Governor Okorocha’s recent “World” press conference and matters arising – Ethelbert Okere

On Wednesday February 27, 2013, His Excellency, Chief Rochas Okorocha, the Governor of Imo state, hosted a “world” press conference at the Government House, Owerri, the state capital. The press conference was televised live on a popular station.

It will be recalled that on January 14, 2013, Governor Okorocha similarly made a live television broadcast on the same national station. Earlier, His Excellency had had his 50th birthday anniversary televised live for two days. Recently, he had both the traditional and white wedding of his daughter televised live also on a national channel. This is aside other activities of the state government which are televised live on national television.

Put together, Imo state will probably be on record as the state with the most frequent live television coverage of the activities of its government and its functionaries. The implications are obvious; which is that of enormous financial costs to a state that is in dire need of funds to tackle myriads of problems facing the people. Meanwhile, it is estimated that the state spends over N23 million for each live television outing.

With respect to the most recent press conference of February 27, 2013, the question that easily comes to mind is: Did the Governor need to stage a live television show on national television in order to address Imo-based (indeed Owerri-based) reporters? If the coverage must be live, ostensibly for more effect, the state television, the Orient Television, would have been sufficient in addressing both the media men and the entire state. Either politically or media-wise, it is clearly superfluous to go live on a national television purportedly to address issues concerning just one state. Agreed that there are Imo citizens residing outside the state, they could still be reached without such a stupendous spending.

Given the circumstances, the people of Imo state are left with no other conclusion than that the main purpose of the February 27, 2013 live television show was to afford the Governor an opportunity to address the entire nation on issues concerning the newly formed political organization, the All Progressives Congress (APC). As is well known, Governor Okorocha is one of the self-appointed spokespersons of APC and he spears no time to boast of how he will lead the party into a landslide victory come 2015.

While no body can deny the governor the constitutionally liberty to belong to any political group of his choice, the issue here is that it is unfair to the people of Imo state to use their resources that way, especially as not every Imo citizen believes in APC. It is on record that not even the inaugural meeting of the promoters of APC in Lagos, which Governor Okorocha attended, was broadcast live on television. And Lagos state is much richer than Imo. Again, the meeting of ten (10) pro-APC state governors in Maiduguri on Thursday February 28, 2013, was not covered live on television. Overall, we think that there is need for the governor to curtail his love for television talk-shows, especially as it has been discovered that he has the tendency of mixing Pentecostal oratory with the imperatives of gubernatorial openness. 

In a sense, however, the February 27, 2013 outing had some benefits for the people of Imo state at least to the extent that it gave them an opportunity to finally hear their beloved governor admit publicly and for first time that his administration has failed in one crucial area that has direct impact on the health and lives of the people. It was during that press conference that they got to hear from their governor that plans have been concluded to bring in a foreign firm to handle waste disposal in the state as, according to him, the indigenous firms handling it are not doing the job well! This is both curious and interesting. 

It is unheard of that a state like Imo is exporting the mere disposal of refuge to foreigners at a time when the state is in dire need of opportunities to create jobs. Even an elementary school boy knows that bringing in a foreign firm to handle waste disposal means exporting the resources of the state abroad and denying indigenous companies opportunities to grow. The other time, Governor Okorocha went outside Nigeria to import school uniforms when there are hundreds of competent tailors in the state looking for patronage. It is anybody’s guess the level of economic empowerment that would have taken place had the uniforms been made in the state. It is perhaps pertinent that Governor Okorocha be advised to reach out to his predecessor, Dr. Ikedi Ohakim, to learn, first hand, how the latter handled the issue of environmental cleanness to the extent that Owerri was adjudged the cleanest capital city in the entire country.

Of course, the consequences of the administration’s lack of grasp of environmental and health related issues are palpable. Today, there is no hamlet or village in Imo state which does not burry one of its own every week. Today in Imo state, private mortuary and ambulance services are becoming the most lucrative businesses. There is the erroneous impression that most of the diseases plaguing the state are due to dietary habits or poverty. Poverty, yes but the situation is compounded by the extremely filthy environment. Recently, there were media reports on expert study that reveals that over 200,000 people may die in Imo state in the next one year because of toxic fumes emitted from the burning of wastes, a very ill-advised method of waste disposal.

In answer to another question on the controversy surrounding the administration’s request for the approval by the State House of Assembly to source for an N81.7 billion loan, Governor Okorocha outrightly denied that there was any such plan (to obtain a loan) let alone a controversy. He said the speculation was the handiwork of his enemies.

But the Governor was only being economical with the truth. He should have been bold enough, as with the issue of waste disposal, to admit that he, indeed, made a proposal to the State House of Assembly to go for a loan of N81.7 billion in the 2013 budget. We invite Imolites to page 31 of the governor’s 2013 budget speech (THE RESCUE BUDGET 2) and they will see, in black and white, a provision of N81,753,063,163 for“Internal Loans” under projected “CAPITAL RECEIPTS”.

It amounts to lack of transparency and a collective insult to the good people of Imo state to throw it back to imaginary enemies. The Governor should not go home with the impression that Imo people are ignorant of the nuances of key policy issues in the state.

Even more intriguing is that the governor, after denying that he never asked for a loan, went ahead to say that he needs money to run the state and that whoever knows where he could go and obtain loans should tell him. Although that particular episode sounded like a joke, the import of the glaring gubernatorial impropriety was not lost on those who are familiar with the fiscal affairs of the state.

Imo people will recall that recently, the governor had, during a similar live television outing, told the visiting Labaran Maku-led “good governance” team that there was so much money in the state; and that he was merely employing prudence, which he said was lacking in the previous administration, to channel the resources judiciously.  Less than three weeks later, Governor Okorocha was lamenting over lack of funds. So, which do Imo people take? The answer to this question is, of course, not difficult to fathom simply because Governor Okorocha conveniently mouths what suits his purpose for every occasion.

When he newly assumed office, he told Imo people that the state was so rich but that Ohakim and his men squandered the entire thing; and that he was saving N150 million every day from Ohakim’s profligacy. At the rate of N150 million per day, the administration, which is now in its 22nd month, should have saved close to N100 billion.

There would, therefore, have been no need for a loan proposal of N81.7 billion and Imo people would have been spared of the current controversy.

In previous outings, we had drawn the attention of Imo people to the dangers inherent in the administration’s habit of taking loans from commercial banks and at exorbitant rates. Some critics derided us for not wanting to give the governor a breathing space to perform.

Now, the truth is that the state was already saved the problem of going to the commercial banks through the window opened by the Ohakim administration with the N40 billion Bond approved for the state by the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC).

Out of the N40 billion approved, N18.5 billion was drawn down and out of which a balance of N13.3 billion was left behind by the Ohakim administration. Of course, Imo people are quite familiar with this but the point here is that the Okorocha administration has closed that window. As things stand, it cannot even access the balance of that bond because SEC has blacklisted the state after the administration misapplied the N13.3 billion left by Ohakim into purposes for which the money was not meant. If the governor had not closed the bond window, the state would have been able to access the balance of N21.5 billion bond proceeds at very cheap rates as against loans from commercial banks at cut-throat rates.

When next Governor Okorocha convenes another live television show, the least Imo people should ask for is that they should get value for their money.

 Dr. Ethelbert Okere




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