By Ikechukwu Amaechi

Ihedioha, Imo, HIV
Gove Emeka Ihedioha of Imo State

SEVEN months ago, Imo State was the butt of all national jokes. Introduce yourself as an Imolite at any gathering and people would chuckle, borne out of pity. Today, a lot has changed. The Eastern Heartland is regaining its pride of place in the comity of Nigerian states. Ennobling stories are coming out of Imo, one good news after another, and Ndi-Imo are walking on the moon, literally. What a difference good and purpose-driven leadership makes.

On Friday, December 6, another good news popped up out of the blue: a new survey by the National Bureau of Statistics, NBS, and the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, UNODC, – in collaboration with other international partner agencies – said Imo was Nigeria’s least-corrupt state.

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It sounded too good to be true because that is the stuff miracles are made of, except that there is nothing miraculous about the feat. It is simply a product of hard work and pragmatic leadership. Presenting highlights of the NBS report titled, “The 2nd Corruption Survey Report in Nigeria,” two weeks ago, the Statistician-General, Dr. Yemi Kale, and the Country Representative of the UNODC in Nigeria, Mr. Oliver Stople, said Imo – with 17.6 per cent graft rate – was the cleanest state on Nigeria’s corruption index. Kogi State, with 48 per cent, led the pack from the rear.

The import of this quantum transparency leap can only be appreciated when placed in context. When this survey was first conducted last year, Imo State occupied a prime position on the corruption league table. So astounded was the surveying institution that it couldn’t help but note that, “There is a remarkable decrease in the prevalence of corruption in Imo State in the short time span.” The “home grown” survey, which Kale said was developed as “a tool to assess the impact of the measures put in place by states in fighting corruption in the period since after the 2019 elections,” also gave Nigerians the opportunity “to assess and evaluate the impact of those measures.” And the verdict was unanimous.

Imo had left the winter of corruption and is at the moment luxuriating in the transparency spring. And the question is, what happened? What brought about this dramatic turnaround in the fortunes of a people and a state that plumbed the depths of opprobrium less than a year ago?

The answer is ensconced in the womb of the value propositions leaders bring to bear on governance. In Imo, there is a new Sheriff in town with different value orientation and leadership worldview. Ndi-Imo are not only proud of this development, they are, indeed, swooning. But it is hardly surprising.

In my March 6, 2019, article here titled, “Imo governorship: 65 candidates, one choice,” I emphasised that Imo was in a deep hole dug by inept leadership and needed a steady hand to pull it out of the morass. “Imo is in a mess. It will take a leader with grit, vision and the requisite credentials to dig it out of the squalid hole of incompetence and misery. The state needs a man who has the capacity to do the yeoman job and not someone who revels in leadership without responsibility,” I wrote.

In the eight years that Rochas Okorocha was at the helm of affairs, he took the state hostage, torpedoing all rules of civil engagement. For a man who believed that due process was an unnecessary baggage, personalised leadership and elevated subterfuge as a governance tool, wantonness became the rule. To turn things around for the better, Imo didn’t need another “strongman” but an astute administrator and a due process aficionado, whose appetite for the rule of law was consuming.

In that article, I noted that “After eight years of unmitigated disaster, the state needs a political thinker, a leader who believes in something, a man consumed by his vision of greatness and a mission to accomplish, a man who sees politics and acquisition of power as a means to an end, the end being the good of the many. The state needs a leader who will give the people an early heads up about what needs to be done to climb out of their hole of despair, not one that will continue digging. Imo does not need a governor who will eat and shoot the breeze.”

But most importantly, I concluded that the state didn’t need a helmsman with the albatross of corruption allegations. “It is important for Imo to have a governor who lives above board because the state cannot afford to be distracted. Imo needs a governor who will not catch cold whenever any of the anti-corruption agencies sneezes; a governor who cannot be blackmailed.”

The cap fitted Emeka Ihedioha, then candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, who, despite the fact that he had been in the public glare in the past 20 years, occupying some of the highest and most sensitive offices in the land, was, like Caesar’s wife, above suspicion. Ndi-Imo agreed.

In Ihedioha, they saw the dual qualities of transparency and accountability, the very leadership assets needed in the state’s darkest hour, and went for it headlong. Guess what? They got what they wanted. And Ihedioha did not disappoint.

He hit the ground running – daring, bold and imaginative. He took decisions that other leaders would not dare take, deliberately taking steps that are bound to redefine governance not only in the Eastern Heartland but across Nigeria. Within six months, he signed Executive Order 005, activating the Treasury Single Account, TSA, which made it compulsory that all revenues accruable to the state are paid into a consolidated account, thereby plugging leakages. Most governors dare not.

Imo under Ihedioha’s watch signed on to the Open Government Partnership, OGP, a multi-stakeholder initiative that focuses on improving government transparency, accountability and responsiveness to citizens through technology and innovation.

By so doing, the state has made some key open governance commitments, including access to information, anti-corruption, open budgeting, fiscal transparency, open contracting and citizens’ engagement. The impact of all these measures is dramatic. The state’s monthly internally generated revenue, IGR, has jumped from a miserly N260 million six months ago to almost N1 billion. As revenue is growing, the administration has also made it a duty to drastically reduce the cost of governance. An “efficiency unit” has been set up in the Ministry of Finance and the state has adopted the International Public Sector Accounting Standards, IPSA, to ensure its accounting practices gel with global best practices.

All these steps are deliberate, methodical and systematic. None was by happenstance. So, the NBS was spot on when it came to the conclusion that the measures the Ihedioha administration has put in place in under six months have smothered the demon of corruption in Imo.

Today, the mere adherence to good governance has created an environment where corruption, which hitherto had a field day in Imo, is now gasping for breath, struggling to walk. Ihedioha could have chosen not to go this route but instead play the politics of “stomach infrastructure.”

The demon of corruption destabilises society and endangers the rule of law, undermines the institutions and values of democracy. Corruption is the reason for the lack of housing, poor healthcare and education, dilapidated road infrastructure, epileptic power and water supply and insecurity. So, by taking this less travelled route, Ihedioha has proved that he is conscious of the fact that corruption is the reason for the delays in infrastructure development, poor building quality and layers of additional costs.

As he slays the dragon of corruption in the Eastern Heartland, Ndi-Imo are better for it. That is the essence of this achievement. Some may argue that it is too early in the day to shout Hosanna. Maybe! But to borrow an axiom, morning shows the day, just as childhood shows the man.

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