In about 18 months when Chief Rochas Okorocha would hand over to a new governor of Imo State, he would be leaving behind remarkable landmarks, prestigious mansions, great edifices and government institutions which a successor would find quite a challenge to match and even more to excel. When he chauffeured journalists a fortnight ago to show some of the things he has built, he said it more than once that he had turned Imo State into a huge construction camp. But then, he had declared, pretentiously, as almost everyone had thought, that his administration was on a “rescue mission,” because the landscape of Imo State before 29th May 2011 was in dire need of help. Thus, it is obvious from the start he wants to leave behind notable structures, institutions, great landmarks as his legacies as governor, at least to justify those claims.
He shows off the new Imo Government House, touting it as one of the best government houses in Nigeria. He was not bluffing. Going by the parts that were seen, the house and its décor could confidently stand beside some of the great 19thcentury castles of England. It is unlikely that any governor of Imo State would feel the need to build another Government House in the next 100 years if the mansion is properly maintained. Indeed, the Imo Tourism Board would have scores of great structures worth seeing by visitors to Imo State. The Government House Chapel, for instance, is a stunning architectural beauty with amazing finishing of which the Governor seems so proud. He seems to be a deeply religious man who never hesitates to thank the Creator for his many achievements, especially given his humble beginnings.
He took the Press through parts of the Government House Clinic which is a 50-bed hospital, which also afforded him an opportunity to gloat over his truly ambitious 27 100-bed general hospitals, one in each of the 27 local government areas in the state. It is not clear how many of those hospitals he has commissioned, but some of them are said to be fully functional.
He is also proud of the Odenigbo Presidential Guest House which he touts as the first of its kind in Nigeria and is the prestigious official accommodation of VIP guests of the state government. He also thinks it would save the state money because in the past the state had spent millions of naira accommodating guests at the Concorde Hotel and other hotels in Owerri.
The Imo State Government is also proud of its International Airport which is designed as a regional Cargo Terminal to serve the South East and the South South. Contractors are still busy on the site and are promising the terminal would be ready in about six months. This seems to be part of the governor’s effort to alter the profile of Owerri from a laid-back civil service town to being a commercial city. This is in addition to various proactive efforts to attract investors to the state through generous land allocation terms and other incentives. It is noteworthy also that the Alaba International Market is being replicated in Owerri apparently to either decongest the Lagos Market or to serve as its branch in the South East. It looks like a finished project rearing to go.
A great deal of thought seems to have gone into the building of several structures to honour traditional institutions and vital cultural symbols. The Traditional Parliament is an impressive building designed to accommodate the traditional rulers of more than 600 autonomous communities in Imo State. The actual powers which these rulers actually wield are moot but no one can dispute the usefulness of a grassroots forum like theirs to reach and communicate with every nook and corner of the state. The Eze Imo office and Eze Imo Palace are truly impressive structures that must stand as an assurance to the traditional institution in the state as proof of the government’s veneration of the institution. The Ikemba Ojukwu Centre is described as “…a monumental square…a worthy legacy for Ojukwu” and masterpiece of architectural aesthetics. The Heroes Square is described as one of the best event centres in the South East in general and Imo State in particular with a 7,000 sitting capacity and is expandable. It is said to have removed the pressure on the Dan Anyiam Stadium to ensure that the tartan tracks survive in the stadium since huge events are now held in the Heroes Square.
The Abuja Liaison Office is a six-floor edifice which was abandoned by successive governments since the military era. But Governor Okorocha “took up the challenge, went in and completed the structure.” Named Sam Mbakwe House, the Imo State Government has realized about N150 million from renting some of the offices in its Abuja Liaison Office.
The signs of city upgrades are everywhere present reflecting a forward looking vision for Owerri. The various landmarks, especially the roundabouts, compare favourably with similar structures abroad. The Imo State University Round About, The Emmanuel College Round About, the Okigwe Road Round About, Airport Road Round About, Assumpta Round About and Fire Service Round About are quite arresting, well-built and truly remarkable reaching up and hugging the clouds. The Imo International Convention Centre is similar to the Abuja International Convention Centre.
Governor Okorocha clearly has left indelible marks in many areas of Imo State but I think it is in the field of education that the Governor seems to have written his name on granite. Free education at all levels was introduced in Nigeria during the premiership of Chief Obafemi Awolowo in Western Nigeria. That Okorocha was able to introduce and sustain it shows a determined and far-sighted policy thrust that is futuristic. Education is as equally valued in Imo State and indeed in the South East and any governor who can relieve parents of the heat of school fees tends to secure their support. The children of the less privileged never forget those who educated them, who gave them a chance, who lent them a hand when it mattered.
How was Okorocha able to fund free education? The way Eminence magazine put it, “for the first time in the history of Nigeria, a governor forfeited his security vote of over N2.5 billion (a year) so that the poor children of the state can be given a free education. This is indeed unprecedented.” This is beside the ambitious education scheme of the Africa-wide Rochas Foundation. This does not include the 305 model primary schools in the 305 wards in Imo State. It does not count the model secondary schools and the refurbished older tertiary institutions. It does not include the magnificent Eastern Palm University which is likely to be voted among the most thoughtfully built universities in Nigeria if not in Africa. Owelle Rochas Okorocha appears to command the support of the womenfolk, the traditional institutions, and the church in Imo State. He has built political and cultural bridges across Nigeria. His career appears to have just begun.