CONCERNED IMO ELDER STATESMEN
SENATOR ROCHAS OKOROCHA VERSUS IMO STATE GOVERNMENT
As stakeholders in the wellbeing and development of our dear state, Imo, and its people, we deem it fit to make some observations on some recent developments, fully convinced that it is our joint responsibility, as leaders, to ensure a secured future for all its indigenes, both at home and abroad. Since the issue we want to dwell upon presently boarder on the rule of law, we wish to, first and foremost, reiterate our belief that for democratic governance to blossom, leaders, whether elected or appointed, must always operate within the ambits and purview of rule of law.
- In the last couple of days, our dear state, Imo, has been in the news for the wrong reason, following an incident at the Royal Springs Palm Estate, behind the Owerri Greater Urban Water Scheme along Akachi road, Owerri, a property which was sealed off a few days earlier on the orders of the Imo state government but which was later broken into by a former governor of the state, His Excellency, Senator Rochas Okorocha, who claims ownership of the estate.
- The government’s action was in compliance with the recommendations of a judicial panel of enquiry which had investigated cases of illegal and improper acquisition of land by three previous administrations, that of Okorocha inclusive.
- The panel, which was set up under the Imo State Judicial Panel of Enquiry Law, received petitions from the general public and invited persons affected by the petitions, among whom were Senator Rochas Okorocha, to come for their defense, even though the latter did not deem it fit to appear before it. The panel concluded sitting and submitted its report and in line with the Imo State Law on Judicial Panel of Enquiries, the state executive council deliberated on the report and adopted it. The report was subsequently gazetted consequent upon which it became a supplementary legislation with a force of law.
- Since details of the recommendations of the judicial panel are within the public domain, it is needless going into them here. Suffice it to state, however, that we have it on good authority that any fellow who is affected by a Judicial Panel’s order gazetted by a government can only approach the court for a judicial review. In the instant case, Senator Okorocha should have either approached the court for an order to quash the decision of the panel or to seek a declaration restoring his title and, indeed, seek for damages against the government for trespass.
- Imolites were, therefore, surprised that His Excellency, Senator Rochas Okorocha, a former governor of the state, chose not to follow that course but instead decided to unlawfully break into the property in question with video recordings in a manner unbecoming of a statesman of his caliber and status.
- Senator Okorocha’s actions were not only a breach of the law but also an affront to the collective integrity of the entire people of Nigeria. We are duly informed from the appropriate legal authorities that no citizen has the right to stop the government from implementing a judicial order, once it has been gazetted, without going through the court. Hence, Senator Okorocha’s argument that his property was not seized by a “Court Order” does not enjoy any legal backing.
- In any case, Senator Okorocha’s recent antics remind all of us of the aphorism that he who goes to equity must do so with clean hands. It is not a hidden matter that throughout is eight years as governor, Okorocha was severally associated with cases of disobedience to court orders and disregard to due process.Thee first step Okorocha took upon assumption of office in 2011 was to dismantle some lawfully constituted institutions of government at his whims. He dissolved the elected local government councils whose tenure still had more than one year ahead. He terminated the appointments of 10,000 newly employed youths in the state civil service. He scraped the Imo Roads Maintenance Agency (IROMA) which was established by law during the previous administration and which had assets worth over 12 Billion Naira. Till date, no account has been given of those assets. Governor Okorocha deposed a prominent traditional ruler in the state and refused to restate him even after a Supreme Court ruling to that effect. Towards the end of his regime in 2017, Okorocha demolished the famous Eke-Ukwu Owerri market in spite of an existing court order restraining the Imo state government from carrying out the demolition. Of course, it is needless to mention here that that misadventure led to the loss of innocent lives including that of the late Somtoochukwu. By the time Okorocha left office in 2019, there were over 250 subsisting court cases between his administration and indigenes of the state, almost all bordering on unlawful and forceful takeover of property by the governor or his cronies.
- There is no intention here to reprimand the Senator over things he did while serving as governor but the instant case seems to suggest that even out of office, he thinks that that is the way to continue. But we also believe that we owe it a duty to our people to prevail on him to repudiate such idiosyncrasies essentially because since one breach of law may beget another, the situation may snowball into total anarchy. If a fellow of Senator Okorocha’s status could afford to go with a hammer to begin to break the locks of a property lawfully sealed by government, it cannot be gain said that lesser mortals may take a cue from there to resort to share brigandage. Needless to say, we do not believe that that is the type of example a fellow, whom the people once gave the privilege to preside over their affairs, should give to the younger more vulnerable ones.
- Apart from the legal issue, the property in question is in total negation of efforts by the state government to protect the environment around the state capital, Owerri. Royal Spring Palm Estate is built on a green verge. It is a well known fact in the state that the Owerri City Master Plan, which was drawn up by one of the world’s best town planning firms, Fingerhurt & Partners of Switzerland, spelt out specifically that the area must not be built on and must remain green.
- Perhaps not many Nigerians are aware of the fact that of the fourteen (14) state chief executives – both military and civilian – Imo had between its inception in 1976 and 2011 when Okorocha emerged, thirteen (13) religiously respected that provision in the Master Plan and the area remained untouched until 2013. We recall that in an open letter by a former governor of the state to Governor Okorocha, the former drew the latter’s attention to the dangers of violating the Owerri City Master Plan. Entitled, “Urban Renewal And Current Events In Imo State” and dated August 22, 2016, the letter noted, among other things, that “… it is categorically wrong and poses a debilitating environmental and health hazard to cross Nworie and Otamiri rivers with culverts instead of bridges”. The former governor further advised Okorocha to immediately remove the culverts and replace them with proper bridges and restore the green verge of Otamiri and Nworie rivers to save the life of that body of water and avoid serious environmental calamity. But he was thoroughly abused by close aides of Governor Okorocha most probably on the latter’s instructions.
- It was, therefore, with the biggest surprise that Imolites woke up one morning to discover that Okorocha had allocated the delicate green verge to his family and massive structures standing on it. We are also aware that entreaties by professionals and well meaning people on the contrary were rebuffed by Governor Okorocha Besides that the verge directly slopes into the Greater Owerri Water Scheme, the residential buildings and hotels located on the Royal Spring Palm Estate discharge effluents directly into Otamiri River, with obvious implications on the health of the people. As a matter of fact, it is believed in some quarters that that might be the reason Governor Okorocha abandoned the Owerri urban water scheme throughout his stay in office.
- In the light of the above, we, the undersigned, on behalf of concerned elder statesmen in Imo state, hereby state as follows: i. We condemn, in its entirety, Senator Okorocha’s unlawful entry into the premises of Royal Spring Palm Estate already taken possession of by the Imo state government after due process, as outlined above. ii. We equally condemn Senator Okorocha’s action of personally leading unauthorized persons to break into the property, knowing full well that such an action is tantamount to challenging the authority of security agents that were lawfully deployed to guard the property; and that any possible clash arising there from may lead to a breach of public peace. iii. We completely disapprove of Senator Okorocha’s behavior more so at a time when security challenges, together with sundry issues of national concern, have made the country very susceptible to social unrest at the slightest provocation. iv. We commend the state government and the Nigeria Police for ensuring that the matter did not escalate. v. As bona fide members of the Imo state society, we wish to state, without any equivocation or fear of contradiction, that we whole heartedly support any legitimate and lawful moves taken by the state government to restore the Owerri City Master Plan and recover every property or assets collectively owned by the people but which were illegally appropriated by any individual or group; and we seize this opportunity to urge the good people of Imo state to support same. vi. Conversely, we enjoin every well meaning indigene of the state, irrespective of partisan affiliation or personal affinity, not to collaborate with, connive at or assist any other fellow, no matter how highly placed, to thwart the noble intentions of the state government to recover our stolen patrimony and, in effect, lay a foundation for the culture of transparency and accountability among public officers in the state.
- It needs no exaggeration to state that the case under review is a big embarrassment to the generality of the people of the state. Senator Okorocha may have the sympathy of a handful of people who benefited from his administration or even neutral elements who might not be properly informed of the nuances of his actions but there can be no doubt that the generality of the over five million Imolites want an end to lawlessness which, we dare say, unfortunately, got its biggest impetus during his tenure as governor.
- We enjoin the good people of Imo state to, rather than allow themselves to be blinded by emotions, seize the opportunity offered by this incident to say, “Enough Is Enough”; and begin to insist that their leaders, whether elected or appointed, should keep to the rule of law.
- As a corollary, we wish to use this medium to equally enjoin His Excellency, Governor Hope Uzodimma, that while he has the backing and support of the generality of Imolites to recover every asset of the state that was unlawfully or fraudulently taken, he must also have his eyes on history. Tomorrow will also come after him. He must follow due process, consult extensively with those with institutional memory and work in concert with professionals who our dear state has in abundance. Given the sheer enormity of the rot especially in the last ten years, much is expected of him but to succeed, he must have his eyes always on the ball.
- We equally want to use this medium to advise Nigerians, in general and Imolites, in particular, to be wary of social media propaganda aimed at explaining away the actions of Senator Rochas Okorocha in the instant case. As we have already noted, we would insist that the Imo state government observes due process in all its actions that have to do with restoring accountability in our society but God forbid that we allow undue emotions and sentiments to emasculate our reasoning or get intimidated by skewed media reportage extracted through financial considerations.
- Finally, we make the above submissions taking full cognizance of the fact that Imo is not the only state in Nigeria where some members of the political elite are constituting themselves into the biggest stumbling block to our democracy. We believe that the matter under review offers the Nigerian political elite as a whole an ample opportunity to take a more critical look at the deteriorating state of our polity. The impunity of its members is taking an alarming dimension. What moral authority does the elite have in querying the youths when they take laws into their hands to protest over matters they perceive as being against their interest and future; circumstances that, in any case, might have arisen from the recalcitrance of some members of the political elite. While Nigerians should never subscribe to any maltreatment of our leaders by incumbent state governors or their lieutenants, they should insist that former office holders must submit themselves to existing authorities and laws of the land. The alternative would be an inevitable descent of our increasingly fragile polity into total anarchy.
HRM Eze (Dr) C.I. Illomuanya, CON
Obi of Obinugwu.
Chancellor, Federal University,
Chief Ralph Obioha
(Okpuruisi Zuruoha II)
Rt. Hon. (Dr) Maxwell Duru
Prince Lemmy Akakem
(Okpata Ozuoha of Owerri)
Chief (Sir) Simon Udunka
Hon. Commissioner Emeritus
Under Governor Sam Mbakwe