NIGERIA: The Imo Fiasco: Time To Legislate Handover

Rochas Okorocha


-- It is a perverse and graceless state out here in Imo State. One is not talking about the sheer dishevelment and post hurricane scenarios right from the Government Lodge down to the lost corners of the state. If a governor’s dwelling place is in a state of disgrace, there is no telling how the rest of his domain would be. No, I talk not about the bad behaviours of our immediate past governor, Owelle Rochas Okorocha; it’s about the long-term debilitating effect of bad governance and about solution.

Again, this is not even about the heavy physical damage he inflicted on a once-beautiful, serene and upwardly mobile state. It is about the violence done to our psyche, our esteem and worst of all, our institutions. It can be said that where there are no institutions, there really is no life in the true sense of it because there is no human essence; no culture, no tradition and of course no civilization. In this new age of mankind, institution is everything. Peoples and countries that understand that institutions are sacrosanct; those who have the best institutions will always lead the world.

But the Okorocha mystique was to obliterate and vanquish institutions. Thus for eight years, he waged a relentless war against all the institutions there were in Imo state. And of course he left no institutional edifice of his time; not a trace. He did not only crash all systems, he pulled out the memory card and yanked the hard drive. Imo today can be likened to a vacuous state; a blind blunder-head groping about in the dark. Imo is devoid of any institutional memory whatsoever.

Consider this scenario: Commissioners for Information for eight years were eight. There were about five Secretaries to the State Government, about four commissioners for Land. This was the trend in his governance. Then there was balkanization of ministries and agencies, merging and de-merging including new ones like ministry of Happiness and all that jazz.

All of these were happening on the whims of Number one; as His Excellency woke up each day. Strategic appointees of state were called up and yanked off even before they were seated. In a situation like this, hardly any record is kept; there was no proper understanding of the importance of documentation and archiving, the state was run on the run so to speak. In an environment like this, it would of course be difficult to have a proper report of stewardship or give account; especially if there was no intention to hand over in the first place as was the case with former Governor Okorocha. It is this manner of dilemma besetting the immediate past administration that has made it very difficult if not impossible for it to handover its affairs of eight years.

Of course, anyone who knows about the running of government would discern that a proper handover could not be achieved by the Okorocha Administration. That there was no formal handover was made plain at the inauguration of the Secretary of the Imo State Government recently. During the occasion, Governor Emeka Ihedioha had called up the sitting Permanent Secretary of Government House who was the most senior personnel left to take the in-coming members of the new administration round the offices. He was asked about the status of formal handing over. The Principal Secretary had told the audience in the hall that no handover had been put to effect whereupon there was much angry rumbling in the audience.

It must be noted that there was no formal meeting between the governor-elect and the sitting governor in Imo State since the election was won and lost. Here was no cooperation in the activities leading to the inauguration. A sham joint transition committee was set up by the Okorocha administration which proposed elaborate project visit, but it was only a ruse to distract the in-coming government.

There have also been photographs of the cover of a handover note flying about in the social media. Some handover note, a man with understanding would wonder. Even if we assume that some notes are contained in that cover, the natural question to ask is that is that all Owelle Okorocha has to handover after eight years? For those who know, one consultancy and design report on one major road would be bulkier that Okorocha’s eight-year report of stewardship. Owelle Okorocha has forgotten so soon how then Governor Ikedi Ohakim handed over to him in 2011.

According to officials who witnessed the ceremony held in the Exco Chamber of Imo government House between top government officials led by Ohakim and the then in-coming governor-elect Okorocha and his team. According to report, the atmosphere was convivial between the sitting governor and the in-coming one.

Ohakim was said to have brought a truck load of documents representing his four years of stewardship which made Owelle Okorocha to joke that he wished all the documents were cash. Ohakim also handed Okorocha other paraphernalia of office as well as giving him confidential executive briefing. It was a serious and comprehensive state ceremony; it was an act of governance and statecraft. More remarkable, it was an act of grace and statesmanship. Managing a state is not only a serious business, it is a divine trust, it is about the lives of millions of people and must be carried out with the sobriety and in deed solemnity that it requires. But Owelle Okorocha turned governance into a plaything, an infantile affair and for eight years, the governance of Imo State was like children playing in the sand, trying to reenact governance within the ambit of their childish estimations. The result today is pathetic to behold.

It is true that there were other wayward governors who practically absconded from government house without the right and proper transition procedures. This is unacceptable and indeed a crime to the people of the states they had governed for so long and abandoned at the end stage.

By this piece advocates for a legislation to set the standards and procedures for ‘trasitioning’ from one government/administration to the other. This is both for the states and the federal government. In fact we suggest a publication of each state’s audited accounts of an administration before a formal handover of office. The law may also stipulate that an out-going governor MUST as a matter of duty, personally account for his stewardship at the handover ceremony.

This is a challenge to both the National Assembly and the States’ Houses of Assembly. A well made law would keep state executives on their toes as they run their states on a daily basis knowing that they would have to give a thorough account at the end of the day. This way, no in-coming governor would be left high and dry the way the Rochas Okorocha left Emeka Ihedioha. We must relentlessly interrogate the way our country is run if we want to march in stride with the rest of the world.

Osuji is Media Aide to Governor Emeka Ihedioha