Listen, is anyone paying attention to Rochas? By Garba Shehu

Garba Shehu

It is a joy to write about the rare positive contributions of our politicians at a time when there is a dearth of good examples. Indeed if the current deplorable security challenge in the country has thrown up any surprises, it is surely the political aptitude and correctness of the new Imo State Governor, Owelle Anayo Rochas Okorocha.

Nigeria’s current leaders are not showing any risk-taking attitude or innovativeness to the violence racking the land, forcing men, women and children to pack up their belongings to return to the North from the South and vice-versa. It is refreshing that Rochas Okorocha has picked up the nation-building role long abandoned by the other leaders.

The Imo State Governor has picked up the proverbial olive branch cris-crossing the troubled Northern States doing two things. One, he has been taking a message of Igbo/South-East solidarity to the governors and the people of particularly the North-East and the North-West over the unwanted situation of being hosts to Boko Haram violence in which they have found themselves. Two, he has taken the message of hope to Igbo kinsmen who, as it is known, are the most widely distributed settlers in the federation. It is common knowledge that they are found in nearly every village and hamlet and are accepted in several Northern communities as agents of modernization. Of course in some of the communities, their sale of alcoholic beverages and such stuff is a vexing problem. Rochas has been telling them to stay put where they are but be mindful of their security. The song of the divisive elements on the other hand, is to go into the gutter with the Boko Haram by asking the Igbo in the North to “come home, Nigeria will divide; this is what the pre-civil war period just looked like”.

There is nothing here to suggest that this individual nation-building and pacifist effort is a game changer. It is just that the prime mover of this innovative idea needs to be given every encouragement because this effort at bridge-building is what the country needs at this time. Given encouragement, Rochas’ effort could presage winds of change blowing over Nigeria. Those who remember our early politicians say this is the way the late Ahmadu Bello, Sardaunan Sokoto, the leader of the North; Chief Obafemi Awolowo the leader of the West and the leader of the East, Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe used to conduct themselves at early signs of national crises. They took off early to visit trouble spots to douse the tension wherever it is found for the nation to continue in peace.

For Rochas Okorocha, few people who are familiar with his cosmopolitan background will be surprised that he has engaged himself in this effort. Although an Easterner by his native origin, Rochas grew up in the North. Jos is still his home, a city in which he achieved wealth and fame. His Hausa is as impeccable as his Igbo. He has in addition, lived and traded in the West and the East. His emergence as a major political player, not only in the South-East but in the larger arena of national politics is significant in more ways than one.

Rochas has a profound historical attachment to the country’s poor through philanthropy and for many who know him, what he is doing today is only an extension of what he has been doing before he became a governor.

Rochas has achieved fame for assisting charitable causes all across the land and has promoted education as the basis of empowering the poor. He has built schools, offering free education in many cities, including my own town, Kano. This school in Kano has become a metaphor for education without tears.

Since he became governor, he has held himself up as the nation’s apostle of non-violence. In the general ambience for change engendered by his defeat of the incumbent to assume the seat of governor, Rochas has been doing a good job so far.

He met an over-bloated expenditure of N6.5billion Naira his predecessor spent as security vote. He reduced this to a bare N2.5billion and ploughed the N4billion saving into education. Even at the risk of sounding pedantic, it is difficult to ignore Rochas’ education policies of free primary and secondary education complimented by a lunch allowance for the students; massive on-going rehabilitation of schools in the 27 council areas and the return of mission schools to religious organizations.

Rochas is also doing many road and infrastructural projects including a first-ever bye-pass in Owerri to decongest the city centre. Imolites must be spell bound by Rochas’ magic reality, and the enormous PR the new governor is doing for their state – a PR far more effective than the tonnes of advertising newsprint his predecessor bought with little or no effect at all for the state and its highly educated people. Governor Rochas has resuscitated the abandoned Ceramics Tiles Industry in Ehime – Mbano Local Government Area initiated by late Gov. Samuel Onunaka Mbakwe. It is instructive that Rochas, unlike the average Nigerian politician left the project where Mbakwe originally sited it, which coincidentally is the home town of his political opponent, former Governor Ikedi Ohakim, who never paid attention to the project throughout his four – year tenure.

If these heartening processes of change continue, the decaying political culture of Imo and that of the country as a whole, long stigmatized for its backwardness, corruption and greed could be in for a makeover.

As a reporter and a Nigerian citizen, I feel immensely proud about a new generation of leaders who are conscious about the flaws in the country and are doing their part to clear the rot. No doubt, Governor Rochas is an incurable optimist, who despite the current challenges to our unity brought on by Boko Haram, remains faithful to the unity of Nigeria. The bottom-line of his exhortation is that we should not succumb to fear and let our unity go up in flames because of the current challenges of security. His message of peace and unity is a significant inspiration to millions who believe in the resilience and viability of Nigeria, despite temporary challenges of security.


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