What do you do?
I am an engineer and I have a construction firm. I am the founder of Juremi Foundation which caters for physically-challenged persons. On my birthday held recently, we unveiled a skill acquisition centre in Abuja. We will be teaching people living with disabilities tailoring, computer and music.
How did your dad react to your decision to establish a foundation?
He was really happy for me; he was excited and proud of me. He told me I would never lack once I continue to give. I didn’t establish the foundation to get attention from the public. I just want to help people and to show others that they can also help others. My father doesn’t play a major role in the foundation. Nevertheless, he has been a big influence in my life and he is responsible for all the things I know about finances today. But the foundation is my personal project.
Do you have plans to join your father in politics?
Everyone thinks I have an interest in politics, but my biggest interest is in the foundation and my business. For me, politics is like a service. Before my father joined politics, he was already a successful businessman. Right now, I am not thinking about politics; I just want to touch lives positively.
Is any of your siblings into politics?
None of us is into politics. We are into business.
Was there a time your father tried to encourage you to join politics?
He has never asked me to become a politician. But while I was younger, like any father, he spoke to me about my interest. As a father, he allows his children to do what they like.
How would you describe your upbringing as Rochas Okorocha’s son?
I was born in Jos, Plateau State, and I had my primary and secondary education there. We lived a comfortable life. Though we didn’t attend expensive schools, my parents were always there for us. I have five siblings – I am the fifth of six children. We have three boys and three girls.
As a kid, my best friends were from Rochas Foundation Colleges. We started the foundation over 20 years ago; so, I grew up with the kids. Over 17,000 people have passed through the colleges, but I only know the first two set because we grew up together. That is why I tell people that I have many sisters and brothers. I shared my father with a lot of children and it was a bit confusing for me. We were treated equally and I never grew up with a rich man’s son mentality. When we wrote things needed for school, my mother would reduce the list and told us that we were not better than the kids in the foundation.
Was there a time you felt you didn’t get enough attention from your parents?
It was impossible to feel one wasn’t getting enough attention. Growing up, there was no time I was in the house with only my mother and siblings. We had other kids who lived with us at different times. I could remember that many kids came to seek shelter in our house when there was a riot in Jos. I grew up in a fun-filled household and there was never a boring moment. I am proud to be part of such a family.
Do you feel pressured to be as successful as your father?
I felt such a pressure at a time. When I started my first business in transportation, it was out of fear and concern for my future. I was so concerned about how to carry all the expectations of people as Rochas son. But after a while, the fear vanished. As we speak, I am not under any pressure because God is our rock in my family.
Were you satisfied with your father’s decision to be a politician?
I was very young when he joined politics; so, I didn’t think much about it neither did I have a say. He contested governorship in 1999 and ran for presidency twice before he became the governor of Imo State. When he wanted to contest governorship, my mother was strongly behind him. But I didn’t understand why he wanted to be a governor when he had aspired to be a president. He told me he wanted to serve the people. To stop him, I even went ahead to tell him I had a terrible dream. Of course, I didn’t. Growing up, he would sit with us as if we were playmates. For every question we asked him, he would take his time to explain.
Does he still desire to become Nigeria’s president?
I cannot confirm or deny this.
Why didn’t he abandon his political ambition after his initial disappointments?
This may sound like a cliché, but I think it was the people who wanted him. You need to be close to him to understand him better. He is the same person inside and outside the house. He sees himself as the people on the street because he was there before. He has told us the entire story. When I was driving with him in the car one day and a boy came to sell something, he asked me the difference between the boy and me.
I answered but he wasn’t satisfied. He told me that the only difference was education. According to him, with education, the boy can be a managing director of a bank or a minister someday. He wants people to have the same opportunities and he doesn’t joke with education. He became a governor so that he would get a bigger platform to help the masses.
If you check his lifestyle, it is hard to know what he likes. There is nothing you give him that makes him happy like seeing his children at Rochas Foundation doing well. I guess this is a very controversial area, but he is one person that keeps fighting for one Nigeria. His children were chased out of school during a religious riot in Jos, but that has not made him give up on a united Nigeria.
Has he done well as a governor?
I think he has achieved all he promised and has even done more, but he doesn’t speak about his successes. For instance, many people don’t know he has built 27 general hospitals and over 300 schools in Imo State.
Do you support your father’s decision to build statues in Imo?
I don’t like to say much about this, but I have travelled to places when I see exciting statues and these made them memorable for me. I visited the site recently. It was full and I saw people taking pictures there. Though it has been a topic of discussion and some people laugh at the gesture, they enjoy going there and it will soon fetch money for the state government. Presently, it is one of the most popular spots in Nigeria.
Having the statues is just a way of celebrating people who have made giant strides in Africa. He also plans to erect the statue of the doctor (Stella Ameyo Adadevoh) who curbed the wider spread of Ebola virus in Nigeria.
They have built the statues of African leaders like Nelson Mandela, Olusegun Obasanjo and Odumegwu Ojukwu. Some of these personalities are controversial but they have their stories. People are talking about it (building statues) because some of these people are still alive, but we should change the narrative. We don’t need to celebrate people until they die. I see people aspiring to have their statues erected at the spot. Also, we shouldn’t forget that erecting a statue in the state has to be approved by the Imo State House of Assembly. It wasn’t about my father alone.
Did your father use the cane on his children?
He didn’t use the cane on me; I was a good child. His word of mouth carried a lot of power. He would talk to us one-on-one. Those talks were more painful than an actual cane. Even my mother didn’t really believe in using the cane despite being a disciplinarian. Like my father, she also preferred talking to us whenever we wronged her.
How often does he spend time with his family?
He is busy, but he always finds time for his children. Growing up, we didn’t miss our morning devotion and it was always a perfect time to bond as a family. Everyone is busy now, but we all come together at Christmas day. He still finds time for his family.
What is his bucket list?
You know there is always a desire to do more. I know he wants a pan-African nation and he wants to make sure that Imo gets better even after he leaves office. He wants Imo to have an International Cargo Airport, which is about to be completed. He wants to open up the state to the world.
How do you deal with the attention you get from people as a governor’s son?
I am Amen Rochas; I am not Amen, the governor’s son. My position as a governor’s son expires once my father leaves office; it is not a lifetime position. I think one has to know who one is as there are certain things I cannot do because it is not my lifestyle.
How do you feel when people attach your feats to your father’s position?
I feel happy because that is the truth. But for him, I wouldn’t even start a foundation. If he had not trained me on how to speak, I wouldn’t be able to address the public. He paid my school fees throughout the different stages of my education and taught me all I know today. Sometimes, it is also a terrible thing to forget people who have impacted on one’s life.
What is your father’s favourite food?
I don’t think he has any favourite food, but he prefers African dishes.
How does he relax?
He relaxes with his grandchildren. Whenever they are with him, he is always happy.
How does he reward his children whenever they impress him?
He will tell us he is proud of us. When I didn’t do well in my academics, he still encouraged and reminded me that I could do better. Unlike my elder brother who was always the best in his class, I started slowly, academically. But my father gave me the support to perform better. He gave me the impression that I was smarter than everyone and that made me to read more.
Also, my father never uses abusive or derogatory words to qualify his children, as he believes so much in the power of the tongue. Whenever he was broke, we knew through our morning devotion. During those times, he would thank God for providing for him, instead of asking him to provide for him. Anytime there was a problem, he was always thanking and appreciating God. When he was contesting governorship, he was always singing the gospel song, ‘My Helper.’
What have you learnt from him?
In all my father’s houses, he has a chapel for God. Recently in my office too, I built a chapel where we pray. From him, I have learnt the ability to give back, pray and make sacrifices. I have also learnt how to work hard, as my father believes one will reaps whatever one sows.
Has he ever told you to bring a lady home?
He has been telling my elder brother and me to look for a wife. He can’t wait to get grandchildren from his sons.
What would you like to change about your father?
I don’t think there is anything. There is no perfect being, but he has a heart close to perfection. He loves God and loves his neighbours as himself.
What gets him angry?
He has a forgiven heart. It is hard to think of anything that gets him angry. Though he accommodates everyone, he likes sincere and hard-working people. I have seen him work with different kinds of people and he brought out the best in them.
Who apologises first whenever there is a disagreement between your mother and father?
My father should apologise first, but I have never seen them disagree before. I have never experienced them shout at each other.
Does your mother have interest in politics?
No, she doesn’t. But she is a philanthropist too and she does things that touch the heart. She has built over 200 homes for widows in Imo State.
Why did you establish a foundation since you are a director at Rochas Foundation?
My foundation is not different from my father’s. But my father’s handles mainly education, while mine focuses on people living with disabilities. I believe that physically-challenged persons have been neglected for too long and they are many.
Apart from my mother and me, my siblings also have what they do for the community. For instance, one of my sisters built a house where people can stay for the night whenever they don’t have anywhere to sleep and my brother has a foundation that caters for the internally displaced persons in the North.