Splendid in simplicity; alluring in an uncommon candour; eclectic in thoughts and disposition; with a humane world-view and selfless philanthropy, the First Lady of Imo State, Nneoma Nkechi Rochas Okorocha, is a still water that runs deep.
Effervescent in outlook, unassuming in appearance, she is the mother-hen that always determined to cater for those who are largely uncared for. It’s little wonder she’s arguably the busiest first lady in Nigeria one can ever think of – running three non-governmental organisations without breaking a sweat. Her pet projects, She Needs a Roof Project, (SNARP); Women of Divine Destiny Initiative, (WODDI); and Nneoma’s Kitchen, have made a lot of difference in the lives of people across the most populous African nation. A strong believer in teaching people how to fish, she has built skills acquisition centres in each of the senatorial zones of the state; in Orlu Local Government for Orlu Zone, Ihitte Uboma Local Government for Okigwe Zone and also in Owerri North Local Government for Owerri Zone. The projects help people to acquire skills that will make them self-reliant. In this interview with Azuka Ogujiuba, Mrs. Okorocha talks about her compassion for the family and women, about Rochas Okorocha and his political adventures, among other issues
Being married to a politician, who is also a state governor, requires a lot of perseverance because they’re hardly around the house. How do you cope with that manner of schedule?
He is truly hardly at home but that is not necessarily because he’s a politician. He’s someone always on his toes 24/7 and he’s been like that long before he joined politics. I will always tell women that there is the need for them to understand why God has given them the opportunity to be wives. Some works need to be done and once that fact is duly established, it makes it a lot easier for you not to bother about mundane things. I believe that my husband is on a divine mission, especially as it concerns the downtrodden and the less privileged. So, I understand that I have to make the home front peaceful and to make it peaceful starts with my understanding why he’s not available at the time I want him. I think it’s been a journey but I thank God for opening my eyes to understand why He has called me to be his wife.
What were the qualities that attracted you to Governor Rochas Okorocha?
I saw him as somebody who knew what he wanted. He is one who is focused and who would do what he feels is right to do not necessarily because everybody wants him to do it. Those were some of the qualities that attracted me to him. He doesn’t feel anything is impossible.
Was there any time things got so bad and you felt like quitting the marriage?
Never! That is because, from day one, at the point I was saying ‘yes’ to him, the plan was not for me to quit after about five, 10 or 15 years. I don’t even know the address to my village. One thing that will help you as a wife is the understanding that you don’t have any other choice than to make the marriage work. It’s when you have Option B that you can try something else. ‘It’s until death do us part.’
At what point did you set up your foundation and why?
Well, we have a family foundation which is Rochas Foundation and even before I became the wife of the governor, I had a non-organisation organisation named, Women of Divine Destiny Initiative, WODDI. When I became the wife of the governor, I just thought I should go on with that. By the way, I’m passionate about the woman and the family. As I have told you, I have a wonderful relationship with my husband and my children. I know that some people have issues in their homes. When I sit down and analyse their marital problems, they are things that shouldn’t even occur in the first place. That was why I came up with the initiative; to gather people to approach God through prayers and, of course, educate women with the scriptures and help them become the women God wants them to be.
In my foundation, we have some offshoots. One is: She Needs a Roof Project, SNARP. This is a project created to put a roof over the heads of widows and orphans. Having been able to travel far and wide, I came face to face with the living conditions of these widows and orphans. Some of them are living in places you cannot expect human beings to inhabit. Our researchers revealed that those abodes have affected them psychologically.
To the glory of God, we have been able to build almost 200 houses, fully furnished for widows and orphans. I want to say that I’m excited and grateful that God found me worthy to be used as a vessel to give hope to the hopeless and put smiles on the faces of people. When we handed over the houses to the people, you would see different beings altogether. That is my joy; the diamond and gold I like to wear.
Is that all your organisation does?
We also have the Morning Women Prayer, where we gather every month to pray for the country, state and families. People come every last Friday. We cook at mosalashi Jimoh (Jumat service) because my family believes so much in giving. We used that opportunity to feed the less privileged. We continue to feed the poor in Imo State. We cook by ourselves along with some political appointees and we go out to feed the poor. We also have a leadership summit; we bring students from public and private schools together and speak to them. We realise that the problem we have as a people is that of leadership. Africa is looking up to Nigeria and we believe in catching tomorrow’s leaders young.
What do you think about your husband contesting to become Nigeria’s president three times and failing?
I said to him, at a point, after the All Nigerian People’s Party (ANPP) issue – I remember, we were driving around the streets of Jos immediately after the loss – I told him, ‘I hope you know it’s not your problem that you didn’t win. If there is anybody whose problem this is, it should be He that had sent you to go and do what you’re doing.’ I added, ‘Go and believe that God is still preparing you. That it didn’t happen then means that it’s not yet time.’ (Turning to her husband) “If you remember, you almost got it.’
You have been married for 30 years. You have two happily married daughters. What are the nuggets you will share with young women who desire a successful marriage?
What I would say to young ladies of our time is that they should first establish a close relationship with God. I’d also like to warn them to be careful about whom they call their friends. They have to be careful who they surround themselves with. In my nearly 30 years of marriage until now I don’t think I have ever gone to anybody or family members – let alone friends – to discuss issues that I’m having with my husband. With due respect to my family members and friends out there, none of them is qualified to interfere in issues about my husband and me! The reasons you might want to know: When they’re going to get involved, some of them would be trying to be overly protective of you. They will speak from the emotions they have for you, which may not be what you need at that time. So, I advise young ladies and even married women to watch their company. They should know what they allow themselves to hear because who they become is a product of what they hear.
There was a story, at a time, that when your husband appointed an actress, Nkiru Sylvanus, as a special adviser, you were sidelined and you kicked against the appointment. How did you handle that?
Nkiru Sylvanus, till tomorrow, is my daughter. People just talk and like I always tell people, they have the right to talk. For you to bother yourself about these hearsays is not healthy. This is a young woman that can walk into my bedroom if she comes to the Government House today. So, it’s our understanding as a people and the way some of our people think. Nkiru wasn’t the only female my husband appointed; some of them are old enough to be my older sisters. If you’re a public figure, people must talk about you. That was how they also said that my husband once slapped me and I fainted. There was a time someone came to my house in Jos, an older person – that was when my husband started politics. The person said, ‘Do you mean you have your biological children?’ She said so because there was a rumour that I didn’t have children and that was why Rochas was adopting kids and building schools to train them!
What is your fashion sense like?
I don’t consider myself as a fashionista. I just try to look nice, simple and comfortable.
Do you like jewellery?
Jewellery? That will come when it will come. As you can see, I’m wearing a costume; it’s not a diamond. I believe in first things first – that doesn’t mean I don’t wear jewellery but there is time for everything.