Image: Imo State governor, Rochas Okorocha
In most parts of our land, people hold it as rude for a younger man to use proverbs in conveying his message to his elders. This is because, against what some people may have been made to believe, the Igbos are very respectful people. We choose our words when speaking to those older than us, but the most respect lies in speaking truth to power. When an elder chooses to look the other way, while a she-goat delivers, tethered, then, a well-trained youth must remind the elder that an abomination is about to happen. Grey hair is a crown, the Bible tells us.
I believe that, strongly. My paternal grandparents saw old age and their lives gave me an idea of what it really means to be an elder. They never looked the other way, when things are going bad, they saw their old age as a blessing not unto themselves alone, but unto those who are fortunate to be around them, for they showed us direction, protected us and made sure they bequeathed the best legacies of truth, forthrightness, credibility and integrity to us. May God rest their great souls.
Imo has been in crisis for the past four years, and some people may be forgiven for not speaking out before now, because the government of Governor Rochas Okorocha found a way of making his systematic destruction of the State look enticing, or do I say, entertaining, and a lot of people were really entertained in the manner that inspired the late Afrobeat grandmaster, Fela Anikulapo Kuti to sing; “Suffering and Smiling”.
It is however obvious to even the daftest and most gullible of citizens that the drama has lost its taste, and the tragicomedy has lost its comedy with the tragedy staring everyone in the face, not from the stage of verisimilitude, but on the stands; a stark reality. It is the duty of elders, viz a vis: political stakeholders, religious leaders, traditional chiefs, professionals and the others in their mold to speak out in times like this. But the option of silence which they have taken compels one to ask the question: Are there still elders in this State?
Recently, the media had it in their front pages that our Governor has sent his militia to unleash terror on our health workers and take our sick siblings hostage. I was about the second person to put that news out in the social media after I was alerted to it by a friend; Uche Antoinette Ndu. I found it difficult believing that story at first, for as much as I had long lost confidence in Governor Okorocha, I felt it was impossible for him to descend to the animalistic level of becoming a tyrant to a people he was elected to lead, hence, I was very careful in putting that news out in the public.
In case you forgot, the Umuguma General Hospital used to be the second most patronized health center in Imo State, after the Federal Medical Center, Owerri. That hospital had well trained and adequately motivated medical personnel, and the wards are always filled to capacity, while its medical equipment though poor, yet good enough to cater for the health needs of thousands of Imolites who throng to that hospital to access medical care.
In 2011, when Governor Okorocha took power, the only thing he did for that hospital in his self-confessed ‘haste to deliver’ was to paint some parts of that hospital with some of the lowest quality paints available, appointed a political ally who is a medical consultant as the MD of the hospital and without buying an extra syringe for that hospital went all over the media to announce it to the world that he has set up the first ever government ran specialist hospital in Imo State. All these elders and political stakeholders knew it was a deception, but most of them refused to speak out. They may be forgiven then, because the hysteria of the rescue propaganda still had most people in a cage of lies and abracadabra.
The staff of this hospital which has become a shadow of its self has not received their salaries for an incredible eleven months. That is one month short of one year. As health professionals, it is only their compassion for the ordinary masses and their determination to make personal sacrifices for the people of Imo that could see them still going to work to attend to our sick siblings. Pathetically, our Governor did not stop at owing them for the work they have done for the people of the State, he sent some hooligans in uniform to attack them, take them hostage and dehumanize them.
Our sick siblings, who were receiving care from these compassionate health workers, were also stripped of their dignity as citizens and made to feel that it is a crime to fall sick and be poor enough to seek medical help in a hospital that is almost dead.
Staff of the Imo State University Teaching Hospital, Orlu, has been on strike for more than five months now, and the Governor doesn’t seem bothered about that. When students of that institution embarked on a peaceful protest to call the government’s attention to their predicament, the police who were supposed to protect them were used against them, to harass them, to dehumanize them.
Our elders did not talk, probably because they can afford to send their own children to better equipped schools outside the country or in other parts of the country for their trainings without the torture of having to spend more than ten years for an academic program that should have normally taken six years, and on top of that be trained in an environment that is hostile to learning, and in a teaching hospital that lacks some of the most basic learning facilities and academic professionals.
The story around town is that the Governor was keen on having the concessionaires’ who benefited from government’s concession of hospitals in the State to take over. Among those I classify as elders of the State are present and past members of the Imo State House of Assembly. I am aware that any business transaction that has to do with public assets and expenditure should involve the people through their representatives, I will be surprised if any Imolite outside Governor Okorocha and his close family members are aware of this concession business, when it was done, who bided, who benefited, the terms of the concession, the gains to the State and how the beneficiaries were selected.
It is not only our health workers that are being owed salaries in this State, many of our brothers and sisters working in different agencies of the State government are being owed salaries of up to five months and above. This is after the State government had received two tranches of bailout funds (That wasteful federal government policy that empowers governors to further impoverish the State and mortgage the future of their States). I am in tears that this level of rape on our collective future is taking place in our dear Imo and most of our elders are keeping quiet. What kind of legacy will they be bequeathing to us, their children, while they watch silently as this Governor impales us in a cross of perpetual indebtedness and financial slavery?
The courts in the State have been under locks for about one month now, due to some industrial crisis between the Governor and the State chapter of the Judiciary Staff Union of Nigeria (JUSUN). Our people do not have access to the judiciary which is the last hope of the common man, and some people who have urgent needs to seek redress in courts of law may not have any option but to take laws into their hands. Our Governor is not bothered about these pathetic situations as he travels around the country and outside as if everything is alright. There is no better way to tell a people to go to hell.
Governor Rochas Okorocha holds the record as the Governor in the history of Imo State who has appropriated the highest amount of money in the name of constructing and rehabilitating roads across the State, yet, we have the worst network of roads in the entire Southeast within his time as Governor. The few roads that are still passable today are either roads done by previous administrations, or those roads that are under constant maintenance by this government.
We have the misfortune of having a system where the government spends our money repairing roads it built less than three months before. Yet, flood is submerging entire communities in the State, transport fares are tripling as motorists smartly build in the cost of their regular visits to mechanic workshops as a result of the terrible state of our roads.
In the past, especially, in the immediate past government of Governor Ikedi Ohakim, religious leaders put themselves forward as mouthpiece of the masses, by standing up against any perceived ill policy of that government or high handedness on the part of the government or its officials. The church did not stay aloof during the previous administration and their role in ousting the Ikedi Ohakim administration is still fresh in peoples’ minds, even though, recent events have proven to majority of Imolites that that was the most poisonous dish of sabotage ever served to them.
It is surprising that a good number of the same religious leaders who were very vocal in their condemnation of some policies of the Ikedi Ohakim administration and even mobilized their followers against that government, have suddenly gone mute in the face of the brazen rape of our people by the Okorocha administration.
Our own Archbishop A.J.V Obinna who has always stood on the side of the masses even in the times of military dictatorships has only managed to find his voice on very few occasions since the misrule of Governor Okorocha started. It is understandable that this cerebral shepherd of God’s flock in Owerri Archdiocese may have decided to be careful in his criticism of this government, because of the blackmail mounted against him, which tried to portray him as partisan, and also the fact that he played a prominent role in bringing this government upon Imolites.
Some people even alleged during the 2015 campaigns that he was rooting for Captain Emmanuel Iheanacho who reportedly hails from the same clan as himself and also ran for election under the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA), alleged to be the Catholic Archbishop’s favorite political Party. These and more may have been designed to stampede this fearless and forthright man of God into silence.
His Grace is one of the voices that rattle authorities in the State and even beyond, and his voice is needed now more than ever to halt the State’s rapid descent into anarchy. His continued silence, like the silences of many prominent elders in the State who qualify as consciences of the society, this time when it is most needed is being heard by the deaf and it rings the sound of betrayal.
The Christian Association of Nigeria in Imo State has gone so cold that people are wondering if they still exist, because nothing comes from them anymore. Bishop Stafford Nworgu should resuscitate that association, and if he cannot, he should relinquish the leadership to someone else who can. Being a Christian clergy does not stop at mounting on pulpits to pontificate on the need to accept Jesus Christ and live like He would want us to. The truth is that a hungry man will only think of what to do to fill his stomach and provide for the needs of his family.
There is no guarantee that a civil servant whose salaries have been withheld for more than five months will not indulge in crimes in the desperation to meet up with his or her needs. The church leadership in the State can depopulate hell fire by protesting against the government’s ill treatment of civil servants, pensioners and other citizens who are victims to the government’s draconian economic policies.
Governor Okorocha has embarked on a systematic persecution of our youths and destruction of Imo’s future. In the last four years of this administration, more than 30,000 Imo youths have lost their jobs, while another 40,000 have had their prospects thwarted by Okorocha’s unreliable engagement programs. Six days into his first term, our Governor sacked over 10,000 youthful graduates employed by the Ikedi Ohakim administration.
In the last four years, our Governor has led lots of our youths into frustration by deceiving them with the offer of government appointments, thereby distracting them from concertedly charting a career course for themselves elsewhere; thousands of youths who were recalled from across Nigerian cities to take up jobs with the Imo Youths Engineering Corps (IYEC), with a promise that they would be trained and retained as State Government engineers, were not paid the stipend they were promised for up to six months, and till date most of them are still confused as to what their fate with the government is.
The Imo Traffic Management Agency also recruited a good number of our youths, who were thrown out of the job less than one year after the creation of the Agency, there were also the Youth Must Work Program beneficiaries, the CGC teachers, etc, through which the government deceived a lot of our youths and left them stranded.
Leaders of the Peoples Democratic Party have abandoned the job of constructive opposition which they are supposed to be engaged in to keep the government on its toes, with most of them secretly negotiating for contracts and appointments with the government, without minding how the State is faring, and what the future may hold for us. The next time we are likely to hear from these leaders is around 2018, when the elections have drawn close. While I appreciate that Emeka Ihedioha is still involved with his case at the election petition courts, I do not think that is enough reason to stop him from standing up to Governor Okorocha in defense of Imolites.
Chief Ihedioha does not have any justifiable reason to abandon the same people whom he promised to save from the hands of bad governance. His intervention is especially needed now that the State is fast turning to a sort of Concentration Camp. Truth is, our Governor is going about like there are no humans in Imo State, and if there are humans in the State, they are just imbeciles who can be derided and abused without repercussions. It is the duty of these elders, political stakeholders’ especially the opposition and religious leaders to stand up to this government and make the Governor understand that Imo is not a State of docile citizens.
Are our elders not at home, as the she-goat is delivers its kid, tethered? Posterity will record it that these set of elders were alive and active while Governor Okorocha destroyed Imo State and all the things that unite us. Posterity has taken note that our elders watched while the charter of equity was destroyed by the Okorocha administration and nothing was said.
Posterity records it that it is in the time of this present set of elders that Imo was plunged into huge debts and no savings were made for the youths of this State. There cannot be a worst betrayal from a system than when elders watch as the very future of the youths are eaten up, and they make no efforts to stop it. Whatever happened to the Igbo philosophy of Okoro ntoshi; whereby the system is designed in such a way that the upcoming generation will have a secured and better future?
Allowing the youths to completely lose their patience and possibly take the laws into their own hands may be more disastrous than the Arab Spring, as the youths are already getting worked up by the happenings in the State. There may not be a better time than now for our elders and other critical stakeholders in the State to stand up and save our State from imminent collapse.
Imo ga adi mma ozo!
By Onwuasoanya FCC Jones