Some months ago, I was among the people who strongly condemned Governor Rochas Okorocha for his move to relocate Imo State University (IMSU) from its present site in Owerri metropolis to his area in Ideato South L.G.A. of Imo State. Recently, I met with the Imo State Deputy Governor Sir Jude Agbaso in his office at the Ministry of Works Imo State Secretariat and I had more than three-hour close-door interaction with him. That interaction carries a lot of revelations. Initially, it was not to be a media interaction hence, I did not go with paper, pen or recorder. Nevertheless, apart from the issue of relocation of the ImoState University, there were also other issues that we discussed which I will talk of in the later part of this write-up.
I was really trilled by the Deputy Governor’s disposition and stand on the relocation of Imo State University; an issue which has remained very controversial in Imo State. There are three senatorial zones in Imo Statenamely; Owerri, Okigwe and Orlu. Regrettably, most people who have spoken or reacted on the said policy had done so based on sectional sentiments. Many people from Owerri Senatorial Zone where the University is presently relocated are against relocating the institution outside their zone. Many from Orlu want it in their area while Okigwe people’s stand are also influenced by one sentiment or the other. When I condemned the policy sometime in the media, a lot of political appointees in Okorocha’s Government who come from Owerri Zone hailed my stand and told me that they were not in support of that policy but could not say it openly. Just like me, what must have propelled these Okorocha’s henchmen was the mere fact that they are from Owerri Zone. This is also the same with those from other zones. I also believe that even the Governor himself may not be totally free from zonal sentiments in undertaken the policy.
However, I have been able to see one Imo man whose stand on the relocation policy seems to rise above zonal and selfish sentiments. Ironically, he is from Owerri and incidentally, the Imo State Deputy Governor Sir Agbaso. In my said interaction with him, he outlined that many advocates for or against the relocation policy had not adverted their minds to the paramount aim of establishing a university in their arguments. According to him, the main aim of establishing a university is for learning, research and probably for business. He said that the irony in the whole saga was that majority of the people of the state had admitted that there was the need to relocate the university out of its present site in Owerri metropolis. However, he said that there were many proposed sites in Owerri irking and contending to harbour the institution. This he said is yet to be harmonized.
He further stated that the aim of every good state government is to see that development gets to the entire state and not only at the state capital. Here him: ‘In all fairness and equity, Ideato has not really experienced any visible development since the creation of Imo State. In the contrary, majority of the developmental projects by all the government that had existed in the state were concentrated in Owerri’. He had a long list of them to include: Roads, housing estates, airport, social amenities, public utilities, markets, industries, parastatals, unity school, banks, tertiary institutions, hospitals etc.
Furthermore, he said that more than 90% of the roads being done by the present state government was in Owerri. He also mentioned other monumental projects in Owerri which he said the administration had concluded. These according to him include: the Heroes Square, OjukwuConvention Center, Deputy Governor’s office, First Lady’s office, Finishing school along Egbu Road Owerri, Renovation of Commissioners’ Quarters, Deputy Governor’s Lodge, Multi-Purpose Hall, State Executive Chambers etc. He went further to outline some ongoing projects like the 25 Storey Seven Star Hotel, the Ecumenical Center and the Imo Monumental Crystal called ‘Akachi’ all to be located at Area K New Owerri. He revealed the above named ongoing projects and many others not mentioned were capable of generating much fund for the state. He also said that their contractors had been mobilized up to the tune of 40% for work to start.
Still supporting his claim in favour of the relocation policy, the Imo number two citizen said that it would be more equitable and would also give a sense of belonging to the people of Ideato whom he said had always been forgotten by most previous administrations in the state. He said that there was no visible development in the area but that the location of the school would bring the development. He cited the examples of the University of Nigeria Nsukka, AbiaState University located in Uturu and the likes which he said had brought unprecedented development to their locations. Therefore, he said that sitting the university in Ideato would not be too much a sacrifice for Imo people especially the people of Owerri Zone. He said that the serenity of Ideato environment was more conducive for learning and research.
However, he was apt in pointing out that the metropolitan environment the school is presently located makes it conducive for student’s involvement in street robbery, cultism, kidnapping, prostitution and other anti-social vices. This he said would be reduced if the university is located in Ideato.
On business, Sir Agbaso said that the university was likely going to increase commercial activities in the new area and its environ. He also said that markets and business centers in Owerri would not loose patronage with the relocation of the university. He further added that people would always come to Owerri to transact business just as automobile engineers in other parts of the State come to New Market Owerri to buy motor parts.
My interaction with him was sometime interrupted by some visitors and contractors who came to see him for some government businesses. He told me that he chose to see people in his office at the Ministry of Works because the place is easier to access by the public than his office at Government House. Interestingly, he gave me the privilege of observing how he conducted government transactions with people. The simplicity, passion, speed, dedication and openness by which he did them marveled me. He seems to know and remember all persons and all transactions. He was ready to take more visitors and seemed to have solutions to every of people’s problems and challenges. Unlike many V.I.P’s he takes his phone calls himself and also would not refuse calls coming from unknown phone numbers. Before the 2011 elections, I never knew that somebody like Jude Agbaso existed on planet earth.
My first contact with him was when he paid an official visit to my former boss Ex Imo Deputy Governor Ada Okwuonu at Deputy Governor’s official residence in Owerri. This was at the twilight of Ohakim’s Administration. Since then, I had not had much need to know him more or come close to him until recently when I went to deliver a message from my said former boss to him. The way I secured an appointment with him is a proof of the kind of person he is. I sent him a text message requesting for an appointment to deliver the said message and he replied the message by giving me date, time and venue also through text. I came into his office and I met with him.
Finally, he pointed out that some public officers avoid picking people’s phone calls and attending to people claiming to be busy. He said that such people were not busy only that they are not ready to make sacrifices or task themselves to solve people’s problems. He said that his passion to serve Imo State made him to part with more than One hundred million naira of his private money to have the Deputy Governor’s Residential Lodge renovated. He also said that the Governor, himself and members of their team had denied themselves a lot of pecuniary benefits and entitlements so as to see that money was saved to develop the state.
On his relationship with the state Governor, he was very apt in telling me that he did not have much close personal or informal relationship with the Governor as some people might feel but that what brings them together. He said that he and the governor share the same vision, ideology and philosophy on how best to serve and sacrifice for the betterment of Imo people and that it was at that point they meet and work together and drive the government.
I know that many people might not have had much opportunity of coming close to Sir Agbaso as to know him well. But from my own observation, he seems to be a very articulate, focused, dedicated and forthright person. I saw that he is really a very busy man. Being the works commissioner, more than 80% of what is being done by the Okorocha Government is through him. After my interaction with Sir Agbaso, I was given the impression that if he continues the way he is going, he is likely going to justify the mandate people have given him. But for now, the ball is in his court and he still has some miles to cover before his tenure expires on the 29thMay 2015.
Barr Emperor Nnabuihe Iwuala
Owerri based Private Legal/Media Practitioner