Thursday, 18 January 2018

Rochas and Imo Economy By Uche Atuma

His name is Owelle Anayo Rochas Okorocha. He is the Governor of Imo State, one of Nigeria’s most enlightened states. Just like Atiku Abubakar, he is one of Nigeria’s public office holders more popular by their first names. So, we shall limit this discourse to calling him Rochas (no disrespect please).

And it happened that as governor of Imo State, Rochas (now in his second term) has brought more animation, drama and clownishness into government house. But make no mistake about it, Rochas is not your definition of a dullard. He’s smart, street-wise and a gifted orator. Smooth-talking, fast-speaking and has capacity to invent words to talk himself out of trouble and maintain his fluency rather than grope or stutter for the next word.

Since his arrival at Imo State Government House, he has never ceased to entertain. His sense of humour is simply bewildering. Gifted with a penchant to make light of the very serious business of governance, he has done quite a few crazy things. Like jetting out of the country in 2015 with a 100-man team of his aides and acolytes in search of foreign investors. They travelled to Turkey to study the country’s ‘industrial prowess’. That’s like shutting down governance all in the guise of looking for these always elusive and evasive foreign investors. Since that Jamboree years ago, Imo’s quotient in the nation’s foreign direct investment (FDI) chart is still abysmal. The latest report from the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) does not score Imo as one of the most improved states in the area of attracting FDIs. Lagos, Akwa Ibom, Rivers, Ogun top that chart. Imo flounders, yet Rochas made so much noise about his ability to bring foreign investors to the state.

Rochas is the master of make-believe. He creates illusions in the minds of people and sustains them with propaganda. At a time, he appointed 27 lawmakers in the State House of Assembly as the Sole Administrators of the 27 Local Governments in the state thus desecrating the pristine democratic principle of separation of powers. For a man famed for his uncanny ability to dissimulate and deceive at the same time, separation of powers is just an idea, not the ideal. Imo is littered with billboards showing he has delivered on his promise of paying pensions but it’s all grand deception. Pensions are paid in arrears without gratuity which is either owed indefinitely or confiscated by Rochas himself. Retirees’ gratuities are yet to be paid, some after four years of retirement.

For much of last year, Rochas was in the news. He loves to hug the headlines, anyway. This time, his sense of animation took him to a higher plateau of clannishness. He became the global moulder-in-chief. He caught the picture of a palace jester when he moulded the statue of Jacob Zuma, the character-challenged leader of South Africa. It was a gesture in vainglory. And the timing and theme of such ego-pumping exercise were both wrong. He moulded the statue of Zuma whose country has been slaughtering Nigerians in a needless xenophobic umbrage especially persons from Abia and Imo states. Zuma was also facing grave corruption charges at home which diminished his statesman profile. Yet, that was the man Okorocha chose as role model deserving a place in his Freedom Square pantheon of statues. And to think that the collection of statues cost real fortune in a state that owes workers salaries makes it pathetic. But Rochas won’t care. He delights in mocking his people with his obscene appetite for vanity. Like erecting a giant Christmas tree at a time his subjects could not afford Christmas rice. He is a man of freak impulses; an incorrigible variant of homo sapiens.

A good test for his incorrigibility was the trending altercation with a group of eminent sons and daughters of his state. Acting under the aegis of Imo Economic Development Initiative (IEDI), the group led by one of Africa’s foremost scientists and pharmacologist, Professor Maurice Iwu, had audience with the governor and delivered a letter to him. Iwu was a former Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) and a member of the American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene among other world bodies. Other members of this renowned group are Pascal Dozie, a successful banker and entrepreneur with interests in telecoms and hospitality; Leo Stan Ekeh, a Microsoft Ambassador and Africa’s foremost digipreneur; Charles Ugwu, a successful manufacturer and enterprise builder, Senator Chris Anyanwu, successful media entrepreneur and politician among other high-profile personalities from the state most of whom have investments in Imo, other parts of Nigeria and overseas.

These were the people that sought audience with Rochas. And their plea was comely: economic stagnation of Imo State and suggestions on the way out. Ever since that meeting, the governor has been raging and raving. His grouse was about the letter leaking to the media; the composition of the team which he said had persons from opposition political parties, and timing of the visit, happening when he was about to exit and when election is around the corner.

Rochas need not worry about leakage of the letter to the media. The press will always sniff out documents and stories no matter how much fearful politicians try to hide it. The governor’s reference to the political status of the team also flies in the face of logic. Not all the members of IEDI are politicians and even those that are politically partisan do not belong to the same party. Why should he lose sleep over this? The timing of their visit is also immaterial. What is critical is that Imo people now have an economic development platform peopled by Imo sons and daughters who have helped to grow economies of other states and the nation at large. This should give any leader joy and hope rather than imputing politics into their motive. What members of the IEDI did is what some governors crave for; the coming together of their sons and daughters to help build their respective states.

Rather than “we do not think that Prof. Iwu and his team deserve our respect again having abused the highly concentrated respect we had extended to them”, Rochas should deflate his over-bloated ego and work on the suggestions and solutions proffered in the letter. Success has many colours. And if a horde of successful people can close their ranks and come together for the betterment of a society, much more a state in dire need of industrialisation, any development-minded governor should welcome such initiative.

Steven Covey, the author of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People noted that “most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply”. Those who listen with the intent to reply usually make poor leaders. They deflect good counsel and at the end they do not get any wiser than they were. A typical Nigerian politician is a poor listener. He is a competent talkative, full of airs and assumptions of himself as a know-all demigod. This is the profile of Rochas. He is a deflector of good counsel. He listens just to reply, to verbally attack the speaker. That is the emblem of poor leadership. And Rochas has manifested a lot of it.


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