The people of Imo State are upset, embarrassed, and helpless. They cannot understand why Governor Rochas Okorocha has turned the state upside down with his recent weird policies that have attracted national and international condemnation, disapproval, and jeers. The people are helpless because no one can stop Okorocha from continuing in the direction he is headed. Never before in the history of the state has a governor embarked on the most publicly detested projects and yet refused to listen to public concerns, public anger, and expressions of dissatisfaction with the performance of government.
Here is a quick character test for Okorocha. The governor should sit down, pick up a pen and paper, and list the top 10 priority projects of his government. If he lists, as the number one item, his personal consuming passion for constructing statues of foreign leaders, and number two as the creation of an omnibus Ministry of Happiness and Couples Fulfilment, you should know immediately that something is wrong with the governor.
No state governor in his or her right senses would focus attention on constructing statues of foreign leaders and establishing a Ministry of Happiness and Couples Fulfilment while the rest of the citizens struggle to find two decent meals per day. This is the paradox of Okorocha, the governor who seems to find a path where others encounter obstacles.
Many citizens feel Okorocha is shooting to the gallery. He is not working in the interest of the people of Imo State. Perhaps, he feels that, in his capacity as governor, he is not accountable to the people who elected him. Whenever he lifts his eyes to look at the people, he sees nothing but little men and women of no value who could be kicked around, whose salaries could be withheld arbitrarily, and whose voices could be heard only when the governor is in the mood to listen.
All these traits contradict the character of the man who rose to office on the platform of the massive support he received during the governorship election in 2011. These people believed that in Okorocha they had found a saviour for the state. That is the nature of politicians. When they need your vote, they come to you, preach to you, and present manifestos you could not fault.
During the governorship election, Okorocha was widely perceived as a suitable candidate to replace Ikedi Ohakim, the former governor, whose policies offended many people in Imo State. At that time, Okorocha had many things going for him. He was known for his stupendous wealth, for his philanthropy, and for his relatively quiet demeanour or deportment. For these reasons and perhaps more, the people of Imo State believed that God had brought Okorocha to cleanse the state and govern with humility and humanity. Predictably, Okorocha won the governorship election in May 2011.
Unfortunately for voters, things did not go the way they envisioned. Okorocha changed almost immediately after he was sworn in as governor. His supporters said he was in a hurry to get the job done, whatever that meant. Someone once said that Nigerian politicians are like chameleons who change their colours ever so frequently. Okorocha symbolised and fitted that description.
Today, many people in Imo State lament the rise of Okorocha as governor. But that is too late now. They can gnash their teeth endlessly, they can express regret as many times as they wish but, unfortunately, all of that will not remove Okorocha from office. Everyone must learn to endure the pain associated with events in the state. You must ride out the storm with the governor, for better or worse.
The tragicomedy that has unfolded in Imo State does not leave one with the option to cry or laugh. If you laugh at the erection of statues of foreign leaders who have absolutely no relevance to the people in Imo State, would you laugh or weep at the idea that the same government has created a Ministry of Happiness and Couples Fulfilment in a state in which the welfare and wellbeing of the people has been battered?
Imo citizens are frustrated. They feel they have been abandoned but they also realise they must endure the agony until the official end of the governor’s tenure. Shout as much as they could, complain as much as they could, heckle the governor as much as they could, everyone in Imo State just has to put up with the eccentricities of their governor or they could relocate to other states. The latter is not an easy option. You cannot abandon your job because you are disenchanted with your governor. You cannot leave your family and loved ones just because one man lacks direction in office.
I am persuaded to argue that history will not be kind to Okorocha. Okorocha would be remembered for three main reasons. First, he would be remembered for owing public servants months of unpaid salaries. Second, he would be remembered for using the state’s scarce resources to construct statues of foreign leaders who contributed nothing to the welfare of people in the state. Third, he would be remembered for appointing his sister as commissioner in charge of the Ministry for Happiness and Couples Fulfilment (whatever that means).
Following the creation of this specious ministry, no one has been able to explain how the ministry would improve the socio-economic conditions of the people. How can the ministry inject happiness into the pauperised lives of workers who are owed salaries? How can couples find fulfilment in a ministry in which no one can explain what the ministry does?
Many questions have been asked by civil society in Imo. For whom is Okorocha working? Whose interest is he serving? Does he ever consult with the people of Imo State? To what extent does the governor work collaboratively with members of the state House of Assembly? Has Okorocha ever wondered the impact his policies would have on the citizens?
The other day, Okorocha indicated through his press secretary that many people would be disappointed when the achievements of the maligned happiness ministry start to roll in. But he did not say when the ministry would start achieving results or what kind of achievements we should expect. Instead, the chief press secretary, Sam Onwuemeodo, said last week: “The truth is that, the new ministry is not an accidental discharge but a well-thought-out idea that will benefit Imo people in particular, and all men and women of goodwill in general. We only ask the critics to give us time.”
This kind of defence can only originate from someone who is visiting from cyberspace. The defence flies in the face of common sense. There is no convincing logic to sustain the argument behind the establishment of the ministry. The ministry cannot be the most important pressing issue on the priority list of the Imo State government. Against the background of the numerous problems in the state, the Ministry of Happiness and Couples Fulfilment must be seen as a misplaced priority. Surely, Okorocha can do better than the half-baked service he has been providing to Imo people.