A dialogue imaginatively ascribed to what would ordinarily pass as an innocuous photograph from a routine official event opens perhaps the best aperture on the festering culture of political degeneracy. (The author of the mischief that trended in the social media is understandably anonymous.)
Face lit up with his trademark fawning smile, Rochas Okorocha is shown drawing close to President Buhari, whispering in Oriental pidgin English for green-light to “nack” (erect) the general’s statue “free of charge” in Owerri, obviously now the playground of the Owelle’s perverse theatrics.
More in superstitious fear than any sense of modesty, Buhari would decline, thundering instead in Arewa-flavored cadence: “Shege (unprintable), you nack (Madam Johnson) Sirleaf (of Liberia) she waka, you nack (Alex) Ekweme him kpai (died), you nack(ing) (Jacob) Zuma (of South Africa) don pursue am, you think I want to retire to (the other room)?”
In all of this, what confounds is not that Okorocha advertised a lack of scruple by, for instance, erecting at Imo taxpayer’s expense a monument to a man later crucified for monumental graft in his native South Africa. Rather, the great puzzle is why all the political elders in his party appear to oblige him with the conspiracy of silence as he slides from one sacrilege to another. What else, if not contempt for urban dwellers, would have made the proverbial bushman stroll into town in loincloth.
Without shame, Okorocha had dragooned the cartel of “warrant” chiefs to crown visiting Zuma “The People’s Warrior”. When did public stealing become a communal virtue in Igboland?
Yet, some of the finest political giants the Igbo have bred in history hail from Imo.
Alas, the latest in Okorocha’s career of political infamy is the ongoing attempt to finally degrade the egalitarian castle they toiled hard to build to a monarchy in which the Owelle seeks to pass the gubernatorial baton to his son-in-law while he hands himself the senatorial staff of Orlu zone. It means his daughter is being positioned too to take over from her mum as the queen, the First Lady.
A spoilt brat, the heir apparent had been a suckling in Okorocha’s diapers, shedding his milk teeth all the while - first as Lands and Housing Commissioner and later Chief of Staff to his doting father-in-law.
As for the murmuring deputy governor Madumere coveting the high stool, the great king is magnanimous enough to offer to compensate him with the senatorial ticket of Owerri zone. To leave other pretenders in no doubt, he actually publicly decreed this with a ring of magisterial finality.
Imo’s nominee in the Federal cabinet, Anthony Anwuka, the Minister of State for Education, is also Okorocha’s in-law, married to Okorocha’s second daughter.
Since the kingdom must mirror the king’s shadow even if grotesque, not a few of the public buildings built by Okorocha ended being named after the Okorochas.
Having groomed his younger sister as deputy Chief of Staff under his son-in-law, Okorocha recently decided not only to elevate her but also allocate her an entirely novel portfolio - Commissioner of Happiness. Not surprising, on assumption of office, one of her radical proposals to ending the social menace of prostitution is a challenge to Imo men to consider marrying more than one wife, promising government’s generous incentives to those converted.
Grapevine has it that another sister of the king retains the exclusive franchise of supplying all food and drinks to the Government House from her fast food joint tucked somewhere in Owerri. Just as the head of one of the state-owned higher institutions is said to be the governor’s aunt.
In short, democracy has been turned to family business in Imo. What perhaps remains now is to issue a certificate of incorporation in Okorocha’s name.
Taken together, it is a sad commentary on Buhari’s political guardianship that democracy is being given a bad name in Imo. But who knows, maybe loquacious Okorocha will soon tell us he is only following PMB’s example by only appointing “trusted” people.
In the north, Okorocha’s alter ego will be Abdulaziz Yari, the Zamfara potentate. Of course, just like the former, he is among the party zealots seeking to stampede Buhari into second term. But unlike the Owerri clown who has outlined an incestuous secession plan by sharing governorship and senatorial tickets among himself and family members obviously as his own bargain for backing Buhari, Yari’s personal agenda is yet unclear.
What is however certain is that he, just like Okorocha, won’t mind an opportunity to coronate his clone to sustain the heritage of filth.
Yari’s poverty of ideas has ensured that, even after almost seven years at the helm in Gusau, Zamfara today has more or less remained stunted, stuck at the bottom of all development indicators including education and access to healthcare. It is a measure of Yari’s toxic development model that a state with 3.8m population boasts of 23 doctors manning 24 public hospitals.
In the security sector, while it is true that a number of northern states are infected by the contagion of AK-47 herders spiced with armed banditry, Zamfara’s own trauma is compounded by leadership sterility.
The latest massacre of 50 no doubt bore the hallmark of bestiality. A wedding party was waylaid. The driver’s throat was slit and the gunmen wiped out with gunfire the passengers including bride-maids and traders. Not content with taking the lives in cold blood, the savages set fire on their bodies. Thereafter, they proceeded to the market and shot at everyone indiscriminately.
But while the state floats in the blood of innocents slaughtered by marauding beasts, Yari only seems obsessed with gallivanting outside. Though he answers Zamfara Governor, it seems more appropriate to describe him as governor-in-self-exile, Abuja being his hideout.
Yari’s Zamfara would only appear to be making phenomenal advance in the unlikely sector. In a BBC documentary aired recently, Iheoma Obibi, a sex doll merchant, appreciatively listed Zamfara as her next biggest market in Nigeria after Lagos and Abuja.
So, the old Sharia enclave now seems condemned to stew in the truancy of a power eunuch. So much that when concerned outsiders arrived the state capital recently on a sympathy visit following another round of bloodletting, they met empty Governor’s office as Oga had jetted out again.
When eventually he found time to lead a pack of visiting brother governors on a condolence visit to the monarch of grieving Zurmi council, Yari chose to enact a comedy of errors in the moment of tragedy. By disclosing that his administration had intelligence report of impending attack 24hours prior, he only exposed himself as accessory before the fact of a pogrom. The question: since he knew ahead, what practical steps did he make to avert it?
Tellingly, on the day the gunmen struck, he was said to be ensconced in the luxurious comfort of Abuja.
It is lame for Yari to explain his failing away by saying that he passed information to the relevant security agencies 24 hours before the attack. A wise governor would not have stopped there; he would also rally the communities to a red alert, apart from he being at his desk to monitor development.
Later in Zurmi, apparently to ingratiate himself to the locals he had failed, he would parrot the populist line that killings by herdsmen has escalated under PMB: “I feel let down facing the people of this state whenever I remember the promise I made to them that when they elect President Muhammadu Buhari into power, these killings will end. But unfortunately, things are now getting worse.”
While such confession must have helped disarm the mob outside the Emir’s palace that day who might have been tempted to stone the fumbling governor in annoyance and frustration, he alas only ended up projecting his party, APC, as not just a failure but also clueless on the challenge of securing people’s lives and property.
Worse, after pontificating at the Emir’s palace obviously for the television cameras, Yari failed another leadership test by refusing to visit the community affected, if only to comfort the bereaved in Birani. (Maybe, he was scared the people might stone him for failing them as a leader.) Thereafter, he was said to have zoomed off to Katsina before flying to Abuja and, by some accounts, again jetting abroad.
With characters like these, democracy is indeed imperiled.
‘Dining’ with Kongi
To be mentioned in the same breath as immortal Prof Wole Soyinka is, to me, enough honour, let alone having one’s writing featured in his latest book entitled, “Green Cards and Green Gods”, as well.
My bewilderment could, therefore, only be imagined last week when I received a correspondence from the book’s publishers announcing that, on Kongi’s insistence, a generous portion of his royalty from the book will be paid to me for even my little effort in the book unveiled in December 2017.
As a writer, material reward is never one’s primary motivations. Rather, it is more about questing for that inner peace kindled only by the consciousness of truth or the defence of its province.
To now be compensated by the Nobel laureate on top is gratifying indeed. The cheque’s size is beside the point; much more invaluable, in my view, is the very spirit behind the gesture - the willingness to share and the sense of accountability.
From my interaction with Kongi and learning at huge feet over the years, I can almost swear his thunderous aversion to publicity of this nature. But I’m willing to risk his wrath, if only for an opportunity to bear testimony to his uncommon generosity of not just spirit, but in material terms as well.
Members of my generation grew up hearing stories of how Kongi quietly gave away most of the cash of the Nobel Prize in Literature he won in 1986 to the needy. And when unable to meet excessive material demands from those who have access to him even till date, he would sometimes pass on invitation to lucrative speaking engagements as another form of “donation”.
Well, on a jovial note, having thus made full disclosure, here is earnestly hoping prospective freeloaders and scavengers milling the nation’s space won’t now suddenly consider me a goldmine or easy target of 419 schemes, even before the cheque is cashed.