On 27 January the Imo State governor Rochas Okorocha told newsmen that his state is broke. “The monthly wage bill of the state is 4.2 billion naira which is far higher than what we receive from federal allocation including the internally generated revenue which means that the state government has always been operating on a deficit. As at December 31, 2015 the state received 1.9 billion naira from the Federal Government while the monthly wage bill of the state for the same period was 4.2 billion naira.”
What Okorocha failed to mention was how much of the allocations and loans the state had received since he became governor in 2011 have been diverted into his own pockets.
Okorocha was practically bankrupt by the time he became governor and since then he and his family have continued an unprecedented form of primitive accumulation through the brazen theft of public funds. This accumulation includes the House of Freeda Shopping Mall on MCC Road Owerri, opposite the Graceland Medical Centre.
It is a “one stop shopping mall” according to its PR blurb, and is owned by Okorocha’s first daughter Uloma. She is married to the governor’s Chief of Staff Uche Nwosu, a former commissioner in the Okorocha government. Nwosu is reportedly being groomed to replace Okorocha as governor in 2019.
Turning politics, and the looting of public funds that comes with it, into a family business is an Okorocha specialty, leading Uche Ogbuagu, a comedian from the state, to call it a “familiocracy”.
While state employees and pensioners have not been paid for several months, House of Freeda provides not just shopping facilities, but “lifestyle and luxury services and relaxation”. Apart from the shops, there is a jazz cafe, lounge, barber shop, hairdressers, and the Laura Spa, which is meant to be “world class, subliminal and magnificent.” Outside you have a bar and “relaxation spot”.
In case the dispossessed people of Imo State try to storm the place and recover stuff stolen from them, they better note that the mall is guarded 24/7 by at least eight armed men from the paramilitary Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC) and the Department of State Services (DSS). Public servants and public money being deployed to protect stolen private wealth.
Visitors to the mall that spoke to Naijiant suggested patronage is still slow at the establishment that was opened around September last year. But as it was funded with public funds, there is no pressure on the owners to start recouping their investment.