The day had begun with great expectations of witnessing first-hand the over 1000 projects Governor Rochas Okorocha says he has executed for the people of Imo.
No one knew five northern governors on a peace mission to the South east and South south were in Imo to round off their visit, rest and complete their assignment of seeking for a peaceful co-existence among Nigerians no matter where they are domiciled. And possibly help the Imo governor cut his birthday cake after a robust celebration with the state women’s wing of the All Progressives Congress (APC). Governor of Borno State and chairman Northern Governor Forum Kashim Shettima hinted he had to leave the killings going on in his state to join Governor Aminu Tambuwal of Sokoto State, Simon Lalong of Platueau State, Aminu Bello Masari of Katsina State and Abubakar Atiku Bagudu of Kebbi State, to attend to a more urgent national assignment. He said: “What we wanted to forestall actually was a mass movement of Nigerians from one part of the country to another. It was a very dangerous signal. That is why we have a moral obligation as stakeholders to make things work in this country. We are all part of the leadership challenges we are facing, and none of us can exonerate him or herself from blame.”
Okorocha had invited over 50 senior journalists, editors and columnists to see for themselves what looks like a mirage to critics too eager to inform the world Imo State under Okorocha is clustered with abandoned projects. The governor was on the wheels taking the journalists round some of these projects. He insisted he is not a man who leaves his projects half way and by seeing what he has done, work in progress cannot be written off as an incomplete project. Has he identified who his successor would be to ensure his good works are not dumped by someone who does not share the same vision as he has? Okorocha said yes but refused to disclose who this person is and on prodding said he would rather not do so now for security reasons. Okorocha has had a turbulent third quarter of the year with the demolition of the Ekeukwu market and its relocation resisted by the traders who had challenged him in court. Unfortunately a life was lost through a stray bullet and his adversaries went to town to give him a bad publicity.
Interestingly among his over 1000 projects are new markets where street traders dotted all over the state capital had been relocated paving way to reconstruct the city according to an existing master plan. Obviously in the short run many an indigene would feel uncomfortable with the wind of change the governor’s policies are creating in certain quarters but in the long run long after he has left, his contributions for re-building the state may be applauded.
In his interaction with the visiting journalists while waiting for his guests from the north, Nnamdi Kanu and his Independent People of Biafra-IPOB took the front burner and emotions rose for and against. While a lot of Kanu’s kinsmen were angry that the let’s have a referendum campaigner may have gone off the handle with minimum compromise from elders who wished to guide him, he was not totally condemnable in bringing the issues affecting the Igbo in the polity to national attention. We’ve had his like in the recent past – the Gani Adams, the Tompolos and many others who were not crucified, they argued. Why is Kanu being vilified out of context for expressing his non-violent views? Some asked.
Okorocha in welcoming the chairman of Northern Governors Forum, Shettima, did acknowledge the fact that there was trepidation in the Southeast over the attitude of President Muhammadu Buhari, who has relegated the zone to the backseat for not giving him electoral backing. This feeling of abandonment among the people of the South East, Okorocha added, may be one of perception but advised from the viewpoint of a statesman that “as untrue as this may be, it remains the general feeling of the people in this part of the world. So, you coming to bridge the gap is a right step in the right direction.”
Beyond that, Okorocha did ask pointedly, “who is Nnamdi Kanu to decide for Rochas when to go to war.” Of course this view represents the opinion of many a Biafran who passed through the heat of war for almost 36 months. Kanu met an Owerri and Umuahia largely transformed from the ravages of the Nigerian-Biafran conflict. Okorocha himself saw the Nigerian Air Force decapitate his town Orlu on an afternoon he attempted to use his catapult to bring down the pilot and his bomber aircraft until his brother Gerald prevented him from going further. He at a tender age of seven stopped the Biafran soldiers from conscripting his father into the army offering himself as a replacement with un-paralelled bravery for his age as he insisted on taking hold of the Madison automatic gun to demonstrate his capability and willingness to go to war if the need arose. The young Okorocha had no doubt witnessed so many deaths and suffering left behind by the ravages of war. Since Kanu and his generation did not experience this, the tendency to seek a rebirth of Biafra against perceived marginalisation in the Nigerian experiment becomes a surging desire.
Okorocha and Shettima disagreed. Okorocha reminded those proponents of marginalisation that under the Jonathan Administration, the Igbo had so much going for them but what did their leaders do to help recreate the falling infrastructure in the zone beyond lining their pockets by playing prebendal politics? “The hard truth is that Igbo play the worst politics in Nigeria, they play this politics because of sentiments protecting one of their own from the South-South, and now the northerners have understood that they can become president with or without the Igbo. We must condemn what is happening and find a way to re-engineer ourselves to the system. I have never supported IPOB.”
The Imo governor advised the Igbo to apply wisdom in approaching issues of governance and inclusion in the political space reminding them someday the Igbo might be considered for the Presidency of this great nation and must not be found wanting, given that all the geographical zones of the country have had their take of Aso Rock tenancy.
According to Okorocha, the Igbo must count their blessings with their wealth spread across the entire country unlike those from other ethnic divides who have little investment in the Southeast. On the issue of IPOB, he was emphatic that the organisation was not healthy for the people of the South East. Agreed the Igbo has the right to complain of marginalisation, is the separatist ideology being propagated by IPOB the best way to go about it, he queried, insisting there were superior arguments that could be brought to the political space in the on-going conversation on Southeast marginalisation. “If there is a crisis now, there is no Hausa man in Igbo land who has a duplex, there is no Yoruba man who has a room and parlour or a N20 million investment in Igbo land, but Igbos have trillions of naira virtually everywhere. The same people are asking for secession. If Igbo are asked to go, what happens? They would lose their property, and all of us are keeping quiet, supporting IPOB,” the Imo governor argued vehemently insisting the IPOB was too primitive for the Igbo nation to follow in their quest to right the perceived wrongs in playing critical role in the Nigerian political space.
As if Atiku Abubakar was listening to Okorocha, he reminded his people just last week the Igbo was devastated by the civil war but have remarkably emerged from the ruins more prosperous unlike their northern brothers and sisters who still live in mud houses.
Shettima spoke eloquently along the way and those who knew him from a distance could not believe his persuasive force on matters of national discourse. However it was contentious whether IPOB was in anyway comparable to Boko Haram to warrant his assertion that it was a more frightening episode when compared to the terrorist organisation affiliated to the deadly Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, with the thousands of deaths and the maimed it has left in its wake. Shettima who was waving an olive branch brought a brotherly handshake of peace and convincingly reminded all the devastation that could have been triggered with reprisal attacks from the north and the east. The Borno State governor explained that the creation of Nigeria was not a mistake, referring to the founding fathers – Herbert Macaulay, Nnamdi Azikiwe, Ahmadu Bello and Obafemi Awolowo, prompting citizens wherever they are to allow tolerance, love and an accommodating spirit to be their watchwords in relating with each other.
Boko Haram had just left another devastating attack that took out over 20 lives just before Shettima and his entourage left their various seats of governance to embark on their journey to the Southeast. His words: “Only this morning, 25 people were killed in my state via explosions carried out by three suicide bombers, but I have to be on this mission because of what it means to the nation,” For him no sacrifice was too small to keep Nigeria’s unity intact, which was why he retreated the IPOB scenario called for a sense of urgency in dealing with the emerging drums of war, a catastrophe that could consume the nation.
His extempore delivery pointedly called on every Nigerian to be patriotic reaffirming that agitations on restructuring were genuine and deserved attention. Tambuwal followed this up in response to the complacency of the National Assembly’s response to restructuring. The House of Representatives under him, he restated, had a robust discusson on restructuring and that he remained a proponent of restructuring the country even as the debate rages.
Shettima went on to commend his host for his vocal condemnation of IPOB and more importantly steering Imo people away from the IPOB agitation and reaping the benefits of a peace loving state, in particular the governors of the Southeast for their uncommon leadership quality exhibited in combating the secessionist agitation “in these trying moments of the nation’s contemporary political history,” because as he put it, “in politics, perception counts and symbolism matters. So we are here largely to identify with our governor colleagues; to visit the northern communities in their states and to reassure them that our governor colleagues are equal to the task.” Of course the pan-cultural outfit Ohaneze Ndigbo leadership seems to have set the ball rolling making timely visits to the north assuring the Igbo communities out there that there was no cause for alarm. And like Shettima expounded, what the country owed its citizens are justice, equity and fairness.
Okorocha was happy to play host and reminded his other guests he was doing what he was expected to do and that they were perfectly at home spending their night in the beautiful confines of Government Guest House. Next day the delegation met the Hausa community in the state capital and got the assurance of safety and cordial relationship they needed in these trying times. They were too eager to report Okorocha is indeed the type of landlord you would want to live with for the rest of your life, the ideal Nigerian leader that is. The Sarikin Hausawa, Alhaji Saidu Suleiman, was emphatic that the Imo State governor had always been a monument of peaceful co-existence building bridges of friendship with healthy policies that impact positively on his residents.
Expectedly, Okorocha’s media friends were too eager to know if his Presidential ambitions were still germane given that President Buhari was yet to declare his willingness to contest. Will President Muhammadu Buhari be contesting in 2019? He was asked. Okorocha was quick in his response: “My name is Owle Anaya Rocha’s Okorocha and not Muhammadu Buhari.
“It is only President Buhari that will say whether he is contesting or not. As far as I am concerned, President Buhari is well now; he is very strong, so, it is left for President Buhari to say whether he will run or not. He has the character to lead this country. We will wait for him to make his statement for 2019.”