By Ugo Umunnabuike
CRITICS certainly are important in any society that is democratic or claims to be one. They do not only draw attention to problems, omissions or oversight by functionaries of state, but also point to possible alternatives or solutions.
By doing so, critics, when they mean well, help to bring about changes that engineer growth and development.
In Imo State , critics have never been in short supply even under despotic military regimes, and that is to be expected in an area with high literacy rate.
I should mention that the state boasts of the highest number of literate adults in Nigeria , statistically speaking.
The tribe of Nigeriaâ€™s professional critics, Imo State chapter, has been particularly active in the past few years and seems to have found their rhythm in the present dispensation, with Ikedi Ohakim as the chief helmsman.
One of their major achievements, in the past, was running not a few military governors and administrators out of Owerri, any time their interests were hurt or threatened in any way.
From the tone and content of the new style of criticisms of the present administration in Owerri, the practitioners seem to have made up their minds that nothing good can come out of the Ohakim government.
This Imo State chapter of professional critics has been particularly hard on Governor Ohakimâ€™s cardinal programme, the New Face of Imo, fashioned out by a 165-man Transition Committee of Imo elders and intelligentsia promptly set up by Governor Ohakim shortly after he was elected, to critique and enrich the 14-point agenda canvassed in his manifesto.
But Ohakim, had, in his maiden broadcast to his people as Governor on June 4, 2007, explained that the New Face of Imo is primarily aimed at presenting to the world the beautiful face of Imo; the face of a state and people capable of attracting tourists and investors and of expanding economic opportunities for Ndi Imo.
Designed to significantly change the attitude of the people of the state, their values and orientation towards life, the New Face of Imo preaches transparency, accountability, rule of law and respect for human rights. The programme signposts a paradigm shift, away from the old tendencies that crippled progress in the state in the past.
Some of those tendencies include godfatherism, entitlement mentality, political warlordism, extreme sectionalism and feasting on the resources of the state. The overall aim is to lay a solid foundation for the transformation of Imo to a model modern state.
The pillar of the New Face of Imo is the Clean and Green Initiative designed to restore the Owerri Master Plan, clean up the state and green the environment. Implementing such a programme would inevitably involve taking certain non-populist actions which would bring a measure of pain, albeit temporary, to Ndi Imo. Professional critics soon capitalised on this.
They went to town with the tale that the Ohakim administration is anti-people, painted a scary picture of how the Clean and Green Initiative was programmed to impoverish the masses and inflict serious pain of them. The critics, of course, did not fail to question why the Ohakim administration was planting flowers and grasses when Imo people were hungry. â€œWould the people eat flowers and grasses,â€ they asked?
The critics chose to ignore the many potential health and socio-economic benefits of the programme. As a style, they pretended not to know that a clean environment guarantees healthy living and clean habits; ensures an orderly society and spiritual cleanliness.
They preferred to ignore that a clean environment promotes tourism and creates many jobs as a result, keep people out of hospital, attracts investment and reduces crime rate through the removal of the illegal structures which provide hiding places for criminals.
Three years down the road, even the critics, if they are sincere, would admit that Imo has changed for the better as a result of the Clean and Green initiative, which they had given practically no chance of success.
They cannot deny that Owerri, the Imo State capital, has become one of the cleanest cities in Nigeria , a fact that was acknowledged by the Federal Ministry of Housing and Environment.
The critics cannot deny that all those illegal structures destroyed under the Clean and Green Initiative opened up, not only Owerri but other towns in the state. They cannot deny that in the Imo State of today crime rate is remarkably down, market fires have reduced and illegal structures no longer provide cover and habitation for criminals and their weapons.
That is not all. The critics should be candid enough to admit that the ban on commercial motor cyclists in Owerri has drastically reduced the rate of road accidents, or that commuters are more comfortable and safer in the tricycles, and the fares are comparatively cheaper â€“ N30Â as against N80 charged by commercial motor cyclists, locally known as Inaga.
With less than a year for Ohakim to conclude his first term in office, the preponderance of opinion on the streets of Imo is that the Ochinanwata, as the governor is fondly called by his admirers, has, largely, delivered on his promise to give the state a new lease of life.
On Nigeria â€™s Democracy Day, May 29, the Imo State chapter of the Trade Union Congress of Nigeria wrote to Governor Ohakim to congratulate him for providing purposeful leadership to the state in the past three years.
â€œThe TUC will ever remain grateful to your administration for providing dividends of democracy to the people,â€ the Congress said in a letter signed by its chairman, Comrade O. J. Onyekawa, doffing its hat for the Governor for his latest feat in empowering Imo youths through the provision of 10,000 job opportunities.
But Ohakim is not being celebrated only by his people, but also by non-Imo indigenes that are far removed from the politics of the state.
Chief Emeka Anyaoku, a distinguished Anambra son, former Secretary-General of the Commonwealth and incumbent President of the Worldwide Fund for Nature (WWF), only recently remarked that: â€œI see Governor Ikedi Ohakim as a Nigerian leader of Igbo extraction and I hope and wish that his political progress will be based on that . . .
His Clean and Green Programme is something close to my heart. What he has pioneered here in Owerri is a project I will be telling my colleagues in Switzerland , Headquarters of the WWF, that something very good is happening in this part of the world.â€
Those who are privileged to know Chief Anyaoku at close quarters say that he is not given to frivolities or exaggerations. He is said to be real always.