Rochas Okorocha, the governor of Imo State, was confronted by an Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) protester as he spoke at the Royal Institute of International Affairs (Chatham House) in London yesterday.
The protester said his people were being killed in Imo State for agitating for Biafran secession from Nigeria and called Okorocha a “murderer” that doesn’t tell the truth. Several pro-Biafrans believe Okorocha and the governor of Anambra State, Willie Obiano, are in support of unleashing the violence of the Nigerian soldiers and the police against unarmed agitators for secession.
Watch the exchange here:
It is very unlikely that any other Igbo governor would have faced such a public display of discontent and disrespect, considering how sycophancy has become so embedded in Nigerian culture. But the enmity towards Okorocha from pro-Biafrans is on another level.
Much of this hatred has been fuelled by Radio Biafra broadcasts. The official line from the station is that Okorocha is not Igbo, hence they tag him “Okoroawusa”, claiming he is an Hausa man sent to destroy Igboland by Nigeria’s “Hausa-Fulani” rulers.
This line seems to have grown legs from a rumour that has been doing the rounds for some time questioning the official version of the Okorocha biography, which states that Okorocha Senior came from Ogboko in Ideato Local Government Area of Imo State. The rumour claims that his mother was married to the man from Ogboko and had two girls with him, but they fell out and she went to live in Jos. She then shacked up with an Hausa man there and gave birth to Rochas (real names: Ethelbert Anayo) and his brother Jude.
The mother returned to Ogboko with her two boys and patched up with her husband, who it was claimed accepted, after the intervention of village elders, the two boys as his own because he didn’t have any male children.
Whether this version is true or not doesn’t seem to matter to IPOB members, who believe that Okorocha is not an Igbo man and they tend to connect the story to Okorocha’s actions as governor. Many in his state claim that he “doesn’t understand Igbo people”, “is always in love with the north”, and “doesn’t behave like an Igbo person”. Okorocha spent most of his life in Jos.
We reported in February last year that the governor was trying to create “an ‘artificial’ Muslim community in Igbo land. To achieve this, young women from villages across Imo State are being offered 2m Naira [$10,000] to be married off to northern Muslim alhajis. The idea is that they should have Muslim children, increasing the numbers of Muslims among Igbos.”
Some people in his state claim that there are “many northerners” around Government House Owerri and there are more in the city since Okorocha became governor. He has reportedly encouraged them to buy land along Port Harcourt Road. These actions and the significant increase in the Muslim population in Owerri have, in the climate of Boko Haram attacks, stoked fears of terrorism among locals.
Okorocha is also rumoured to be a member of the Ogboni secret society. This would hardly endear him to Igbos, who are mainly Christian. He has placed sculptural pieces at roundabouts across Owerri that a few observers claim depict occult worship. Some even claim he is using those “satanic” sculptures to “maintain his hold” on the people of Imo State.
As if the governor’s perceived crimes against people of the faith were not enough, he is also at loggerheads with the Catholic Archbishop of Owerri, Anthony Obinna. Obinna’s sermons against Okorocha’s bad governance in the state reportedly made the governor stop attending mass at the Assumpta Cathedral in the capital. Okorocha’s thugs were said to have beaten up a priest and destroyed property of the cathedral during a debate there in March last year.
Incidentally Archbishop Obinna was among Igbo “elders”, alongside Alex Ekwueme, Alex Madiebo, Emeka Anyaoku, Arthur Nwankwo and Ben Nwabueze, chosen by the IPOB to speak on behalf Biafran agitation at a planned meeting with US congressmen.
As it is very likely that IPOB support amongst Igbos is higher in Imo State than any other state, it is no surprise that Okorocha is so detested among the membership. These members are well aware that the governor is seen as “Public Enemy Number 1” in the state.
Belonging to the All Progressives Congress (APC) has partly fuelled the hatred. Before he was arrested in Lagos by security agents in October last year, IPOB leader Nnamdi Kanu told a meeting of the World Igbo Congress in Los Angeles last year that if he had a gun he would shoot any Igbo person that voted for the APC. That said, if former senator, APC stalwart and current Minister for Labour Chris Ngige were addressing a meeting anywhere, it is very unlikely that it would be disrupted by IPOB members.
The resentment towards Okorocha from the IPOB goes a lot deeper than party affiliation.