By Collins Ughalaa
A watershed event occurred in Imo State on Saturday, February 27, 2021. Governor Hope Uzodimma had convened his fourth stakeholders meeting to brief the people of the State on the ongoing assets recovery programme of the State Government.
He narrated what transpired at the Royal Spring Palm Estate on Sunday, February 21, when former Governor Owelle Rochas Okorocha unlawfully gained assess into the property earlier sealed by the Government. Okorocha has been crying wolf since the recovery programme took effect with the recovery of the Eastern Palm University. The recovery programme did not start with Governor Uzodimma. Former Governor Emeka Ihedioha had listened to the yearnings of the people on the need to recover public and private assets converted to private use during the Okorocha administration. Consequently, Ihedioha established the Judicial Panel of Inquiry on Land Use and Related Matters. This Panel did not wrap up their activities by the time Ihedioha left office on Tuesday, January 14, 2020.
Distinguished Senator Hope Uzodimma inherited the Panel and allowed them to continue. At the end of their work, the Panel submitted their report to the Government. The report has been gazetted and debated by the State Executive Council and the Government is executing the reports, leading to the sealing and recovery of the Royal Spring Palm Estate by the Government. But Owelle, carried away by a false sense of security and entitlement as a former Governor and current Senator, led thugs to unseal the Estate. Anyone who knew Okorocha one bit could easily predict he would take the law into his own hands, because he is a man given to the spur of the moment, a man who dislikes the rule of law and due process; a man of razzmatazz. By taking the law into his own hands Okorocha reduced himself to a level where anyone for that matter could take any action necessary to restore and protect the dignity of the State, and perhaps pass the message to him that while he may be richer than the State as he likes to boast but he is certainly not bigger than the State.
Realizing that power belongs to Imo people, Governor Uzodimma convened the stakeholders meeting to get further directives from the people on what to do going forward with the recovery programme. The Governor asked the stakeholders to put in writing whatever they direct him to do. He said: “I do recognise that power belongs to the good people of Imo State. As a Government elected by the people, I called for this special stakeholders meeting to recourse to you on this matter. And so, as the stakeholders of Imo State and the voice of the people, I put the question pointedly to you: Do you want us to recover all looted Imo property and wealth illegally appropriated by any person or group of persons, whether high or low? Whatever answer is your give, YES or NO, I want you to put it down in a resolution right here and now, and I assure you that your wish shall be the command of my government”.
It is common knowledge that the looting of public and private assets under the Okorocha administration was dumbfounfing. Imo people have seen Okorocha’s grandstanding efforts as well. On this premise, the stakeholders commended the Governor on his efforts so far and further directed him to take all actions necessary to recover all public assets in private hands. This directive from the people of the State to the Governor is now called the Mbari Declaration of February 27, 2021.
The Mbari Declaration reminds one of the Ahiara Declaration of 1969 and another declaration on March 12, 2018 called the Imerienwe Declaration. Okorocha, who was the Governor of the State at the time had fallen out of favour with stakeholders of his party, the All Progressives Congress (APC), and the ordinary men and women in the State. The distrust with the Government under Okorocha was palpable. He had embarked on a greedy acquisition of public and private properties to the chagrin of the people and party members. Things became unbearable when Okorocha decided he would handover to his son in-law, Uche Nwosu, in 2019.
To arrest this drift, some stakeholders in the APC under the auspieces of the Imo Restoration Coalition led by the former Commissioner for Information and Strategy, Dr. T.O.E Ekechi, met at Imerienwe in Ngor-Okpala Local Government Area of the State on March 12, 2018. They expressed dismay at the “manner and speed Rochas Okorocha was transmuting himself to an ‘emperor’”. The Coalition noted that what Okorocha was doing “portends great danger to the socio-political and economic life of not only nde Imo but to nde Igbo and Nigeria as a whole”, adding that he had gradually metamorphosed from a “people’s governor” to a “tragic hero”. Their position became popular as the Imrienwe Declaration.
Many people had expressed worry over Okorocha’s spiral joiurney to a “tragic hero”. In February 2017, the Governor of Anambra State described him as a shameless son who was spitting on his father’s grave, calling him “a Motor Park Governor”. Obiano added that Okorocha “is an example of what a leader should not be”. Sadly, events in Imo State since Wednesday February 10, 2021, when the State Government announced the recovery of the Eastern Palm University from Okorocha have shown that Obiano was correct about what he said concerning Okorocha. Which Governor would acquire the quantum of public and private assets as Okorocha has been indicted of doing? Which former Governor could have the temerity to unseal an asset earlier sealed by the Governor if not Okorocha, a Senator?
If you have followed Okorocha’s political trajectory, you will not be surprised at his actions and outbursts. His emergence “under duress” as the Senator representing Imo West at the Senate tells a lot about his person. The 2019 senatorial election held on Saturday, February 23 across the country and by Sunday, February 24, 2019, the Returning Officer, Prof. Ibeawuchi, announced the results of nine LGAs out of the 12 that make up the Orlu Zone. Results from the remaining three LGAs: Oru West, Oguta and Orlu, were being awaited when the State’s Resident Electoral Commission (REC), Francis Ezeonu, directed the Returning Officer to return to Owerri and continue the process on Monday morning. But Okorocha’s thugs refused. Endangered, the Returning Officer declared Okorocha winner of the election with 97,762. “I have been held hostage here for days so I’m trying to ease off and take my life home back to my children and for the sake of that I am calling these results under duress. I was compelled to announce the result which was inconclusive. I am a man of integrity and it is not true that [Okorocha] slapped me but I was held hostage by agents working for him. I was manhandled and I thank God I came back alive. I was held hostage from 7pm on Sunday till 11am on Monday”, Ibewuchi told journalists.
Okorocha cannot always get away with his atrocious actions. Resorting to shadowboxing when he should be contrite will not help his cause. He is making excuses and justifying his shameful actions. Helped by a retinue of apologists, he tries to divert attention by recalling how rich he had been and how he had always helped the needy and owned a lot of properties across the country. These tales mean nothing realy but prove the fact that Okorocha is a bad example of what a Governor should be, a shameless man spitting on his father’s grave.
The ongoing assets recovery programme of the State Government is not contesting whether Okorocha is rich or poor, or whether he had properties in Imo State before he became Governor or not, or even whether he had been of help to the needy. The issue is whether Okorocha did not abuse his office as Governor of Imo State between 2011 and 2019 by acquring public assets. Is it right for a sitting Governor to alloacate over 250 CofOs to himself alone? Should these heavy infractions be overlooked on the basis of Okorocha’s acts of philanthropy?
Imo State is not a banana republic and we cannot legitimize abuse of office. This is why we highly commend the Governor’s recourse to the people for their directives. By this token the Governor has acknowledged that power belongs to the people and that he is the servant leader. This is a sharp departure from the norm during the Okorocha administration. These contrasts say a lot about the character of former Governor Okorocha and Governor Hope Uzodimma. We commend the Governor’s strong character and his commitment to the wishes and interests of Imo people. We further commend him for being resolute in his commitment to the rule of law and not falling for the antics of the looters who try to armtwist him. No doubt, corruption must fight back. That is what Okorocha and his apologists are doing.