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Okorocha: Running Imo like family business

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Governor Rochas Okorocha of Imo state has recently attracted strong condemnations for erected statues of visiting President Jacob Zuma of South Africa and Mrs Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, the president of Liberia. Last week, he appointed his sister, Mrs Ogechi Ololo as Commissioner of Happiness and Couples’ Fulfillment, to the chagrin of most Nigerians. In this report, ABULRAHMAN ZAKARIYA’U looks at the penchant of the governor for running Imo state like a personal fief.

Imo State governor, Owelle Rochas Anayo Okorocha, has been in the news in recent times for frivolous reasons. Last week, he constituted his cabinet, about ten months after the dissolution of the Imo State Executive Council.

On December 4, Okorocha swore in 28 new commissioners and 81 transition committee members of the local government councils in the state. At the swearing in ceremony, the state governor had described the appointees as ‘’the privileged group that has the opportunity to make names for yourselves, and put your signatures in the sands of time.’’ The government, Okorocha had warned, ‘’shall not tolerate any sharp practice or corruption of any type. Neither shall we accept indolence or laziness. You have been called to duty to help us achieve our vision in the Rescue Mission Project”. Significantly, the newly created Ministry of Happiness and Couples’ Fulfillment and the appointment his sister, Mrs Ogechi Ololo as the commissioner, raised eyebrows and the issue has been trending in the media.

In an attempt to defend his principal, Chief Press Secretary to the Governor, Mr Sam Onwuemeodo said “the real essence of life is to be happy and to fulfill one’s purpose in life; government officials are elected to address this. This is the very reason people elect their leaders: to guarantee their happiness and purpose fulfillment. A great leader therefore, is one who provides happiness to the people”. Okorocha’s action and Onwuemeodo’s explanation, according to analysts, is the peak of comedy from a governor who has reduced governance to theatrics.

Governance as a family affair
Significantly, apart from reducing governance to comical levels, Governor Okorocha is said to be running Imo state both as a family affair and a private business. The governor, with reckless abandon, has been appointing family members as commissioners, directors and chairpersons of state institutions.

In 2016, Secretary to Imo state Government, George Etche had revealed that Okorocha’s wife Nkechi, was in charge of Ministries of Women Affairs, Works and Health. Before her new appointment, Ogechi Ololo was the governor’s Deputy Chief of Staff and Special Adviser on Domestic Matters.

In addition, it is widely believed that Okorocha wants his son in-law, who also doubles as the Chief of Staff, Mr Uche Nwosu, to succeed him in 2019.

 

Presidential statues
Last October, the Imo state governor took hospitality to absurd heights, when President Jacob Zuma of South Africa visited him. Apart from honoring Zuma with the highest Igbo traditional title of Ochiaga(the great warrior), a street was named after the South African president.

To cap it all, a giant statue was erected in his honour. Significantly, Okorocha had received bashing from within and outside Nigeria for wasting state resources on frivolities. Smarting from this, the governor ran into similar controversy, when the Liberian President, Mrs Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf came calling.

Like Zuma, she was also honored with Chieftaincy title of ‘Ada Di Oha Nma’, literally meaning a ‘daughter that is pleasing to all and sundry’ and a statue. Both statues, according to reports, gulped over one billion naira.

As always, spokesman Onwuemeodo came to the defence of his boss. According to him, the Peoples Democratic Party(PDP), for the 12 years that it held sway, ‘’never attracted any meaningful visitors to the state except PDP NEC members who were coming to loot the state.’’

He argued that ‘’if all we need to do to attract good things or investments to Imo is erecting statues, then we have no option than to erect as many of such structures as possible. We owe no one any apology”.

Surprisingly, despite the public outcry, the Imo state Governor still erected another statue in honor of the Ghanaian President, Mr Akufo Addo which will be unveil in a later .

SERAP kicks
As usual, the Socio Economic Rights and Accountability Project, (SERAP) has called on the Code of Conduct Bureau (CCB), as well as the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC) to jointly investigate Governor Okorocha’s actions.

In the petition dated 10 November, 2017, which was signed by its Executive Director, Adetokunmbo Mumuni, SERAP noted that “the spending on statues and apparent misuse of Public resources may have violated constitutional provisions and international standards on code of conduct for public officers.

According to the anti corruption watch dog, erecting the statutes cannot be justified under any circumstances whatsoever, especially at the time when Imo state is unable or unwilling to pay teachers salaries and pensioners entitlements. ‘’Inviting Zuma and Johnson -Sirleaf to attend the opening of his foundation and honouring them with statues suggests abuse of office and apparent conflict of interest as such acts were undertaken by Governor Okorocha in the exercise of his public functions to presumably promote and advance the commercial and other interest of the Foundation”.

“SERAP believes that rather than serving the common interest of the public, spending over 1 billion naira of possibly public funds on Zuma and Johnson – Sirleaf in the context of their participation in the opening of the Rochas Okorochas Foundation would seem to put Governor Okorocha in a conflict of interest situation.”

Traditional rulers object
Similarly, the traditional ruler of Obinugwu in Orlu local government of Imo State, His Royal Highness Eze Cletus Ilomuanya, has kicked against Okorocha’s indiscriminate erecting of statues.

According to him, “Governor Okorocha is continuously desecrating Igbo culture, customs and values by conferring chieftaincy titles to undeserving strangers” . The traditional ruler pointed out that it is an aberration in Igbo culture to confer chieftaincy titles at about 11 at night. ‘’Only initiations into clandestine or cult groups are done at that time of the night,’’ he added. Chief Ilomuanya lamented that in recent times, Imo state has constantly made mockery of Igbo culture and traditional institution. ‘’As far as I am concerned, these visits are for personal gains and have no socio-cultural or economic benefits or relevance for Imo people.

Instead, our culture has become a foot mat for foreigners to march on and trivialize. The whole thing is exasperating”, the traditional ruler pointed out.

Misplacing priorities
In spite of reported salaries arrears, Okorocha is still frittering away state resources on mundane statutes. According to analysts, this is an indictment on the All Progressives Congress(APC), a party which came on board to curb waste and fight corruption.

As things now stand, the erecting of status which have no bearing on the people of Imo state and running government as a family affair seems like the worst form of waste and corruption in recent times. No doubt, these antics may count against Okorocha and APC in the coming election.


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