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OKOROCHA’S “FREEDOM” STATUE ALONG BANK ROAD IS AN INSULT AND SHOULD BE DISMANTLED

Director-General of the  Imo state  Orientation  Agency,  Chief  Ethelbert  Okere,  in this interview with a group of journalists urges the people to reject those who wear the toga of the messiah.

Sir,  your agency,  the  Imo  State  Orientation  Agency, was almost moribund before now. What is the situation now?

Well, the situation is that in accordance with the directives of His Excellency, we are putting the agency back to life.  As you rightly noted,  the agency was run aground by the Okorocha administration which probably did not realize the need to galvanize the people to  work  in  the  same  page  with  government.  Happily, Governor  Uzodimma  is  determined  to  end  the  perennial alienation between  the government and the governed and he knows that our agency is one the vehicles of reaching out to the people.

Your  agency  is  also  involved  in  information  dissemination.  So,what  is  the difference between it and the Ministry of Information? Is there any overlap?

My agency is not involved in the dissemination of information per se but you see, in  the  course of  trying  to  turn  a  person  to  begin  to  look  at  an  issue  from  another angle, you may need to educate or enlighten him or her on certain issues with the appropriate  information.  But  basically,  the  job  of  orientation  is  to  disabuse  the minds  of  the  people  from  certain  fixations  ornegative minds  sets  over  issues,  to more  positive perceptions. If a people’s minds are  made  up  on a certain  matter, there  is  probably  no  quantum  of  information  that  government  will  push  out  that will  change  those  stereo  types.  So,  what  to  do  is  to  help  the  people  repudiate certain  negative  thinking  about  their  environment,  about  the  government,  about those  in  government and, indeed  about  one  another.  There  is  where  orientation comes in. Given the way governments has been ran over the years, the people tend to  believe a  lot  of  negative  things  about  government  but  I  can  tell  you  that  over eighty percent of what critics say about those in government are lie. But you don’t blame the  people  because  they  have been disappointed  severally  by  those  they elected or those appointed into public offices. But then, that is no reason we should believe anything including those coming from the pit of hell. So, we have to let thepeople  know  that  inspite  of  some  negative  tendencies,  government  generally means well.

But  the question is, how  do  you go about  convincing  people who  have over  the years become so pissed off by governments and its functionaries. The situation is worsening daily. We have issues of corruption, of unpaid salaries and pensions, poor state of infrastructure etc.

There  is  no  doubt  about  that.  But  we  cannot  remain  that  way.  We  must  help ourselves.  At  the  end  of  the  day,  problems  are  meant  for  human  beings  to  solve. The essence of life is to be able to overcome challenges.

Sir, before you were appointed into the current position, you had written a lot of articles happing on the rancor among members of the Imo political elite. But is it peculiar  to  the  state? 

Just a  few  weeks  ago,  you  did an article  under  the  title, “Imo And The Metaphor Of Aroman Mob”. That article struck me. Were you trying to indict the people?

Far from thatOur people are largely innocent but the whole essence of that article was to point out how vulnerable they have become in the hands of members ofthe political  elite  who  manipulate  their  individual  and  collective  psyche  in  pursuit of selfish partisan agenda. Igive an illustration. After the 2011 general elections, the fellow who emerged as governor, Chief Rochas Okorocha, came up with all sorts of   brain   washing.   He   came   talking   like   the   messiah   and   because   of   the circumstances  of  his  emergence,  many  believed  him.  He  came  with  this  idea  of liberating  the  people and  the question  people  like  us  kept  asking  was, liberation from  who?  Before  we knew  it,  he  had  erected  a  statue of  a  man  who has  a  chain holding his two hands cutoff at Ware House round about along Bank road, Owerri. In  front of  that,  he  erected  what  he  called Freedom  Fall  and  an  arena  called Freedom  Square.  And  I kept  asking,  freedom  from who?  Were  Imolites  hitherto under any bondage? Just because the election went the way it went with all the lies told.  But  unfortunately,  our  people  allowed themselves to  be  told  that  they  were under  bondage. They  allowed themselves to be told that they were  under  slavery. Slavery  under who?  Slavery  in  the hands  of  their  own  kit  and  kin? That  was  the type  of  psychological  assault  Imolites went  through  for  eight  years.  I don’t know what that statue is still doing there? I have written a memo to the governor for it to  3be  dismantled  and  for  the  painting  tagged, Freedom  Square,to be removed.  My heart  bled  recently  when  I  saw  a  posting on  Facebook  where somebody  was praising a young lady for going to repaint the Freedom Square insignia and abusing the Uzodimma administration for neglecting it. I wept because thatshows that the psyche of a young lady is that of a former slave. That’s outrageous but you  see some people employing the same idiotic concept to advancetheirpartisaninterests. This is just one example of how the elite has so battered the psyche of the people to the  extent that  they  are  no  longer  able  to  discern  which  of  their  own  leaders  are doing well and those whoare not.

Come again Sir, you complained about the statue along Bank road Owerri, but it has been there since 2011.

That’s exactly the point I am making. What is it doing? Why should we allow such a thing?

Freedom from who? I have written at least three articles on the statue and the Freedom Fall but that’s all we could do because the people who put them there were  then  in  charge.  Now, I  feel  quite  embarrassed  each  time  I  drive  pass  there. The statue and  the  Freedom Fall should  not  be  there  so  that  we  can  begin  to orientate  our  people  towards  believing  that  the  state  belongs  to  them,  no  matter which party is in control or who is the governor or which part of the state he comes from.  The  immediate  past  administration  of Governor Ihedioha  talked  about rebuilding Imo. That was ok but rebuilding cannot be about physical infrastructure alone. We need to go beyond that to rebuild the psyche of the people.

You think the current administration is doing that?

I  can categorically  say  yes  and  I  have  just one  simple,  illustration  arising from what  I  have  just  told  you  about the  freedom  statue and  falls.  Believe  or  not, Governor Uzodimma’s Shared Prosperity mantra has the potency of liberating the people, both psychologically  and  economically.  Infact more  of  the first. The  key word there is “Shared”. This means that unlike some who came before him, he does  not  arrogate  to  himself  the  exclusive  knowledge  of  how  to  improve  the well being  of  the  people.  He  is  talking  about  a shared  vision,  unlike  the  one who only saw Imolites as people he liberated from slavery. If you believe you liberated somebody from slavery or bondage, the tendency is for you to always feel superior to  that  person,  always  expecting him to  be  grateful  to you.  That  was  the psychological setting under which the state was governed for eight years. But now we have a governor who says, come let’s share my vision about how we can all prosper together. Governor  Uzodimma  is  not  telling  people  that  he  will dash  them  prosperity, but that he has vision which, if pursued jointly, can make us prosperous. I laugh each time I hear some people say the governor is not sharing prosperity because of the current challenges with salaries and pensions. That is a very cheap way of looking at things. Prosperity is not about payment of salaries because it is a routine matter in  government.  What  the  governor  is  saying  is  that, I  will  create  an  atmosphere wherein people can on their own create wealth. That is what economic prosperity means.  And  you  know  that  it  takes  time  for  such  an  environment  to  be  created, moreso given the experiences of the present time. But some people talk as if once you mentioned the word “prosperity”,then the next day, the streets of Owerri will begin  to  flow  with  milk  and  honey.

You can  see  how  low  the  quality  of  public commentary  in  the  state  has  fallen.  Through  my  agency,  we  want  to see  an  Imo where  people  talk  about  themselves  and  their  state  with  more  elegance and confidence. Okorocha  told Imolites, “I want to dash you Freedom”, but Uzodimma is saying, “Come let’s share in my vision of collective prosperity”.Unlike some of those who came  before  him,  Governor  Uzodimma  does  not  see  himself  as  the  messiah.  A person who sees himself as a messiah does not “share”, he “gives”,like we had in the  one  who  was  dashing  us  freedom.  You  cannot  beat  such  an  uncommon humility.

You  are  coming  from  a  media  background,  what  role  do  you  seethe  latter playing in all this?

Quite a lot, of course, provided the proper things are done first and foremost. Asa matter of fact, part of my worry is that the media in Imo state is the worst victim of the  shenanigans  by  politicians  and  that  has  infracted  on  its  ability to  play  its traditional roles. Ordinarily, the media should be at the fore front of reorienting the peoplebut  honestly  speaking,  you  would  discover  that  many  of ourcolleagues need to be oriented or re-oriented,before you can even mobilize them.

Can you explain more on that Sir?

Don’t get me wrong, the media isnot to blame because as  I said  earlier,  they  are the first victims of the antics of politicians and second, their industry has become very vulnerable.  I  will  illustrate  further. Politicians take  advantage  of  the current precarious stateof  the  media  industry  today  to  price  their  products  down.  For  an advert   rate   of   say, one   hundred   thousand   naira,   which   the   Owerri-based newspapers put out for example, Imo politicians price them as low as N10,000.00and in most cases, the editors or publishers reluctantly accept it because they need the  money  to  publish  the  next  edition. You don’t talk about salaries. As a media consultant, I quarreled quite often with many Imo politicians who would tell you, “go and give it to them. They will accept ten thousand naira. So, so and so is my boy”.  And  I  would  tell  them  that  because  I am  their  senior  colleague,  who  is supposed  to  understand  their  plight,  I would  not  take  ten  thousand  naira to  an editor for an advert that is rated for N150,000.00.And the next thing you hear is, “you  journalists  like  money”.  Such  nonsense.  But even  of  a  graver implication  is that  for  the same  reason, any non  entity can,f or  a  peanut,  find  his or  her face on the  front  page  of  some  of  the  local  newspapers, either  abusing  the  so  called opponents of his principal or praising him to high heavens. You see even political appointees or party men taking one full page of advertorial which they bought for only ten  thousand  naira praising  the  governor  to  high  heavens. It doesn’t  happen elsewhere  because  you  have  to  pay  through  your  nose  for  even  half  a  page  of advertorial, or  as  an  appointee, you  have  to explain  how  you  got  the  money  with which  you  embarked  on  such vain  glory.  The  result  is  that  Imo  state  has  today become the headquarters of sycophancy in Nigeria. Which is an irony because the existence of several newspapers in the state is supposed to elevate the standard of public discussions in the state, but on the contrary, what I may call an ubiquity of newspapersin  the  state  has  brought  the  quality  of  public  commentary  to  an abysmal low. The same goes for the electronic media. Imo perhaps has the highest number of  private  radio  stations  just  as  with  the  print, but you  can  see  that  the content  of  most  of  the  programmes  cannot  even  go  beyond  the  worst  standup comedy. It’s all hate, hate and hate commentaries. In fact, I have a hunch that if the hate speech laws become strictly enforced, Imo may produce the highest number of people that will be prosecuted and the highest number of radio stations that would be sanctioned. Or we have a situation where  journalists keep on complaining that they  are  not happy with  the governor  for whatever  reason.  But  journalists  are  not supposed  to  be  happy  with  the  governor in  the  senseyou  and I  know they say  it.

You don’t have to be  happy  or  angry  with  the  governor.  Report  what  you  see disinterestedly.

So what do we do? Is the situation so irredeemable?

Far from that.Inspite of what I have said, some of the individual practitioners are among  the  best  in  the  country.  A  few  of  the  Owerri-based  newspapers  are  doing quite  well  in  terms  of editorial  choices and  graphic  presentation.  But  there  is always room for improvement and my agency will seek for ways of collaborating with  a  few  of our colleagues  who  have  also  expressed  their  own  worries  to  see what could be done to improve the image of our trade and those practicing in it.

Sir, you have written quite a number of articles defending the administration and this  has  made  some  to  wonder  whether  you  are  also  a  spokesman  of  the administration.

I am not a spokesman of the administration but I do not need to be one to be able to make  critical  interventions.  What  is  orientation  if  not  intervening  to  disabuse  the minds  of  people  on  certain  stereotypes  as  I  earlier  stated.  The  media  is  the  most conventional way of changing attitudes. Personally, I employ what I know how to use best: Writing. Any day, I don’t write any article I feel awkward.

Sir,  some  of  your  interventions, as  you  put  it, have  a  lot  of  political  contents whereas … (CUTS IN)

Political  content?  What  else is  at  stakenowapart  from politics? It  all  about politics. Ninety percent of the fixation or paranoia suffered by the people is about politics. Are we talking about marriage and divorce? When a so-called opposition element  says that the  governor is  deliberately  withholding  pensions  because he  is simply a wicked man what is that other than politics because they want to tell you that their party produced a better governor. So, if you write to enlighten the reading public on the danger of listening to such things, is that politics? But what prompted you to write is politics. Anyway, call it whatever you like.

 Why do you qualify opposition that way? Why so called opposition.

Well,  I  feel  that  we  do  not  have  opposition in  Imo  state in  the  real  sense  of  it.  I don’t know what is happening in other states but  as  they  say,  you  start  from  the

known  to  the  unknown.  It  is  an  unfortunate  situation  because  a  state  like  Imo  is supposed to have an opposition that is deliberate and methodic, not the cacophony on Facebook.  As  far  as  I  am  concerned,  what  we  see  are  Facebook  activists  or practitioners. Simply because youcan write a few sentences and post on Facebook,you brand yourself as an opposition. So ridiculous. Itis just like in your journalism trade. Anybody who can post a commentaryon Facebook,even with the worst of tenses,becomes  a  journalist.  Opposition  as  we  know it means  when  a  party articulatesan alternative agenda from what the rulingpartyhas and puts it across the people most probably through its members in the legislature. Now,tell me how many members of the opposition party intheImo state legislature have come out to  say  anything  let  alone  articulate  issues  in  such  a  manner  that  could  seetheir party as a credible alternative. The few of them who stayed back are either not able to put anything coherently together or theynurse a secrete desire to be in the good booksof  the  incumbent governor.  All they  do  is  to  paya  few  boys with  some pittanceto  be  abusing  the  governor  or  and  other  government  functionaries  on Facebook.  There is  so  much  glib  talkabout  opposition  in  Imo  state,  so  I  always usedthe word with caution. 

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