I wrote an article a few days ago about the unfolding situation in Imo State, especially in relation to the allegations of corruption against the former governor, Mr. Rochas Okorocha. It was quite short and did not capture the events in any detail. As a columnist, I try to raise important issues for policy attention and move on to other topics. I had already started research on my next issue for public consideration when I received a lengthy rejoinder, apparently written on behalf of the former governor against me and renowned journalist, Ray Ekpu, by one Onwuasoanya Jones. I gathered that this individual is a known apologist of Mr. Okorocha and a former spokesperson of the campaign organisation of his son-in-law.
My initial instinct was to ignore the diatribe and continue my work. Afterall, the author was initially courteous to both of us, even if in a mischievous way. From his tone, it was obvious that he was hastily procured, and the response offered him an opportunity to polish his profile by taking on those he acknowledged as pen veterans. While I cannot respond on behalf of a doyen of journalism like Uncle Ray, I felt strongly that such misinformation targeted at misleading the public, which he had concocted, should not be allowed a long shelf life. I also could not endure allowing a hack writer to denigrate the personality of someone that I have great admiration for.
Personally, I have some sympathy for Mr. Jones. I learnt that he has been in the trade of caustic mudslinging for his political paymasters for a while. I do not wish to come between him and his meal ticket. I noticed that even with his obvious experience in trading on falsehood, it was clear that he was struggling to find things to say and, in the process, got himself into many errors. I can only imagine the unenviable difficulty he goes through in cooking up lies against reputable people, as he just did in less than forty-eight hours, in the effort to defend the indefensible. Let me assist the author by clarifying that I am an indigene of Imo State and I grew up in Owerri. A man-around-town does not need help to move around. I have already gathered comprehensive information about the scandalous reign of Okorocha and only decided to share enough of this to trigger a public debate. I will not hesitate to open the pandora box when the time for this comes.
As a citizen and stakeholder, I have followed the activities of every government in the State, from that of Achike Udenwa to the one of Ikedi Ohakim, then Okorocha and now Emeka Ihedioha. I am one of the victims of the bad governance that was inflicted on the State by Okorocha and his family.
If you speak to people in the State, you will immediately realise that the former governor has already been sentenced to life imprisonment in the court of public opinion. From taxi drivers to market women and youth groups – citizens are continuously raining curses on him for the deceit that characterised his era as governor. However, for accusing me of the lack of knowledge, the author has drawn me out into exposing the issues involved in greater depth. I intend to raise these methodically with relevant groups, both locally and internationally, in due course.
As a citizen and stakeholder, I have followed the activities of every government in the State, from that of Achike Udenwa to the one of Ikedi Ohakim, then Okorocha and now Emeka Ihedioha. I am one of the victims of the bad governance that was inflicted on the State by Okorocha and his family. Let me quickly state here that I have not visited the Owerri Government House since Rt. Hon. Emeka Ihedioha was elected. I must not get paid by anyone before I raise my voice against what I perceive as wrong in my home State. I have raised these issues partly to guide the incumbent against potential land mines and banana peels in the political path. As for my personality, a simple search of my name would have given Jones some insight about me and made him realise the futility of his smear campaign. It is my view that Governor Ihedioha should hit the ground running and quickly establish a framework for managing whatever the government recovers from Okorocha transparently, for the benefit of the people.
Again, my comments about the former governor are not out of malice or anything personal, as falsely alleged by Mr. Jones Onwuasoanya. I have nothing against Rochas Okorocha. For a person who publicly acknowledged that he is mad, what is there to add again? You can only empathise with him. It takes such a person to display the level of arbitrariness that happened under Rochas. Imagine creating four universities only three weeks to the end of his tenure. Imagine the recklessness of donating public properties to himself at will. His lunacy only reminds me of an Igbo proverb that says that a village is not complete without mad persons, but they must not come from one’s own kindred. If this self-acclaimed philanthropist was never my governor, I will never have bothered about him. I must admit that he has an entertaining nuisance value. I probably would have nominated him for a Nollywood career, where I think he would have made a fortune. For now, I have only irreversibly committed to join every effort to make him return every kobo that he stole from the public treasury of our State.
Another alleged massive scam is the schools he purportedly built in the 305 wards of the State. Stakeholders are interested in the amount of money spent per school, in comparison to the quality of the structures constructed. Petitions are already flying around describing how efforts were made to surreptitiously withdraw N500 million from the coffers of State Universal Education Board.
I am aware that Rochas Okorocha claimed that he spent almost N30 billion on constructing 27 specialist hospitals in all the local government areas of the State. Mr. Jones should encourage him to tell us how many of these are complete and functional. He claimed to have spent N750 million on each of these facilities. Anyone who is interested should go around the State and check the quality of work that gulped such humongous amounts. None of the hospitals is functioning today. They were allegedly fully paid for but never completed. The one in my locality was abandoned long ago at the level of block work done can be estimated at less than N50 million. It has been taken over by grasses and rodents. So where did N700 million go to? I am also interested in the list of companies that received the contracts involved and those behind them. What about the so-called concession of some health facilities that he carried out? Why was there no transparent bidding process? Who are those behind the Israeli company and the Kaduna one whose directors are yet to be recognised in the medical profession?
Another alleged massive scam is the schools he purportedly built in the 305 wards of the State. Stakeholders are interested in the amount of money spent per school, in comparison to the quality of the structures constructed. Petitions are already flying around describing how efforts were made to surreptitiously withdraw N500 million from the coffers of State Universal Education Board. It is relatively well known how one strange company, Roche, was said to have been used in fleecing the SUBEB through several fictitious and inflated contract awards. On the N48 billion allegedly left in cash by Okorocha, I leave that to those who are more familiar with the matter to respond. However, I have been reliably informed that this is a lie, as the present government in the State has challenged the former governor to provide evidence of his claim. I am also aware that about N7 billion was allegedly snatched from Okorocha by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), while he was said to have been in the process of siphoning this huge funds away during the last elections. We have also been informed that if not for the fact that part of the funds was already earmarked for the World Bank Assisted rural access mobility project (RAMP), the payment of salaries and renovation of schools, this would equally have being looted. On the other hand, it was reported that the former administration left liabilities totalling more than N200 billion. Imo is one of the most indebted states in the country till date.
Beyond seizing a few properties from Mr. Rochas Okorocha and his family, the Ihedioha administration should establish a panel to comprehensively investigate and audit the former administration in the State. I can bet that the extent of decay that will be revealed will send shock waves across the country. Rochas Okorocha has brought home some ant infested faggots, like the revered Chinua Achebe once said, as such he should get ready to host lizards to a cocktail party. He can only use the likes of Jones Onwuasoanya to play the ostrich for the time being to mislead the unsuspecting ones. I can bet that Okorocha and his family members will soon face justice.
Uche Igwe, a political economy analyst, can be reached through firstname.lastname@example.org.