There has hardly been pretence about the flamboyant lifestyle of Chief Rochas Okorocha, the governor of Imo State. His flashy way of living predates his governorship status. But as a public figure, many had thought the demands of office would temper his showmanship’s propensity.
He proved those who thought along that line wrong Monday when he chose to celebrate his 50th birthday amid pomp and ceremony. It was double celebrations for him as the occasion also marked the 10th anniversary of Rochas Foundation.
In his honour, the state government ordered all markets and schools in the state shut. Civil servants, including teachers, with their students in tow, were directed to proceed to Heroes Square, Owerri, venue of the grand finale of the activities marking the birthday of the governor. It was a directive everybody obeyed peremptorily.
The celebration of the birthday, which actually ought to have taken place on September 28, was shifted to October 8 to coincide with the 10th anniversary of the Foundation of his schools. But between then and yesterday, there have been several activities lined up, all in celebration of the golden jubilee of the governor.
Over the weekend, the publicity blitz of the ceremony hit the public dais, as most national newspapers celebrated the advertorials of the governor from his retinue of appointees - commissioners, special advisers, special assistants - as well as friends, associates and contractors to the state government.
It was gathered that the governor’s appointees were under strict instruction to take up advert spaces in the media to show solidarity with their boss.
It was not certain how the funds for the adverts were sourced. Prime time was also bought on national television to celebrate the governor. But at the Heroes Square yesterday, the pomp associated with the ceremony reached its peak as it turned out a mini parade of the power barons of the country.
Leading the pack was former military president, Gen. Ibrahim Babangida, who in company with the governor, rode into the square with some streak of a triumphant entry, as the mass of the people who had gathered at the square since 8am rose in loud ovation on sighting their governor and his array of important guests.
Other dignitaries include Prime Minister of Zimbabwe, Mr. Morgan Tsvangirai, governors of Anambra State, Mr. Peter Obi; Rivers, Hon. Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi; Delta, Dr. Emmanuel Uduaghan; Kastina, Alhaji Shehu Shema, and Bauchi, Mallam Isa Yuguda.
In his remarks, Tsvangirai charged African leaders to look inwards by delivering those promises they made during their electioneering campaign, adding that the electorate expected more from them. He commended Okorocha for his milestone in ensuring that his people benefit from the democracy dividends abound in the country.
In his own speech, the former Head of State, Babangida extolled the virtues of Okorocha for his achievements in education, philanthropy and governance. He called other leaders to assist the special citizens by providing for them at all times.
Okorocha reinstated his vow to put Imo in the map of the fastest developing states by executing only people-oriented programmes. He also promised to complete several on-going infrastructural projects in the state before the expiration of his tenure so as to transform the state.
But some concerned Imo citizens who were critical of the flamboyant ceremony, described it as “wild and outlandish”. They expressed dissatisfaction over the exaggerated attention the celebration was given, especially given the huge financial cost of the ceremonies, whereas civil servants have not been paid their September salary.
Former presidential candidate of the Peoples Mandate Party (PMP), Dr. Batos Nwadike, a citizen of the state, told THISDAY that it was not right for a sitting governor to celebrate his birthday in an elaborate manner. He expressed worry over the loss of man-hours in the state, arguing that such extreme celebration at public expense could not happen in a productive economy.
“This is no reason for a sitting governor to celebrate his birthday. If he must do that, it would not be an elaborate affair, because the governor is still working and not done with the projects in the state. Why should he celebrate when roads are bad, schools are dilapidated, hospitals are mere clinics?
People are hungry; civil servants have not received their September salary. So it shows lack of vision, especially when the event is made to be a state affair by closing roads, markets, schools without any feeling for the common man,” he said.
Others who commented on the elaborate ceremonies, but who would not want their names mentioned, lamented that the governor overstretched his personal celebration and sacrificed the overall interest of the state.
The ceremony which attracted dignitaries from the Northern part of the country and the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) chieftains in the South-east, also had in attendance students from Rochas Foundation Colleges in Ibadan, Jos, Kano, Owerri and Okpoko, the governor’s home town. The state Commissioner for Information and Strategy, Mr. Chinedu Offor, could not be reached for comments.