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Ohakim’s Imo: Three years later

By Obi Okereke
For Nigerians in Diaspora    like me,  the  cyber-space has undoubtedly become a veritable source of home news. In the past, you depended largely on reports gleaned from newspapers brought by those returning from home. Of course, that would have been stale news.

Today, internet has solved the information problem in the sense that you not only access news at it breaks, but can also engage in online chat. In-between the hustle for daily-bread in a foreign land, there remains this serious hunger by the immigrants for hints on what is happening back home.

This has, in turn, led to a proliferation of blogs. The trail was blazed years ago by Elendu Reports, followed by Sahara reporters.

In fact, blogging has been taken to another level in that we also now have what is called ‘I-report’ in the spirit of ‘citizen journalism’. It is a form of ‘democratisation’ of the journalism profession. Much as it has liberalised information dissemination, the flipside is that rumour-mongering is also being glamorised in many cases.

This is the big danger I think that lies in the bourgeoning online culture today. For, it is quite possible for anyone now to write on any subject, especially on political issues, and present same as though they are facts. Worst still, given the invincibility of the medium, many therefore take liberty to libel anyone without any qualms.

To my fellow compatriots in diaspora, let me therefore state that if your only source of information is the blog, then, I am afraid, you may not be getting the true picture of reality back home. I say this from a personal experience. Before I travelled home in April for the Easter celebration, I had read a lot about exchange of brickbats online by political actors in my own home state (Imo).

To the extent that, at some point, one had begun to wonder what time is left to address the core issue of development. I must confess that, before my last visit, I had not been home for about five years from my adopted home in Redding , Britain .

So, when I boarded a connecting Arik flight from the Lagos local airport, I had braced myself for the worst after the about one hour trip. But driving into Owerri after the Sam Mbakwe airport, I must confess that the spectacle I saw was a far from what I had expected. From the negative profiling you get exposed to online about kidnapping and massive ‘looting’ by public officials, I had looked forward to one big jungle.

But I was pleasantly struck by the gale of fresh breath while driving into Owerri from the airport road. From the dual carriage way complete with well-maintained flower beds and pedestrian sidewalks, to the generally clean environment.

The nuisance of Okada riders is now a thing of the past. In its place, what you see now on the city highways are the much safer tricycles. Waoh!, this certainly isn’t the Owerri I left behind about five years ago in pursuit of the proverbial golden fleece in Oyinbo country. Also noticeable here and there is the motorised patrol of the state-backed security outfit named ‘Operation Festival’.

So, if they say Imo is now the hospitality/tourism capital of the South-east and the South-South, this will be in perfect order. I also observed that, in my five year absence, a new generation of hotels and relaxation spots have sprung up in Owerri.

From my finding, the occupancy ratio in the hotels there is now very high. In fact, on weekends, you hardly find any space at all in most of the big hotels. This is a sign of a new buoyancy in the local economy. Perhaps, this development can also be attributed to the fact that many are relocating from the volatility of Port Harcourt to a relatively more stable Owerri.

When you invest massively in physical amenities like road, you invariably boost the value of the real estate sector. The result today is that property value has skyrocketed in Owerri. I am speaking from experience. After spending five years abroad, I had thought one should begin to think of securing a parcel of land at home with a view to starting development as soon as possible. But prices I was given by prospective land-seller far exceeded my budget.

In all, I spent two and a half weeks in my last visit to Nigeria , with one week spent with my folks shuttling between Mbaise, Owerri and Oguta. One cannot but also notice the vast improvement in the condition of roads generally. From what I gathered, this remarkable feat was made possible through the revolutionary Imo Rural Roads Maintenance Agency (IRRO-MA). Through it, the state has been able to achieve the construction of the ambitious 150-kilometre Imo inter-connectivity freeway.

On this note, Ohakim has surely made a great impact, in fact more his predecessors. The good thing is that the development is spread across the three zones: Orlu, Owerri and Okigwe.

Overall, the challenge before developing nations today is to strive to meet the MDGs. In this regards, we are talking about improving access to safe water, medicare and education. Indeed, these are the practical indices to measure poverty-reduction. I was quite pleased to hear that my own state has been ranked No. 1 by Federal Government agency among the few states which are really doing something serious to achieve MDGs.

Generally, from what I saw and heard, I would say the Ohakim has not done too badly. Anyone who is born and bred in Imo like me would attest that the last time such bold attempt was made to address the critical needs of the people was the Sam Mbakwe era in the early 80s.

Having said that, let me also add that I saw a few bill-boards proclaiming the ‘Clean & Green Initiatives’ or where the incumbent governor is shown making biblical invocations like ‘Imo is in God’s hands’.

To a foreigner, that may look unusual. Back in UK , for instance, such official supplication for spiritual direction in the public space would have been a rarity. But then, this is a different environment with a peculiar culture, where actors perceive politics as a zero-sum game. On a second thought, I could not but agree with Ohakim that Imo of today truly needs continued divine protection against the forces of darkness that had held it down for too long.

However, what I found most confounding was the report of the litany of court cases the governor has had to contend with in the last three years against his mandate: 17 in all! I understand one is still pending. Very funny indeed.  I think it is a sad commentary on the country’s judicial process that cases would still be pending three years after the election was held. Lawyers must really be feeding fat indeed.

If nothing all, the urgent message this underscores is that we need to reform the law to ensure the expeditious disposal of cases before elected office-holders are sworn in. By the way, with all these legal distractions and ceaseless attacks from political opponents, isn’t it surprising that Ohakim was still able to muster the presence of mind to focus and record these solid feats in the last three years.

Indeed, with what I saw during my last visit home, I am one of those now convinced that despite the seeming gloom on our political horizon as a nation, there are still a few oases of excellence here and there, providing exemplary leadership for our people.

Therefore, I can only wish the likes of Ohakim to keep at it. One day, our fatherland shall reach the Promised Land.
*Architect Obi Okereke sent this piece from Redding, United Kingdom .


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