By Dr Ugoji Egbujo
Mbaitoli is dying and Ihedioha is staring at the clouds. Mbaitoli receives 200 million monthly from Abuja. The poor folks in Orodo won’t ordinarily ask questions. But the most important roads in Mbaitoli are crumbling. And it’s taking a hard toll on their miserable lives.
The ordinary village folks don’t expect so much from politicians. They have become hardened to politicians and failed promises and misgovernance. They are not bothered by the rumours that their new governor now runs the state from Protea hotel Owerri rather than government house at their expense. They just want to be able to get along with their lives.
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Nkwo Orodo is arguably the biggest market in Mbaitoli Local Government of Imo state. Nkwo Orodo is very heavy on Nkwo days. People come from all parts of Imo to trade there. The rains have been heavy in the last six months. At the last Nkwo, a few days ago, Nkwo Orodo was a dark shadow of itself.
All the roads that lead to Nkwo Orodo have crumbled.
Onyekachi Mba is a village mason. He has a wife and four children. He makes ends meet with an old Volvo car which he converted into a pick-up van to haul goods for petty traders to-and-fro Nkwo Orodo. Bricklaying alone cannot sustain his young family. The rains started early this year. So masonry work has suffered. But the rains have ruined the roads, and the bad roads have ruined his truck. He wouldn’t blame his poor truck. His truck was not meant to swim, he says. His makeshift has drowned in the man made rivers that the roads have become.
Onyekachi and other jobless youths in the Orodo however prefer Buhari for most of the blame. It had been repeated in different gatherings that Buhari was responsible for their plight. The only project in the area is a stalled Ministry of Niger Delta project. But even that project they have been told was brought by PDP politicians.
Ihedioha told them he came to rebuild Imo. He chased away elected former local government chairmen. He said they belonged to the rapacious old order. The order of the roguish rescue missionaries perhaps. Ihedioha has handed the local governments to his boys. And they have huge sign posts everywhere announcing themselves as interim management committees. The sign boards would have been pointless. But perhaps these men have to glorify the governor and announce themselves out of obscurity.
The village people aren’t so bothered about Supreme Court judgments and the illegality of some of these appointments. They only get bothered when they can’t feed, when trucks and cars and motorcycles can’t access the biggest market in the local government on Nkwo days. When school children have to walk bushes because the roads to their schools have become rivers.
Nkwo Orodo and Mbaitoli represent a widespread tragedy.
Ihedioha and his handpicked local government caretaker committee are seated. Nkwo Orodo has been cut off on all fronts. They have nice excuses. Some of the roads were fairly good in February this year. They have since metamorphosed. Rochas built substandard roads. Ihedioha is not in a hurry to fix crumbling roads. At a beer parlor Nkwo Orodo fingers of blame are pointed at Abuja.
Ihedioha told them he came to rebuild Imo. And they can see Entraco planting beautiful flowers on ugly impassable roads. They have been told Julius Berger will come. And they love those tales. They have been told they will come when the rains stop. But when will the rains stop? The rains started in February. And it’s been raining in October as if it were June. And it could rain till December and start again in February.
The village folks don’t expect much. They know their new lords are building their big personal mansions in Owerri at reckless speeds despite the heavy rains. They don’t begrudge them. They are only angry because the cost of an Okada or Keke ride to Nkwo Orodo has doubled since the rains damaged the roads and the roads became rivers.
The people of Mbaitoli for instance, are not worried about their 200 million Naira that comes from Abuja and how it is used. They know it will be misused. And they have not asked the NFIU to help them trace the funds and find out how it evaporates. They don’t expect so much. They know the politicians are their lords, and much more.
But they just want someone to show some sense of pity. How much would it cost to fetch stones and pour them into these ponds on the roads so that they can at least go to Nkwo Orodo and their children can go to school? One million naira worth of stones could save Nkwo Orodo from commercial pneumonia. And save the trucks and cars that drown in those ponds everyday. At least save them till Ihedioha brings his Julius Berger and rebuilds his Imo.
Rather than effect immediate live-saving palliative repairs, Ihedioha and his cronies at Mbaitoli Local Government have filled the crumbling road at Nworieubi with predators in black and white uniforms . They parade themselves as Vehicle Inspection Officers (VIOs). Since Lord Lugard no one had ever seen Vehicle Inspection Officers stalking motorists in Orodo. On a particular day at Nworieubi they numbered over 50, hounding motorists, collecting bribes, on a road that is capable of damaging the roadworthiness of any vehicle that plies it.
Mbaitoli collects 200 million every month from Abuja. But Mbaitoli has no good hospital. Rochas who did things haphazardly built a new General hospital in Mbaitoli. He left it unequipped, gates locked. Okay, he built some houses, fenced them and labeled them, Mbaitoli General hospital.
That hospital has been overrun by weeds and reptiles. And the people for whom it was built are dying daily from lack of basic medical care. Ihedioha came to rebuild Imo. But he won’t furnish and equip the hospital. Not yet. The hospital stands forsaken in front of the huge signboard mounted at the gate of the local government headquarters glorifying Ihedioha and his handpicked Mbaitoli Local Government management committee.
But the real problem isn’t just lack of empathy, sensitivity and sense of urgency. It’s been complicated by something worse. And that’s abject lack of sense of priority.
Right in front of the abandoned Mbaitoli General hospital is a new project started a month or two ago. It was commenced in the midst of the heavy rains. Ihedioha woke up one morning and decided that all local government areas in Imo must have a new stadium. They will be 27 stadia in all. The main stadium in Owerri had been in a state of great disrepair. So Mbaitoli rather than equip and put to use the hospital has started building a new stadium right in front of the abandoned hospital.
It’s comical. Some have referred to it as Iberiberism chapter 2.
Ihedioha wants every local government to have a stadium. So he has ordered 27 stadiums for Imo. He inherited 27 empty general hospital projects from his megalomanic predecessor. He is neither in a hurry to complete the hospitals nor is he bothered about being caught up by new delusions of grandeur. When his stadium is commissioned at Nworieubi , the headquarters of Mbaitoli an injured football player would have to be ferried through bad roads to Owerri for treatment.
The village folks in Nkwo Orodo aren’t worried that all kinds expired and expiring politicians have been dusted up and repackaged by the governor at their expense. They had known some libation would be poured to the gods. But they are worried that the palm wine gourd is being emptied on the ground and nothing has come the way of their parched throats.
They pleaded that I should help them write Buhari and tell him that they were suffering. I asked them why I shouldn’t tell Ihedioha. They said that Ihedioha went to Orlu every week. That he used the crumbled portions of Owerri-Orlu road in Mbaitoli. So he was conversant with the decaying hospital, the huge vainglorious signboards and their hopelessness. And the stupidity of the priority of a new stadium. So there was nothing to tell him.
On the way to the airport, we met madness at Naze junction in Owerri. The road that leads to the only airport in the state was riddled with huge craters and the traffic ran in all directions until it got locked in a merciless knot.
I asked why the taxi drivers unions wouldn’t approach the governor to find stones and fill the huge craters. The taxi driver told me to be patient. He said Ihedioha used the road regularly. He asked if I didn’t know the governor travelled very often abroad to meet ‘development partners’ who will come to fix Imo. I said I did. He laughed. He said if the state had three truck load of stones he would advise they are used to rescue the Federal University of Technology Owerri and the Imo polytechnic. The only road that leads to those two institutions have become impassable.
He asked me if I had been to Amakaohia in Owerri. I nodded. He asked if I saw the huge crater in the middle of the road that could kill anyone who ran into it at night. I nodded. He said he had watched Ihedioha’s convoy dodge the crater many times. I smiled. He laughed. A very cheeky taxi driver.
I told him about Nkwo Orodo. He yawned. Then he told me he was already thinking of relocating to Abuja or Lagos. I remembered Onyekachi. He told me he might have to leave Orodo. I sighed.
And there is an Nkwo Orodo in almost every rural local government area now. Neglected and being deserted. Stampeding youths into a frenzied rural urban drift. And ultimately to Abuja and Lagos. Or perhaps even further, into the cold belly of the Mediterranean. Instances as Nkwo Orodo may account for the legion in eternal slavery and drugs in Europe and Asia. And the Orodo legion stewing in xenophobic hate in South Africa.
It is good to hold the Federal Government to account. The Federal Government is in a sense the pacemaker. But we can’t make any progress if we can’t form the habit of checking governments at the local levels.
Ihedioha ! Nkwo Orodo is dying!