OWELLE ROCHAS OKOROCHA
CHARLES AJUNWA WRITES ON THE 50TH BIRTHDAY CEREMONY OF THE IMO STATE GOVERNOR, OWELLE ROCHAS OKOROCHA WHICH TOOK PLACE AT THE HEROES SQUARE, OWERRI, which was celebrated WITH POMP AND COLOUR
Owerri, the Imo State capital was literally brought to a standstill last Monday when people from different walks of life stormed the ‘Igbo Heartland’ to celebrate with the Imo State Governor, Owelle Rochas Okorocha on his 50th birthday. The governor chose to mark his birth day together with the 10th anniversary his foundation--Rochas Foundation, a non-profit and non-political organisation with the sole aim of service to God and humanity.
As early as 6am primary school pupils, secondary school students and teachers of various schools in the state began to arrive the Heroes’ Square, opposite Concord Hotel, venue of the ceremony. Also, civil servants, traders, artisans, traditional rulers, businessmen and politicians from different political leanings trooped out in their hundreds to rejoice with the Owelle as he waltzed into the Golden age.
Those in attendance include former military president, Ibrahim Badamosi Babangida, Prime Minister of Zimbabwe, Mr. Morgan Tsvangirai, celebrant’s wife, Nkechi Rochas Okorocha, Anambra State Governor, Mr. Peter Obi, Ebonyi State Governor, Chief Martin Elechi, Rivers State Governor, Hon. Rotimi Amaechi, amongst others.
From the entrance gate to the actual birthday ground were adorned with flyers and banners of different types with inscriptions such as ‘Our Daddy is 50’. The event which was scheduled for 11am did not start until around 3pm when Okorocha arrived with former Babangida, who was the chairman of the occasion. Their arrival was greeted with shouts of ‘Owelle’, ‘IBB’ forcing the two personalities to return the shouts with the waving of hands. With that the atmosphere was charged for the real event which people have waited patiently under the scorching sun to witness.
After the opening prayers said by the President of the Imo State chapter of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) and National Secretary of the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA), Alhaji Sani Shinkafi, students of the Rochas Foundation Colleges from Imo, Plateau, Kano, Delta and Oyo States entertained the mammoth crowd with superlative march pass parades, which thrilled people at the arena. Graduating students of the various schools were officially disengaged.
Babangida acknowledged in his address that Okorocha through the foundation laid the “very foundation for the total eradication of ignorance, poverty and hopelessness in the lives of many Nigerian child.” He thanked Okorocha for what he has used the Rochas foundation to achieve in the country and beyond. He said that the challenges the celebrant had at different stages of his growth was the greatest motivation for the role he has undertaken to play in the lives of the “less privileged ones in our unjust society.”
The Prime Minister of imbabwe,Tsvangirai, said that the Rochas Foundation has changed lives of many less privileged children in the society who had no hope of going to school. He said that children are very important to the growth of any society noting that the new crop of African leaders should be invested in especially the less privileged.
Tsvsangirai, who described Nigerians as “dynamic and vibrant”said Okorocha should be commended for his investment in education, saying the “collaboration should be intensified and what we are celebrating today is a noble idea.”
Okorocha who promised to continue the good work his administration is rendering to Imo people declared at “50 I am no longer a small boy.”
During an interactive session with some journalists the next day, Okorocha touched on his childhood and the experiences in life that shaped his life. Asked why he declared that he is no longer a small boy, Okorocha said “at 50 you should be able to take responsibilities for whatever action you take in life. On how his growing up, he said “I found out that I was born into a home that is relatively poor from all the definitions of poverty. So, I understand from the onset that I have a task ahead of me and the name of the game is survival. I have to work extra hard to make both ends meet by combining education with street trading. So, I didn’t have a straight school experience. While growing up I was involved in street trading at one point in time or the other. Honestly, there has never been a dull moment in my life. In fact, I engaged in too many things just for the sole purpose to survive.”
Okorocha, who acknowledged that he broke even early in life, said “The first one was at a very tender age of my life when I was selling used clothes. I broke even because I was able to buy a bus. I was able to buy a bus in secondary school and I bought television set in primary school as small as I was from the sale of oranges, coconuts and used clothes. What I do is that if I sell, I post some of the profits and at the end of the year I buy something with it. So, it has been a worthwhile experience but where I would say I made the first one million dollars, was as a commission agent from the sale of used equipment in Bauchi State where Balfour Beatty was constructing the Balanga Dam. When the company was winding up I was one of the agents that sold used equipment and I made N1.1 million when it was equivalent to $1 million dollars. And I put the entire money into the business of used cars then later graduated to the sale of new cars to what they called ‘Rochas Motors” but what made me really rich was real estate business.
“At the age of nine I bought a television set, at 14 I bought a bus, at the age of 19/20 I became head of a commercial school, at the 22/23 years I became a proprietor of a school and I went into cement business (BBC) in Gboko, Benue State. And at the age of 24 plus I got married, at the age of 29 I became a member of National Constitutional Conference, I became a member of Federal Character Commission thereafter then I went to contest for governor and failed and shortly after that I ran for presidency and later became a presidential adviser. I ran for presidency again. You see, I moved on and on in life with hard work and challenges.
Okorocha also relieved the ugly experiences he had. “The plane crash experience was quite an emotional one because I had been involved in two plane crashes. One, I narrowly escaped which was Belview airline that I was about to board and later turned back because I was not feeling very good. I was very sick instantly and I was wondering if I was going to make the flight. I hope I was not going to run into problems either fainting in the plane; it has never happened to me before. That was how I got out of that plane. The one of Nigerian Airways was a messy one because we saw the plane crash. It landed and burst into flames in the bush and many people died.
At a point I heard a voice say ‘Jesus Christ’ and my faith was rekindled and I remembered that I had seat belt on and I removed my seat belt. I went to the door and hit the door, miraculously that door opened and I cannot take the credit because I know that it was God’s doing. So, I was the first actually to open the door but instead of me going down I felt I could render help so I started throwing people that are still living out of the door. But there was this young lady who looked at the depth of the aircraft and could not jump and she held the two doors so I had to hit her to create space for others.
It was a messy situation. Eventually, the feeling that came to my mind there was this chemistry teacher that I had who taught us about the combustibility of gas, especially the oxygen used by the plane. So, I remembered and I said to myself ‘this might be serious’ so I jumped out and when I jumped out the fire service brigade that was rushing to save lives in attempt to reverse crushed two persons. When the fire got to the fuel tank the aircraft blew up and what we saw was blood and smoke. Some ugly experiences I have had; I had been involved in car crash severally and I had my leg almost amputated for car crashes, so, it has been life of challenges and progress.
On what the challenges taught him and how they had bearing on the charity work he is deeply committed to, Okorocha said “For me life is nothing; life is meaningless. The only thing that makes it worthwhile is what you are able to do for others. My happiness is what I am able to do for other people not in what I have because life is really worthless if you look at it deeply. So, what I celebrated actually was what God has used me to do for the poor people because if I achieved nothing at 50 it’s not worth celebrating.
On how he wants to be remember after the Government House, he simply said “remember me for one that came and he impacted on the world and the society. I want to change the world for better, I don’t want to leave the world the way I met it. So for me the world must be better and that is why I said Imo must be better. Let me start with Imo first, Imo must be better and must leave a mark that will be an envy of the whole world. That is my joy.
“It’s no longer in the primitive accumulation of wealth. I am not excited about cars, I am not excited about houses, I am not excited about champaign and drinks. Those for me are old fashion; they are old model. The new model is impacting on the life of others because I thank God Almighty that I lack none of this. So, I am not excited by houses any more neither am I excited by cars, I am not excited by big living. I am not excited by being called a millionaire. Those things don’t excite me any more,” he emphasised.