By Comfort Obi
The seeming confirmation of the story was not sweet to the ears – the story of the alleged massive looting going on in Imo state. The confirmation, by a reliable source, came on a wrong day, a day the people had dubbed the real beginning of the end of their nearly eight years in the wilderness. The story was a kill-joy.
The governor-elect, The Rt. Hon. Emeka Ihedioha, was inaugurating members of his Inaugural Committee. And, even though only the appointed members were expected to be allowed into the venue, after registration and screening, hundreds of the uninvited managed to descend on the Rockview Hotel, Owerri.
They came glowing; many dressed in their Sunday best. The joy was unmistakable.
Don’t blame them. With the announcement that the committee would be inaugurated, came the feeling of a new dawn. There was that feeling of: “Finally, we are taking our state back from the claws of Governor Rochas Okorocha.”
So, they grinned from ear to ear. And walked like they had springs on their heels.
It was, also, Ihedioha’s day of glory. There he was, after two or three failed attempts, seated, comfortably, as governor-elect. There he was, being honoured by eminent Imolites, including two former governors, Chiefs Achike Udenwa and Ikedi Ohakim. It has never been so since Okorocha. The former governors and two deputy governors had been alienated by the government of the day. Governor Okorocha said he had retired them from politics. To him, they were failures while in office. No wonder their faces beamed with smiles.
For Ohakim, in particular, it was a day of sweet revenge. Okorocha was the man who denied him a second term in office. And, worsened it by alleging all kinds of misconduct against him. No wonder he spoke with so much gusto at this event. “I cancelled a trip to be at the inauguration of this committee”, he told the cheering audience.
Ohakim had contested the governorship election against Ihedioha. He failed. But it was without bitterness. A couple of days after his loss, he wrote a congratulatory letter to Ihedioha. And, at the ceremony, asked all aggrieved contestants to drop their cases against the Governor-elect. And people clapped some more.
And Udenwa? He was like a land owner recovering his long lost prime land, years after losing it to a prodigal son. He dismissed the fast-ending Okorocha years as years of political rascality, never been seen in the state before. And everybody agreed, and beamed with smiles. But not for long.
For, it was in the middle of all that excitement, and self-importance that the depressing news of the alleged unprecedented looting in the state, witnessed that morning by some people, came strongly.
Indeed, the story of the massive looting of the state, which, allegedly, began a few days after Ihedioha’s victory, had been making the rounds for some time. When I first heard of it, I dismissed it. Not even the video recording, put on Whatsaap, could convince me. Okorocha is too big for that, I insisted. The uncontrolled era of the social media has thought one to be cautious with such stories and video clips. Nigerians are very creative. Many make up stories. They so fabricate and cobble things together, that one is sucked in. But be careful. In the world of the social media, two plus two are not always four. It could be 40, or zero.
Check this out.
This other day, there was a fire outbreak at the Sam Mbakwe International Cargo Airport, Owerri, popular as Imo Airport. And, mercifully, not one person died, or was hurt. But for the social media to be set on fire, it needed to have a bad or tragic ending. And, Nigerians, we like to run ourselves, and our country down. So, the next day, a heart wrenching video appeared on Whatsapp. It was that of a bus carrying about a dozen, terribly wounded people. They were scarred and bleeding and tattered. The caption: “Victims of Imo Airport fire outbreak.” The mischievous, wicked act went viral. And, all hell was let lose.
Our compatriots in the Diaspora, especially, those of Imo state origin, hit the roof. In their embarrassment, they asked genuine questions. How come there were no ambulances at the airport? How come there were no medical personnel? How dared they evacuate the wounded in such an uncivilized and primitive manner? One was outraged that they were being evacuated using left hands. One of them insisted that there was not even one fire service truck at the airport. And that people were putting out the fire with sand and buckets of water. But, what’s the truth?
It is that the viral video was fake. It is that there are medical personnel at Imo airport. It is that there are ambulances at the airport. It is that there are fire trucks at the airport. And it is that nobody put out the fire with sand and buckets of water. We may not be as efficient as the more civilized world during an emergency, but we are not as stupid and/or uncivilized as we are, many times, presented before the civilized world, especially, since the era of the social media in Nigeria. But, I digress.
I was talking about the alleged massive looting going on in Imo state and how it killed the people’s joy.
So, as the people rejoiced over the inauguration of the inaugural committee which they saw as the beginning of a new era, a stakeholder nobody could ignore walked in. His face was not bright. He had a troubling story to tell. Angry, eyes red, he said he needed to narrate what he saw. Expectant eyes glued on him.
On his way to the venue, he began, along the Port Harcourt – Obinze road, specifically at the Avu junction, he ran into some people, dismantling and carting away electricity polls and their fittings. They came in trailers. As they were dismantling, they were loading, and making away with them.
He stopped and confronted them. As he did so, a crowd of angry Imolites gathered, and stopped them from making away with their loot. He ran to the Police to report.
His story, immediately, opened a pandora box. That same morning, another man narrated, with a video recording to authenticate it, policemen, along the Owerri-Aba road, intercepted a convoy of Hilux vehicles, over 20 of them, being surreptitiously (?) driven out of the state to God knows where.
A couple of days later, a video recording of some more trailers surfaced. They were being loaded with rods, bought with state funds. The looters came in the night. But were intercepted by vigilant Imolites. They alleged that a number of trailer loads had left already. One of the trailer drivers was caught, and was almost lynched. He couldn’t speak Igbo. And was unable to answer the many angry questions hurled at him by the angry crowd.
Not a few people insist that all the executive chairs at the Imo International Conference Centre, IICC, have been looted. In their place are now cheap plastic chairs. The same fate, it is alleged, has befallen the Imo Heroes Square. It has been stripped. Both the IICC and the Heroes Square are two of the legacy structures which the out-going governor can point at. Now, stripped of the executive chairs, both have been reduced to empty sepulchers.
The questions are: Who are these people carting away our collective patrimony? Why are they stripping the state bare? And, on whose authority are they doing that? Surely, somebody sent them? If the allegations are true, surely somebody is deliberately looting the state blind.
Out-going governor Rochas Okorocha should worry.
And here are why:
It is his legacies that are being desecrated. What will be left for the in-coming government? Empty shells. Empty halls. Empty vehicle garages?
How will anybody explain the brazen stealing, nicely called looting, allegedly, going on in the state? I don’t believe it but, accusing fingers are pointing at his government’s direction. In a video that went viral, one of those who intercepted one of the trailer drivers carting away iron rods specifically mentioned the name of the governor’s younger brother as being present. “I saw Okorocha’s brother. He ran away as he saw us coming”, he kept repeating.
True or false, Governor Okorocha owes the state an explanation. He is the Chief Security Officer. He cannot feign deaf and dumb over the looting allegation. Surprisingly, neither him, nor his government, has said a word. He needs to speak up.
This silence is not golden. It is not good to allow such degrading allegations fly around him a few weeks to his exit.
Again, here are why.
His reputation is at stake. In 2011 when he swept into office, he was one of the most loved governors in Nigeria. No longer. He is leaving office as one of the most despised by Imolites.
In his almost eight years in office, all kinds of allegations have been heaped against him. Many of them do not bear repeating here. But the chorus is that he ran the most disorderly, disorganised, selfish, greedy and wasteful government since the creation of the state. It is debatable. But he will be doing himself a great injustice if he allows the looting allegations to stick.
Of course such allegations are not exclusive to him or his government.
Nigerians are used to out-going governors looting a couple of things – cars, buses, bed sheets, air conditioners, even cutleries – but not on the scale, allegedly, going on in Imo state. They are also are used to last minute appointments and other approvals by them.
In the past couple of weeks, Okorocha has inaugurated Boards of parastatals and commissions. He has upgraded the Imo Polytechnic to a University, and no jokes, established six new universities. All within a week. These are aimed at crippling the in-coming Ihedioha administration. No problems. The in-coming government will take care of those at the appropriate time. But this alleged massive looting, if true, is scandalous. And I urge the Governor to address it.
Has he heard of it? Is he aware? If so, what has he done about it?
Coming into office, Okorocha was not a poor man. He was comfortable. Time was when he wanted to buy the defunct Progress Bank. And, according to his spokesman, he has the most number of landed properties in Nigeria than anybody else. They stretch from Abuja, Jos, Lagos, Kano, Ibadan, Kaduna to Owerri, and more. The President of the International Red Cross, Okorocha was a well known philanthropist, taking care of a number of underprivileged children, and offering them free education. He is still doing that, using his Foundation.
He, therefore, does not need a looting scandal on his neck. He has had it all. He still has it all. As a governor, he has acquired even more wealth. And he is so overwhelmingly rich his family has been made forever.
So, I take it that some people are trying to paint him in colours that are not his. They want to present him worse than people think he is. They want to rubbish and shame him.
He should not allow them. He should not give them the room to do that. He should turn the table against them, and shame them.
So, an unsolicited advice from me.
Issue a press statement and denounce the alleged looting. Do so in very strong terms. Ask the Police to immediately begin an investigation into it. Get hold of everything, allegedly, looted – cars, trucks, executive chairs, rods, iron bars, electrical fittings, television sets, etc, and return them to base.
And, finally, order the prosecution of those who are allegedly looting in your name. Only then can Imolites find a place in their hearts to uphold you in future. They may even consider erecting a statue in the state in your honour. You know, like that of South Africa’s former President, Jacob Zuma, which you erected in Owerri to the embarrassment of Imolites. It will be a fitting memory of your era as a governor. True.