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ADDRESS DELIVERED BY HIS EXCELLENCY RT. HON. EMEKA IHEDIOHA, CON, GOVERNOR, IMO STATE TO THE FIRST ENLARGED IMO STATE STAKEHOLDERS MEETING ON THURSDAY, 18TH JULY, 2019.

Special to USAfrica multimedia networks [Houston] • USAfricaonline.com

This is the first enlarged stakeholders meeting since I was sworn -in as your Governor, and Hon. Engr Gerald Irona as Deputy Governor on 29th May, 2019. It is therefore a great honour and privilege to welcome you all. Today’s event is in keeping with our commitment on openness and communication with you to regularly bring you to date with the happenings in our administration particularly the journey so far and some of our plans and challenges going forward. In doing this, we are open to genuine criticisms and suggestions on how best to serve you better.

We consider it of utmost importance to lay before you the facts we have met on ground and the enormous efforts required to address them. This is necessary in order to keep the records straight for posterity and for the purpose of making our leaders accountable. In spite of the challenges we have encountered in setting up this new government, the depth of the decay has strengthened our resolve to keep our promise to rebuild Imo and restore its former glory.

When we were campaigning, we honestly underestimated the quantum of rot in the State and the deep hole of corruption and mindless misappropriation perpetuated by the last administration. Contracts were most times awarded orally and without documentation, no paper trail and without the input of relevant government Ministries, Departments and Agencies.

Our interim findings show a consistent pattern of massive looting and stripping of public assets, dismantling and carting away of public property such as electric poles, vehicles, tucks, office equipment and furniture etc. There were last minute illegal sale of government property at giveaway prices and unlawful allocation of land including backdating of Certificates of Occupancy. Instances of mindlessly withdrawing cash from government accounts in commercial banks without due process as well as illegally recruiting and promoting civil servants, are common place.

Unsustainable debts were incurred on behalf of the State running to over a Hundred Billion Naira without anything to show for it, and consequently, saddling the State with a myriad of lawsuits and Garnishee Orders. I must inform you in this regard that, so far we have received over 30 billion Naira worth of Garnishee Orders arising from several ill-conceived and fraudulent contractual agreements deliberately consummated by the past administration, to destroy the future of the State and its teaming population by fettering the State in a humongous debt trap.

These were done to put the new administration in a very difficult situation. In spite of all these, I wish to use this opportunity to appeal to our people to remain patient and show understanding as we will not

let any person no matter how highly placed get away from the long arms of the law without accounting for his misdeeds while in office.

From the Interim findings of the Financial Advisory Committee set up to ascertain the state of the finances of Imo state, several mind boggling, incontrovertible but unsettling facts have emerged.

More revelations are underway as the forensic investigation continues. I have also chosen not to bore you with details and the unpleasant state of the infrastructure we inherited including buildings and equipment.

Yes, we have inherited monumental rot from the immediate past administration, but the reason why we convened this meeting is not to bemoan the unfortunate situation but tell you steps that we have taken in the last few weeks to re-route the State to the part of progress. We shall indeed, overcome.

Even with the serious resource constraints we face, we have decided to adopt innovative approaches to reflate and grow the economy, including as follows:

• Maximize accessing of support from development partners particularly to fund health, water, sanitation, and education.

• Maximize accessing of resources from intervention funds of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), Bank of Industry (BOI) and Development Bank of Nigeria (DBN) to stimulate small and medium-scale enterprises and create employment.

• Maximize attraction of private sector investment (Local Direct Investment and Foreign Direct Investment) to stimulate economic growth, employment and poverty reduction while expanding the IGR base through relevant taxes and fees.

• All these initiatives will help to relax the fiscal pressure and release prosperity.

The Steps we have taken so far:

Improving Relationships With Other Arms Of Government. We realised from the beginning that in a new Imo there must be strong institutions built and anchored on the rule of law and due process. To this end, our first act in office was an Orientation Programme with Members elect of the Imo House of Assembly held at the shores of Oguta Lake. The venue was deliberately chosen to market Oguta as a tourist destination and for local and international Conferences. This was followed with the inauguration of the House of Assembly and the peaceful election of their Presiding officers. Two weeks ago, we swore-in the Chief Judge of the Customary Court of Appeal to ensure the quick dispensation of Justice. We are committed to the principle of separation of powers and open government.

As a government, we are profoundly committed to due process, transparency and accountability in conducting Government business. This will be a complete departure from the past where transactions were shrouded in secrecy, non-conformity, nepotic considerations and lack of acceptable standards. To this end, the following steps are in place: –

• PROCUREMENT PROCESSES – The Bureau of Public Procurement and Price Intelligence has been revived from its former moribund state. A new Director General has been appointed and the process of reinvigorating the institution has commenced. The State Government is committed to ensuring due process is followed in the review, selection and award of contracts.

• PARTICIPATORY BUDGETING – In the previous administration, public expenditure was not backed by a budget. This administration is committed to citizen involvement and engagement in the budget process and to use the budget as the guide for proper allocation of resources, in alignment with the State’s policy priorities.

• OPEN GOVERNMENT PARTNERSHIP – Efforts are being made to ensure that the state signs up to the Open Government Partnership (OGP) as this will not only promote transparency and accountability but serve as an anchor for our administration’s reforms in the public sector.

Setting Up The Government – Appointment Of Principal Staff And Other Key Officers Of Government; One of our first acts in office was to make critical appointments of Staff to assist the Governor and Deputy Governor in running the affairs of Government. This informed the immediate appointments of the Secretary to the State Government; The Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice; the Chief of Staff, Special Advisers, Senior Special Assistants and Special Assistants in various areas requiring immediate attention. Early next week, I will forward a list of my nominated Commissioners to the Imo State House of Assembly for consideration. The “Rebuild Imo” team is gradually taking shape. In all the appointments made so far, we have not only tried to reflect geographically balance, but ensured that capable hands are engaged to fill various vacant positions.

Dismantling of Existing Structures For Retooling And Proper Take Off Of Our Administration; 

We have had cause too to dismantle some existing structures in the Executive branch, in order to appoint capable hands imbued with the same zeal, mission and loyalty to our state and its people. We simply would have no excuses to give to Imo people for non-performance. We must take responsibility for our actions. Any cog in the wheel of progress that may have Agenda to slow us down or mislead or misdirect us will be shown the way out. This informed the dissolution of various Boards, Agencies, Parastatals and Commissions and removal of relevant officers of the Agencies, following due process and acting within our constitutional powers. We have since started putting square pegs in square holes, so to speak.

Appointment of Administrative Fact-Finding Committees on Various Aspects of Governance;

My dear Ndi Imo, our mission is to rebuild our state, and it is a mission that demands action from us. However, as a rule-based government, we have opted to be deliberate rather than arbitrary. Consequently, we have inaugurated different Committees to address immediate concerns, obtain relevant information and facts and provide us a clear compass for Executive, judicial or legislative action, where and when necessary.

To this end, we inaugurated the Imo State Financial Advisory Committee to help us, among other things, determine the state and status of our finances, and conduct a forensic audit of past government finances.

So far, the Committee has successfully unraveled systemic and monumentally fraudulent transactions orchestrated by the past administration. The work of the Committee is continuing and God willing, the report will be published for our people to judge for themselves.

We have also set up a Committee to review the last-minute recruitment and promotions in the Imo State public service. The aim really is to determine whether the Civil Service Rules were adhered to in appointments and promotions. Where certain persons have been unjustly treated, we will remedy the situation, and where infractions are evident, we will correct them. The Committee has made far reaching recommendations. Notably, based on the recommendations of the Review Committee, we have reversed the appointments of twelve (12) Permanent Secretaries that were made at the twilight of the last administration without recourse to due process.

We have also set up a Committee on Market Development, to among other things identify the markets in the State and determine their status; ascertain the revenues accruable to the State, determine where injustices were meted to land owners, shop owners, traders and other stakeholders with a view to finding ways to ameliorate, compensate and/redress such injustices; The Committee has since commenced work and is making steady progress. Government Policy is to find an amicable solution with the traders.

In the same vein, we have inaugurated an Interim Management Committee for Adapalm, one of the age-old assets and major potential economic drivers in the State that was monumentally mismanaged and plundered by the immediate past administration. The interim report we received on the State of Adapalm is simply mind boggling and another case of rape of the State resources. The Committee will apart from managing the affairs of the company in the interim, investigate the alleged concession/leaseholds awarded, at different times, to different companies.  We are certain that by the time the Committee completes its assignment, Adapalm would be returned to the people. We are also looking for credible and reputable investors who will turn the fortunes of the estate around.

The Imo Transport Company (ITC) has also received government attention. In order to halt the drift and corruption that has, over time, been associated with the company, where revenues are paid into the personal accounts of individuals and company assets sold to family members and cronies of government officials, an interim Management Committee has been set up to apart from managing the company, develop an implementable framework for repositioning it for optimal service delivery. I am confident that the new management will make far reaching recommendations to revive the Transport Company.

Apart from Adapalm, Imo State has a rubber estate which I am certain citizens of Imo may have forgotten that it ever existed. We have set up an Interim management Committee to review all purported agreements and forestall all illegal harvests of rubber products.

The traffic problem in the State capital has been an issue of great concern. Consequently, the government has set up a Traffic Decongestion and Illegal Parks Committee, to among other things remove all illegal motor parks and relocate them appropriately, and negotiate with traders within the municipality in order to relocate them from the street to more suitable locations. The accomplishments of the Committee are becoming visible by the day. Most importantly, there is now free flow of traffic on Douglas road. This was impossible some years ago.

Grappling With Problem Of A Hostile Hand-Over Without Proper Documentation, No Functional Offices, No Vehicles Or Equipment, Hostile Environment With Personnel Poised To Sabotage A Smooth Take Off:

The immediate past administration and its appointees carted away almost every movable and immovable asset belonging to Imo people. Consequently, we have set up a high-powered recovery team and the team is making tremendous progress. While I must caution this Committee to respect the rights and dignity of suspected looters of government property, may I use this opportunity to advise all those concerned to voluntarily hand over these assets to the Committee, as we have taken a firm resolve to recover and return to Imo people their assets as no one individual is bigger than the State. The law enforcement agencies are required to assist the Committee in carrying out this important assignment.

Can you Imagine that Government House Owerri was disconnected from public power supply, due to unpaid bills. I recently reversed that by settling some of the arrears and reconnect it back to public power supply.

Some may say that too many Committees are being set up. Yes. Before we move forward in rebuilding Imo, we must address these foundational issues. These Committees are necessary to obtain raw data and facts of where we are coming from, where we are, in order to transit with certainty to the future. These issues have necessitated the setting up of the Task Teams whose membership have been painstakingly sourced. They need your support and adequate time to do a thorough job in delivering on their assignments.

We are taking every issue deliberately and with measured assurances. Every area of infraction, including the most vexed issue of illegal land allocation or the expropriation of public landed property, will be tackled with zeal and determination. Only last week, the Expanded State Executive Council approved the constitution of a Judicial Commission of Enquiry into the abuse of our Land Use.

Other Initiatives:

Education:

Our state is reputed for having one of the most educated populace. You may even say that education for Imo is an industry, yet the last administration not only neglected the sector, but went about bastardizing the structure by proliferating (albeit on paper) the establishment of tertiary institutions. Government has set up a high-powered panel of renowned academics to review the newly established universities to ascertain their viability in terms of funding and procedures that led to their establishment. The State Government has commissioned a comprehensive needs assessment for the four technical and other vocational colleges in Imo State. To this end, Council only recently approved the program and commencement will start soon.

The government is committed to improving both access to and quality of education at primary and tertiary levels. In furtherance of this, the State Government is has engaged with Imo State University to assess their needs and areas for our intervention.

I am glad to say that in the midst of deprivation and slashed allocations, Imo State University is still associated with individual academic successes, typical of Ndi Imo. For example, Out of the 39 or so newly appointed Senior Advocates of Nigeria, three (3) were from Imo state, one of whom is a Professor of Law from Imo State University.

Ultimately, we believe that with the right kind of investments in education, Imo state will stand out from its peers in the sector. Having said that, primary education will be compulsory and qualitative in Imo State. We will urge parents to ensure that their children and wards obtain primary education and will hold them responsible for non-adherence.

Among other issues we have confronted head long is the matter of the Environment and particularly waste disposal. We have just appointed the Management of ENTRACO to deal with this very important part of our Agenda. We commenced massive waste disposal and we shall continue to build on our successes. This is in line with our “Go Green, Stay Clean” campaign which we kick started with tree planting. We have also stopped the illegal sand dredging across the State, particularly in the State capital. This was after we visited a most devastating and inhuman dredging activity, close to the Emmanuel College, Owerri axis. We must educate our people on the implications of these unwholesome practices on our environment and the danger it portends for future generations of Imo citizens.

The ENTRACO management has commenced work. Their activities are visible across the capital, particularly with the desilting going on along many streets and axis of our capital. We are indeed on the positive route of restoring Owerri, nay Imo State as the cleanest city and State in Nigeria. Only yesterday, the former Governor of Imo State, in the person of Chief Ikedi Ohakim was appointed the Chairman of a high-powered committee whose responsibility, amongst other things, is to restore Imo to the golden era during which Owerri was regarded as the cleanest city and. Imo won the prize of the cleanest state in Nigeria consecutively in 2008, 2009 and 2010 respectively. In furtherance of sustaining this our lost legacy I have equally instituted an monthly award for the cleanest local government in Imo State during the tenor of my administration.

On health care delivery, I have directed the Imo State Health Management Board to immediately liaise with the Interim Management Committee Chairmen in each of the local government areas to begin a primary health care Needs Assessment to ascertain what can be done to enhance healthcare delivery in our State. We are also leveraging on Federal Government programs and donor support to actualize the health needs of our people. The government has also engaged with the donor community to attract them to support our efforts to ensure good quality basic health care. The state has re-engaged the issue of health insurance. Discussions are ongoing between the State and representatives of the labour union to ensure that Imo workers are mobilized to enroll in the health insurance scheme. Council recently approved measures to satisfy condition precedent to drawing down from the Health Care Basic Fund which will serve as seed for the commencement of the Health Insurance Scheme at the public formal sector level.

In the area of power supply, we have engaged the Transmission Company of Nigeria and Enugu Electric Distribution Company to complete the Oguta 33kV line from Egbu, which is expected to be completed soon. This will supply reliable electricity to the Oguta environs while freeing the old Oguta 33kV line to make available more electricity for the New Owerri areas. Only a reliable and adequate power supply will guarantee the industrialization agenda of our government. Through our intervention, further work has commenced at the 132 x 33 KVA sub stations located at Ideato and Aboh Mbaise respectively, with a view to completing them by the end of this year.

On water supply, pipe borne water, became a complete luxury as we couldn’t find functional tap water anywhere in the state. The Imo State Water Authority has undergone some restructuring, and is now equipped to begin putting in place the required systems for pipe-borne water provision. In a month, some parts of Owerri will certainly have access to water.

Pensions and staff verification:

In the course of our campaigns, we interacted extensively with Imo pensioners – elders that have contributed their own to the development of our State. We found that they were not paid their benefits with owed arrears amounting sometime to almost 80 months (over 6 calendar years). We constituted a committee to look into pensions with a view to not only paying, but providing a sustainable framework for payment as at when due. We tasked a team of experts to work with them to achieve a viable process.  

I am glad to inform you we have adopted of the Contributory Pension Scheme (CPS) as the most sustainable system. Incidentally, the Imo State House of Assembly, passed a Law to this effect since 2009, but it is yet to be activated, in the interest of the pensioners, till date. Further to this, we are conducting a credible LG – by – LG verification exercise to once and for all get the correct data. We appeal for understanding as this is for the sole purpose of sanitising the system. We are also conducting a staff audit in both the State and Local Governments to help fish out ghost workers and also restore efficiency in the public service as every staff will be required to clock in and clock out each working day.

Taking Control of Local Government Structures:

N’dimo are fully aware that there was no Local Government election in the last 8 years. The charade that took place recently was so patently flawed that even the legal requirement of adequate notice was flouted. We took initiative acting with approval of the House of Assembly to activate our emergency powers to suspend local governments political leadership for 6 Months pending inquiry and resolution of legal disputes. This action was taken consequent upon the resolution of the House of Assembly requiring me to suspend the Local Government Chairmen, Vice Chairmen, Councillors and investigate allegations of corrupt practices and misappropriation of public funds made against them. This Committee has been constituted and just been inaugurated..

In our determined commitment to restore democracy at all levels of government and with the approval of the State House of Assembly, we inaugurated Interim Management Committees for the 27 Local government Areas and charged them with development and preparing the local governments for elections by the end of the year. This is a very important step in restoring confidence of our people in the democratic process. With the Approval of the State House of Assembly, the Imo State Independent Electoral Commission has also been reconstituted to carry out its constitutional functions in this regard.

Still on Local Government administration, I can confirm to you that, in line with my promise and pledge, we have commenced the practice of financial autonomy of the Local Government administration in the state. They will soon commence similar stakeholders meetings.

Engagement with Multilateral Agencies and Development Partners:

My dear good people of Imo State, the journey is still very far but we are making steady progress. I have good news for you. Prior to our inauguration on 29th May, 2019, we embarked on economic and diplomatic visits to the United Kingdom and Germany, where we interacted with development/investment partners and donor agencies. Upon my return, I had meetings with the World Bank, the French Development Bank (AFD), the UK Department for International Development DfID and the German Embassy. They all expressed their willingness to partner with us to get our state out of the woods and make it the pearl of the South-East.

Suffice it to say that in the last eight years, Imo has not leveraged on multi-lateral development assistance on account of our inability to comply with certain basic requirements, such as payment of counterpart funding and lack of transparency in the state’s administrative processes. But today, due to the positive perception of our government, international development partners are beginning to show renewed interest in partnering with Imo State to achieve its strategic development plan. Indeed, few weeks ago, as evidence that Imo is now being viewed as open and good for business, a team of prospective investors visited Imo Modern Poultry, Avutu and showed keen interest in revamping this legacy project. If fully operational, the poultry will provide over 2,000 jobs, catalyze local economic growth, create job opportunities for our people, increase our state’s revenue and meet the people’s protein needs. I have since directed the Obowo Local Government Interim Management Committee to coordinate the clearing of the abandoned facility and prepare it for investors. I must specifically commend the enthusiasm and effort of the Community in this regard.

Few weeks ago, I led a small team of government officials and private sector entrepreneurs on an investment trip to Russia. There we held meetings with the AfriExim bank – the leading Pan African trade finance institution, that have pledged support in the form of a robust credit line for prospective investors in the state.  

Our government very recently reviewed its partnership with the UNICEF to deliver key programs in the health, education, water and sanitation sectors. This partnership will complement our on-going efforts to revive water supply in Imo state. We are working tirelessly to ensure that in one month, some parts of Owerri will have pipe-borne water running in their homes again.

We inherited a very bad, abysmally low and hostile business reputation and environment. In the 2018 World Bank Ease of Doing Business ranking, Imo State faired very badly in almost all indices used. Imo is ranked 34 out of 37 in the Ease of Starting a Business; Number 33 in Ease of Registering Property and No. 37 in Ease of Enforcing Contracts. The last in the Federal Republic of Nigeria. We have not only designated an Ease of Doing Business Desk, we are committed to improving the indices all round,

Flag-off of Ezemazu- Urualla Gully Erosion Control Project.

Imo State is prone to erosion. It ravishes communities and destroys their farm lands, roads and cutting them off from their neighbors. As part of our commitments, on my assumption of office I directed the immediate release of N 500m being the state’s counterpart fund that engineered The World Bank funds under the Nigerian Erosion and Watershed Management Project (NEWMAP). Only last week, we flagged-off the Ezemazu-Urualla Gully Erosion project in Ideato North LGA, valued at N9,981,765,514.14, World Bank project supervised by NEWMAP. It is instructive to note that for whatever reason, the last administration abandoned the fate of a generality of Imo’s gully erosion sites to rot. This project was stalled for several years because the immediate past government refused to pay the N500m counterpart funds. When my attention was drawn to the project, I immediately directed the release of the N500m counterpart funds, and today as we speak the project has commenced and I was assured by the contractor that they will respect the contractual agreement, and complete the project in 24 months.

Signing of the Executive Order 005. Treasury Single Account.

We are sanitizing the Imo State financial sector through the introduction of Treasury Single Account (TSA) system. We inherited a government ran from personal accounts and over 250 bank accounts, which ensured that government was ran in a very opaque manner.  Looting of the State treasury which characterized the last administration has become a thing of the past The TSA is an aggressive institutional mechanism that guarantees transparency, probity, accountability, and essentially protect the people of the State against multiple taxation. By this singular action, our global rating in the ease of doing business, no doubt, has improved as investors are beginning to show renewed interest in the state.

Road Rehabilitation Projects.

Though this is rainy season when road construction is usually very difficult and not advisable, but considering the level of dilapidation of roads across the State and particularly the State capital, the Executive Council last week approved the immediate rehabilitation of the following ten critical roads both within Owerri and outside it.

We visited the Mgbe-Umuchima Bridge situated along Orlu-Akokwa road that collapsed last week. It is a huge concern to all of us. I assure that government will take immediate measures to address the situation. Communication amongst rural communities remains a top priority. Indeed, the Rural Access and Mobility Project (RAMP), which has been inactive has been resuscitated by the State Government.

The projects will commence soon after our Bureau of Public Procurement and Price Intelligence have conducted their due diligence in line with our commitment to transparency and global best practices.

Public Security and Safety

We cannot allow Imo State to be an abode for criminal gangs. Plans are underway to improve the security of lives and property in Imo State and reduce the crime rate in the state. Meanwhile I must commend the security agencies in the state who, only a few days ago, burst a notorious kidnap gang that has been terrorizing our people. To compliment this, I recently approved the reactivation of 5 numbers of fire trucks. It will interest you to know that before now, no single fire truck of the Imo Fire Service was functional and effective.

Rehabilitation of Dan Anyiam and Grasshoppers Stadia

In the past, our State was known for sporting excellence in the country. The exploits of our Grasshoppers handball team, Chioma Ajunwa, Charity Opara, Christy Opara, Henry Nwosu, kelechi Nwakali, Late Innocent Egbunike, etc, quickly come to mind. In recent times, there’s been a dearth of facilities for sporting activities and training. To address this, Government has commissioned the rehabilitation of the Grasshoppers Handball Stadium and the Dan Anyiam Stadium. It is anticipated that with improved sporting facilities, Imo which once had a reputation as the Home of Sports will have its lost glory restored in this sector.

.Relationship with Organized Labour.

The relationship between our administration and labour has improved dramatically as we are committed to paying workers their due. We were able to negotiate with the Nigerian Medical Association to call off their strike action recently. While we are making determined and assured efforts to sanitize the pension administration in the State so that our pensioners can receive their due without unnecessary delay.

In the next four years, my dear Ndi Imo, our mission will be to rebuild our beloved state and reposition it as a first class, first rate State for investment, a social, political and economic powerhouse, an oasis of peace, security and development. It is a mission that requires the support, sympathy and cooperation of every citizen of our great State. It will also require the patience, patriotism and prayers of all of us.

As we march to reclaim and rebuild our state, let us consciously take pride in being Imo citizens in all we do – in our culture, what we produce, our unity and commitment for excellence. Imo can and will indeed be great again through our collective and individual efforts

Together we shall rebuild Imo.

God bless Imo State. God bless the Federal Republic of Nigeria.

Imo wu nke anyi n’ile!

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