By NDII DUROHA —
Governor Ikedi Ohakim lost reelection in Imo State in 2011 because it was strongly rumoured that some security officer in his convoy manhandled a Catholic priest for not clearing from the road early enough for the governor to pass. The state, like the rest of Igboland, sees itself as the Vatican of Nigeria because of the pervasive influence of the Catholic Church which brought modern social services as education and healthcare to the area and also helped to end such evil practices as killing of twins and the caste system.
Yet, the greatest beneficiary of the powerful rumour against a Catholic cleric, Owelle Rochas Okorocha who was elected governor because of the rumour against Ohakim, is now up in arms in the open against not a mere priest but the Archbishop of the Ecclesiastical Province of Owerri, Most Reverend Dr Archbishop Anthony Obinna, a highly revered academic, author and conscience of the people of Imo State. By the way, Dr Obinna two weeks ago presented a certificate of merit to Ohakim at a ceremony chaired by MTN chairman Pascal Dozie who is also the founder of Diamond Bank. In fact, it is now widely suspected that Okorocha engineered the rumour against Ohakim who, as the sitting governor, was the candidate to beat.
While preaching at the weekend at the funeral of the mother of a businessman, Alex Mbata, at St Michael’s Church, Ngwoma in Owerri North Local Government Area, Archbishop Obinna took exception to Governor Okorocha’s unilateral decision that his son-in-law, Chief Uche Nwosu, who is currently the Chief of Staff after serving as the Commissioner for Lands, would become the next Imo governor. Okorocha had a few days earlier announced that his deputy, Chief Eze Madumere, would represent the Owerri senatorial zone from next year. He also announced unilaterally that his Commissioner for Information, Professor Nnamdi Obiaraeri, would represent the Okigwe zone. Not to be forgotten is that the governor has now announced the other persons who would be in the House of Representatives, and the list includes one Deacon Chike Okafor and Ugonna Ozuruike, another unknown person.
Though Okorocha’s wife, Nkechi, and her controversial son in law, who is married to her first daughter, as well as the Speaker of the House of Assembly, Chief Acho Chim, were right in the church service, Archbishop Obinna called a spade a spade. He stated fearlessly, as is the hallmark of all those who fight for their people: “The state needs a seasoned administrator, and not a handpicked successor. …Not the governor, not his deputy, not me can determine who governs Imo State without recourse to the will or votes of the people”.
Before he could finish asking the people to go and register for the 2019 general elections, members of the All Progressives Congress (APC) led by an appointee of Governor Okorocha rushed to the archbishop, took over the microphone and began to hurl abuses at Dr Obinna. Other APC members joined him. Fearing the worst, young priests at the service formed a ring at the altar to prevent Okorocha’s people from physically assaulting the archbishop. It is interesting that as the profanity was going on, neither Okorocha’s wife nor her in-law, Uche Nwosu, made any effort to keep the APC members in check, thus fuelling speculations that the state government brought a large number of thugs to the church service to embarrass the man of God who had on February 14 released his Lenten Season message in which he advised the people to bear with philosophical equanimity the enormous pain and suffering the state government has been inflicting on them.
Far from showing remorse for the irresponsible behavior of his men in the holy precincts of the church while the mass was going on during the special season of lent, Governor Okorocha justified their action, saying “No amount of blackmail or tricks would change the plan of God on (sic) for the young man (that is, his in law) to govern the state. Anyone fighting him is fighting God”. It is self-evident that Okorocha sees himself as the God of Imo State, so he regards his own plan for his son in law as God’s plan for Imo State.
Imo State is in its worst state of anomie ever. Markets are destroyed in these hard times without consideration for the victims who are quite many. Workers are owed, despite President Muhammed Buhari’s release of two tranches of the Paris Club refunds and Buhari’s granting of bailouts on two occasions, running into humongous amounts. Pensions and gratuities are owed for several months, even though Imo is an oil-producing state.
Okorocha’s government has compelled starving and old retirees to accept fractions of their entitlements as full and final payments. The hungry men and women accepted because they did not want continue to die of hunger and malnutrition. State High Court judges were owed for 16 months, but a few days ago got paid for six months following ex-Governor Ikedi Ohakim’s raising of an alarm about the plight of these judicial officers, and thus made the nation become aware that judges were owed their entitlements for more than one year on the ground that they were giving unfavourable judgments against the state government. The Owerri Branch of the Nigerian Bar Association has taken the matter before the National Industrial Court.
By adding open fight against Archbishop Obinna and the entire Christian Church in Imo State to the endless crisis in the state, Governor Okorocha’s regime is doubling down, as the Americans say. The regime brings to mind the case of king Rehoboam in the Bible who told the Israelites when they were pleading with him to ameliorate their harrowing condition when he assumed the throne from his father, Solomon: “My father laid heavy burdens on you, but I am going to make them even heavier. My father beat you with whips, but I am going to beat you with scorpions. My little finger is bigger than my father’s loins” (I Kings 12: 15). This callous declaration resulted in a popular revolt against the king. Israel became divided, and it was so easy for the Babylonians to conquer it.
Okorocha’s government is making history, but in a terrible way. Not even during the General Sani Abacha malevolent dictatorship were men of God of any sect attacked, all the more so during service. If Anthony Cardinal Okogie, Rev Monsignor (Prof) Obiora Ike, Rev Dr Matthew Hassan Kukah, Archbishop Chukwuma and other religious critics of societal ills had come from Okorocha’s Imo, perhaps they would have long disappeared. Idi Amin of Uganda is the only African leader I remember who went physically after an archbishop. May Okorocha never be found in Amin’s company.
The Imo governor has taken his circus show of governance from the secular sphere to the sacred space. It is a tragedy of colossal consequence that Okorocha and his acolytes have absolutely no respect for the sacred. More tragic is that the APC has refused to call Okorocha to order. Imolites cannot wait for the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) to install a clear headed and progressive administration as in Anambra State. An APGA government can never tolerate sacrilege anywhere. As the Anambra State has demonstrated eloquently over the years, APGA is purposeful.
Chief Duroha is senior member of the Nigerian Bar Association based in Owerri, Imo State.