Opinion: Okorocha’s competing versions of reality – By TAYO OKE
Power corrupts; absolute power corrupts absolutely”. So says the English Nobleman, Lord Acton, Member of the British Parliament, 1865-1886. Spare a thought for the Owelle, Rochas Okorocha, the flamboyant Governor of his own special fiefdom called Imo State, Nigeria. The man who finds common cause with, and hero-worships South Africa’s old warrior, the disgraced former President, Jacob Zuma. Okorocha, like Zuma, is a successful story of a man who came from nowhere to rise to the position of influence and power, which has extended to the centre of the current national political architecture, as one of the founding fathers of the All Progressives Congress. He stuck his neck out when it was dangerous to proclaim support for what his detractors and kinsmen saw at the time as Bola Tinubu and his “Yoruba” party. He rode through the storm of the formation of the “mega party”, which crystallised into the All Progressives Congress. He then tried in vain to persuade his fellow politicians from the South-East to join hands with him to maximise the fortunes of the region at the polls. The subsequent outcome of the 2015 elections was a vindication of his strategy and a devastating blow to the interest of the region as a political force. Key institutions of state that had been earmarked to the region in the aftermath of the APC victory were made impossible owing to their insufficient level of representation at the National Assembly on the platform of the new party. “You see, I told you so, the Igbo connived to deprive themselves of power at the national level,” he kept saying to several audiences in the region who cared to listen.
Okorocha desperately wanted to be the architect of a new epicentre of power in the South-East region, and had hoped that the subsequent success of the APC nationally would propel him to the top of the pyramid in the region and beyond. Not having been able to achieve his objective, he turned his focus on establishing himself as the godfather of Imo politics in a literal sense. He genuinely believes the state would prosper more from entrenching his closest associates, including his family members in positions of power in the state if for no other reason than to maintain stability and continuity. He regularly cites the example of Donald Trump in the US, who has appointed both his daughter and son-in-law into the current administration. He believes he has done well as a public servant in Imo State, and that the people trust him to hand the levers of power unto capable hands as he now prepares to metamorphose into a senator of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. As “leader” of APC in the state, he feels entitled to the final say in who gets what, where and when in terms of political largesse and patronage. The APC leadership is said to have conceded up to 55% of elective offices in the state to him. In other words, he is free to personally select the candidates for positions in the state up to the agreed percentage. Okorocha is particularly keen on having his son-in-law, Uche Nwosu, installed as the next Governor of the state next year. It is not exactly clear what he plans to do now as the National Working Committee of the APC has refused to go along with his wish. Will he play the spoiled brat, and take away his ball from the field?
Contemporary history of political parties in this country is one beset by indiscipline, rancour and maladministration. No single party has been able to put its house in order as it were. Everyone has been playing the juvenescent field all along since the return to civilian order in 1999. No party leader has exemplified himself to any appreciable degree, no one has really stood out as an example of the party manager to emulate. Individual characters inside the established parties tend to throw their weight around, ramming particular pathways and options down the throat of their members, who are often mobilised and demobilised at the behest of the party’s strongmen.
I hasten to add that, we do not yet have full participatory democracy in this country; no real party members with strong influence on policy. What we have is more akin to following than membership. It is against this background that the Okorocha phenomenon in Imo State can best be understood. As governor of a state, the APC in the state effectively belongs to him as “leader”. This is what goes for all other state governors by the way, (except in Lagos). This is precisely what makes continuing rancour at the state level an intractable problem for all the parties. The governor is “leader” only by virtue of the fact that he controls the purse string. Money needed to maintain the party is drawn from the resources of the state, quite wrongly so in my view. But, then, it is often said that he who pays the piper does what…?
The above state of affairs is wholly unsatisfactory, of course. Everyone inside the political parties, I am sure, recognises this deficiency, but thinks there is no way of overcoming it at least in the foreseeable future because money talks in our politics. The APC’s National Chairman, Adams Oshiomhole, felt this was a burning issue to tackle head-on, on assuming his role back in July 2018. Having been governor of Edo State himself in 2008-2016, he understood the crux of the matter. He is now prepared to be poacher turned gamekeeper to clean up the Augean stables with ‘decisive’ leadership from the party’s secretariat. But, he, of all individuals should have known better. You cannot bite the hands that feed you and expect harmony in the cathedral. He has since been the subject of a “corruption” investigation, having been grilled by the operatives of the Department of State Services a couple of weeks ago. I am not necessarily insinuating a link between his management of the APC and his subsequent investigation by the DSS. In the last few days, Oshiomhole himself has threatened legal action against some individuals over “plots” to “tarnish” his image. All this may be mere coincidences, but, as they say, there is usually no smoke without fire.
In the final analysis though, Okorocha is a man from humble beginnings, who acquired fame and fortune by dint of hard work, entrepreneurship and canny. It is therefore the ultimate irony that such a man would seek to use his vantage position in public life to entrench privilege for the few rather than seek to empower the many. And what is the endgame for him? A perpetual life in political power? Having served two terms as governor, he is now poised to re-invent himself as a federal lawmaker, may be, for an indefinite period in office. He is a man who seeks to live and outlive his political adversaries; a man who could, but unwilling to vie for a purpose greater than himself and his cronies; a Walter Mitty type character around whom there is never a dull moment; a man who would start a fight in an empty room to advance his own cause. Good or bad, love him or loathe him, Okorocha would strive to the bitter end for Rochas Okorocha. Punch