By Azu Ishiekwene
Whenever I’m about to forget what it means to be a politician in these parts, I remind myself of the Imo State governor, Rochas Okorocha. He combines the drama and ebullience of Ayo Fayose with the shenanigans and hubris of Wada Nas. The fellow just keeps your jaw agape, making you laugh and cry at once.
It happened to me twice last week. First came the news that Okorocha had rejected the appointment of his daughter, Uju Anwuka, to the Board of the Federal College of Education and Technology, Omoku.
He said he rejected it because he was not consulted and he suspected that it was a Greek gift by unnamed politicians who don’t wish him and his family well.
I’m sure that Okorocha knows by now that if his wellbeing depended on what people, especially those in his state wish, he would be long gone back to his village in Ogboko. The Imo State that he is governing today is, in many ways, a shadow of itself unable to pay its workers or pensioners and yet having enough to dedicate official quarters to the first family.
Imo is a chattel of Okorocha, a piece of real estate for the governor and his family. I will come to that.
If Okorocha says the offer of a board appointment to his daughter was a setup, he must know what he is talking about. But I still don’t understand why it was his job to reject the offer for his adult daughter. Wasn’t it possible for him to explain whatever dilemma it was privately to his daughter and for her to publicly and personally reject the offer for whatever reason?
How many Nigerians who are not Okorochas get such malicious offers of appointment? And God knows that out of the 541 federal boards in this country, you can count on the fingers of one hand, those where an appointment means appointment to work.
Take the National Population Commission (NPC) board, for example. The Board comprises 37 commissioners statutorily appointed from the 36 states and Abuja with a five-year tenure each. They are virtually on the same level with federal ministers, drawing comparable personal benefits, allowances and perks.
For all the free milk and honey, in a place like the NPC board, for example, all 37 commissioners appointed after 2006 when the last census was conducted have done nothing in 11 years. No enumeration, no census, nothing. But they earned their allowances and perks nonetheless.
Multiply this waste in about 541 places, including the College of Education board, where Okorocha would have us believe that his daughter was ruthlessly set up, and you will understand why the biggest favour anyone can do us is to scrap the boards, including the one where Uju Anwuka has been offered an unsolicited letter of employment. The board members should all go home.
But the College of Education board recusal was just one incident. It was, for Okorocha – my governor, my governor – one week, two dramas. The second was at the Children’s Day leadership summit hosted by the Imo State government and broadcast live on Friday, May 26.
I thought it was a day when any modest host would lead from behind, allowing the children to take the stage as they share their hopes, aspirations and disappointments with us.
In a country where one million children die of preventable diseases yearly and where 40 percent of children between the ages of six and 11 have no access to primary education, I thought the generation of leaders that has been responsible for this mess would be ashamed to preach to the same children whose future they have eaten along with their own.
Not Okorocha. He shamed shame. The summit stage was his shrine with his life-size pictures emblazoned in a backdrop. They provided a throne for him on his altar, while a few aides and security men squatted, almost incognito, on a low bench behind the governor’s throne.
Speaker after speaker mounted the stage to speak of how the governor has turned their night into day. They spoke of how he makes the sun to rise and the rain to fall and how the state could never see the like of him again in our lifetime. His Excellency grinned through it all as he fiddled with his trademark sash.
Hardly anything was said about leadership or the tens of hundreds left behind.
I didn’t see civil servants who have been compelled by Okorocha to forfeit 60 per cent of their monthly salaries and still don’t get paid the balance regularly. I didn’t see pensioners who travelled all the way to Owerri, the state capital, to sign off 60 percent of their 24-month pension arrears and yet are not getting the balance regularly. I didn’t see elders of communities who levied themselves to support Okorocha’s fourth-tier community government but who have apparently been conned.
Only the whitewashed crowd was invited. Depressingly, they also recruited children, who took turns to praise the governor in exchange for plastic hugs from him. I’m trying hard to remember the lessons the children learnt about leadership but it’s the charade that keeps coming to my mind.
I know that with Okorocha nearing the end of his second term, there’s nothing we can do to make him change his ways. He will continue to reign like an emperor and we must bow or be bended for his good pleasure.
His fingers are in every pie. His wife, Nkechi, is the only person in Nigeria who has more government portfolios than Babatunde Fashola: she supervises the Ministries of Women Affairs, Works, Health and the Office of the Secretary to the State Government. His son-in-law, Uche Nwosu, is the chief of staff, and a government building is named after one of his daughters, Uloma Nwosu. Imo is Okorocha’s chattel.
Is it too much to ask that he should leave the children out of his drama the next time?
As for the rest of Imo and other states afflicted with wolves in sheep’s clothing, the lesson is to be a little more careful the next time you vote. That’s your only insurance.
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