OPINION: A trip to Imo State – By: Stephen Nwahiri

For a very long time, I have refrained from commenting on issues that arise from my dear state, Imo. My last commentary was after the 2011 National Assembly election and after observing the farcical joke that took place in Imo, I dismissed the whole thing and went on with my normal business.

I must confess that I didn’t anticipate the type of mass upheaval that led to the election of Rochas Okorocha and in fact solid defence the Imo people put up to ensure that their choice counted in the governorship election where Rochas Okorocha of APGA routed the PDP candidate and incumbent, Ikedi Ohakim. By the time I packed my bags and returned disappointed to my base. I never believed that such heroic outcome was possible in a process where I saw the incumbent Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives, Emeka Ihedioha clearly beaten in his Aboh Mbaise/Ngor Okpala Federal Constituency but through the kind of magic that is exclusively patent to the Nigerian democracy, wangled his way back to power through the votes he cooked up in his Mbutu electoral ward.

I didn’t believe that Ohakim, with his notorious non performance, rank arrogance and massive corruption in his government was not beat able. My feeling that he would return was rather premised on the kind of election I witnessed in the National Assembly election where results were cooked at the whims of the PDP and their members. One of the exceptions in that National Assembly election was the election of Chris Anyanwu of APGA as the Senator of Owerri zone when she defeated Kema Chikwe of PDP despite the huge efforts made by the PDP and the Ohakim regime to manipulate the elections in favour of Chikwe. The hopes that singular exception raised was doused by the outcome of the 2011 election where the PDP was reported to have recorded such unbelievable figures ranging from 90 percent to 99 percent of registered voters in the states in the southsouth and southeast. My belief then was that it would take only a system deeply engaged in electoral criminality to uphold such figures. I therefore turned my back on the sham electoral system in Nigeria until the revolutionary developments that led to the emergence of Rochas Okorocha. The details of that historic defeat of retrogressive forces are well known to Nigerians to bear repetition here but suffice to say that the stoic defiance of Imo electorate against the machinations of the PDP, the Jonathan presidency and the Ohakim government secured for them a place of pride in the democratic history of the country.

I must state that I deliberately refrained from further comments in Imo so as to give Rochas the chance to sit down, articulate his policies and set about the task of governing Imo State. For this, I gave him the full benefit of the doubt. Mid way into his tenure, I feel it is time to see how the man has positively or negatively justified the huge responsibility placed on him by Imo people in May 2011. To do a proper and value-free assessment of Rochas, I decided to visit my state, which I did between March 2 and March 10. I devoted the full one week to studying my Imo, the developments that have happened vis-à-vis what it used to be before Rochas came, the local politics in my state, listen to the radio and television, read the local newspapers and gauge the minds and feelings of my people. At the end of my visit, I state that I am satisfied with what is happening in Imo at present in terms of infrastructural development, the upgrading of the health and education sectors, urban development, rural developmen, agriculture, among other dilapidated sectors of Imo governance. The Imo I saw for the one week I stayed home was an Imo that was waking from the drudgery of the post-Mbakwe era where bad governments took turns to wreck rather than add to the enviable record of Mbakwe. Good enough, Rochas has pledged to better the Mbakwe record, which I believe is a tall order but still achievable. If he sustains the volume of work he is presently doing in Imo, he will certainly record a parity with the glorious record of Dee Sam.

I moved around Imo and was excited that school buildings are springing up in all parts of the state. I understand that Rochas is building 305 of such modern schools in the 305 electoral wards in the state and I couldn’t hide my elation that such a neglected sector should receive such huge attention. Again, I saw that the public schools are roaring back to life, with free education for secondary and primary school pupils, free tuition for state owned tertiary schools being fully implemented. I also learnt that arrangements have been concluded to distribute free school uniforms, sandals, textbooks, and desks to pupils of state schools. What more, teachers have been made to sit up, dress neat and maintain a statutory attendance at state schools. This is taking a huge toll on private schools as parents and guardians are withdrawing their kids and enrolling them at the rejuvenated public schools. For a man with a well known love for education and the down trodden, the heavy investment made to restore public schools system remains an indelible tribute to the positive employment if state power to effect positive change. I urge any visitor to Imo State not to leave without visiting the model Owerri City Schools on Wetheral Road. It speaks of the power of vision in a state long raped by greedy and blind rulers.

What about the roads? Urban roads that have never experienced any form of work since creation are being constructed with a verve I have never seen in Imo before. All such roads in Owerri, Orlu and Okigwe are receiving attention at the same time. In all the 27 local councils, rural roads are being tarred with a certain frenzy as if the state is in a hurry to banish the spectre of bad governance. The volume of roads under construction in the state at present is amazing and I believe, after my visit that Imo is on a happy mood once again after Mbakwe. I saw real dualization of major roads like Owerri-Orlu, Owerri-Imo Airport, Anara-Okigwe roads and these are major works and not the fraudulent dualization Ohakim claimed to have done. I will appreciate if Rochas equally dualizes the Owerri-Mbaise-Umuahia Road up to the boundary with Abia State.

I saw some of the model specialist hospitals being built in each local government. The project is at various levels of completion and one can only but marvel at the dream behind such fantastic idea that will not only improve health care delivery but take it closer to the doorsteps of the people.

One needs to see the new face of Owerri, Orlu and Okigwe; the roads and general infrastructure base on these cities are receiving the kind of attention they have never got since Mbakwe left in 1983. The uplifting visages of cities on the rise, with upscale public buildings, well paved roads and modern landmarks are things that lift the spirit and this will certainly redefine governance in the state henceforth. I noticed that the moribund state investments such as Concorde Hotel, Adapalms, Imo Hotels, ITC have been rehabilitated and made to generate profit for the state. There are developments all over the place and this is a very marked difference from what used to be for the period between 1999 and 2011. In short, what I saw in Imo is far more than what Imo people have seen in the period the PDP had been in power. That is the truth most opponents of Okorocha are trying to grapple with. Before I came down to Imo, I had read so many people ask where Okorocha gets the money for the many projects he is doing in Imo. After my visit, I am compelled to join in this enquiry because what I saw on the ground was massive and I still believe it takes more than what comes to Imo every month as IGR or federation allocation, to embark on the volume of projects in Imo at present.

And this leads me to the kind of politics I saw in Imo State for the period I stayed. The airwaves were stuffed with so much noise and unblended politics from the PDP who are desperate to return to power at all costs and continue what they know best-skinning the state of all available resources. The PDP propaganda comes with all annoying arrogance but with little to show for the state of debauchery they presided over before Okorocha came. PDP wants power back when it had been thoroughly shamed by Okorocha’s performance in just two years? It is a pity but I guess Imo people are enlightened enough to see through the present PDP gamble. The Imo PDP is chasing the wind with bare hands. They have no testimonial to show for their twelve years in power, which would have possibly settled it for the many allegations of non performance they generate about Rochas. But given what Rochas is doing in Imo, which is even very obvious to the blind, I believe the PDP has a long way to go in the impossible task of taking over Imo once again. Certainly their history of buccaneer politics and governance cannot avail them of the support of the good people of Imo State who are presently savouring their good fortune with Owelle Rochas Okorocha as governor.

Written by: Stephen Nwahiri



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