On Monday, Governor Rochas Okorocha declared a four-day holiday for workers in Imo State. According to a statement by the Commissioner for Information and Strategy, Mr. Obinna Duruji, the workers are to use this week to go to their communities and partake in the take-off of the Community Council Government (CCG), which the governor recently instituted in the state. And for this extra-constitutional fourth-tier of government, Okorocha has already approved the disbursement of N5 million to each of the communities in the 27 local councils from a subvention of N3 billion.
Of course, the N3 billion is not captured in the Imo State Appropriation Bill for 2012 which has not even been passed. But then that is a small matter in a state where the governor has practically become the sole administrator, expending public money and coming up with all manner of bizarre ideas without any legislative oversight. Almost every day now, Governor Okorocha awards multi-billion Naira contracts for roads, for schools, for hospitals, for hotels, for farms etc. and you wonder where the money to fund all these projects is coming from.
Governor Okorocha is evidently a populist and there is nothing wrong with populism except that it has to be rooted in realistic expectations. Okorocha for instance tells his Imo people that his state which still depends largely on its meagre allocation from the Federation Account is very buoyant. And with minimal internally generated revenue, he has declared free education at all levels in Imo State and has even decided to be paying salaries to primary school pupils! In fulfilment of that pledge, he actually went to some schools where the pupils lined up for him to pay them N100 each.
In Imo State today, it is one day, one promise. Okorocha is going to build a megacity in Okigwe; he will build two palm oil plantations; he will construct a 25-storey hotel; he will build three universities for the state; he will construct an ecumenical centre; and he has already taken over all federal roads in the state for which he has awarded contracts without any documentation!
I was in the United States during the April 2011 elections but I followed all the drama in Imo and actually wanted Okorocha to win. So when he did, I was very happy. Unfortunately, right from his first day in office, Okorocha started giving people cause for concerns as to whether he understands his brief as governor. I recall that as early in the day as August last year, his brand of governance was a subject of discussion at our editorial board. We marvelled at some of his antics and actually did an editorial to remind him of his responsibilities. “His most notable achievement to date has been to make headline news for all sorts of gaffes. From daubing himself in blood and disguising himself ala ‘Aluwe’ while pretending to be a victim of road accident just to make a point about service delivery at the Federal Medical Centre, Owerri, to whimsical decisions on traditional and academic institutions, Okorocha is literally making a mockery of his office and does not seem to care what people think or say,” we wrote.
We were also worried about the unwieldy nature of his political appointments. In addition to 17 commissioners and 14 Senior Special Assistants, Okorocha had appointed a further 80 men and women as Special Assistants and members of various Mayoral Affairs Committees. For example, he has a Senior Special Assistant on Lagos Liaison office and a Special Assistant on Lagos Affairs; Senior Special Assistant, NDDC and Special Assistant on Niger Delta; and of course he appointed for the state a Chief Comedian who is also a Special Assistant! And while swearing them in, the governor said they would have to source for funds with which to run their offices thus effectively turning them to no more than executive touts.
On March 24 this year, Okorocha was in Kosovo where he signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with their government to construct housing estates, establish an agro-processing plant and build an independent power plant, all in Imo state. When completed, according to the governor, this planned power plant would supply the state with 500 megawatts of electricity! But as I watched the video clip on AIT, something struck me as odd. His host, the Deputy Prime Minister of Kosovo, Mr. Behgdey Pacconi, had spoken in Albanian, the main official language of his country thus needing an interpreter. When it was the turn of Okorocha to respond, he apparently felt he also needed an interpreter so he decided to speak in Igbo language. A former senator on his delegation now had to interpret into English for the Kosovo interpreter to now translate into Albanian. The whole episode reminded me of ‘Icheoku’, arguably one of the best television drama series in the eighties.
But Okorocha is not without redemption as he is also a passionate man. I guess that is why he wants to achieve results quickly. But he must also realize that this is a democracy where planning, transparency and processes are also important for him to leave any lasting legacy. He cannot continue to run his administration by whims as is the case right now.
There is no doubt that Governor Okorocha came to office with a popular mandate and I believe he is in haste to make a difference in his state. But to do so, he must understand that running a government requires having in place proper structures which will enable him to promote transparency and accountability. He must also align the direction and goals of his administration within the available. I sincerely want Governor Okorocha to succeed but for him to do that, he needs to sit down to reflect on the kind of legacy he wants to bequeath to his state when his tenure is done.
• This piece was first published in THISDAY on 9th February, 2012