The street fight between Gov. Hope Uzodinma of Imo State and his predecessor, Senator Rochas Okorocha has gripped the nation’s attention and distracted us, at least momentarily, from the tiresome daily news of kidnappings and killings. The executive brawl brings the intractable problem of corruption and reckless waste of resources by the governors to the fore once again. In 2019, Governor Emeka Ihedioha (who was removed by the Supreme Court only after six months in office) had instituted a Judicial Commission of Enquiry on Lands and Other Related Matters to investigate cases of corruption and theft of government property by the officials of government during the eight-year administration of Okorocha. Headed by Justice Florence Duruoha-Igwe, the panel received 1,532 petitions and memoranda from within and outside the state. It sat for over a year and recommended that the government should recover certain stolen assets and rectify the Master Plan of Owerri that was abused by the previous administration. ‘’The visual evidence shows that the distortion of the Owerri Master Plan is colossal and mind boggling. It requires a man and government with a lion’s heart to restore same, bearing in mind that you cannot make an omelet without breaking an egg. It is the prayer of the committee members that the report will find acceptability before God and the people of the state’’, the judge said as she submitted the report Gov Uzodinma last year. She was essentially referring to widespread cases of conversion of government’s assets to personal property and misapplication of those properties in a manner that flouts the master plan. Last week, Imo State government commenced the recovery of those assets from the former governor and his family, but Okorocha is pushing back, and it seems he won’t give up without a fight.
This case is particularly interesting because the two brawling men are chieftains of the same political party, and so the usual accusation of persecution does not arise. Governor Uzodinma has the moral and constitutional obligation to take back what belongs to Imo people from the former governor and his family, but he should work within the ambit of the law and be guided by the principles of equity and fairness. Senator Okorocha also reserves the right to fair hearing and legal representation. But he should defend his rights with legal means only, and the first place to start is to explain to Imo people the sources of the stupendous wealth he and his family have come into in the course of his eight years in office. After the era of Chief Sam Mbakwe, the Second Republic governor of the state, Imo has been unlucky in terms of the poor quality of its gubernatorial leaders. Okorocha’s tenure was particularly disastrous. The once beautiful city of Owerri became completely run down with bad roads, broken infrastructure and mounting garbage dumps. Other towns like Okigwe, Orlu and Mbaise didn’t fare better. This year, the NBS rated Imo with 28.86% poverty rate, among the highest in the South East, but far higher than the South Western states. For two years between 2018 and 2020 when I visited Owerri often, I was pained to see how seriously mismanaged and desolate the city and indeed the whole state have become. It was a far cry from the days of Mbakwe when the place was beautiful and pristine. Imo people are quick to blame Gov Okorocha for their woes. They accused him of nepotism (his family members were deeply involved in his administration), mismanagement of resources, wrong priorities and massive conversion of government property to personal use. Even before Gov. Uzodinma acted on the panel’s recommendation, Okorocha was already having a run-in with EFCC. Last year, the Head of the PortHarcourt Zone of the EFCC, Mr Usman Imam, announced that the anti graft agency had recovered N7.9 billion from the former governor. The cash has been returned to the state government, he said, noting that the former governor would face prosecution.
Let me be clear. Okorocha has not done anything unique or unusual in helping himself and family to the spoils of office. Every governor is neck deep in it. One of the most unfortunate aspects of our democracy is that most of our governors are very irresponsible, wasteful and corrupt. Unchecked by the Houses of Assembly and un scrutinized by the media (the press focus their full attention on the Presidency), state governors operate as feudal lords with the resources of the state at their disposal. Through dubious security votes, indiscriminate contracts and several other schemes, governors loot the treasury mindlessly, and with pliable Houses of Assembly, they have no one to account to. House members actually grovel to their governors for a piece of the pie. The chief executives are feared, revered and worshipped by their commissioners and other appointees, and with the help of the police, DSS and some magistrates, the governors trample upon any semblance of opposition in their states. While the media is obsessed with the Presidency, busy pummeling the President every day, the governors are left alone as the kings of the jungle. They make decisions arbitrarily without recourse to reason, logic or the economic and social parameters in the state. Akwa Ibom has one of the highest unemployment and poverty rates in the country, but Gov. Udom Emmanuel is spending billions of naira to build a huge, gigantic church, christened International Worship Center. His only justification is that Akwa Ibom is a state named after God and so God will be happy with the building. How can a nation develop with so much idiocy in high places? There is no place in our Constitution that allows governors to spend huge amounts of money to build worship places. Even if there were, current economic circumstances should have dictated that this is a wrong idea.
To worsen matters, Akwa Ibom people are characteristically longsuffering and government’s officials incredibly sycophantic. Aides and staffers fall over themselves to sing the governor’s praise and worship him. In a fit of sycophantic stupor, a commissioner in Akwa Ibom announced a few years ago in a radio interview that his Ph.D certificate is not worth Gov. Udom Emmanuel walking on! Everywhere in the country, the governors have not shown exemplary conduct. While Professor Ben Ayade of Cross River and Mr Yahaya Bello of Kogi are notorious deniers of the existence COVID-19 virus, thus refusing to take action to protect their citizens, Abdullai Umar Ganduje of Kano is best remembered for the trending video in which he was seen stuffing dollars into his babariga. Nigerians are worried, drained and exhausted by the nation’s mounting economic and security challenges. Every day brings different negative headlines, but nobody seems concerned that we will never get out of this quagmire if half of the country’s resources which are under the care of the 36 governors are mismanaged and frittered away. No matter how efficient and competent the federal government is, we will still remain poor and miserable if the governors continue to steal and waste our resources with reckless abandon. This is why I support Gov Uzodinma’s bid to recover the stolen and illegally seized assets and resources of the state government. On this score, I stand with the good people Imo State who are earnestly yearning for a return to their past glory.