I Was Raised Hawking Before Becoming Governor – Okorocha

I Was Raised Hawking Before Becoming Governor – Okorocha
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Senator Rochas  Anayo Okorocha, representing  Imo West in the 9th Assembly, in an exclusive interview with Abdul Lateef Taiwo and Tyokaa Tyozenda, on a trip down memory lane, recalled with nostalgia; his parent’s inability to afford the basics of life, his mission in life and National Assembly.

The name Rochas, means many things to different people, who is Rochas?

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My name is Owelle Anayo Rochas Okorocha. I am a Nigerian, from the South-east, precisely Imo State and I grew up in the North. I spent most part of my life in the North, I attended St. Joseph Primary School, where I had my first school leaving Certificate, I schooled in University of Jos where I had my first degree,  LLB  and Masters in law; I am a politician, I have held so many federal positions.

I started with Nigeria Character Commission, Chairman of Nigeria Export Agency; my philanthropic life: I was President of Nigeria Red Cross Society and President of Rochas Foundation.

As a politician, I ran for several offices, I ran for the office of the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria three times now. I was governor of Imo State for eight years and I was a member of the Constitutional Conference, 1994. But right now I am a Senator of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, representing IMO West Senatorial District.

From Your background, you have lived a life of service, what was your childhood like?

I was not one of those who came from the big family; I came from a humble background. If you like, you can call it ‘not well to do family’; most at times you have to fend for yourself. I am third, out   of nine children alive; the same mother and father. So, growing up wasn’t easy, it was a nerve wracking experience; in those days it wasn’t easy. Those days it was difficult to make both ends meet; so, I engaged in street hawking. Hawking oranges, garri and coconut just to complement the efforts of my poor parents. I went to school under a very difficult situation.

How did you break away from that circle of extreme poverty?

One of the things I did that helped me in life was combining schooling with street trading.

While in school, I was hawking food items on the street, so I was able to make both ends meet. In fact, I bought my first Television at the age of 9. I bought my first lady Motor-cycle at the age of 11, and my first Bus at the age of 14. From the street trading, I was able to acquire all these things because I have to support my parents. I go to hawk in the morning and go to afternoon school. That gave me the clear understanding of life, so I am a self-product, a self-made business man from the scratch before I came into politics. Those in Plateau State will tell you a little bit of my story, especially in Barkin Ladi, which was where I grew up. My story is a story of how difficult it is to survive in the street.

You have been into charity and philanthropy, what is the driving force, or the motivating factors?

The driving force is my vow to God. There was a vow I made to God. I tested poverty, so I know what it means to be poor. I know what it means to stay without food. I know what it takes to stay at home without schooling while others are going to school because you cannot afford school fees. I am a student of history. I have romanced poverty in my life, touched it and kissed it. So I know the shape and colour of poverty when I see one, anywhere.  I came from a religious background, as a Christian, every morning I pray what we called contract prayer, a kind of covenant with God that if you do this for me, and I will give back to the society. I always said in my prayers, Oh God any way you bless me, I will bless others, let me be a blessing to others, anything you give me I will share with others, I realized on my own I could do nothing, but I can do all things through God, so that is the kind of faith I have in God that propelled me to higher height.

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Most of the time I prayed to God to bless my father, because I see him as my God and worked towards making him happy, that brought about my philanthropic life .  When I made my first big money, so to say , that was after buying my first Television and Motor-cycle, I made my first big money from Bauchi State, by supplying equipment to Balanga Dam, with that money I went into buying of Tokunbo Cars, from Cotounu, then I graduated into buying and selling of Peugeot vehicles. I supplied the first 1000 Pick-up Vehicles to Nigerian Police and later the ALGON Prado Jeeps to police in the 774 Local Government Areas, so I made money. And I said it is time to give to the society and those who are like me once at a time when I was like them, who could not afford basic needs of life. That is how I started Rochas Foundation.

It started in Owerri, before I came to Plateau State, now we have the school in 11 states in Nigeria with each of them having at least 800 to 1000 students, so today we have over 21,000 students’ enrolment of poor parentage in Rochas Foundation schools and about 6000 undergraduates in Universities across Nigeria and about 4000 graduates   right within this period of time, precisely 21 years ago. Some of them are engineers, doctors, lawyers, and commissioners in their states; so essentially, the driven force is my covenant and vow with God, that if you get me out of this circle of poverty, I shall not forget the poor.

With over 21,000 students, 6,000 undergraduates, what does it cost you to sustain the foundation annually?

We have schools in Bauchi, Zaria, Adamawa, Sokoto , Kano, Jos , Ibadan , Cross River , Enugu, Ogboko , Owerri and we have a University now, to cater for these schools. Quite frankly I like to maintain that it is a spiritual contract with God, so I am not always comfortable, telling the world or saying this is the amount I spent. It is a spiritual thing. Most people would want to ask, what the source of the funding is, but it has been a miracle. How we have been able to do it is a miracle and we have never lacked as a result of   giving out to the poor. The most interesting thing is that we have gone across Africa.  We have about five children drawn each from five African countries. President of countries like South Africa, Liberia, Siere leone  and first ladies of Nine countries  have visited them.  These children are drawn from motherless baby’s homes and poor background, it gives me joy. Yes it is too expensive, but what should I do? The wisest thing I have done is simply dedicate some of my assets and property that make returns monetary wise to the Foundation in such a way that even my children can never own them even if I am no more in this world, so proceeds from some real estate and Hotels have been dedicated to pay their staff, feed the children, cloth them and so on, pay for their JAMB, go the Universities to continue their education.

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Which of the African countries are these children drawn from?

We have children from about 21 African countries. We have from South Africa, Tanzania, Ethiopia , South Sudan,  Kenya, Congo ,  Guinea , Gambia and of course Nigeria. We have just received some students from Burundi. We arranged for their flight, they don’t go back until they finish their Universities, go back to serve their countries because these kids have no parents any way. The school is like an OAU, African Union in the making.

You were phenomenal in your approach to governance as a governor of Imo State, what is your legislative focus, for the people of Imo West?

I governed Imo State with passion and vision; I expressed my love for my people.  I wanted to prove to the world what I can do with political power. I wasn’t one of this conventional governors or what you called governor in terms of it. I operated a different method and system to deliver the dividends of democracy to the people; that are why in my eight years as governor, I declared free education in Imo State; we were able to build 30 hospitals, of 1000, unit, 2000 unit, we built 565 schools, airport, urban renewal and what have you.   We replicated most of the projects in Abuja; we have something like the Eagle Square and Yar’adua Centre, the International Conference Centre, so many of these projects in Imo State.

It is something that looks unbelievable; it is now sometimes I flash back, I said could this have been possible that I did this in eight years?  There is no single structure you see in Imo State today that was not built by the rescue mission administration of Rochas Okorocha.

With all these achievements you have listed, what new are you going to do in the Senate?

Initially I never wanted to come to the Senate, but over the time I discovered there is a yawning gap of communication between the South-east and the rest of Nigeria, that the bridge between the East and the rest of the country was being broken and there is a need to rebuild that bridge, I am talking about the unity of this country.  I felt this is an opportunity to build that bridge, so that we can still have that united Nigeria we used to have; to see whether I can advocate for free education for the children of the less privilege in our midst, reduce the pains and the anguish of their poor parents , to serve my people, particularly the people of Orlu, Imo West, to do whatever I can do for them, give them whatever is due for them,  primarily  I came to the Senate  to do this larger things with a particular interest in my Constituency.

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As bridge builder, one of the things threatening the fabric of the unity of this country today, is the prevailing insecurity, many people have proffered solutions to this issue, with subjected interest, what is your advice?

One of my biggest pains today is the way things are going on in Nigeria. This is one of the reasons I came to the Senate. Sitting back, I could see that Nigeria is drifting apart, religious and ethnic sentiments have taken the centre stage. But I think it has to do with the background of some of our leaders, who probably did not see the entire nation as their constituency. Unfortunately, to some of us; we will be doing ourselves great disservice by sitting back and watch, particularly leaders who were born in a particular place other than their immediate constituency, interacted with diverse backgrounds. I was born, brought up in the North, empowered by the West, with Igbo parentage, so I grew up finding the entire Nigeria as my constituency that is where I found myself. The North gave me education; the West gave me financial power.

Many have suggested cutting down the size of the National Assembly because of the cost of maintaining a bi-cameral legislature, what is your take?

I want to be brutally frank on this, to address some of the security situation in Nigeria, there is a need to cut down the running of the legislative arms of governance, and we don’t need a bogus parliament like we have today. One person can represent an entire state,  I cannot imagine after governing the  entire Imo State, I am here to represent  a  section of the state, that I am here representing a part of Imo State doesn’t make sense. We should have what I would rather call  ‘statetorial’ representatives not senatorial representatives. How can we have 360 reps and 109 Senators? So the system we practice has further divided us even within the state. We are talking about Nigeria as a Nation, but what we have is individuals in the House and the Senate, saying I am from this Zone , I am from that zone, let us share the political power, to an extent that you find people who are not qualified  claiming they are representing you.  I am not an advocate of zoning, I don’t believe in it.  I believe in a situation where the man who has something up stairs brings it to the table right here not on the basis of representatives as we practice, because poverty does not know tribe or religion.   This is not in tandem with our culture. Everybody wants to be seen as a champion, at the expense of a united Nigeria.

Why did you wait till the dying minutes of your eight years to commission your projects, were you avoiding the publicity?

I believe things should speak for themselves. Quite frankly I don’t see the need , I don’t believe in all this fanfare, it was the vice president who drew my attention to the issue of commissioning  when he came to Imo State and saw just one out of the six universities I built. He said , this is impossible, that normally this University should have constituted nine projects , he said you are not doing yourself any good, but I felt the amount of money put into live coverage, buying air time on televisions and radio, 50 to 100 million is enough for another project, so it is about cost saving, nothing else. I believe what you do should speak for you not you speak for what you do.

Aljazirahnews


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