He is hailed, ‘My Governor-My Governor’ by his many admirers. To others, however, Governor Rochas Okorocha of Imo State represents a nightmare, and has been called unprintable names for his seemingly awkward style and approach to governance.
And, while his teaming supporters believe he is the only governor aside late Sam Mbakwe to have brought real development to the people of the state, especially in the areas of roads construction, education and other infrastructural developments, Okorocha’s critics describe him as a nepotistic leader who is busy empowering family members and re-distributing poverty to the people of Imo State.
The views of the opponents of the governor have come with several allegations among which are:
1. That he has been awarding contracts in the state to unknown firms that either directly or indirectly belong to him or his family members, and who end up doing substandard works.
2. That the governor and his family members have been confiscating and acquiring properties in choice areas of the state and sometimes forcefully taking over property belonging to citizens.
3. That while several projects started by the governor have been abandoned, new ones are being awarded, all in a ploy to continue enriching himself.
Based on these allegations and several others, Ripples Nigeria embarked on an investigative trip to Imo State to unearth the facts about these allegations and establish the true state of governance and life in the ‘Eastern Heartland.’
Perhaps, the most sorry picture of governance was that shared by a top member of the opposition party, Enyinnaya Onuegbu, of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) who alleged that, “When Okorocha came on board, all the major contracts in the state were handled by Roche Company and at that time we were told that the company is an international company run by some Irish men who came to do business in Nigeria. But as at today everybody in the state knows that Roche is synonymous with Rochas Foundation.
“These foreigners paraded at the onset left Imo under five months, such that today, AdaPalm, for example, that they said the company acquired, is owned by people who are very close to Okorocha and family. Okorocha simply awards the juicy contracts to himself.”
He added, “I’m sure he has a brief case of over 300 limited liability companies which he does all Imo businesses with, which is why you cannot go to any project site and see any billboard advertising the contractor.
“If you go to any project site, you’ll see the same Lebanese men working at two-three-four sites in Imo State. The man who built Ochie Dike is the same man doing the tunnels, he’s the same man who did the failed bridge at Njaba, and he’s the same man who did the failed Ring Road at Orlu. So, these contracts are awarded actually to Okorocha’s businesses. Though he has some regular faces who do the leg works for him.”
Expressing deep concerns over lack of transparency, Onuegbu said, “Procurement act requires that you must advertise the name of any contracting firm handling a public project, you must advertise because the person must have gone through the due process. If you are doing a job as the governor for the people and there is no billboard stating what the project is for, the name of the contractor, it means that there is more to it than meets the eyes. That’s why here we cannot tell who is handling the projects.
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“Any company name you see, go and investigate, if you google the names of those behind it you will find out that they are persons related to the governor. And moreover, any name you see as a company handling any of these projects you will not see their RC number because some of them are just names to make-up,” he fumed.
President of the Imo State chapter of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), Lawrence Nwakaeti, while refusing to join speculations over ownership of firms executing state contracts, lashed at Okorocha for losing locus and bequeathing to the State very shoddy jobs or legacies.
According to him, “In his first tenure, Governor Okorocha worked, opening so many roads. I can credit him with having opened a lot of roads in Imo State. In as much as many of those roads were poorly done, at least he opened them. However, since he came in for s second tenure, he has lost focus and direction.”
Mike Iheanetu, a member of the Imo House of Assembly representing Aboh Mabise State constituency, described the insinuations that the contracting firms in the state belong to the governor and his family members as mere allegation and called on those circulating the rumour to report the governor to anti-graft agencies in the country if they have their facts.
Said he: “I belong to the PDP so I’m in the opposition, but I give Rochas Okorocha credit for conceiving good ideas on what to do about road networks in Imo State. I give him credit for conceiving a very wonderful idea of what to do but I do not applaud his implementation of it. The execution is poor. The qualities of roads we have presently are very poor.
“His ideas are good, his concepts are good, but then there is a problem somewhere, it is either those supervising the contractors are not living up to expectations or they do not know what to do, or the basic and known standards are not utilised in the execution of such contracts. I think that may be the problem, but the concept, the good initiative, the dream is wonderful, but the execution and implementation are terribly poor. That was why those in my party during the campaign said the governor was building China roads.”
And, for emphasis, he added, “I repeat, I give him credit for having good initiative, ideas and dreams on how to give us good road network but I do not accept the quality of the works being done, they are so poor.”
On the ensuing argument, Eng. Obinna Nshirim, Imo State Commissioner for Information and a Civil Engineer, said it was better to construct low standard roads than not to construct at all.
He argued, “Someone may say I’ll construct two roads at N500 million per kilometre and with N1 billion I’ll get two kilometres. Another person will say no, we are so backward; we need roads to be decongested, we can then maintain as time goes on, so, with this N1billion let me construct 100 kilometres of roads. They are all beautiful and political decisions as long as nobody cheated another.
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“We will blame our governor if he told us that he built a road with N150million which is NDDC standard and then it collapses after two-three years. But if he gives us a road at N60million per kilometre and you expect it to last, he is not stupid. I told you it’s a political decision where he says I have this money, rather than do one standard road, let me do 10 with the same amount, decongest many roads and maintenance follows subsequently. A responsible government maintains its infrastructure.
“So, Instead of building one standard road that will be used for eight years, give us numerous roads with that same money and let us be maintaining it. However, if the resources are there, it is better to do standard roads.”
Nshirim described as spurious, allegations that the governor is awarding most of the infrastructural work to contracting firms linked to him and his family members.
“How can one man do all the jobs? It’s not possible. When Roche was here the people said that it belonged to Rochas. Our people are so negative. Contracts in Imo state are skin-tight. All those luxuries of winning a contract and throwing a party is no longer there. This period is a period of Rescue Mission and nobody has time for billboards. When you have contracts that are so skin-tight you won’t have time for all these things.
“For instance, the roads he was doing in the local governments, the rumour was that he was the one doing all of them until the contractors from each local government area were called out in the open. The elites are not happy because Rochas is not sharing Imo money to them. The truth is that the jobs are being handled by various contractors and you can investigate them,” he said.
Ripples Nigeria, however, in the true art of investigative and developmental journalism will feature the ‘facts’ and ‘lies’ in a two-part serial beginning Wednesday, November, 30 and ending December, 1. It is incisive!
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