Owelle Rochas Okorocha exceeded himself in his comedic attitude towards governance this week. On Monday, the colourful governor of Imo State sworn in a large crowd of 28 commissioners and 27 local government caretaker committee chairmen. No, there is nothing wrong with that. Here is the shock in his Monday outing. Okorocha created a strange ministry called Ministry of Happiness and Couple’s Fulfilment, to which he promptly appointed his sister, Mrs Ogechi Ololo, as the commissioner in-charge.
She was until her new appointment, deputy chief of staff to the governor and special adviser on domestic matters. Okorocha must be the only governor in the country with a special adviser on domestic matters – his or those of the people of Imo State, I wonder.
Mrs Ololo comes into her new ministry with a wealth of experience in matters of domestic bliss. Her elevation to the new ministry created specially for her, I suspect, is a big brother’s precious gift to a sister.
This sort of appointment used to be called nepotism, a practice in the first Republic that Major Chukwuma Kaduna Nzeogwu condemned. He numbered the nepotists among the enemies of his still-born revolution. No one sees anything wrong with nepotism any more. It is the name of the political game, now in fact. Some progress? Yes.
Okorocha’s decision to create this new ministry passeth all understanding. Is there anyone out there who understands what the man intends to achieve with it? Sure, he could not have done it without some good reasons but he has not told his people. But make no mistake: he did it for his people. After all, he is an authentic man of the people. Twice the man went to the polls and twice he was the people’s choice. But I do not think the people bargained for his alawada concept of governance. He is making the state prominent on the map of Nigeria for the wrong reasons.
Has the ministry of happiness and couple’s fulfilment something to do with saving marriages in the state? Is it about making the people of Imo State permanently happy?
I was not aware, poor me, that the people of Imo State were the grumpiest in the country. Nor did I know that they were so unhappy that they needed a happiness ministry to bring them up on a new scientific diet of happiness. Nor did I know that marriages in the state were crumbling at a such a rate that the governor feels compelled by his gubernatorial duty to the people to save them by instituting a couple’s fulfilment: whatever that means.
I had read somewhere that Nigerians were the happiest people on earth. From a simple logical deduction, I thought that the people of Imo State, being bona fide Nigerians, were happy people too. I had always thought that the regular consumption of akpu with ofe Owerri had always kept the blues away from the people of Imo State. I find it painful that I have been proved wrong.
Okorocha, I am sure, has his eyes on history and how it would judge him and his time on top of the exalted totem pole. He wants history to remember him as the governor who did things that other governors were dreaming about. I am sorry to say, he is going about it the wrong way. Something has gone badly wrong with his concept of good governance. If he continues this way, he is likely to see that history has a penchant for delivering judgements that are not always good news.
I hear good things about him. His commitment to education and housing in the state are often cited by Imo people as part of his achievements. By his own assessment, his performances in office are sterling. He has said, not once and not twice, that he has done more for the state than all his predecessors put together. I am not in a position to dispute or authenticate his claims but perhaps if we strip them of the inevitable layers of hyperbole, the facts might still show that he is a great governor.
Perhaps, at the end of his two-term tenure he would have no contenders for the title of the greatest governor Imo State has ever had; and perhaps, will ever have. It seems to me he is blissfully unaware that he is throwing black paint on his white canvass. Okorocha takes himself seriously. But I am sorry to be the bearer of bad news. Some of his people feel compelled to voice their frustration over what he is making of his mandate. I have heard a good number of them say that the governor is not worth being taken seriously any more. He is undermining his legacy at the time he should be polishing it.
He has done two things that have lowered him in the estimation of those who, present company not excepted, believe that while some comic relief is necessary in governance, a consistent display of comedic attitude is strange to the serious business of governance. He is doing things that shock people and tend to portray him as something of a comedian in his exalted office. Only a little over two months ago on October 13, the South African president, Jacob Zuma, dropped by in Owerri and was pleasantly surprised to see his towering bronze statue in the state capital. It cost the state a tidy N250 million. It was a misplaced honour for Zuma whose record in office does not include any contributions to the development of Imo State.
Criticisms of Okorocha’s action came fast and furious. His critics tarred him with purple prose. Some editorialists even ordered him to pull the down statue. He ignored everyone, as indeed, he should. A man who is verily convinced of the right-headedness of his action must have the courage to stand by it and ignore the pitiful howling of the hyenas and the irritating buzzing of the mosquitoes.
In a satirical column I wrote on the Zuma statue for the Daily Trust on Sunday, I pointed out that the statue “does not only commemorate the visit but it also celebrates Zuma and his uncommon leadership of the multi-racial South Africa. Only a Nigerian state governor could see the man behind the stoic president wrapped in layers of controversies” in his own country. Only Okorocha saw the good in the man in the controversy wrap.
I predicted that “given our penchant for outdoing one another, a surfeit of statues would result from Okorocha’s authentic first action, decorating our various state capitals with hundreds of statues of African and other world leaders.” So far, no state governor has followed the man’s example. I thought follow-follow was the political game in town.
The dust over the Zuma statue palaver is yet to settle. His creation of the ministry of happiness and couple’s fulfilment tells me he believes there is some wisdom in annoying the people. Okorocha has my sympathies. He is a victim of executive power. He is also a victim of two political diseases that afflict all our state governors in varying degrees of seriousness. The first is the disease brought on by the word, executive.
Our constitution does not stipulate the election of executive governors, only of governors. But to make themselves more important and more powerful, every state governor officially answers executive governor. It drives them to assume that being ‘executive’ means that they have powers unlimited. They are consequently driven to take unwise decisions that only massage their egos but leave the people holding the short end of the stick.
The second disease stems from the fact that no one is looking over the shoulders of the governors. Their parties, the primary custodians of the power given by the people, find it necessary to abdicate their responsibilities and let the governors carry on like men with two left hands. Nothing succeeds like corrupt practices. Expect nothing to change.