By Emmanuel Iheaka
Prior to Thursday, September 9, 2021, President Muhammadu Buhari may have read of ghost nature of cities in the South East region of the country on the days the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) had declared what they call sit-at-home. But the president, no doubt would have had a feel of it when he came to Imo State on Thursday and met the streets of Owerri deserted, as residents sat back at home. Private businesses, commercial banks, filling stations and markets were shut, while vehicles disappeared from the roads.
Preparatory to the president’s visit, IPOB had issued a sit-at-home order in protest against what it described as the illegal detention of its leader, Nnamdi Kanu by the federal government.
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Meanwhile, mammoth crowd of faithful and supporters of the All Progressives Congress (APC) and Igbo leaders thronged the Sam Mbakwe Airport to accord the president a rousing welcome. The irony was that while Buhari beheld massive supporters of APC and Igbo leaders at the airport and venues of projects commissioning, the capital city was a ghost town.
The president however, commissioned the first phase of the Naze-Ihiagwa-Obinze road, Balloon driven tunnel at Dick Tiger road, Executive Council Chamber at the Government House and Egbeada bypass.
Uzodimma surprises critics
When state governor, Hope Uzodimma had returned from Abuja to announce a deal with the president to visit the state, not a few believed Buhari would personally honour the invitation. Many were skeptical about the ability of the governor to get the president to personally come to commission the projects. Even up to the morning of the day of the visit, it was still believed among the opposition and residents that Buhari would probably delegate his vice, Yemi Osinbajo for the one-day working visit.
But at about 9:30AM, President Buhari landed in Imo to a warm welcome by Igbo leaders who had converged in the state for the visit.
Many hold that part of the import of the president’s visit is that Uzodimma has Buhari’s ears any time, any day.
Igbo leaders in Imo
One opportunity the visit provided was for the Igbo leaders to meet Buhari one-on-one to bare their minds. But were they able to do that? The President General of Ohanaeze Ndigbo Worldwide, Prof. George Obiozor told Buhari to release Igbo youths being detained by security agencies. He also made a case for regional and state police and a better deal for the Igbo.
Obiozor submitted that the impression of the Igbo as secessionists was a wrong one, maintaining that the Igbo are an integral part of Nigeria.
“Ndigbo is committed to Nigerian unity and there is news for those trying to push us out of Nigeria.
‘‘Ndigbo in Nigeria are like fish in the ocean and no matter how rough the storm is, it cannot drive the fish out of the ocean.
‘‘Mr President, it is in this context, that we see a new dawn in your distinguished presence in Igbo land and believe that on your return to Abuja, the significance and substance of this visit will form a new foundation of a platform for meaningful dialogue on critical issues of concern to the Igbo nation”, he stated.
The president had however, submitted that it was unthinkable for any Igbo man to think he is not part of Nigeria.
According to him, the Igbo are in charge of Nigeria’s. economy
“The fundamental thing about the Igbo people is that there is no town you will visit in Nigeria without seeing the Igbo being in charge of either infrastructure or pharmaceutical industry.
‘‘Therefore, it is unthinkable for me that any Igbo man would consider himself not to be a part of Nigeria.
‘‘The evidence is there for everyone to see that Igbos are in charge of Nigeria’s economy.’’
“I firmly believe that when you get infrastructure right, Nigerians will mind their own businesses”, he said.
He commended Uzodimma for boosting infrastructure in the state, describing the governor as a man of integrity.
Speaking earlier, the state governor, Hope Uzodimma, said roads in Owerri were totally broken down when he assumed office.
”When I assumed office as governor of Imo State last year, I undertook a holistic study of the needs of our people.
I found out to my horror that the infrastructure base of the state had collapsed. Almost all the road networks were broken. Owerri, the state capital was worse hit. Flood had sacked several parts of the city while in some areas, property owners had surrendered their property to flood, especially within the Dick Tiger and Chukwuma Nwoha road axis, where the base of the current Balloon driven tunnel is located.
“Mr President, the state of Naze/ Ihiagwa/ Nekede/Obinze link road, was pathetic, to say the least. The road was taken over by gullies, not potholes. It was nightmarish to the road users. And this is a strategic road that leads to two federal institutions of higher learning, namely the Federal University of Technology, Ihiagwa, and Federal Polytechnic Nekede.
The lives of students and staff of these institutions, as well as residents, were endangered because the poor state of the road turned it into a haven for robbers.
“That’s exactly what informed our decision to permanently solve the perennial flooding of the capital city. The Balloon-driven tunnel at the base of Dick Tiger road, which we are commissioning today, was built to check the flooding in the area and recover property swallowed by flood in the last twenty years. The tunnel is 2.45 kilometres in length, 1.8m in diameter and between 0.9 and 11.5m in depth with 94 manholes. It is taking flood water from Dick Tiger, Chukwuma Nwoha, Ihechiowa, Aladinma, Relief Market roads and parts of Trans Egbu to Otamiri river. We are planning another one from the Akwakuma, Egbeada to the Alvan Ikoku axis of the city. The flood from this second tunnel shall be discharged at Nwaorie river. When this second phase is completed, in the next couple of months, we are confident that Owerri will be flood-free”, he stated.
For the President of Igbo National Council, Chilos Godsent, the president’s visit came with no benefit.
He believes the Igbo leaders who met with Buhari should have categorically asked for an indigene of South East to be appointed as one of the service chiefs, and for a major federal presence in the zone.
“There is no Igbo man in the security architecture of the country, President Buhari does not consider any Igbo man qualified to be appointed among the service chiefs. Those who met with Buhari should have categorically asked for the appointment of an Igbo man as one of the service chiefs. Moreover, there is no major federal presence in the South East”.
In all, the coming days will determine if the president’s visit has any good for the Igbo.