Imo State governor Owelle Rochas Okorocha turned 54 thursday. Bits and pieces of biographical sketches put together earlier before now by NDUKA NWOSU make an interesting glimpse into the man who says he has a superior vision for Imo State.
How time flies. 54 years ago in the little village of Ogboko in Imo State, Chief Nicholas Olero Okorocha and his beautiful young wife Josephine Nwakaego Okorocha received their third surviving child and second boy christened Ethelbert Anayochukwu. The hardworking couple had lost their first two kids to the cold hands of death, the first two prematurely while Edith the fifth child, who came after Jude now a barrister, died in Biafra.
Had they all survived Mama Dozen would have been celebrated with a cow and special ceremony but her nine kids remain a testimony to how upright they groomed these rare gifts who have made a success story in their various endeavors. What those who knew Pa Nicholas and his wife Josephine said was that they were hard working and loved each other. Every morning before the cock crowed, they left their humble two room thatched mud house and rode on their bicycles to far off and neighboring markets of Obodo Ukwu, Orie Afor, Ore Amanaka and Orie Orlu. By evening they were back to say their rosary, ready for morning mass at the St Joseph Catholic Church Ogboko.
Dateline 2011: Nick Oparandudu, an aide of Candidate Rochas Okorocha going into battle for the governorship of Imo State on the APGA platform had introduced this reporter to him. Owelle Rochas Okorocha lay on a sofa tumbling himself between sleep and work. Big Sis. Deen was affectionately massaging his body with anointing oil with emphasis on his legs. At the background Christian music blared. Sis .Deen kept whispering into his ears why he needed rest before coming back to attend to those lined up to see him. It was way past midnight. This same sister shortly after the war was brought from the Ogboko country home to join her parents in Barkin Ladi, with young Rochas and senior brother Gerald. The two boys hit their heads on the wall insisting she was not their sister until their parents resolved their dilemma. As the years unfolded, she proved to be a rallying point even as Mrs. Geraldine Adaku Obinali
When Candidate Okorocha was ready to talk, he opened up on why he was unrelenting in getting things done whether for himself, the people of Imo he was fighting to serve the second time around after the Imo PDP elders denied him victory in 1999. Bottomline: He has a superior vision for Imo State
Rochas hates to be left in the cold because he has seen all about the down side of deprivation. More importantly his Rochas Foundation, which according to his longtime partner and former director general of the Rochas Foundation College Rev Bunmi Babs, is all about service and his willingness to help those who need help. Okorocha agrees his philanthropy stems from the fact that he was a product of poverty. “I came out from a very poor background, and I slept in open spaces, I ate and drank poverty, so I can tell you everything about being poor and the pains of poverty because I saw it all as a child and as a young man,” which Rev Babs indicates is the spirit behind the Rochas Foundation.
Poverty waved goodbye to Okorocha when at 16 and a student he learned the tricks of salesmanship as a hawker for his parent’s goods, walking the streets happily in the cold weather of the Plateau specializing in the sell of second hand clothes between Jos and Barkin Ladi; poverty waved goodbye to Okorocha when he bought a television set and fan for his parents, and later a car. He also waved goodbye to poverty when at 22 he was already a proprietor and principal of a thriving secondary school-Kings Commercial College, later known as Bom Gwom College and at 24 married Nneoma, the love of his heart. In between he became many things to himself until the emergence of Rochas Motors, not the commissioned agent or cement seller, announcing his affluence to the world with a grand entry into politics as a member of the National Constitutional Conference, Federal Character Commission and presidential adviser. The young man who met his parents living in a thatched, mud house has long redefined his circumstances so much so that when President Buhari was his guest at his Spibat Resort, the equivalent of a 14 hole golf course, it was alleged he could not but be amazed.
While the family was essentially Catholic, young Anayo showed a burning Pentecostal passion for the Lord, growing over time to be a motivational speaker summarised in his MP3 audio ‘The Lion Like Greatness.’
Anayo remained an enigma, a walking question mark in God’s vine yard as a faithful and miracle worker. The Magi did not visit Pa Nicholas and his wife with some rare gifts from the east guided by a special star from Bethlehem to Ogboko his ancestral village to announce the birth of a special one. Yet as the days passed, it became clear there was something prophetic about his birth. You could say Anayo was born to run having been scared by the stark poverty that contrasted with the opulence of the flamboyant politicians he met as a child.
In Biafra he dared the officer who had just conscripted his father and offered to go to war even as a child soldier. That did not happen but everybody was amazed the way he handled the Madison auto rifle at the prodding of the conscription officer. The officer had no option but release Pa Nicholas. While the villagers were still discussing his heroic act, Anayo added another. He and Brother Gerald had gone to the farm to hunt for birds when a Nigerian Air Force bomber flew so low that it was within visible distance of sighting the pilots. Anayo drew
his catapult but Brother Gerald restrained him from shooting. Moments later the bomber flew into Orlu town and delivered what became known as the darkest day in the history of the town.
Then there was that popular ballad that all the towns and villages in Eastern Nigeria were fast embracing civilization except Orlu and Okigwe. That explains why Okorocha has turned Imo State into a huge road construction factory in progress, to do the much he can within the shortest possible time at his disposal. “What shall I tell my creator after eight years as governor of Imo State, that I Rochas Okorochas could not help to move it forward, leaning towards rent seekers to please the old order at the expense of the millennial children of Imo, “ he would ask his congregation at the Sunday service of Government Chapel.
Sadly that same group and he is ever ready to mention names, has been accusing him of non-performance and delivery of roads and infrastructure inferior to those of De Sam Mbakwe who was equally largely unpopular in his days. The fact that he is on a comparative note standing with Sam Mbakwe may well be Okorocha has something to crow about. And the new face of Imo greets you with a delightful new day.
The passion to serve, and deliver on promise is without question Okorocha’s hallmark in public service but time is of the greatest essence. Unfortunately political rent seekers in the past privatized Imo to the extent all important offices of governance were appropriated among certain families shutting out the rest of the people, Okorocha would lament. If you did not meet that criterion of belonging to the family of Permanent Secretaries for example, no amount of brilliance or hard work would elevate you beyond your current station except by some divine contraption, Okorocha claimed but today God has elevated these servants of his through another servant. Applause.
Okorocha does not mince words about what he could do to turn Imo around, make it another Dubai or draw the best ideas whether in architecture, lifestyle or environmental design from different parts of the world he has been privileged to visit, with skyscrapers, wide roads and boulevards, stretching to long distances like the Interstate 495 Capital Beltway linking Maryland to Washington DC. He is already turning Orlu and Okigwe into planned cities and generally letting citizens know the great tourist attraction centres they spend so much foreign currency to visit on holidays can be brought nearer home with transparency in governance.
A popular Imo citizen recently told this reporter he returned home with his children on holidays and was thrilled at the variety of fun and recreation centres available in the state capital. In his town Ogboko the former two time Presidential aspirant has attracted a state of the art University that will be opened to new students in 2017, along with an already existing Rochas Foundation primary and secondary schools. Rev. Babs adds the Rochas Foundation Colleges are being located in every geo-political zone with a roll call spreading from Ogboko to Owerri, Ibadan, Jos, Kano, with Sokoto, Kano and Adamawa as work in progress for each geo-political zone..
The governor however laments the absence of capital to upgrade Imo as a modern metropolis beyond his current projections. “If I had 50 percent of the revenue accruing to Imo State, I will turn this place to an El Dorado,” he once told the reporter.
When it so happened Governor Okorocha was not forthcoming to settle the godfathers and godmothers of Imo, a conspiracy theory emerged. The governor was declared dead after an encounter with a certain god called Nworie whose shrine was allegedly debased through road construction. The setting was in far away India where he had gone for medical checkup; it was alleged by the local supermarket scandal sheets. Nworie in retaliation slapped the governor who could not wake up from the land of the dead. “Look at me very well,” he pleaded: “Do I look like someone who could be slapped by a ghost or evil spirit?” The response was a roaring no. Reality check: Okorocha’s daughter married to his chief of staff Uche Nwosu had given birth to a baby boy named Nobuchi-meaning it is my destiny. The news came on election re-run day when his opponents were scheming to defeat him only for him to be vindicated with victory the same way it happened the previous election year again with another victory with an icing on the cake-
Okorocha told the congregation Nworie was a shrine for ritualists and drug addicts who hide in its vicinity to commit crimes; since the new road trespassed Nwories’s path, it has been a different story.
Kidnapping has disappeared, armed robbery, ritual killing and all manner of crimes have left the place and Imo is experiencing peace.
When will we change from our old past and embrace new ways of doing things, Okorocha asked dancing and singing his song: ‘You are Yahweh, your name is Yahweh.’
There is comedy and fun in a governor’s life too. Every Sunday after service Okorocha offers lunch to some 200 guests Hon Ogechi Ololo twin sister of Dr. Chidi Okorocha and the last born of the Okorochas adds that the brother is following the father’s footstep hosting strangers and family members daily. According to the University of Texas Information Technology graduate, now one of the three deputy chiefs of staff to the governor, “my dad was always giving. When we cook we invite everybody to come and eat. When my father died most people that cried did so because there was nobody to invite them to dinner.”
After lunch it is time to receive members of different constituencies.
Some of the issues could provide a comic relief along the way. One such character claims to have sold or leased his land to campaign for the governor. So what do you want? Cash of course or a contract! How about a job? That doesn’t sound ambitious enough, he confides in his kinsman. The governor assigns his aide to handle his problem. Another man dressed like a court messenger says he is a pastor who needs a wife. He is sexually hungry but does not want to sin against God. The governor is thoroughly amused and calls a number of single girls to know if they are willing to marry the pastor well beyond 60. One of the girls retreats quickly and swears it is not possible. Lucky pastor, another says yes but rather than be focused , the pastor now wants a car, a house and money, real money to take care of the wife to be, creating a more complex scenario
The long line narrows while the governor gets mobbed. The comedian in him pops up as he tries to pull out of the ring formed around him by those struggling to submit their proposals. He glances at the proposals picks a few and tells the rest to come back the next day. One woman screams: “I am your sister; you have not done anything for me oohh. Do something now, I campaigned and suffered for you. I am still suffering,” reminding you of the Hausa woman who, struck by the hard times, asked if Jonathan was still President. Having sorted out the masses, Okorocha moves to another level, meeting with his cabinet till the wee hours of the next day and by nine a.m. is ready for inspection. That defines what a day in the life of this governor looks like, living a thousand lives in one life time. One of his lieutenants confessed that “oga challenges everyone working under him including much younger people, adding he would ask them: “If you keep sleeping like this what would you be doing when you are dead and no one would disturb your sleep?”