By Declan Emelumba
THERE has been much ado recently about a costly wristwatch worn by Governor Hope Uzodimma of Imo State while on an official visit to Daura, Katsina State. Typically, the issues being raised about the costly watch border more on the dictates of morality than that of good governance.
Some have gone as far as detailing how the claimed cost of the watch can build a hospital or a school or market, thus, giving the erroneous impression that the said watch was bought from public resources which could have been spent on providing the listed public infrastructures.
Others had even gone a step further to prescribe an austere lifestyle for the governor.
Interestingly, some of these advocates of an austere lifestyle are doing the exact opposite of what they recommend. Hypocrisy! Some of them, in their hypocritical crusade for morality, went as far as providing needless comparisons with Angela Merkel, the former Chancellor of Germany, Barack Obama, a former President of the United States of America, and Alhaji Lateef Jakande, a former Governor of Lagos State, as models of public officers who lived austere lives.
They claimed that Merkel repeated dresses as Chancellor of Germany, while Obama wore only one dinner dress for eight years as President.
Coming closer home, they claimed Alhaji Jakande drove his rickety Toyota Crown from his Ilupeju home to Government House for over four years as governor. The import of these examples, which these critics failed to highlight, is that these leaders simply continued with a lifestyle they had been accustomed to before they became holders of public office. In essence they were simply themselves while in public office. Ironically, they deliberately made no reference to the more colourful and stylish leaders of the world, many of whom were very successful.
Like these leaders referred to, Uzodimma had become accustomed to a lifestyle before he assumed office as a governor barely two years ago. For the records, he has been an ardent watch collector, as well as an investor in luxury watches for decades. This was long before his foray into politics and before he assumed public office. In actual fact, Uzodimma has not bought any wristwatch since he became governor.
Watch collectors around the world usually go for costly and superior watches because they retain their values, and some brands and models also appreciate in value over time. This also applies to pre-owned watches. Objective observers would have noticed that Uzodimma has been a colourful and elegant dresser since he emerged in the public space. This became very obvious when he came under public glare as a senator between 2011 and 2019. It is only natural that this should continue when he became the Governor of his state.
The aim of the uninformed critics who are orchestrating the watch saga is to create the impression that Uzodimma is a wasteful governor who buys and wears costly watches. In the light of the economic hardship, the vulnerable can be easily misled to hold this view. I dare say that this unprovoked hate campaign is being promoted by the same detractors who are bent on denting the reputation and diminishing the achievements of this hardworking governor. Left to Senator Uzodimma, baseless campaigns of calumny such as this should be ignored.
However, one wonders why a cameraman at such an event would be more interested in zooming his camera on a governor’s wristwatch. Did he also zoom in on the watches worn by the other governors at Daura? These campaigns of calumny seem to be the last strategy of Uzodimma’s detractors since their threat and ploy to make Imo State ungovernable through violence and insecurity have failed.
But, before I am accused of embarking on the journey of argumentum ad hominem, let us undertake a dispassionate examination of the facts. First and foremost, Senator Uzodimma had this collection of watches long before he assumed public office and the price of the watch in question has been desperately exaggerated to sensational limits. Like all luxury collections, the price and value of the watch has appreciated over time. In addition, considering the recent decline in the value of the naira, the watch must also have been much cheaper in naira terms when it was bought.
Finally, the point also needs to be made that wealthy people are not forbidden from occupying public office and no law demands that they live like paupers when they get into office. The law only forbids them from doing so at the expense of public funds.
That being the case, it is vile propaganda for people to put the cost of the wristwatch at more than N400m and, thereafter, imply that the acquisition was funded from money acquired through corrupt enrichment. Going further to make a list of infrastructure that could be funded with the cost of the watch is sheer mischief and was intended to incite the people of Imo State against their governor. While acknowledging the right of the media, and by extension, the public to interrogate the actions or inactions of public office holders, it is most unfair when such interrogations are polluted with prejudice and envy.
And here is where I think our colleagues in the media ought to have done a more patriotic duty by comparing the state of affairs in Imo before the emergence of Uzodimma and two years after he took over as Governor of the state. Although the hard facts are there as attested to when the Sun Newspapers honoured him recently, a trip to the state will no doubt clear the doubts of many people. As at the last count, Uzodimma has built more than 99 roads, including the dualisation of Owerri-Okigwe and Owerri-Orlu roads which are Federal roads.
He restored public water supply to Owerri after 25 years of dry taps. He brought Adapalm Nig Ltd back to life after 15 years of being moribund and he has effectively checked the perennial flooding in parts of Owerri through the innovative ballon-driven technology, and in the process recovered tens of houses which had been swallowed by flood. For many years, Imo State University Teaching Hospital, Orlu was not graduating medical doctors. But they are doing that now. The health institutions that lost accreditation, have now resumed full training of nurses. And there is are free mobile clinics to attend to the health of folks in the rural areas.
For those who want to remind Uzodimma of what he could do with the value of his watch, Uzodimma has built health centres and classroom blocks in each of the 305 wards in the state. The university he recovered from a former governor of the state is now functioning because all necessary facilities have been provided and the courses have been accredited by NUC. The organised labour and pensioners in the state are happy because they are being paid regularly. They even received a 13th month salary last December. The State Secretariat and the State House of Assembly complexes which were on the verge of collapse have also been brought back to life.
These are verifiable facts. So, if Imo had been unlucky in the past with leaders, we are now lucky because we have a performing governor who is after our hearts.
Ironically, this governor, in spite of the unnecessary wristwatch saga, remains a man after the hearts of the poor and youths of Imo State. Even before he became a governor, his home at Omumma was always a Mecca of sorts because the needy always thronged there to get the help they desperately needed.
His assistance enabled thousands of his constituents to go to school. His intervention through Hope Foundation was responsible for human capital development though training and empowerment of thousands of young people and women. This was replicated while he was in the Senate. His compassion is legendary and his generosity is incomparable. Now in government, he has invested enormous funds on the training and empowerment of the youth. He even created a Ministry of Youth Empowerment just to drive home his commitment to the economic development of the poor in the state.
All those involved in the vile propaganda against Uzodimma know the truth, but they deliberately seek to distract him. And as always, their antics will come to nought.
This is because the people of the state are not interested in the sartorial taste of their governor, but in the democracy dividends which he has been faithfully delivering to them. They do not also demand that he gives up his lifestyle for a more austere one, which is unbridled hypocrisy, so long as he remains sensitive and responsive to their needs. Governor Uzodimma is mindful of this and remains focused on driving his agenda of shared prosperity in Imo State.
Emelumba is the Commissioner for Information and Strategy, Imo State.