|Governor Rochas Okorocha|
By Victoria Ohaeri
On May 29, 2011, Rochas Anayo Owelle Okorocha joined other 25 governors in different parts of the country to take the oath of office as duly elected executive governors of their respective states. Unlike the other governors, Okorocha’s victory at the recently-contested guber polls and his eventual assumption of office as the governor of Imo State enjoy a special standing ovation derived from the unusual valiance of people power that enabled his emergence as governor. Not only that, of all the elections conducted in 2011, the Imo gubernatorial election stands out as the most hotly-contested competition, and aroused even more public interest and anxiety than the presidential election and the National Assembly elections put together.
Right from the day the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) declared Mr. Okorocha winner of the Imo guber polls, wild jubilation across the state have neither waned nor abated. Just as the historic celebrations reverberating in churches, schools, markets and even on the streets have intensified, so also have the peoples’ expectations from the Okorocha-led administration of the state doubled and even tripled in dimensions rarely seen elsewhere in the country.
Prior to his installment as governor, Okorocha had consistently held out education as the main thrust of his four-year governance. To lend credence to that promise, he declared free education in Imo State, an action that was greeted with an unmatched elation by the indigenes considering Imo’s consistent record of the highest school enrollment in both pre-tertiary and tertiary institutions. This is not the first time the people of Imo will hear such a promise. All the governors before him did just that, and yet, left the educational sector in more ruins than they met it.
It is important to underline that Imo State is comprised of a very patient, but highly discerning public, thanks to its predominantly educated population. If Rochas Okorocha truly wishes to avoid treading the path of his predecessors, those two features: patience and the predominance of an enlightened citizenry must be so firmly entrenched in his consciousness, and must guide his private and public conduct at all times. Patience in this sense represents the ease at which the people show understanding and support to its leadership in the face of difficult situations that usually arise from budgetary constraints brought on by the state’s low revenue earnings as well as the comparatively low federal allocations that the state receives. It is also with the same ease that they are able to discern when available resources, no matter how small, are not effectively translated to concrete benefits to the populace. It is with that same ease that they often realize and loudly tell when good governance exists either on giant bill boards or is truly being felt on the lives of Imo people.
With the promise of free and better educational infrastructure well received by the good people of Imo State, there are ample reasons why Rochas should resist the temptation of making too many additional promises. Firstly, the once tranquil state not so long ago, suddenly metamorphosed into a haven for kidnappers and all sorts of criminals with the highest number of casualties recorded during the festive periods. Imo youths suddenly lost their national respect as the most academically inclined among their contemporaries. Unemployment soared. Many young people were conscripted into politics by desperate politicians to play roles that compromised their future even further. Parents mourned, while their wards groaned as they watched their tall career aspirations and ambitions slowly descend into the abyss of hopelessness and despair. What is more, the political space was saturated with the same crop of old-school politicians-for-life who effectively ensured that young people were denied opportunities to meaningfully participate in decision making as well as take part in the development process.
Even if Okorocha does nothing else in four years, but match his promise of reviving the once-vibrant educational sector in Imo State with political will and sustained action, then he has by so doing, not only upped the standard of education, but alleviated poverty by enabling young people to become future custodians of their environments and future leaders of the society. Contrary to the previous leadership styles that shoved Imo further down into the doldrums, Imo youths have a positive expectation that Okorocha will bring in highly competent young people into his administration to serve as members of advisory boards, commissioners, and that the newborn leadership will generously support youth-led development programs, non-profit initiatives and small businesses. In other words, Okorocha’s administration must provide opportunities for the youth to take on greater responsibilities in public decision-making. He must see to it that they are meaningfully engaged in ways that build and strengthen their competencies, entrepreneurial, decision-making and leadership skills. In order to make this a successful venture, Okorocha has to justify the moral and social burden placed on him by resisting the urge to bring in young people as token figures, but rather, sustain by way of policy and affirmative action, their connection with organizations and civic roles that they have traditionally been excluded from.
Media and political reports and analysis are awash with predictions of Okorocha’s probable decampment to another political party. In this regard, it is very important to remind and warn that THIS IS A TIME TO WORK, AND FULFILL ELECTION PROMISES, and not a time to deploy planning and state resources to the pursuit of personal ambitions. Those two abiding features of Ndi Imo mentioned above wear thin even with much more easiness once their support and mandate are exploited or traded in the pursuit of personal political gains.
Great Obafemi Awolowo, no doubt, is a great man by all standards. Till date, he is fondly remembered by Nigerians, especially the South-Westerners for his legacy on education that positively impacted on the learning culture in Western Nigeria. Awo’s successes are not measured by the length of the promises he made, but by the depth of the impact he made on a single sector; education! The enormous benefits, transcending generations, of that singular matchless vision and ideology are too numerous to count. By treading a similar path once followed by great men like Awolowo, chances are high that Rochas Okorocha will boldly write his name in gold letter-prints, and leave indelible marks on the pages of Imo history.
Come to think of it, will Rochas Okorocha really dare to be different. Well…..time will tell. Imo people are watching!
(Ohaeri is a Lagos based human rights lawyer and pro-poor development activist)