Before Imolites pay Okorocha’s N16bn debt. – By Kelechi Mejuobi

readers-mail-1Re-elected governor of Imo State, Owelle Rochas Okorocha last week stirred the hornest’s nest when he claimed that he is being owed N16bn by the Imo State Government.

The report carried by an Owerri-based newspaper which has also gone viral in the social media and online newspapers as a subject of discussion especially among residents of the state is yet to be debunked by the Okorocha government. The attention and curiosity the statement attracted has been overwhelming in public domain.

Only few days ago, a retiree from the state civil service resident in my town, simply known as Dede confronted me on the issue. As I walked into my house in the country home during the week when I took a trip to the village, the senior citizen requested for a private discussion with me. I was filled with trepidation concerning reasons behind the impromptu interface he sought out before the elderly fellow confronted me with the question, “how did Nde Imo (Imo people) owe our governor, Okorocha the N16bn he is claiming? Without mincing words, the senior citizen informed me that he went to his former ministry on private visit, but the subject of discussion among workers at the state secretariat on Port Harcourt road, Owerri, the state capital was the N16bn debt. According to him, as a kinsman and journalist who is familiar with the news terrain in the state, I will know better about the matter than the discussants. After taking minutes of hilarious exclamation and laughter, I paused for a while again for my response.

Before my response, I told him that he will hear from the “horse’s mouth”, as a put a call across to the writer who filed that report in the medium. The news hunter who it is not necessary to mention his name told the inquisitive senior citizen that while addressing Imo workers on May 1, 2015 during the Worker’s Day celebration at Heroes’ Square, which he covered in Owerri did claim that Imo State government is owing him about N16bn. According to him, the amount arises from the unpaid security votes of N4bn per year amounting N16bn for the four years spanning (2011 to 2015). The correspondent went further to state that the embittered governor lashed at the workers and their labour leaders for making frivolous complaints and demand for unwarranted increment in their welfare whereas he is yet to receive his entitled security votes. That call calmed the nerves of Dede and launched him into another round of mental reasoning. Quietly, he found his pace back home and the interactive session ended. Dede’s concern and that of other astonished Imolites informed my foray into this issue.

I am privileged to know that Okorocha in his maiden address to Imo people when he took over reins of office in 2011, declared intention to forfeit his security vote for the prosecution of free education. The free education is part of the cardinal objectives of his Rescue Mission administration.

As a keen observer of developments in the state, I know that the Imo State governor may have obtained licence to use words freely in demonstrating the inalienable right of “free speech” mentality. A great orator with charismatic touch to subsume his audience with verbal razzmatazz, Okorocha most times go to the extreme of also committing oratorical blunders during official functions of government thereby exposing the absence of speech writers and pep-talk instructors among his numerous aides. Similar to a popular saying in Igboland that “Owu gi Onye nwuru aru ka ana edozi olu” (it is not only the dead that the neck is strengthened), a public officer holding office such as the governor’s office is expected to have “speech guides” to direct the number one citizen of a state on choice of words and expressions during public functions. But that seems to be non-existent in Okorocha’s government if some of his outburst are considered.

It was for this reason of not thinking before talking that Okorocha openly branded youths of Ohaji/Egbema LGA “Indian Hemp smokers and Ogorogo drinkers” when confronted by the Anglican Bishop of the Diocese, Rt Rev Chidi Collins Oparaojiaku during the 2013 Synod of the Ohaji/Egbema, at Mgbirichi, Ohaji. The governor attributed the inability of his government to deliver democracy dividends to the people based on his sheer fathom tales that youths of the area are miscreants not worthy to be bestowed with any of the 800 kilometer roads his administration claimed to have done in Imo as well as inability to restore power supply in the area by asking the Imo State Oil Producing Areas, ISOPADEC, to pay the public power suppliers, bill, an existing arrangement before he came into power. The big minus could have also be responsible for a comment in July last year when a national newspaper (Punch) quoted Okorocha to have said that his “generation has said goodbye to poverty”, during the APC Governors’ Forum interactive session in Port Harcourt, as well as provocative statements about Anambra people and Imo women, said at different fora.
To many, the spurious N16bn claim is another whimsical statement of the governor his strong spin doctors and tireless advocates will try hard to justify. The May Day satirical expression raises serious moral questions that challenges the integrity of the governor. Furthermore, his statesman toga as the acclaimed “Man of the masses” is suffering a shrink in the eyes of the public.

According to the senior citizen who raised the issue and to other informed minds, is it possible for the governor as the Chief accounting officer of the state lead the state government to owe him? Is he Saint okorocha in the making in Govt House, Owerri as a governor who allowed the state government to owe him billions of naira? More questions that follow is on the issue of authorization to forfeit the security vote. Whose asked Okorocha to forgo his entitled security vote and why should the matter surface few weeks to the end of his first tenure and after the general elections that guaranteed him a second tenure?

The statement undoubtably has given Okorocha a moral burden since he has indirectly demanded for what he “donated” to Ndi Imo in 2011. It has also opened another Pandora box on the execution the all important free education program.

I am aware that apart from the claimed security vote of the governor, Imo workers continuously lose some percent of their monthly income to the state government for the prosecution of the free education program. Needless revealing that when anti-graft agencies closed up on state government officials over alleged illegal execution of the remaining N18bn bond secured by the Ikedi Ohakim government, the then state commissioner for finance and member-elect for Okigwe South Federal Government, Chike Okafor, told newsmen that the balance, about N13bn was injected into the free education project run by the Rescue Mission government in the state. Mention must also be made of the Adapalm privitisation story where Imolites where told that monies the buyers, Roche, will pay (about N3bn) was meant to also fund the free education. If these aforementioned monies found including the Okorocha’s N16bn security vote for four years are included, what is the total cost for running of the Rescue Mission Free Education programe?

In line with the question about the total cost of the free education in the state, what is the amount spent on imported uniforms, sandals and other equipment and which firm is handling the importation? Why should the cost implication be shrouded in secrecy to deny Imolites evaluate the funds injected into the programe? Are Imo people not entitled to know how the N16bn he forfeited that has become a debt was spent?

Perhaps, the N16bn debt may have necessitated the ongoing strike by the Academic Staff Union of Universities, ASUU, Imo State University Chapter over unpaid salaries, the uninterrupted protests of contractors in the state who formed a union; Unpaid Imo Contractors (UPIC) to continuously lament unpaid huge debts running into billions owed them by the state government. Also what of complaints of starved political appointees who served the immediate past and present administrations in the state that are yet to receive their severance packages courtesy of Okorocha’s indifference approach to their entitlements? Even when the law courts said otherwise, the governor turned his back to neglect the payments. May be since he is yet to take his N16bn security votes, others should jettison whatever the state government is owing them.

As the governor enters the second leg of his regime in Imo, I wish him well. I have a package tittled “Memo To My Governor, My Governor” which will likely come a day before he takes another oath on May 29, 2015. Before then, this is just a tit bit arising from an encounter with a senior citizen in the state.

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