By Sam Omatseye
No one of note has borne the title of Owelle since the great Zik. That is perhaps the genesis of Rochas Okorocha’s delusion of grandeur. Maybe he believes he is equal to the Owelle of Onitsha. To his credit, Okorocha has not made such a grandiloquent claim in public, although we know that he believes in himself enough to want to be Nigerian president.
Were he a more sober man, I could have designated him the Cicero of our time. For if you hear him take to the microphone, the governor of Imo State is no small orator. He commands the stage, sports a supernova smile, even if he looks sometimes like a refinement of coarser beings. With wit and sometimes syncopation of sentences, he can hold you spell bound. He, however, turns out to be a Cicero counterfeit. He has neither the Roman politician’s girth of knowledge nor his immersion in philosophy.
What is happening to the Imo State governor is not a defeat. It is not a shellacking, as some writers may want to invoke that beaten word. I can only reach to my childhood to see what might be a semblance of this sort of misfortune. When you are a governor, you choreograph a ward congress, and deploy your men and resources, and then you go to sleep. You expect to be woken up to the routine glory of your victory. But when you go belly up instead of a belly dance, I can only compare you with humpty dumpty, the mighty one who had a great fall.
The only burlesque of the sort I can recall in our history goes back to the days of IBB when he, in his peevish manoeuvres, tried to foist a political system on us. It was a system called Option A4, an open ballot system where voters lined up behind their candidates at the polling station. In Ikorodu, a candidate had paid and mobilised his voters. But at the time to cast ballot, the man, in his showy damask, saw he virtually stood alone while his opponent’s line ran like a spectacularly long python. The diminished candidate saw his people on the other side. He yelled in suppressed hysteria in Yoruba: “Eyin enia mi da?” Translation: “My people, where are you?”
That only happens when you think everything is made for you. You think everyone was born for you and they slave for you. Okorocha thought so, and he was mightily disappointed. He saw that his deputy governor, his senators, including Osita Izunaso, had swept him into the Imo River. He was drowning when the result was unveiled. What he expected was not what he envisaged. He must have been miffed. After all, barely a month earlier he had donated N100 million and 27 vans to the same Imo State APC.
He had done quite a number of oddball things in Imo State. Was he not the one who declared a three-week holiday and asked his people to surrender to the revelry of Christmas while the rest of the country was still moving from day to day in productive work? It was the same Rochas, who asked civil servants to quit work on Thursdays and Fridays in order to concentrate on the farm.
Even then, we did not see the burlesque figure in the making. He was, after all, doing some great work, like distributing N100 as monthly allowance for students, cancelling PTF fees and levying all adults N3000.
We cannot forget that Okorocha knew his people well enough to want them to be happy. And ribs pulsed with joy when he asked his sister to head a ministry of happiness and couples fulfilment, even if as a good listener to the people he had to readjust the name of the ministry.
We were all still searching for formula to express our gratitude to him for volunteering his sister when he decided to show us he had had a long plan to make his family everlasting in Imo State. He found a lowly man to marry his daughter and then, in a puff of magnanimity, asked the boy to do the state a favour: be the governor.
He must have been surprised that some people misunderstood his goodwill. He believed most of the people wanted his boy who was his PA, even less so, his house keeper, to lead his people from poverty to bliss. How dare anyone challenge his goodwill! Not even the priest. His men have described the Catholic Archbishop of Owerri Diocese, as plotting mischief. They said he wanted to intimidate and blackmail the governor. Okorocha ought to learn from what happened to his predecessor. It is not too late to act. But he is still like an ostrich preening in the dark. He should not kick against the bricks. As a famous idolater who erected a statue for a disgraced man, he expected his people to worship him in kind. He knew a prophet is without honour in his home hence he honoured the South African Zuma in faraway Imo. He may be quietly invoking the Lord.
Okorocha had a sense of his hollow power when he started running about for refuge. He ran to vice president. No answer. To the president. No succour. He cannot run to the APC National Working Committee because he has to contend with not just Izunaso but, of course, Oyegun, who now sees him as one of the first to abandon him when Buhari chose Adams over him.
Okorocha has a cousin in literature. He is Malvolio in Shakespeare’s play of mistaken identity, Twelfth Night. Just as Izunaso, Rochas’ deputy and others lulled Okorocha with a false sense of grandeur and control, so four characters gave Malvolio, the house keeper, the illusion that the great lady Olivia was in love with him. He poked fun at them. The puritan became pompous and boasted he would become the leader of the household. One of his quotes could fit Okorocha. “If this were played upon a stage now, I could condemn it as an improbable fiction.”
What Okorocha has been doing would beat many brewers of fiction. They could have described them as over-ornamented, rococo and out of joint with Nigerian reality. But politicians often make our imaginations look tame and lacking in creative audacity. But from what we have seen in the APC congresses, there are not a few politicians who have outsize sense of their own reality. We have seen this all over the country from the northeast to the southwest. Some who began as humble have grown fat like pigs of megalomania. They overrate themselves because some money has come their way.
Many of them are now fringe players in their own parties. But Okorocha is the only major mainstreamer who is now drowning. A few were quietly humbled, even if ego still troubles them. Even though Okorocha fails, he will still not give up. Maybe he thinks he is a prophet not loved by his own people. Does he have a messianic complex? He will fire on in a replay historical fascination with failure in what a critic calls “insistent fatality,” which we find in grander characters like Oedipus, Okonkwo and Macbeth.