By Ikechukwu Amaechi
AS someone from Imo, it is extremely difficult to ignore the tomfoolery in the state in the name of governance, no matter how hard one tries. Since the Supreme Court torpedoed the inalienable right of the people to choose their leaders, I have refrained from commenting on the regrettable odyssey because yelling over spilt milk, an exercise in futility, is not my favourite pastime.
Majority of the 739,485 accredited voters who cast their ballot on that fateful Election Day preferred the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, candidate, Emeka Ihedioha, to be their governor and said so emphatically with their votes.
Sadly, 10 months after, seven Justices of the Supreme Court, none of who voted in the March 9, 2019 Imo governorship election, sat down in the hallowed chambers of the apex court to decree otherwise. Thus, Hope Uzodinma, the presumed candidate of the All Progressives Congress, APC, who came a distant fourth, became governor. What the country’s apex court did by imposing Hope on a people who rejected him at the polls is to create a hopeless situation for the state. The consequences are better imagined.
But when hagiographers start adding insult to injury by rewriting history, then red-lines are being crossed. A friend I told about this article asked me why bother in an era of post-truth politics. But that is exactly the issue: Such politics poses a serious challenge to the values of truth, and consequently trust, two value propositions in public office without which good governance is a mirage. I am bothered because when falsehoods in public space are mostly left unchallenged, a lot of things are compromised and the integrity of our politics or what is left of it collapses irredeemably.
That is exactly what is going on in Imo State. The propaganda machinery of the Uzodimma government is at full throttle. In an opinion article in TheNiche on April 25, titled, “Only if Ndimo would give Uzodimma a chance,” one Fidel Agu blamed longsuffering Imolites for their governor’s lack of capacity. “Senator Hope Uzodimma, without doubt, is the governor of Imo State,” he wrote before adding, “incidentally, some Imolites are yet to come to terms with this reality. Since coming to power, he has been appealing to Ndimo to give him chance to prove who he is, what he truly represents and the glorious path he is about to take for the good of the state,” Agu, who claims to be a “journalist and public relations expert” further said.
Agu pleaded with the people to warm up to the “chief driver of the shared prosperity government,” imploring them “to brighten their faces and respond to the greetings by their governor.” But this is preaching, to borrow a cliché, to the converted. The fact of Uzodimma being the governor of Imo State is already a fait accompli. The people have accepted that reality as difficult as it is.
As I write, there is no single case in court challenging his governorship. He has appointed commissioners and other aides and nobody went to court to stop him. Majority of the state lawmakers who were in PDP and other political parties have since defected to the APC thus giving a political party that won no single seat in the 2019 elections an absolute majority.
Agu said “it will take an Uzodimma administration to open up critical areas for the overall development of the state, if given the chance.” How are the people supposed to give him the chance? Imolites are peace loving. There is no record of any project initiated by the Uzodimma government that has been stopped by the people. None! No contractor has been chased out of site.
So, what exactly is stopping the governor from letting the people feel the impact of his vaunted shared prosperity? Perhaps, Uzodimma’s supporters are misconstruing the constructive role of the opposition in a democracy for antagonism.
That is laughable. But what they wish cannot trump age-long democracy ideal that mandates the opposition to question the government of the day and hold them accountable to the public. It is the singular responsibility of Uzodimma to win the trust of the people who have every reason to distrust him. If he wants to be accepted, he has to endear himself to the people and the only pathway to that goal is service – delivering dividends of democracy.
But going by his 100-day speech, it would seem he had chosen to tread the boulevard of propaganda and outright lies. He thinks the blame- game will take the place of hard work and performance. That will only deepen the sense of despair and hopelessness. Imolites are wiser. They can never be nourished on a whopper cocktail of falsehood and fairytale. In his speech on April 27, the governor deployed subterfuge in trying to wheedle the politically unwary.
He hailed the judgement of the Supreme Court which he claimed restored the “mandate the good people of Imo State freely gave me on March 9, 2019, as your duly elected governor”. The truth remains that Uzodimma did not even campaign during the 2019 elections. Even the Supreme Court that awarded him victory said that much barely two weeks before making a volte face.
While throwing out the petition of the governorship candidate of the Action Alliance, AA, Uche Nwosu, on December 20, 2019, the apex court ruled that Nwosu was not qualified to vie for the election as he doubled as both the candidate of the APC and AA. In a lead judgement read by Justice Amina Augie, the apex court held that by virtue of double candidature, Nwosu ab-intio was not qualified to vie for the office. Imolites have not forgotten.
Again, Uzodimma said he has nothing to show for his first 100 days in office because the circumstances of his “historic victory” did not avail him “the luxury of a transition period, which most governors-elect have the privilege of using as a preparatory phase to actual governance.” This is childish and ridiculous and does not deserve any comment.
He went on to say that: “The situation was not helped by the sorry state of affairs I inherited. There was no handover note from the previous government to mine. This left me with no definite starting point.” Again, there is nothing to say other than to remind him that his predecessor got no handover notes either but that did not stop him from hitting the ground running. In 100 days, Ihedioha had taken concrete steps and achieved results, milestones that will be impossible to erase.
Uzodimma’s claim that he “inherited an empty treasury and a disillusioned, disoriented and dispirited civil service” is a lie. If anything, the civil service was at its magnificent best for the first time in eight years as at the time the Supreme Court made him a governor. If there was any disillusionment, it was the inexplicable judgement that disoriented and dispirited the civil servants that were already in high spirits. Unfortunately, three months down the road, nothing has been done by the new administration to lift their spirits. They are being owed salaries again.
There is hardly any claim in the Uzodimma speech that cannot be controverted. But it is no use because the people know the truth. What rankles most is that those who claim to have the mandate to govern don’t even know the history of the state. Uzodimma claimed in his address that the capital city, Owerri, is always flooded during rainy season because “the crucial roads in the Owerri capital master plan of the Sam Mbakwe days, which housed the major drains had been neglected since the end of the Mbakwe administration by successive governments.”
Twin City Project
The reason for the flooding may well be true. What is not true is the claim that Owerri master plan was designed by Sam Mbakwe, the first civilian governor. Granted, the venerable Mbakwe was an accomplished administrator and the best civilian governor of the state since it was created on February 3, 1976. But the credit for developing the Owerri master plan goes to Rear Admiral Ndubuisi Kanu, the first military governor of the state.
At the inaugural Owerri Club Heartland Lecture on July 30, 2010, Kanu narrated how a development plan was conceived in 1976 to last beyond 2010. “To transform Owerri into such concept, the entire town needed to be destroyed. This, therefore, brought about the idea of the Twin City Concept. The idea was to acquire and develop a purely virgin land into a city to be known as Owerri Capital Territory, while allowing old Owerri to grow gradually and possibly catch up with the New Owerri.
“In line, therefore, of the promise of the good people of Owerri, government declared land within 15 kilometers radius from Owerri Post Office as government-owned. An agency named Owerri Capital Development Authority, OCDA, was established to supervise the Twin City Project. A Swiss firm known as Fingerhuth and Partners was contracted. The company designed a master plan with good roads, good drainage system, modern transportation system, offices, markets, parks, shops and so on.
It was to cover an area of 72.5 square kilometres. A subsidiary of OCDA known as Open Spaces Development Authority, OSDA, was set up with the mandate to design, build and maintain open spaces for maximum utilisation.” This was achieved only four months into Kanu’s administration with practically nothing to fall back on. I thought Uzodimma should know this.