Rochas and His Obama Handshake Billboards

Imo citizens were the first people to benefit from President Muhamadu Buhari’s official visit to the United States. They received souvenirs in the form of an addition to the glut of billboards in Owerri. The towering presents bore the picture of their governor, Rochas Okorocha, in a handshake with President Barack Obama. They were emblazoned with ‘’BEHOLD THE FACES OF CHANGE!’’

The operative word is BEHOLD! It’s a command to note that star-struck Okorocha is now Obama’s adopted twin brother! They are identical faces from one ideological egg!

Some Owerri residents snapped and ‘’shared’’ the spectacle on social media. The picture took a life of its own. And ever since, Okorocha has been the target of virtual lynching.

Almost everyone who has expressed an opinion on the handshake advert has denounced Okorocha’s pettiness, frivolousness and vanity. Even the tribe of prolific selfie autobiographers, individuals who are wont to update their Instagram account as a pictorial diary, took umbrage. The obscene power porn revolted them.

Now, a photograph is preserved fragment of a fleeting moment. It is an experience arrested to serve as a tangible reminder of a point in the past. And frankly, meeting the President of the United States is something. A handshake with the most powerful man in the world deserves to be archived.

But for an opportunist, a photo-op with a popular personage like President Obama will not end in some album. It’s a potent panacea. It will not go to waste.

Rochas Okorocha cannot be told in a single story. He is not a character amenable to one portrayal. Because he lives, like a chameleon, by the complexion of expediency. But a constant in the multiple lives he juggles is his penchant for fame.

The people who have leapt to ridicule Okorocha on the billboards know his mettle. They know Okorocha would make spin-off merchandise out of that Obama’s handshake. They know an untamed Okorocha will turn it into a handy talisman.

They had moved to shame him into retreat, before he consolidates the photograph into an oppressive alchemy. It was a checkmate to stop Okorocha from rigging the handshake, branding it an endorsement of his person and politics, and using the lie to improve his bottom line.

Few days after the White House pilgrim returned, he threatened to sack Imo civil servants for daring to strike for ONLY three months’ salary arrears.

Okorocha had returned intoxicated – by the Obama handshake.

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Irreverent internet denizens, Reuben Abati’s ‘’children of anger’’, forced Okorocha to flinch at the commemorative billboards. He would have preferred to intimidate them, but the world wide web is not his Imo dominion. So he had his Chief Press Secretary, Sam Onwuemeodo, release a Pontus Pilate disclaimer:

‘’…the Imo State governor or the state government he superintends did not place the photographs on a screen or billboards, and was not aware or informed of such development. He could not have authorized anybody or any group to do that since it was totally unnecessary.’’

The billboards originated from Okorocha’s admirers. ‘’They had thought that by doing the adverts they were going to impress the governor. And we can understand that. The government has told them to put a stop to that. We are aware that Imo people love their governor and do certain things to appreciate him’’.

Reread the denial. And you will recognize Okorocha’s conceit shines through…in spite of himself. ‘’Imo people love their governor and do certain things to appreciate him”.

This is the remix: ‘’For Imo people so love their governor, they build billboards to adore him’’.

One thing is sure. If the handshake billboards did not bring him nationwide pillory, Okorocha would not have taken exception to them. He doesn’t have enough modesty to feel offended by his glorification. The flattery would have excited him.

Okorocha blamed the normal scapegoats: the loyalists. Yet experience teaches us that the sycophants are the best gauge of the governor’s intention. They are the forerunners who herald His Excellency’s re-election bid long before he makes an official declaration.

Okorocha did not do the menial job of erecting the billboards by himself. ‘’The state government he superintends’’ may not have underwritten the scheme. But Okorocha is responsible for his sycophants’ overreach. He created the sycophants.

Okorocha authored the climate that inspired the sycophants to invest in impressing him. They placed their bet on the billboards because Okorocha had furnished them with a reason to believe that the way to his heart was through a billboard.

Professor Chidi Odinkalu, Chairman of the National Human Rights Commission, whose job ordinarily obligates him to defend Okorocha’s right to be photographed, tweeted: ‘’ Let us say it clearly to Gov. Rochas and all: This is not a change. At best, it is narcissism, or worse, a complex.’’

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I agree. Okorocha is a voracious creature who binges on his own reflection. Okorocha cannot have enough of Okorocha.

I visited Owerri late last year. The state capital is Okorocha’s gallery. There is a billboard for every demeanor Okorocha is capable of evincing in the metropolis.

Okorocha’s smile. Okorocha’s laughter. Okorocha’s subdued smile. Okorocha’s hysterical laughter . Okorocha’s frown. Okorocha alone. Okorocha with wife. Okorocha with school children. Okorocha with pensioners. Okorocha with Okorocha.

Okorocha is a sick publicity addict. To torture him is to impose a fast from self-promotion on him. He likes fame everywhere and anonymity nowhere.

Did Okorocha not try to hijack the funeral service of Justice Chukwudifu Oputa for showmanship before Charlie Boy, Oputa’s son, interposed?

If the dead is the star, envy will move Okorocha to stage a coup!

Okorocha prides himself as a philanthropist. But the principal reason he runs charity is the dividend of exposure it pays him. He would certainly be a less cheerful giver if the advertisement of charities was outlawed in Nigeria.

Whenever Okorocha made feints towards a presidential bid, he preyed on human misery. He tweaked his philanthropy for politics.

Okorocha’s messianic message is: I am wealthy and contented. I don’t need you; you need me. I am sacrificing my heaven of comfort to run for political office because your hardship disturbs me. I want you to live under my benevolence.

In the last election, Okorocha knew he had a subzero chance of winning APC Presidential nomination. He staked a contender’s claim and ‘’joined’’ the Abuja race, nonetheless. Ever the calculating gamer, he had secured the home front by entrusting his son-in-law with Imo APC governorship ticket.

After the presidential primaries, Okorocha returned from his faux pursuit, retrieved the ticket from his in-law and kicked off his second term campaign.

He explained his futile presidential candidacy. He had not launched a long shot bid. He said he had joined the Abuja competition ‘’so that Ahamefula’’. Far be it from him, that he would lose national name recognition. Rochas Okorocha must be reckoned among presidential aspirants.

By his own admission, there’s no scintilla of seriousness to his ambition. No animating agenda. He ran for President to procure relevance and a sense of immortality. He ran for President for its own sake.

Okorocha confesses that his greatest fear is not death: It’s an existence without acclaim, without paparazzi.

Okorocha did not reveal another plausible motivation for being a perennial presidential candidate. But it’s fairly easy to infer. He also runs for President on the off chance that he may win and get to realise his fantasy of hobnobbing with world leaders.

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Growing up, we liked to joke after a delicious meal. We would promise ourselves not to let the indigested food exit our system. We wanted to retain the delectable taste. Okorocha must have played our kiddies’ game after he shook hands with Obama.

When Okorocha shook hands with Obama, I bet our man locked Obama’s hand many seconds longer…at the risk of embarrassing himself and trivializing the President of the United States.

I imagine Okorocha gripped Obama’s hand until he has verified that the photographer had captured and recaptured this once-in-a-lifetime handshake for posterity.

After the Obama handshake, I imagine Okorocha was loath to wash his hands for dinner. He would not rid himself of Obama’s touch too soon.

Having retained Obama’s handshake longer than any Nigerian (I am positive that Okorocha set a new record!), he has become an authority on the texture and contour of Obama’s palm.

Lest we obsess about the handshake and marginalize Okorocha’s corresponding smile, he deserves some credit. Okorocha worked his smile well. He performed it as convincingly as any serious contestant at a beauty pageant!

Okorocha’s smile says, ‘’this tactile contact with you, Great Obama, is the most momentous event of my life.’’

Okorocha, a member of President Buhari’s 30 man delegation, fulfilled traditional expectation. In popular Nigerian culture, a traveler is indebted to the home folks he left behind. He owes them a placatory compensation for missing him while he was away. Most times, it’s a loaf of bread.

The copyright owner of ‘’My People, My People’’ salutation, did not deny Imolites their due dividend. He fed millions of them with the bread of a dozen billboards!

Why is the miracle lost on us?

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Emmanuel Uchenna Ugwu

Blogger at EmmaUgwu
Emmanuel Ugwu loves human beings. He thinks for a hobby. He writes for a better Nigeria.



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