What manner of man is the Imo State governor, Chief Rochas Okorocha? The answer depends on who you are. His fans would swear he is the best thing since sliced bread. If you asked them, they would regale you with his populist policies and the showmanship he brings into governance. Some would even venture as far as to tell you he is the best governor Ndi-Imo has ever had because of the job creation drives, attempts to industrialise the state, efforts at providing social amenities and other strides that naturally come with the terrain. I say this because unlike the ultra-critics, I don’t believe a governor or any public office holder, for that matter, can do two terms without achieving anything. It is just not naturally possible. There must be a bridge, a road, a clinic and a school somewhere built by the administration even if it is in default.
I’m not ready to side with those who say Governor Okorocha hasn’t “done anything tangible” for Imo or that he is just a clown who loves to garrulously entertain his people. However, the other day at the Channels Television studio in Lagos, while I was waiting to be grilled, a labour leader from the state was full of anger as he plied us with the many sins of Mr. Okorocha. Incidentally, the governor’s advocate was also in the room. So, they gave us a sneak preview of the fiery exchange they were about having on screen. The discussion centred on the Imo State government approved sack of over 3,000 workers. While the labour leader passionately felt it was inhuman to lay off workers, Rochas’ guy was also cerebrally dissecting the situation for us. He argued that Rochas wasn’t laying off staff but was merely leasing them to new owners of government agencies. “The thing”, he said “is that the agencies are not working and government is paying staff for doing nothing. We are bringing new owners who would make these places work and then pay the workers. Take the water works. The place is dry. But with new private owners, the place would jerk back to life and there would be water.”
The labour leader thought differently. He said something like, “so why are the taps not running? Is it not because of the incompetence of government? If the workers are not working, couldn’t it be for the fact that they have no tools or are not rightly motivated? Why should they be sacked when they dutifully show up for work and no one get them the tools to work with?” he then promised to “deal” with Rochas by mobilising the workers and forcing a reversal of the whole thing. And that’s what eventually happened. Rochas backed out of the anti-workers policy and sided with the popular wish of the people. And you are left wondering if this was a plus for the cornered governor or a minus. What was he thinking in the first place when he mooted the idea of sending thousands into the labour market? Did he feel he was so popular he could get away with murder? Should he be commended for siding with the people when he was confronted? I know government entities that won’t reverse such a thing. Pride or a certain sense of disdain for the people would have taken over and cause a rejection of any reversal of such planned actions.
Whatever was the case, in Imo State, the people taught their governor a lesson; that he cannot continuously take them on a ride. Don’t forget these are the same masses Rochas loves to salute as “my people, my people” to which they normally respond with the love-laced, “my governor, my governor.” Today, I’m told, relationship between the big man and his people has soured to the point they now respond with “our salary, our salary” each time he calls out to them in his trademark manner. There is, indeed, a thin line between love and hate. This was the man they liked to dance with on the street; to eat with at the side bukkas, to play with at a game of draught and to drink palm wine over nkwobi with. And Rochas was the quintessential crowd pleaser. I can’t forget the iconic image of the governor sitting with an indigent lady roasting maize by the roadside. He held her child and was busy helping her fan the flames to the admiration of all. Who has ever seen a governor like that in the old city of Owerri? The people were easily taken in and, over night, Rochas became the darling of the mob. And I couldn’t help but wonder at the fickleness of a people. Sometimes, I’m forced to wonder if democracy is indeed the best way to pick leaders. Is the voice of the people, always the voice of God? Doesn’t Satan hide behind that voice too? Don’t forget Adolf Hitler was voted in an electoral process. He didn’t come in through the gun, though he went away by it! Don’t forget that many dictators across history were actually very popular, voted in by the majority of those they eventually turned against.
But back to the topic, I have always wondered what Imolites saw in Rochas in the first place? Was it his burly figure or the fact that he spoke Hausa having lived in the North? They could have been captivated by his exotic nature and the rebellious glint they saw in his eyes. Did they not look beyond those eyes? May be the fact that he was a failed presidential aspirant was the turn-on. And maybe it was the charm and appeal of the philanthropist he said he was. Or maybe he was simply the best out of the pack at the time. But then that is the mob for you. Most of its decisions are based on its emotions and the urge it feel at the moment. Or even the unbelievable promises it is made. I don’t get carried away like that. I sit back and watch as the crowd mentality dramas play out. Because I know that even the devil comes as an angel of light, smooth talking and doing the pied piper thing. If you doubt me, just look at the US presidential race currently burning up the airwaves. Why in the world would anyone sane want Donald Trump to be their leader? Mr. Trump is insulting, condescending and, I suspect, a bit unstable, yet he is his crowd’s favourite. You begin to wonder what normally takes hold of us when deciding who we want as leaders. Could it be that, somehow, we are intrinsically actually drawn to charlatans and deceivers? Is it basic human nature to be attracted to bad people?
Whatever it is, Imolites also demonstrated that the same deception that got them in the first place can still spur them to a different set of action. For me, the Imo masses have become a case study in how to marshal and use people power to achieve things. So, watch out public office holders: the same fingers that showed you the way to that office can show you out too! No longer should anyone be taken for granted by the bad boys of politics. We too can arise like they did during the Arab Spring and call for change – real change that is! – when we feel we can’t carry the burden anymore. No more folding arms across the chest in a helpless gesture. Even a long-suffering mule kicks at times. The days of docility are fast fading out. Leaders better beware that the same people who sang the praise today can well compose the dirge tomorrow. As I write this, I’m thinking 2019. Today’s office holders who think they could just get a second term, whether or not they treat their people’s right; those who think they are Lords of the Manor; those who think they have government’s might and what not; those adept at deceiving their people; well, I have bad news for you (it is actually good news): a new day has come! The people are coming with their votes and would soon deploy their might in a way that would sweep all tyrants out. Take my prophecy seriously!
Tea break with an authentic Turk!
Until I met Cemal Yigit the other day in his Abuja tastily furnished office, Turks have remained, for me, largely historical people – relics of the famed Ottoman Empire. And, like many other people here, my only interaction with Turkey, is when I occasionally eat the meat on my dinner table! But that changed when my friend and brother, Sulieman Gaya invited me to meet Cemal.
Cemal is the Regional Director of an initiative promoting the good life and other good deeds in various parts of the world. In Nigeria, for instance, they run the Nile University and the famous Nigeria-Turkish school, among other outreaches. I have always thought that school has something to do with the government at Istanbul but Cemal, a good talker and listener, told me that it was a private initiative of the group he belongs. It’s from him I also learnt Turkey’s ruler, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, all things being equal, would be in Nigeria this week.
Mr. Erdogan is welcome but he must not try to hinder or cast aspersions on the good works of Cemal’s group. I learnt the controversial president, who harbours a special hate for journalists, is not happy with what the Cemal’s people are doing around the world and is attempting to de-market them in their host communities. But I think any harmless group that gives us hospitals, schools, and other beautiful things should be encouraged to stay and work here.