ROCHAS OKO­ROCHA

THISDAY Style - - COVER -

Long be­fore he be­came Gover­nor of Imo State, Rochas Oko­rocha had al­ready made a name for him­self via his foun­da­tion as an ad­vo­cate for free ed­u­ca­tion for less priv­i­leged chil­dren. His foray into pol­i­tics saw him un­suc­cess­fully vy­ing for the high­est seat in the land sev­eral times. Not one to back down he went back to his roots where he was elected as Gover­nor but not­with­stand­ing still hold­ing the dream of his ini­tial am­bi­tion. Com­ing from a back­ground, which he likes to de­scribe as ‘’ab­ject poverty’’, Rochas Oko­rochas’ life story is proof that suc­cess stems from a com­bi­na­tion of grit, per­sis­tence, faith and most im­por­tantly, giv­ing back. Re­cently he spent an af­ter­noon with Konye Chelsea nwabo­gor re­flect­ing on his life jour­ney as he clocks 55.

First of all we would like to say a Happy birth­day and con­grat­u­la­tions as you clock 55. What does this age mean to you?

Thank you. well, to­day has me think­ing about a lot of mem­o­ries of the past and how it all started. I can only say to god be the glory be­cause, I have seen the good, the bad and the ugly. The bad is: be­ing that I come from a very poor home. I wish I had come from a rich fam­ily but I didn’t. I grew up in Jos; that’s where I had my pri­mary, sec­ondary and univer­sity ed­u­ca­tion. Then I came into busi­ness. From busi­ness to pol­i­tics and that’s where I am to­day. so, I thank god. The good side of it is that I have seen the mercy of god, com­ing from noth­ing to some­thing. That, for me, is good. The ugly side of it is get­ting close touch with death and still be­ing alive. The plane crashes and all of that.

Plane crashes, can you tell us about that?

yes. re­mem­ber The nige­rian air­ways plane crash in Kaduna? some­time in novem­ber 1995? It claimed well over 60 lives. I was in that plane when it crashed. The next one was a nar­row es­cape and I thank god for that. It was the same Bel­lview plane that killed obasanjo’s wife in 2005. I had al­ready got­ten my board­ing pass but for some rea­son, I walked up to the gate be­fore I turned back.

Grow­ing up in poverty must have been very hard. How ex­actly did you push through?

Though poverty was bit­ing hard, it just wasn’t tougher than my will to be who I wanted to be. I’ve al­ways had tall am­bi­tions from my child­hood. I’ve al­ways dreamt of where I was go­ing and I hon­estly didn’t see poverty as a clog in the wheel.

What was your first big break?

what re­ally gave me my first real money was the Balanga alapha­betic Con­struc­tion Com­pany that had fin­ished its con­tract of con­struct­ing the Balanga dam. we were to sell their used equip­ment. I was in­stru­men­tal to sell­ing the used equip­ment worth over n10mil­lion when one Us dol­lar equaled n1. That was how I made my 10% com­mis­sion, one mil­lion Us dol­lars. I re-in­vested my $1mil­lion in the re­main­ing goods. I sold them and made a lot of money. I had so much money then. There­after, I en­gaged in proper car sales. I was sell­ing used cars and I went from there to sell­ing brand new Peu­geot cars. That gave me the first op­por­tu­nity to sup­ply the first 1,000 pick-ups and 1,000 pri­vate cars to the nige­ria Po­lice Force and they were dis­pensed across all the states in nige­ria. That was in 1993.

The Rochas Foun­da­tion fo­cuses strictly on pro­vid­ing qual­ity ed­u­ca­tion for less priv­i­leged chil­dren. Why the fo­cus on this par­tic­u­lar sec­tor?

I went to school in very dif­fi­cult cir­cum­stances. as a mat­ter of fact, I al­most missed school com­pletely. My ed­u­ca­tion wasn’t quite reg­u­lar be­cause I had to com­bine street trad­ing with school­ing. I changed from morn­ing classes to af­ter­noon classes to make ends meet so I un­der­stand the im­por­tance of ed­u­ca­tion. Back then, I ad­mired those who could speak good english and any­time I went to func­tions, I saw those who had gone to school stand­ing out. and I would see those who had not gone to school look­ing at the ed­u­cated ones as though they were gods. That was where the in­spi­ra­tion came from and I be­lieve it’s still the best in­her­i­tance you can give a child. I said to god that if I were ed­u­cated, I would help oth­ers to get ed­u­ca­tion be­cause I un­der­stand the pains of those who couldn’t go to school.

Via my foun­da­tion, I have built schools in dif­fer­ent states in the coun­try. we have also just built the rochas Foun­da­tion Col­lege for africa where we’re ad­mit­ting five stu­dents each from all african coun­tries. right now, I have had over 15,000 stu­dents. over 2,000 of them are grad­u­ates and an­other 1,000 are work­ing in the Po­lice and the army.

How has it been gov­ern­ing Imo state?

I don’t have any chal­lenge at least, none that I know. This is so be­cause be­fore I be­came the gover­nor, I’d ex­pected much more prob­lems than I found. re­mem­ber I as­pired to be the Pres­i­dent and I’d pur­sued this am­bi­tion three times be­fore I came back to be­come a gover­nor.

So do you still want to be Pres­i­dent?

yes, I still have the am­bi­tion to be­come the Pres­i­dent of nige­ria. I’m only re­spect­ing the gen­tle­man called Pres­i­dent Muham­madu Buhari whom I think has what it takes to change lead­er­ship in this coun­try. and I’m wait­ing for his dec­la­ra­tion, if he’s run­ning, then I should sup­port him.

With this in view, what’s 2019 look­ing like for you?

I have so many win­dows open in 2019 as I wait for Mr. Pres­i­dent to make his dec­la­ra­tion, I want to re­main po­lit­i­cally rel­e­vant and I also have made the de­ci­sion never to watch my coun­try sink. This I would do with­out los­ing my Foun­da­tion, which is a huge chal­lenge on its own. If Pres­i­dent Buhari de­clares to run for the of­fice again in 2019 I will sup­port him be­cause the man has a char­ac­ter to de­velop nige­ria. he has a thick skin that we need. we have a faulty foun­da­tion and I see Pres­i­dent Buhari as that man who can build the solid foun­da­tion that we need upon which suc­cess and pros­per­ity for the land shall be ac­com­plished. and that’s where peo­ple like me would come in.

Though poverty was bit­ing hard, it just wasn’t tougher than my will to be who I wanted to be. I’ve al­ways had tall am­bi­tions from my child­hood. I’ve al­ways dreamt of where I was go­ing and I hon­estly didn’t see poverty as a clog in the wheel.

So how would you hon­estly rate your per­for­mance as a Gover­nor?

I think I have scored 15 over 10. you may be sur­prised I’m say­ing this but you can ask me why and how. There’s no as­pect of life in Imo state that I’ve not touched pos­i­tively- in­fra­struc­ture has been a lot bet­ter than what the state had, ed­u­ca­tion is free from pri­mary school to univer­sity, se­cu­rity is bet­ter, peo­ple now trust gov­ern­ment un­like be­fore, gov­ern­ment is now closer to the peo­ple. I chal­lenge any gover­nor in this coun­try dead or alive to dare say they’d per­formed bet­ter than me.

For ev­ery man, no mat­ter what role he plays, there is usu­ally a wife in the back­ground giv­ing him sup­port and suc­cor when the go­ing gets tough. Most times, their roles as wives, is not given the credit it de­serves. How did you meet your other half?

I met my wife one morn­ing while I was driv­ing a car I bor­rowed some­where. I was driv­ing early in the morn­ing with my friends; we were com­ing from some­where as early as 6am. we had just fin­ished from a friend’s party and were re­turn­ing home. Then I saw a young woman pack­ing toma­toes by a van. I told my friends that she was my wife. The sec­ond time I would see her, I was in a bus and I saw the same young lady stand­ing with her sis­ters. af­ter then, any­time I saw her, stars that would pop out of my eyes as if I’d seen some­thing that wasn’t nor­mal. some time later I was in­vited to a send forth party by some lady who was trav­el­ling out of the coun­try. she men­tioned she was also invit­ing her cousins. when I got there, the same pretty girl I had be­ing ad­mir­ing from a dis­tance, was also the cousin she in­vited. That was the end of the story. our courtship didn’t even last up to one week be­fore we mar­ried. It was the fastest mar­riage I’d ever heard of.

What’s it like be­ing mar­ried to her?

My wife re­mains the best thing that has ever hap­pened to me. she’s god’s gift to me and I’m very blessed to have her. she has given me the best fam­ily you can think of in the whole world. she is also very self­less. Till date, she has built over 170 homes for the poor. she doesn’t be­lieve in gold and all these friv­o­lous things most women flaunt. our life to­gether is one of ser­vice.

When and how do you find time to re­lax?

ask my son; he’s been with me for the past one week. I work till I climb up my bed and ev­ery day I close like 2:30am and wake up at 5am. I hardly have four hours of sleep in my life. I like it be­cause it keeps me alive. I don’t do stren­u­ous ex­er­cise. I be­lieve that we should not sleep now be­cause if we die we will sleep well. Those who sleep al­most all day are the ghosts you see when they die be­cause they’re still wan­der­ing around.

You have a dis­tinct dress sense with a sig­na­ture cap and muf­fler scarf. Why is this your cho­sen sig­na­ture style?

of all my clothes, the muf­fler is the most im­por­tant to wear be­cause it’s a sym­bol of my stew­ard­ship to the state. It sig­ni­fies my love for the or­di­nary peo­ple and if I don’t have it on, I feel naked. as long as it’s on me, I re­mem­ber that ev­ery poor per­son should never be left unat­tended to. If I see lit­tle chil­dren, I must carry them, if I see wid­ows. I must hug them be­cause it’s the essence of life. I even wor­ship with it.

Do you have any favourite meals?

I love veg­eta­bles a lot. I don’t eat rice, I don’t eat beef, I don’t eat garri, I don’t drink al­co­hol and I don’t smoke. I also eat beans.

What are the likely five items you’d take along with you to a get­away?

My clothes, muf­fler, bi­ble, toi­letries, tooth­brush. I am not re­ally a phone per­son so you may be sur­prised that I may not even go with any.

Back then, I ad­mired those who could speak good English and any­time I went to func­tions, I saw those who had gone to school stand­ing out. And I would see those who had not gone to school look­ing at the ed­u­cated ones as though they were gods... I said to God that if I were ed­u­cated, I would help oth­ers to get ed­u­ca­tion be­cause I un­der­stand the pains of those who couldn’t go to school.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Nigeria

© PressReader. All rights reserved.