By Chinonso Alozie
WHEN the euphoria of his swearing-in dies down Governor Hope Uzodinma will be faced with critical challenges in Imo State. Some of them are daunting and need immediate attention. The challenges include: addressing the issue of decayed and decaying infrastructure particularly roads, paying the new minimum wage, controversies over payment of pensions, generating more revenues to accelerate development, and carrying critical stakeholders along.
Other challenges include controversies trailing the sacking of elected Local Council chairmen and councillors, and concession of the Imo Transport Company, ITC.
For the newly sworn-in administration of Governor Hope Uzodinma to earn an everlasting mark and respect it must move in fully to construct network of roads and rehabilitate existing ones. Only this and more can make Uzodinma to be counted as one of the best in the history of Imo politics.
There are a lot of roads in the state that urgently need attention. Road development has been described as the pillar on which other economic activities thrive.
For this reason, Uzodinma is expected to honestly pursue his Three Rs of Rehabilitation, Reconstruction and Recovery.
More importantly, Imo people need roads reconstruction and rehabilitation to give them a better life. And it should be done quickly without delay.
To this extent, Uzodinma’s order during his inaugural speech at the Heroes Square, that the permanent secretaries and head of parastatals should in four working days, submit to him comprehensive details on award of contracts and the payments so far made by the Emeka Ihedioha’s administration was a commendable move.
In doing this, the interest of the state should be considered more for the purpose of development. Review of contracts awarded by Emeka Ihedioha should be done expediently and followed with action.
Before the sack of Ihedioha’s government by the Supreme Court, he started some works in some areas of the state. The Uzodinma Administration should look at them and continue the good ones.
The challenge before the Uzodinma’s government in order to fast track his programmes and policies of the Three Rs is to simply look into Ihedioha’s activities to avoid repetition and to help him (Uzodinma) fine tune his 3rs.
Recall that Ihedioha administration had passed into law the 2020 budget and promised that it would start running from this month of January. The budget was pegged at N197.6 billion.
Ihedioha also introduced the Single Treasury Account, TSA, to harness the resources of the state.
In order to help Uzodinma move on, it is good to let him know that there is still need to look into some of the verifiable projects of Ihedioha.
Under the road construction in the state, the Ihedioha administration said that it had awarded 25 roads in the state, and mentioned N40 billion as the contract sum.
Ihedioha said: “I am very glad to inform you that works have commenced on 25 critical roads across the state. Also, we recently awarded portions of five major roads leading into the state capital. These roads are the Owerri-Orlu Road, Owerri-Okigwe Road, Owerri-Obowo Road, Owerri-Aba Road and the Owerri-Port Harcourt Road. Notably, these roads are federal roads but impact the ease of movement and doing business in the state hence our intervention.
“In all, about N40 Billion is being committed to these projects. Likewise we have awarded contract for the construction of Oguta link road to connect the Oguta Lake Resort and to enhance access to this international tourism haven.
“We have also paid attention to rural road construction. Essentially, we have harnessed resources and paid N500Million counterpart funding to the World Bank that attracted N13.5 billion from the Bank, under its Rural Access and Mobility Project (RAMP). A cumulative distance of 380.7 kilometres is already under construction across 26 local government areas under this programme.”
N30,000 new minimum wage
Ihedioha set up a joint committee of the government and workers headed by the Secretary to the State Government, SSG, Uche Onyeagocha and that of workers led by Alloy Iwuanyanwu. Ihedioha did not hide to say that the state was already facing the challenge of paying the workers in Imo 73 percent of the federal allocation and that the joint committee should suggest what the government can pay.
According to Ihedioha: “Our circumstance is peculiar and our circumstance is clear to us. You are not new to Imo State and when you want to make demands make demands on possibilities and look at the facts and also prioritize our needs.
“This is to recommend to government revised consolidated salary structure that the state resources can accommodate and maintaining the state obligation in the area of infrastructure, health, education and social services.
“I must emphasize that presently the state spends 73 percent of the monthly statutory allocation on the payment of the public servant salaries and pension.
“The state is saddled with the poorly generated revenue and battling so hard and the progress we have made is because we have changed style.”
On 27 mini-stadia, secretariat
The then government under Emeka Ihedioha, said it started the construction of 27 mini stadia aimed at boosting sporting activities in the grassroots. It added it with construction of new local government secretariats.
The confusion about it was that within that period, the governor himself terminated some of the contracts in some local government areas based on reasons best known to Ihedioha.
Imo people received the stadia project with mixed feelings as some were of the view that the state was at the moment facing more troubling issues than the stadium project as some others commended him on the project.
The Ihedioha administration conducted a verification exercise on the number of pensioners in the state, which he said would end the issue of pension verification in the state as a result of which it commenced the payment of pensioners in the state.
Though, there were issues concerning the verification exercise following the protest by some segment of the pensioners, one of which was the pensioners of the Imo state Broadcasting Corporation, IBC, who were excluded in the exercise.
Also, the outcome of the payment of pensioners in the state generated a lot of controversies as the Ihedioha and his immediate predecessor, Rochas Okorocha, disagreed over the N1.2 billion Ihedioha said he paid to the pensioners.
The bone of contention was the amount of money paid and number of pensioners.
While Ihedioha through his Chief Press Secretary, Chibuike Onyeukwu, said that the total of 24,431 pensioners were paid N1, 218,175,387.
Okorocha through his Special Adviser on Media Sam Onwuemeodo, disagreed by saying that in their own time in government their pension verification exercise had a total of 25,124, pensioners and that they were paid N1.205 billion.
Concession of Imo Transport Company, ITC
The concession of the only Imo Transport company, ITC, has become another major challenge that will be facing governor Hope Uzodinma, following the allegation that the out-gone Ihedioha’s administration concessioned it and it did not follow due process.
Many people have protested against the rumoured concession blaming the Imo state House of Assembly under the leadership of Chiji Collins, for giving its approval.
But when Vanguard called the House Committee on Information, Dominic Ezerioha, he said: “The Imo State House of Assembly has not discussed any issue as to whether to give it out through the executive to the private sector.
“Of course you know before now, from what we have seen during the time of the last administration, how they normally give it out to private sector in a way that is more easier to them to make profit.
“On this issue, they have approached the government and the government is looking at it to see whether it will work or not, for now nothing has actually happened. I will still confirm further and get back to you.”
Sacked elected LG chairmen and councillors
Governor Uzodinma has another challenge on whether to rely on the sacking of the elected local government chairmen by the Emeka Ihedioha’s government.
All Progressives Congress APC candidates were elected chairmen under former governor, Rochas Okorocha but they were sacked by Ihedioha through the House of Assembly.
The sacking of the elected chairmen had been generating dust in the state ever since.