By Chidi Nkwopara, OWERRI
It is no longer news that when Governor Emeka Ihedioha took his oath of office, he promised to respect the rule of law, serve with honesty, transparency and the fear of God, in the process of rebuilding the state.
Some concerned people have had their say on the journey so far, but it would not be out of place to take a critical look at what has happened so far, to the state and its people. In doing this, there is no conscious wish to delve into the activities of the legislative and judicial arms of government, within the period under review.
One of the first things Ihedioha did soon after he was declared winner of the gubernatorial election, was the constitution of a Transition Technical Committee, TTC, that was to set a clear path for the administration, in the rebuilding process, among other things.
The Committee came up with a development agenda they called Imo Growth and Strategic Development Plan, G-SDP.
In the thinking of the Committee, the G-SDP would include, but not limited to the delivery of 381 kilometers of rural access road projects, restoration of an improved Owerri Master Plan, restoration of water supply in Owerri municipality, roll-out of a State health insurance scheme, as well as the reactivation of four technical education institutions in the state.
Other areas of interest include an economic growth and strategic development initiatives along five sub-themes of Human Capital Development, Agriculture, Food Security, Infrastructure, Industrialization and Job Creation, as well as Security and Environment.
To achieve these lofty goals and in line with his transparency and accountability mantra, the Governor quickly signed into law, Executive Order 005, known as Treasury Single Account, TSA, Order to consolidate all government revenues under one account.
One issue that gave Imo people sleepless nights, was the arbitrary tax collection system that subsisted in the last eight years. For now, all cash tax payments have been banned while Government has mandated the use of the PayDirect platform with a single source sweeping of revenue. This, we understand, has started addressing the issue of multiple accounts and leakages, and the IGR has grown from an all-time low of about N300 million in July, to N600 million in August.
Added to this, is the harmonization of taxes payable in the state, with a view to eliminating multiple taxation. Government is also developing what it calls the Imo Growth and Economic Development Fund, which would serve as an investment catalyst for the Imo State economy.
To say that Ihedioha inherited a civil service that lacked motivation, amounts to stating the obvious. Salaries were delayed, and when they were paid, the workers were underpaid by, sometimes, as much as 30 percent of what was rightly due to them.
A committee that was set up to look into cases of improper or irregular appointments, promotions and other related matters, have since turned in their report.
Following the committee’s recommendation, government subsequently restored payment of 100 percent salaries to all workers in the state, recalled all unjustly suspended Directors, reversed some undeserved promotions and sponsored officers to capacity building programmes.
Similarly, Local Government workers have been paid the backlog of salaries owed them by the last administration. With all these in place, it is safe to say that there is a renewed sense of motivation in the Imo civil service.
Imo of this day and age, has a swath of collapsed infrastructures. All the roads built by the state are in a very bad shape, despite the billions of Naira purportedly spent on them by the Rochas Okorocha administration.
To tackle this scourge, contracts for the reconstruction of 14 critical roads across the State, have been awarded, to relieve the people’s sufferings. These includes the Naze-Nekede-Ihiagwa-Obinze road, Ahiara Junction-Okpala Road, Aba Branch-Ahiara Junction road and the Imo Stare Teaching Hospital Road.
Others include, the Umuowa-Old Orlu Road; MCC-Toronto Road; Mgbidi–Oguta road; Ogwoghoranya-Avutu, with spur at Avutu Poultry Farm Road and the Douglas–Emmanuel College-Naze Junction road.
Also captured in under this phase of road reconstruction are the Assumpta-Port Harcourt Road Okigwe Okpara Road-Police Station Road, Control Post-World Bank–Umuguma Road, Okigwe Road-IMSU-Bishop Court Roundabout Road and the Concorde Boulevard Ring Road-Zuma–PH Road. Seven of these roads have been flaggef off.
Similarly, about a week ago, at Onuimo, Isu and Mbaitoli Local Government Areas, the Governor flagged off one of the most ambitious rural road construction projects, valued at N13.5 billion. It is a World Bank assisted Rural Access and Mobility Project, RAMP, which involves over 70 rural road networks with a cumulative distance of 381 kilometers across most of the 27 Local Government Areas of the state.
Security is another area that has been giving the citizenry cause for worry. However, government has inaugurated Operation Iron Gate, to combat crimes and criminalities, as well as rid the state of all undesirable elements.
In a bid to get the health care system working again, Ihedioha relaunched the stalled Health Insurance Scheme to connect effectively into the already existing Federal Government insurance scheme. It has also committed one percent of the state’s Consolidated Revenue to this scheme.
Conscious of the fact that no meaningful industrialization can take place where there is poor power supply. Power supply in the state, over the years, government consequently set up the Imo State Power and Rural Electrification Agency, I-POREA, to evolve strategies to remove barriers to adequate exploitation of the power generation potentials.
Apart from empowering I-POREA to take advantage of the State’s natural gas and alternative energy resources to bridge the gap in access to electricity in the state, government has also made remarkable progress towards the restoration of electricity supply to some areas of the State, where it was nonexistent in the last seven to eight years. This includes the replacement of 79 failed transformers across the State, completion of electricity supply to Inyishi Aluminum Extrusion Company and its environs, as well as the Oguta 33kv line electricity project.
In the past eight years, the Otamiri Water Scheme was not functional and residents in the state capital and its adjoining communities, suffered untold hardships. Ihedioha has provided what was required to get it working again and specifically, water started running again in Owerri, July 24, 2019. In the same vein, work is ongoing to rectify cases of burst pipes across the major roads.
Pursuant to his resolve to harness the state’s agricultural potentials, as well as generate employment, just a few days ago, Chief Ihedioha launched the state’s Agricultural Roadmap, which represents a comprehensive framework for self-sufficiency in food production, both for domestic consumption and for exports purposes.
To this end, the first batch of 500 youths selected from all the 27 local council areas, would be sent to a modern farm in Nasarawa State, in a few weeks, under the Imo Youths in Agribusiness Programme, IYAP. They would learn the best practices in tropical agriculture, after which they will be supported to start their own businesses in Imo State.
Imo State suffered serious setback in the area of sports development. Before now, the state used to be the fishing ground for sporting talents. Many celebrated sports stars emerged from the state. But in the last few years, even our Heartland Football Club and the Grasshoppers International Handball Club have performed abysmally due to complete neglect.
Similarly, the Dan Anyiam Stadium Complex was completely broken down to the extent that the Nigerian Football Federation. NFF, barred it from hosting matches and Heartland Football Club was nearly relegated from the Premiership as a result. Happily, government has started re-grassing the Dan Anyiam Stadium, installing new flood lights, replacing the seats and constructing Olympic standard tartan tracks, while the Grasshoppers Stadium is beginning to wear a new look.
One other thing that must be put on record here is that the 27 local government councils in the state, now have full compliment of their monthly allocations from the Federal Government.
On strengthening and optimizing the doctrine of separation of powers, there is observable cordial relationship between the legislature and the executive.
On assumption of office, Ihedioha immediately hosted a retreat with the members of the State House of Assembly. This interaction has interestingly led to fruitful outcomes.
As at the time of going to press, a total of eight Bills, three in the 8th Assembly and five in the 9th Assembly, were signed into law, from May 29th to date.
Some of these laws are, Imo State Public Procurement (Amendment) Law, Imo State Local Government Administration (Amendment) Law, Imo State Universal Basic Education Board (Amendment) Law, Imo State Power & Rural Electrification Law, Imo State Electoral (Amendment) Law, Imo State Market Development Authority Law, Imo State Facility Management Agency Law and Imo State Sports Commission (Establishment Law).
When contacted to assess the Imo of today, Mr. Stanley Ozuzu said: “So far, so good. Rebuilding a dilapidated infrastructure is more difficult than starting a completely fresh construction. We must learn to be patient with Governor Ihedioha because he knows that he cannot afford the luxury of failing the citizenry.”