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On the 6th of May 2011, after a tightly contested supplementary election, Mr Okorocha emerged winner of Imo State gubernatorial election, prompting huge celebrations and marches in the state. Well wishers, the poor, the rich, the young and old trooped out to celebrate their hard-earned victory.
To Imo citizens, the last leader with foresight and vision was the late Sam Mbakwe. The revolt against Ohakim’s leadership was a scathing rebuke to the trend of leadership in Imo state, one with twists and turns: imprisonment, harassment, and even many alleged untimely deaths. In 2011, the despicable and despotic civilian rule under ousted Governor Ohakim had led to a public electoral revolt.
Highly motivated, the electorate rejected Ohakim and turned to Okorocha, whose era, they believed, would lead to the true rebirth of the virtues and fortunes of Imo state. Imo’s electorate had despised rain and sunshine to cast their vote and elect Rochas Okorocha: a proclaimed self-styled populist, “education philanthropist” and now saviour of the people.
With Okorocha’s victory, Imo citizens looked forward to a series of mind-blowing impressive development accomplishment and for change premised on good governance practices. Unknown to the public however, after years of anticipation and strategic branding, the victory for Mr Okorocha was the first stepping stone towards the leadership of the Progressives Governors Forum and his ultimate ambition: Nigeria’s presidency.
Imo has not been fortunate. The cannibalistic carnage that beset Imo state has not dwindled since the late Sam Mbakwe. Ineptitude, massive corruption, lack of thought and purposefulness, amongst others were consistent in the state’s chequered political leadership and history; and the impact of this blind leadership was evident in the state.
Development indices in Imo state grind to a stop, as successive leaders, one after another, ran the state as a personal fiefdom: with phantom elephant projects (with no value and impact on the local economy). Their leadership went unchallenged, uncontrolled, as they became more rapacious in expropriating state wealth. More was the audacity and uninhibited glee in the display of wealth; and above all, brazen recklessness in the display of maddening ineptitude.
Imo state under Mr. Rochas Okorocha was envisioned to be different. Intent on securing a second term, he kicked off with fanfare. Flurry of new road openings, even if poorly done or uncompleted, began. Having promised an array of benefits including attracting FDI, huge industries and provision of jobs; Imo citizens finally believed the potentials of the state and its enterprising citizenry will become a reality under Mr Okorocha.
Party faithful believed his achievements will cement APC’s outlook as a once rejected-but-now-dynamic party working for the people in South Eastern Nigeria. Citizens believed that quick and good policy reforms and his larger than life image will help attract businesses to Imo.
Okorocha’s victory from the onset was not an open handed welcome of APC but rather a rejection of the incumbent Ohakim. He had run under the “change” mantra of the APC, touting his highly questionable private sector and philanthropist record, and riding on more of the disapproving dislike for incumbent than on his own record.
This sentiment reverberated not only in the state, but at the centre, where an unpopular and irredeemably corrupt President faced a popular APC candidate and an emboldened opposition party who rode on the continuously repeated failures of the presidency and the ruling PDP party.
Unfortunately, this viral expectation, climaxing in the pageantry and pomp that heralded Mr Okorocha’s victory has been met with characteristic failure of leadership, a lack of clarity, sincerity of purpose and the persistent ineptitude that has bedevilled Imo state.
Six years down that memorable day, Imo state under Mr Okorocha has been worse off. All human indices for development have plummeted: education, health, security, social welfare and freedom of speech. Basic infrastructure that serves or aid healthy living and businesses have grinded to a halt: roads are unpaved and many started by Mr Okorocha have been retouched more than four (4) times.
These existing and new roads, spread across the New Owerri axis, the 4th Inward roads, Medical road, Old Owerri road, MCC Road, Iba Adan, Maranatha avenue, Okigwe road. Abah branch to Okpala, amongst numerous others. Many across Okigwe, Mbaise, Orlu, and other import local governments and communities are in disrepair. Of all roads visited, only Akachia road seem to be in good shape.
Massive projects from previous administrations are abandoned: bridges started by Ohakim and the government house by Udenwa have been abandoned, the Okigwe roundabout (with no significant purpose) is being badly constructed, constituting an immense obstruction of traffic and a serious challenge to business. The Okigwe dual lane (enroute Abia) itself is in total disrepair.
Interviewed pregnant women complain about the high rates of basic (ante-natal care) health diagnosis, prompting all of them to resort to the private sector healthcare providers. Out-of-pocket health spending in Imo state is astronomical. Of the entire initiated “world class” hospitals across Imo, only one has been completed three years after (the Airforce Hospital). Needless to say that basic equipment across the general hospitals have crumbled with aging equipment, contributing to an already low standard of living.
Worse, the ease-of-doing business and microeconomic assays under Imo has been shambles. Capital access for small businesses is unavailable, and many small scale agricultural businesses have folded. Older industrial areas have become skeleton town; in fact, the only oil palm industry owned by the state now bears Roche Plantation. It is unknown if this is Mr Okorocha’s new pet peeve.
Under Mr Okorocha, Imo state’s industries have suffered greatly. His promises of jobs and industries have left no one in doubt of his mastery at deception. The “Youth Must Work” program has failed miserably, ease of doing business ratings is one of the worst of APC-led states, comparable only to Plateau state, Kogi state, and other business-unfriendly environments.
To Imo citizens, APC has successfully hoisted on Nigerians a series of calculated but well-spoken fraud-men and scammers. To think the ineffective Okorocha is the poster child of APC in the South East speaks volumes of the ineffective “change” mantra championed from the presidency itself, an indictment of the lack of ideology and purpose-driven leadership which APC campaigned for and marshalled with its media sophistry.
Mr Okorocha’s high handedness has left many communities and local governments scrambling to cope with basic survival, with many families unpaid, and having to grapple with daily basic needs. Since his outlandish refusal to pay wages and pension fiasco in the predominantly civil-service driven state (like many Nigerian states), many households have lost their revenues and the standard of life and living has deteriorated considerably.
Mr Okorocha’s moves are short-term measures intended to pacify the amnesiac public and provide temporary ecstatic succour to the public. His penchant for a flurry of construction work without real and true economic impact speaks volumes across the state.
The poor quality of work, and thought in the process of policy programs and in leadership has contributed massively to the decline in public trust and in the APC. More tragically, six years after his victory, a lot of these unprofitable non-impacting projects projects have depleted taxpayers fund that could otherwise be used in more economically viable programs.
The “rescue mission” in Imo state is replete with roads without economic impact on businesses and farmers; massive conference centres that add little or immediate impact to the state’s economy; skills centres without plans towards supporting economic clusters; and weak educational programs that offer nothing but an outdated curriculum.
Respondents accuse Mr Okorocha of being corrupt; questioning the monstrous personal estate he started a few years after being governor. Importantly, they worry about the source of funding used for the project. The subject of Mr Okorocha’s wealth is a discourse for another day. Till date, no one knows what the source of his wealth is!
Rochas Okorocha’s massive estate is the first of any sitting governor in Nigeria, estimated to cover at least 8 hectares of land. As a sitting governor, one is compelled to ask how Mr Okorocha got the land, or the money to construct such gigantic project within Owerri.
Moreover, hearsays have it that Mr Okorocha was “forced” to change the name of the estate to the “Rochas Okorocha Foundation for Africa” after the visit of President Buhari, who in his candor, frowned (marvelled) at sighting the construction of the empire and pondered on the source of the funding of the project.
His peculiar way of handling projects has opened the floodgates of impunity in implementation, ranging from poor quality to destruction of houses. Many struggling businesses have closed because of the toxic business environment, while the Owerri Council Development Agency has become the state tool in destroying shops and kiosks that hamper road construction.
Rochas’ methodology in handling “state development” projects creates a repeated Nigerian narrative of conflicting interests and unethical practices by public leaders. House of Freeda is allegedly owned by Rochas’ daughter. One is compelled to ask “with which resources was it built?” He is quick to sway the public with his benign smile and rhetoric, but deep down, Imo state is nothing but an avenue for half-brained half cooked policy programs, backed with personal agendas.
His sycophants and media apparatchiks are in full force, singing his empty praise at every twist and turn. Truly, the “rescue mission” and “Imo will be great again” has been nothing more than crafty media propaganda to shore up his image as a performer, advocate of good reforms and reinforce his image (shockingly) as a viable next presidential candidate. Ironically, in reality, Mr Okorocha’s rescue mission has been nothing but a personal and family rescue mission!
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