By NKEM EKEOPARA. Exclusive to USAfricaonline.com & USAfrica international magazine [Houston]
On May 29, 2019, the former Deputy Speaker of Nigeria’s Federal House of Representatives, Chukwuemeka Nkemakolam Ihedioha, will be sworn in as the sixth civilian Governor of Imo State, Southeast Nigeria. Of all the people that have governed the state in recent times, he seems to be the one who is taking power most prepared. As a 3-term legislator and later a part of the leadership of Nigeria’s National Assembly, he is not new to the art of governance.
Hopefully, his administration will be a clear departure from that of the outgoing governor Ethelbert Rochas Okorocha,whose regime was characterized by cases of abuse of the rule of law and non-adherence to due process.
I believe I sensed the governance problems that Okorocha posed to Imo State shortly he was elected governor in 2011 when he told pressmen that he doesn’t read so that he doesn’t get confused by other people’s ideas. I considered that tragic in a Facebook post that I made. I understand that the incoming governor reads. Therefore, the cliché that readers are leaders holds true for Ihedioha.
Expectations are quite high among the Imo electorates, who on Saturday, March 9, 2019 trooped out and picked Ihedioha from a pool of about 65 contenders. They’re entitled to their high expectations. However, it’s proper to advise Ndi Imo at this stage to scale down their expectations, knowing that the man he is succeeding used his 8 years in office to literally devalue the lives of Imo people and vicariously destroy some altogether.
Okorocha did these through owing of pensioners and workers; erection of schools not fit for goat rearing;building roads, bridges and structures without designs and professional supervision; destruction of markets, library, the Mbari cultural centre, and stopping the Ahiajoku Lecture Series etc.
The consequences of these had been quite dire for the people of Imo State, and could still be dire for them. Some pensioners have died. Some of those who lost their shops in the destroyed markets have died out of frustration,and some have withdrawn their kids from elite schools. There are those that have become hypertensive.
Last year, precisely on June 7, 2018, a bridge constructed by Okorocha in the popular Ojukwu Amusement Park collapsed. Luckily, there was no loss of lives. The story would have been different if this happened on May 27, 2018, when children were celebrating their day. Before the incident, the Council for Regulation of Engineering in Nigeria (COREN), and Nigeria Society of Engineers (NSE) had alerted the Nigerian public of the unprofessional manner Okorocha was executing projects in Imo State. The incoming administration will have to do structural integrity check on all the bridges, and structures constructed by the outgoing administration to guarantee that they are safe for use. For roads, the conditions are self-evident.
Perhaps, the greatest challenge facing Ihedioha is paying pensioners and workers the backlog of their pensions and salaries, running into billions of naira. People have to be alive first to savour other benefits of governance. The Holy Book says that a labourer deserves his/her wage. Why this injunction eluded Okorocha who likes to quote the scriptures is unexplainable.
The money Okorocha wasted in building gates in old Owerri within the first few months he took power, which he later abandoned, and the money he spent on all the poorly constructed structural beautifications on the roads in Owerri could have gone into paying pensioners and workers. For every pensioner and worker that was not paid, there are five to ten people denied source of livelihood, because of our extended family system. Ihedioha can start by paying monthly full pensions and salary while having a plan to gradually offset the backlog.
Owerri the state capital is depressing, especially when it rains. The network of drainage system, which the first civilian governor of the state, Chief Sam Mbakwe, PhD, built in Owerri had been destroyed in the course of Mr Okorocha’s uncoordinated urban renewal programme. Also destroyed in the maddening construction we saw in the last 8 years in Owerri are water pipelines that Chief Mbakwe laid.
Today, it will take enormous resources to make pipe borne water available in Owerri as was the case before Okorocha assumed office in 2011. The increase we have seen in water borne diseases in Owerri is largely due to non-availability of pipe borne water. People now depend on untreated sachet water, which they popularly call ‘pure water.’ And this is happening in a city that is blessed with one of the cleanest water sources in Africa-The Otamiri. Pipe borne water shouldn’t be a problem in a city that is so blessed with this water source.
The destruction of two markets (New Market and Eke-Ukwu Owerri) both located along Douglas Road should never have happened. Presently, traders have taken over the entire Douglas Road and adjoining roads like Mbaise Road, selling all kinds of wares, and impeding traffic. The incoming governor will need to relocate these traders out of that road, and properly reconstruct it within the shortest possible time to redistribute traffic within the city.
Thereafter, the road should be renamed Kenneth Dike or Adiele Afigbo or Elizabeth Isichei or Catherine Acholonu. It’s about time we stopped honouring colonial personalities, whose actions negatively impacted our forebears. Captain Brain Douglas’ role in the 1906 Ahiara Punitive Expedition singles him out as someone that should be stripped of this high honour of having a major road named after him. The suggested names for the change do not need introduction.
Another road that’s within the Owerri Capital Territory that needs urgent attention is the road that links Aba Road at Naze with Port-Harcourt Road at Obinze through Federal University of Technology, Owerri (FUTO) and Federal Polytechnic Nekede. Actually, this is part of a ring road conceived by Mbakwa to take away traffic from the city. It connects all the major roads emptying into Owerri so that if you have no business entering Owerri, you can divert to where you’re going. It’s expected that this ring road will eventually be completed in the life of this regime.
Agreed, Okorocha creditably, opened up Owerri by constructing some new roads within the metropolis. These include the Inland Roads, and the Akachi Road through which people can exit Owerri and join Aba Road. This reduces traffic at Whetheral Roundabout. He should be commended even though the roads are of poor quality. However, people say wherever he opened such roads he did so to acquire the land in such areas for himself, family and cronies. People are expecting that Ihedioha within the first 100 days should review these land issue, and anyone not acquired with overriding public interest, should be taken from Mr. Okorocha, his family and cronies and handed back to the owners or the government as the case may be.
It’s often said that the highest industry in Imo State is education. Imo produces the highest number of graduates every year. Only an infinitesimal number of these graduates get job. The rest roam the street in search of non-existent job. Some have taken to crimes.
To address the youth unemployment, the government should collaborate with individuals like Prof. Alphonsus Njoku Ekwerike contestant in the Imo gubernatorial election under Abundant Nigeria Renewal Party (ANRP). The US-based Ekwerike has brilliant ideas on how to use innovation driven by STEM to create opportunities for our unemployed graduates. Also, Agriculture should be made seductive through mechanization so that our youths can be attracted to it. The incoming administration should also collaborate with the National Root Crops Research Institute, Umudike, Umuahia for mass cultivation of yam in the state. This will reduce capital flight to Benue and other states from where yams are brought to the state. In the same vein, the incoming administration in partnership with the private sector should start massive palm plantations devoid of sloganeering like the one undertaken by the outgoing administration with a view to creating associated industries from it.
In health, Okorocha built empty General Hospitals in all the 27 Local Government Areas of the state. What was required was making Imo University Teaching Hospital at Orlua state-of-the-art medical institution and strengthening the existing primary health centres that are closest to the people and building new ones where necessary. These 27 structures which are almost looking as decayed as the SDP and the NRC buildings built by Ibrahim Babangida will task Ihedioha’s courage. Already, it’s being said that Okorocha has concessioned the hospitals. How this issue is resolved will speak volume for Ihedioha’s government.
Ihedioha is coming to the job more prepared than his recent predecessors. There are a lot of people swirling around him now. He needs to be careful with who he brings on board for the onerous task of rebuilding the entire Imo and not just Owerri and its environ. I believe if he minimizes party patronage and hires the most capable people, he will deliver the dividends of democracy. •Ekeopara, author of a collection of poems titled Flame of Freedom, is a columnist and contributing editor of USAfricaonline.com, first African-owned, U.S-based news network on the Internet. He is based in Owerri.