If Nigeria is to change for the better, the state governments must work very well, quite apart from anything the Federal Government will do. The scale of our challenges mean that the governors do not have a moment to lose in bringing development to their states. Of all the new governors, Rochas Okorocha has been quickest off the mark, and has taken a number of important actions already, less than 2 weeks in office. These actions merit further scrutiny, if only to determine whether the people of Imo state have gotten it right this time.
Before his inauguration, Rochas had the accounts of the state frozen. Strictly speaking, it is unconstitutional as he didn’t have the powers to do so. However, defeated governors are in the habit of emptying the treasury and signing off on questionable contracts prior to handover, then disappearing into thin air to escape prosecution. Any probe into their activities might be termed a ‘witch-hunt’ by the former governor’s supporters, so Rochas probably preferred to be rather safe than sorry.
Ikedi Ohakim’s offer of 10,000 jobs in the state civil service to Imo indigenes was met with howls of derision when it announced a couple of years ago, especially when all applicants had to buy a scratch card of N2,000. The new governor has suspended those job offers, with good reason: the state is yet to implement the new minimum wage of N18,000 and already employs 13,000 people. Implementing it will double the wage bill, and a further 10,000 people will almost quadruple spending on salaries alone. This is without any increase in infrastructure investment. Most of them don’t even have desks or chairs. When they came together to protest, the deputy governor promised that real jobs will be created for them. It was very mischievous of Ohakim to give employment to that number of people when there was no arrangement for them, just before leaving office, leaving the new governor to deal with the fall-out. You can’t just manufacture jobs out of thin air.
Imo’s 27 local councils and 44 Area Development centres have also been dissolved by Okorocha, citing a system fraught with corruption and indiscipline. While this is probably true, it remains to be seen what structures will take their place. Local councils are crucial, simply because they are closest to the people. A more efficient system must be a priority. He also dissolved the state council of traditional rulers, saying they are too political. Again, he has a point. Most traditional rulers in Nigeria have become part of the problem, sacrificing their moral authority on the altar of fiduciary concerns, preferring to lobby for contracts directly or through proxies. 4 years is too short for such things.
The most positive news coming out of Imo state since May 29 has been in the area of education. This is not surprising, considering that Rochas has been heavily involved in improving access to education through the Rochas Foundation. He looks set to continue this trend as governor. One of his pledges was of free primary and secondary education, and he has cut his ‘security vote’ from N6.5 billion to N2.5 billion to fund it. It is unheard of for any state governor to cut this ambiguously named part of his budget, which the Kano governor Rabiu Kwankwaso called an avenue for corruption, but maybe that is an advantage of electing a person who was already wealthy before taking public office. He has also reduced the fees of Imo State University from N150,000 to N49,000, which the students had protested for very recently.
As a man who has, through his foundation, spent the last decade increasing the number of young people who have access to education, he clearly understands the importance of it, and seems ready to take the necessary steps as governor to extend it to even more people. For this reason, his start looks promising. He is also not afraid of taking decisions that may not be popular. A necessary trait in our country.
What do you think? Is Rochas on the right track? Is he for real?Follow @jemc2