have also been publications to the effect that Ideato-South people, his home local government area, are unhappy with the level of infrastructure development in the area. As a matter of fact, Rochas has been unable to develop any infrastructures in Ideato-South. His development of Eastern Palm university is obviously because of his personal interest. Even the General Hospital, one of the 27 he started building in all the local government areas of Imo state, is abandoned and handed over to the Police. I learnt it is now being used as a police station. Three others have been donated to the Army, Navy and Air Force. Not one of the hospitals is completed, equipped and functional. And he thinks it makes sense for him to constantly insult people who speak up against his regime of waste and planlessness in Imo state, by insinuating that they do not support President Buhari’s re-election. Rochas has failed to realize that even the All Progressives Congress (APC), is working hard to distance itself from him. The party has even said Rochas was implementing his personal agenda in Imo, not APCs. That is the precarious situation he has put the party in, making it practically impossible for his son-in-law to be electable.
Rochas will go down in history as one man who populism swept into power but was destroyed by narcissism.