Governor Rochas Okorocha of Imo State is the new poster boy for George Santayana’s timely warning: “those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” He is learning rather late in the day that personal empires are difficult to build and sustain in modern day Nigeria.
As governor of Imo State, Mr. Okorocha was a lesson in unnecessary drama. When he was not busy exhibiting his prized handshake with the American President, he was pulling down markets and forcibly taking over other people’s lands or simply erecting statutes.
Convinced that he was invincible, Okorocha soon became power-drunk – arrogating to himself and his immediate family the power to determine what direction Imo headed. In December 2017, he appointed his younger sister, Ogechi Ololo as Commissioner responsible for an interesting newly created Ministry of Happiness and Purpose Fulfilment – in a state where pensioners and workers struggled to survive on account of delayed or non-payment of salaries.
His son-in-law, Uche Nwosu was Chief of Staff while his wife, Nkechi – according to George Etche, Secretary to the Government of Imo State – had supervisory responsibility over three important ministries – health, women affairs and works. For Okorocha, there was no limit to nepotism and self-dealing.
In the build-up to the 2019 elections, Mr. Okorocha positioned Uche Nwosu to succeed him. Fortunately, his party, All Progressives Congress (APC) thought the better of that plan and turned it down. Like one who only listened to himself, Okorocha promptly gave the gubernatorial ticket of his closet party, Action Alliance to Uche to contest the elections. Against the tenets of decent political mobilization, Okorocha campaigned for his son-in-law against the candidate of the APC. Expectedly, APC suspended him but more significantly, the people of Imo rejected his proxy.
Not only did he lose the opportunity to handover to his son-in-law, Okorocha was also denied the benefit of a senatorial “certificate of return” by the electoral umpire (INEC) on account of allegations of manipulation of the electoral process. Specifically, the electoral officer who announced Okorocha as winner alleged that he was coerced into doing so. Although there have been intense debates about the propriety of the decision by INEC to withhold the certificate, this writer thinks that to do otherwise will set a dangerous precedent.
Now that he has been stopped in his tracks, perhaps Okorocha and prospective “Okorochas” can learn a couple of lessons. For one, people need to realize that power is transient. No matter how intoxicating it might be, political power has an end date. Elected officials must therefore lead with legacy in mind. Secondly, power belongs to the people. This isn’t just the slogan of a political party. It is the reality even if the political class makes it seem like people don’t matter in Nigeria. Ultimately, it is up to the people to decide whether and how long you remain in power. Thirdly, power should elicit service and humility. In Nigeria, political power is the shortest route to fame and wealth. People think they should be served when they assume power but you are actually in power to serve. Political power ought to help you improve the lives of your employers – the individuals who trusted you enough to vote you into power.
There is no guarantee that Okorocha or his ilk will learn these lessons. However, the majority of Imo people can confirm that no matter how long the night endures, light comes in the morning!