By Luke Okoro
After eight years of reign and what most people in Imo would conclude to be a regime of family for family, by Governor Rochas Okorocha, a new administration has berthed in Douglas house, Owerri, the Imo state capital. It is headed by Chief Emeka Ihedioha, who was collectively voted into that office by Imo people. The choice of Ihedioha was not by default.
It was a conscious resolve by Imo people to retrieve their state from the ruin and years of wastage, unmitigated poor leadership, unfair distribution of resources and unbalanced development. The point must be noted that the resolve of Imo people to see Okorocha off was borne out of the fact that the same man had wanted to install his son-in-law, Uche Nwosu as his successor. Many people, including the leadership of the All Progressives Congress(APC), at Abuja, led by its national chairman, Adams Oshiomhole, had reasoned that doing so would be extending Okorocha’s misrule and wastage by another four years. No doubt, a new sheriff is in town.
The challenge before Ihedioha is such that a lily livered person would be thoroughly confused as to where to begin from. But then, given the pedigree of the new governor and given the fact that he had sought the office twice before now, he must have a game plan. He must hit the ground immediately running because there are so many things to do.
It is sad that the claim of free education by the past administration did not reflect in the performance chart in national competitive exams. Beyond the numbers – which is as a result of the people taking education as an industry – there is no other thing that distinguished the state as a place of choice in the field of education. For so long, Anambra took the shine off Imo. And surprisingly, Abia has recently emerged as a new kid on the block in national competitive exams.
This trend must stop. The entire education architecture must be overhauled, made functional and retrieved from agents of corruption, who circumvent admission and academic policies for greed and self-interest. Today, it is sad that an ordinary Imo person would not secure admission of their wards into Imo State University (IMSU), The Polytechnic or The Colleges of Agriculture and Education without bribing their way through even when they are qualified. This is unfair and wicked, especially given that IMSU and the Sam Mbakwe International Cargo Airport were founded by the collective contribution of Ndimo under the governorship of Dee Sam Mbakwe between 1979 and 1983. This evil is deep in IMSU and must be immediately addressed.
The health sector is also in a shambles. Whereas Okorocha wanted to tackle this challenge during his first tenure, he quickly got carried away by abandoning all the 27 hospitals he laid their foundations in all the 27 local government headquarters in the state. Even the recently commissioned Mother-and-Baby Friendly Hospital at the twilight of his departure, did not mitigate the damage his eight-year regime visited the health sector in the state. By numbers, Imo is recorded as one of the states with rising maternal and child mortalities in the country. Functional health facilities in each autonomous community of the state would immediately address that matter while putting in place secondary and tertiary health institutions in the long run. The resort to private and personal medications by our people should be minimized, more so, with mass poverty around. Yes, the time has also come for the state to graduate from the status of civil service to industry.
Whereas the Mbakwe administration tried to do so by establishing a number of industries including Imo Concorde Hotel, Inyishi Aluminium Extrusion Plant, Avutu Poultry among others, subsequent regimes did little to deepen the policy and alter this dangerous narrative. “My people, my people. Job, Job, Job”, was the thrust of Okorocha’s campaign then. He created no jobs for his people, maybe for his family and in-laws. With several hotels in town, who says that allied industries would not be established to service these hotels? Imo, indeed, can be industrialized for young Imolites to obtain jobs upon graduating from school. This will also reduce crime and other ills, including prostitution, migration and child trafficking.
The economy of the state must necessarily be reflated with immediate rehabilitation, restructuring and restoration of the civil service. Beyond the issue of regular payment of salaries, the state civil service should be made functional, restructured to admit new entrants and to shade off old and out-dated personnel, amidst restoration of the dignity and security of the institution. When you compare the civil service in Lagos state, you will wonder what exists in Imo as civil service. And given that the Local Government Councils are still under the state, the idea of making them effective in fulfilling their constitutional rules cannot be downplayed. They should be empowered to build and rehabilitate link roads and bridges, run primary schools and health centres as well as improve the quality of lives in rural communities through rural policing, community development and security of lives and property. In Lagos, the Local Councils and Development Areas are doing these and more. The state can take a cue from Lagos state.
Even in the area of Internal Revenue Generation, IRG, the state can better the numbers by also emulating what Lagos is doing. Whereas Imo people would resist tax/levy imposition, they would willingly oblige such payments to a government that has shown integrity, leadership and public good, as they did in the days of Mbakwe.
It would be taken for granted that roads would be built and maintained. Good that Okorocha started the broadening of some of those roads, especially around the state capital. While not suggesting that the other zones or major towns of Okigweand Orlu should be neglected, the truth is that Owerri, as a capital city, should be given a lifting that should make it stand and compare with other state capitals including those as old as it is. The time to do so is now, especially as the city is centrally located and has seriously become attractive to the tourism and the hospitality industry. You need to be in Owerri on weekends to see the stream of fun-seekers who throng the city, with its many hotels filled to capacity.
It is sad that Owerri that was adjudged among the cleanest in the past, has slumped into being in the club of dirty cities in Nigeria. This is so unacceptable. The Clean and Green Initiative of the past should be rekindled for Imolites to breathe fresh air in their state capital.
Congratulations, Rt Hon. Emeka Ihedioha. Imo voters are anxious for another performing governor after Mbakwe.
(Mr. Okoro is a Lagos-based Journalist)
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