By Dr Ugoji Egbujo
Hope Uzodimma might mean different things to different people, but he has latched on Imo roads. Igbos believe names shape destinies. Uzodimma, literally, means, “Road is good.” Can Imo then rejoice?
It is often said that roads are not everything and that it requires no inventiveness to build roads. That’s a good argument. But in a state as compact as Imo, durable, smooth linkages could make everywhere a city or suburb. As the Chukwuma Nwoha road did, roads inflict anguish, despair, and dislocation when abandoned to decay.
It had once seemed an incurable disease. Imo was blighted with abandoned and forsaken roads, dilapidated car-torturing roads, over-patched yet inconsolable roads, crumbling new roads. For decades, Imo seemed incapable of hiring reputable companies to fix its roads. The dying roads crippled the towns and doomed the villages. One governor came with indolence, built no roads, but planted sufficient flowers and signboards.
The days of the Green Revolution. Another came with restlessness and talkativeness and built many shallow roads that couldn’t withstand two heavy downpours. That was the signature of the Rescue Mission. When Hope Uzodimma came the way he came, people who had suffered in the hands of ‘one chance’ politicians couldn’t, therefore, give him a chance. Those that had come before him had worn us out with speeches and failed us miserably. I heard Gov Uzodimma talk about Julius Berger; I shut my eyes and yawned.
Months later, I passed through Owerri-Orlu road. I saw Craneburg attending to it with a seriousness never before seen in Imo. I stifled my smile. On that road, he has confounded his opponents and critics. But nobody should be in any haste to praise a governor. We have made the pass mark too low. However, Owerri Orlu road, once completed in the manner the state government has begun, could turn Orodo, my village, effectively into a suburb of Owerri. Those who work in Owerri could live in Orodo, and my people would taste rents.
Roads are not everything, but roads could tell a Fashola, a meticulous technician, from a noisy hollow opportunist occupying a governor’s lodge. Time will tell where Hope Uzodimma belongs. Rochas had come with energy and restlessness and created many new roads. Though some of his roads were superfluous, we yet cheered because a busy man was better than a sleepy one. Rochas Okorocha, it turned out, was a man that didn’t bother about standards.
He had a mama-put mentality. His roads would compete for the worst roads ever built in Africa. Rochas Okorocha and those before him used emergency briefcase contractors to build highways. A friend of mine, a contractor, who handled some projects under Rochas said some contracts were awarded in the governor’s bedroom. Without tender, Without design. He was paid by clandestine money transfers like he was a drug dealer. As the roads failed, Rochas theorized. Okorocha said the flimsy roads he built were precarious because the rains that fell in Imo were acidic. With the benefit of hindsight, Rochas was hobbled by iberiberism.
Roads are not everything, but we must pray for governors who would identify critical arteries and use reputable firms to reconstruct or build them. When a Charlatan becomes governor, he will use his hurriedly renovated friends and cronies, novices bearing large briefcases masquerading as construction firms, to build major highways.
It is risky to praise governors early in their first term. But the quality of the 2.8km Chukwuma Nwoha Way, which Uzodimma redeemed from decay and disuse, deserves commendation. It is hoped that the era when roads were built deliberately shabbily to be rebuilt biannually are behind us. With the recovery of critical roads like the Chukwuma Nwoha Way, no one would need a ministry of happiness and purpose fulfillment. The restoration of that link between Egbu road and MCC road will bring joy, bring back landlords who had fled, and improve productivity.
The Dick Tiger Road. The Buhari Drive. A state government that has commissioned the two most important highways in the state, 44 roads around the state, roads that are now at different stages of completion, should not be congratulated, but it should be encouraged to do more. I once told a gathering that Owerri had chosen its destiny. In Owerri, the gods of hospitality have settled. Owerri craves to be the hospitality hub of West Africa.
It has developed its dance steps; all a serious governor needs to do is create space and supply a good rhythm. My dream has been to see the area around Concorde hotel developed into a mini Africanized Las Vegas. Haphazardly built hotels are not enough. It won’t happen without durable, well-drained and lit roads. It won’t manifest without perhaps a few open-air theatres with nightly performances of drama and cultural dances. Those comedy shows at those eateries are good, but that is monkey-post tourism. Imo needs to play in the big league. Good arts theatres. A modern public library and a museum. Parks and Zoos. The state should invite investors and entice them with lands. The market for fun already exists.
It’s heart-warming that the state has chosen to plant quality roads. The Relief Market road. That road was a nuisance. Port Harcourt road up to Assumpta Cathedral. It was once a no-go zone. It baffled me why the state abandoned one of the most important gates into the city to rot. World bank road. Many roads have now been commissioned. The roads already completed show that the state now recognizes that standards and the longevity of the roads matter.
I have not come to praise Hope. His work should speak for him. The Owerri African Las Vegas Project would need the best hands and heads in Igbo land. But we must give Uzodimma a chance to fix the roads, stamp order on the towns and make investments in new hospitality structures and services to continue to flow into Owerri and Imo state. On roads, Hope is giving us hope and making us feel he might live up to his father’s name.
A few politicians are justifiably in agony. Some days ago, someone fumed that Hope was doing good roads to win the minds of the people and win re-election. But what else is politics if not to win the support of people with good works? I would have been worried if Hope had chosen docility and planned to rely on rigging in 2023. Those who came before him had the opportunity to titillate us and leave us enchanted. Ihedioha decided to patch the Owerri-Orlu road.
Hope Uzodinma must be allowed to woo us. And if he replicates the feat of Ngige, we will happily yield to his temptation. Ngige was troubled, but good, well-drained roads redeemed him. And once the standards were set, Peter Obi ran with them. Today Anambra looks like it won a lottery in the past, while Imo played ludo. Let those who seek to challenge Hope Uzodimma politically find policies to entice the electorate. They cannot choose obstruction and destruction.
Imo must understand the times and the competition. If Imo becomes a theatre of violence rather than a centre of Ikwokrikwo, Ugba and Bongo music and Recreation, investments will flee, and the ordinary people will bleat like goats. The investments flowing into Imo like the Imo river are coming from indigenes of other Igbo states. Imo must understand the competition. If Imo falters, Enugu might return to reckoning and reap.
Shortsighted politics by small-minded people could plunge the state into midday darkness. Imo youths must understand the stakes. Imo is headed somewhere. If a boy is told a proverb needs it to be explained to him, then the dowry paid on his mother’s head is a waste. Let Ndi Imo count their teeth with their tongue. Everybody must leash his puppy, keep it on his laps.
Gov Hope Uzodimma, please keep wooing us. Not with fluttering banners of Hopism. But with seductive long stretches of Craneburg roads. Roads create jobs and happiness.