I had followed the altercations in the public space between Governor Emeka Ihedioha of Imo State and his immediate predecessor Mr. Rochas Okorocha. Both of them had a bitter election fisticuff which ended in Mr. Ihedioha’s favour and Mr. Okorocha who had struggled valiantly to plant his son-in-law, Uche Nwosu, in the governor’s chair has been inconsolable.
The exchange of barbed shafts and poisonous messages has been unrelenting. A lot of rot has been allegedly exhumed by the Ihedioha Administration as evidence that Imo State under Okorocha had been hibernating in the ‘waterland of planlessness’.
A few weeks ago, I had an opportunity, along with a few other journalists, to see the State of Imo that Okorocha left behind. The State capital, Owerri, is suffering from waterlessness and the new governor is trying to restore public water supply. How could a failure of an important amenity such as water occur within less than three months of Okorocha’s departure?
Now Ihedioha is feverishly trying to rectify the situation so that normalcy can return and the possibility of an outbreak of an epidemic can be averted. One of the charges levelled against the Okorocha government is that he brazenly converted a number of public buildings and land to his family.
One of the examples given is the Imo Broadcasting Corporation Quarters located at Orji near Owerri which he has allegedly converted to Rochas Foundation College. The Imo State House of Assembly has passed a motion seeking to investigate how such public facilities got converted to the private property of Mr. Okorocha.
The State House of Assembly was informed that the alleged pillage had gone beyond just buildings. According to Mr. Jasper Ndubaku who chairs the committee set up to investigate the matter and recover the assets, 150 transformers and 67 vehicles were carted away while some of the other assets were sold to political associates for a song. When the investigation is completed the public will be in a position to know whether the Ihedioha government is merely bad-mouthing Okorocha as his propagandists have alleged or there is evidence of pillage or fraudulent acquisition of government property by the embattled former Governor.
It is obvious that the State was run like someone’s personal fieldom with a lack of restraining hand from the State House of Assembly. Many states of the federation have a problem with the management of their financial resources. Governance in many states of Nigeria has a strained relationship with normalcy. The Chief Press Secretary to Governor Ihedioha, Mr. Chibuike Onyeukwu, said that as of March 2019 the State Government was in debt of N103 billion. He said that the fihure was ascertained by the Debt Management Office, DMO. Debt is not necessarily a death penalty if the money was borrowed and invested in generative projects that can bring considerable value to the populace or was invested in a way that can make the state look attractive to potential investors. At present Imo State is ranked by the World Bank at number 34 out of the 36 States on the scale of ease of doing business. That is a very poor record which will take serious work to reverse.
For any fair-minded person the most disconcerting discovery must be the failure of such public facilities as roads, bridges and flyovers. The failure of these assets is worth noting but the larger dimension of it is that buildings may fail too and take human lives with them. Nigeria has been battling in several states with the ugly phenomenon of public and private buildings collapsing like a house of cards. The road leading to Umuchinia which was constructed a few years ago by the Okorocha government has failed woefully. At a point where a bridge was built to channel water from gully erosion away from the road you could see a gaping hole with no iron whatsoever. By what magic was the bridge supposed to stabilise itself without any support, no iron, just block work. We were told that the members of the Council for the Regulation of Engineering in Nigeria, COREN, had raised an alarm that those bridges were rickety and were “disasters waiting to happen.”
We also saw a flyover inside Owerri town crossing Okigwe Road at Orji which had collapsed and had to be cordoned off to avoid loss of lives by unsuspecting passengers. We saw a huge hole, no iron, just block work. How could anyone build anything like that? Even a carpenter could do better than that. It was obvious from the answers we got to our questions that all those complicated projects were executed by non-professionals to the exclusion of even engineers from the State Ministry of Works. We were informed that the Ministry of Works had on its payroll more than 40 engineers.
Why they were not utilized for the execution of such projects is a mystery. This performance has the trappings of voodooism. It is doubtful whether this chaotic record can be beaten by any government anywhere in this country, a situation where projects are deliberately built to fail. We also visited the Government House where Okorocha worked for eight years. We saw multiple cracks on the walls; we saw water seeping, crawling and leaving its marks and maps on the walls. We saw broken pavements which a few bags of cement could easily rectify. We saw litter, garbage and more gabbage.
The whole place looked like a pigsty or more appropriately an open defecation field. When the officials said they would like to show us the Sam Mbakwe Executive Council Chamber which they said was far worse I declined. I had seen enough to keep me depressed for a long time. Eventhough Governor Ihedioha is working from his residence now he has to spend some money and restore those public institutions to a state of normalcy.
As they are now any visitor will think that they are relics of a viciously fought war. From the profuse propaganda stunt of Mr. Okorocha it was easy for non-Imolites to think, falsely, that Imolites were existing in a steady hum of happiness, Ministry of Happiness or not. Why do I say so? Because they allowed this chaos to be enacted. I do remember, however, that some of the Reverend gentlemen in the State kicked against some of his policies; some of the NGO’s also raised their voices a few times but the end result is that these efforts were too feeble to make any impression on the man.
But the most important institution that failed the people of Imo State was the House of Assembly. When Okorocha was pushing for his son in law Mr. Uche Nwosu to be adopted by the APC as the Governorship candidate it was to the House that he sought to get a stamp of approval. To get Mr. Nwosu on the ticket he had to get the Deputy Governor out of the way. The House of Assembly did a quick job of removing him illegally. The court restored him which was a sharp rebuke on the House of Assembly.
This toadying to the Governor was not, is not, restricted to Imo State under Okorocha. It is a nationwide malaise. Most of the Houses of Assembly are in the hip pockets of their Governors which makes it easy for any of the Governors to get away with virtually anything and everything. And why shouldn’t the citizens of those states give their legislators hell by bombarding their parliaments with placards? Failure to do this leads to bad governance. Bad governance is a function of the failure of followership. So failure of leadership is at the end of the day, a function of the failure of followership.
The citizens are just not doing their duties as conscientious, discerning, followers who have a responsibility to stand guard over their affairs. If they did their duty to themselves well the chaos in Imo and the inanities in some other states would have been avoided.
Ray Ekpu is a veteran journalist who was one of the founders of Newswatch, the iconic weekly news magazine. This article was first published in Sun Newspaper.
The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author.