• Uzodimma’s Hurdles As APC Plots Southeast Takeover
January 14, 2020, has come to represent an important date in the political calendar of Imo State. The change of guard from the brief interregnum of Peoples Democratic Party´s (PDP) administration of Hon. Emeka Ihedioha to the All Progressives Congress (APC) tenure of Senator Hope Uzodinma, was swift and sharp.
The recent demolition of Okorocha’s tunnel, coming few weeks after report of the Imo State University visitation panel exposed the silent war between the two political leaders.
While Okorocha, through his media aide, Sam Onwuemeodo described the report as a rehash of the PDP narrative, the Chief Press Secretary and Media Adviser to Governor Uzodinma, Nwachukwu Oguwike, said the actions of his principal are evidence of a governor that is focused and detached from distraction.
According to Oguwike, “Government is a process. We are following the due process, where there is a need for law; the House of Assembly is involved to make the necessary legislation. The governor insists on the rule of law. In the past, you witnessed executive and legislative rascality, but the governor wants to put all that behind us. Now there is a synergy among the three arms of government.”
While the opposition whips up sentiment against the administration, the Uzodinma administration continues to confront governance challenges, including delivering on his mandate and redeeming the image of the party from the hangover of the troublesome tenure of Senator Rochas Okorocha, who redefined governance in the state with iberiberism.
But, apart from confronting the challenges of governance, Governor Uzodinma and APC are faced with the onerous task of refining the delicate balance between zonal political calculations and meritocracy cum good governance.
The death of Senator Emeka Uwajumogu created the opening for the current jostling for a replacement. The Imo East Senatorial seat election was protracted given the plot by the former governor Okorocha to stop Uwajimogu, who as member of the United Front, stood against Okorocha’s plot to impose his son in law, Uche Nwosu, on APC as the gubernatorial standard-bearer.
Okorocha’s ambition to replace Senator Uzodinma as the representative of Imo West in the Senate ignited Uzodinma´s ambition to be governor, which preceded his defection from PDP to APC alongside other members of the Senator Ali Modu Sheriff tendencies in PDP.
As Okorocha struggled to make his son-in-law governor, he tried simultaneously to shunt aside Senator Uzodimma from the APC platform and the governorship ticket.
It was also gathered that while in PDP, Uzodimma was oiling the machinery of the party across the three senatorial zones of the state, with a definite emphasis on Imo West, his constituency on account of being the highest political office holder from the state then.
One Ezenweaku Orih told The Guardian that those past political patronages explained the massive vote haul across the 388 polling units that gave Uzodimma the definite victory at the Supreme Court on January 14, which was upheld on March 3, 2020.
Going by the distribution of local government areas in Imo State, Imo West, also known as the Orlu zone occupies 12 out of the 27 councils leaving Okigwe and Owerri zones with nine and six councils respectively.
Orih explained that the Orlu zone voted for Uzodinma out of their belief that Okorocha, “instead of favouring the zone, spent eight years fighting imaginary enemies and creating distractions for his government.
Apart from the ongoing struggles by various contending forces for the Imo East Senatorial seat, particularly Senator Ifeanyi Ararume and close relations of the late Senator Uwajimogu, which include his wife, Governor Uzodinma is also saddled with subtle pressures to endorse the next candidate for the post of President General of Ohanaeze NdÍgbo.
Although Dr. Joe Nworgu, is said to be interested in the race to succeed Chief Nnia John Nwodo Jnr., Uzodinma is being looked up to also consider Prof. George ObiOzor and Major General Collins Ihekire (retd), for the position, which by current zoning format falls on the state.
The story is being told of how a highly placed political actor in the state approached Governor Uzodinma with what he called a template for his second term in office.
“Did I tell you that I want the second term? This is how you people cause a problem for governors. I have been calling on Imolites with genuine ideas to develop our state and you come here to talk about the second term. Have I finished the work Imo people gave me to do?” The governor was said to have retorted, to the utter shame of the politician.
Apart from the scheming for Imo East Senatorial seat, other aspects of the challenges facing APC and Governor Uzodinma in Imo State and Southeast are concerns within the Southeast Governors´ Forum, which chairmanship is due to shifting to the state.
Would the three PDP governors, including the current chairman, Engineer David Umahi, Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi and Dr. Okezie Victor Ikpeazu and the lone start All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) incumbent, Chief Willie Obiano, in the SEGF allow Uzodinma of APC to lead the informal body?
Politics apart, the current administration in Imo State is grappling with the challenge of winning back public confidence in government and public policies. It is generally believed that although Okorocha, who rode on the crest of public goodwill to deny former governor Ikedi Ohakim of a second term, started very well, but derailed along the way by personalizing political power.
As governor, Okorocha ruled with a combination of guile and playing to the gallery. The story was told of how after noticing how the Catholic played a central role in the defeat of Ohakim administration, succeeded in making the Catholic Church and the Archbishop of Owerri Diocese, Anthony Obinna, lose face before Imo people.
A woman, who recalled how the Catholics mobilized support for Okorocha narrated how the former governor told the youth from Ohaji Egbema that they should ask Archbishop Obinna what he did with their money, claiming that the money usually given to the irate youths was given to the bishop.
The women declared that stung by that obvious false allegation, the Archbishop stopped comments on Okorocha´s administration.
“It was like Rochas silenced everybody and did whatever he liked. Whenever his reputation appeared to be going bad, he would put up one stunt or another. On one occasion, the former governor went to Okigwe road and patronized a woman selling bean cakes. After he gave the woman N50,000 and the entire state was regaled with how Okorocha is a good and humble man.
“On another occasion, the former governor was seen riding a bicycle along the streets and people trooped out hailing him,” the female civil servant narrated, pointing out that while he played on the psychology of the people, Okorocha continued to award contracts for sloppy jobs in the state.
“Contractors would bring quotation for a durable job, Okorocha would tell them, ´no, I cannot pay that amount for the job, do it for less´, that is how the state got poor jobs and some contractors were owed fabulous amounts for jobs done,” a staff of the state Ministry of Works told The Guardian.
During a three-day tour of the state, The Guardian learned from Imolites how the former governor was concentrating projects in Ogboko, his immediate constituency.
They disclosed that before his sacking, Ihedioha laid the foundation for good governance as well as the fact that his successor, Uzodinma, continued the trajectory, particularly in the areas of fiscal prudence and qualitative infrastructure development.
It is the attempt to maintain probity in project conception, funding and implementation that the people say Uzodinma is waging a silent battle against the eight years of previous APC administration of Okorocha.
Based on the silent quest to improve the reputation of APC, many people in Imo State have continued to wonder how “Rochas held us spellbound with sweet talks and drama as he destroyed Imo State,” especially Owerri, where he raised multiple pillars to deface the streets.
Said Longinus Irona, an Oguta native: “We will not judge him in a hurry, but we can´t judge harshly. He is undoing the deceptions of the Okorocha years. We won’t forget how Okorocha awarded contracts for substandard jobs.
“You may not believe it, but there was a particular instance where contractors piled used tires on the road and covered it with laterite and asphalt. Uzodinma continued with the Owerri to Egbu road that Ihedioha initiated.”
Part of the current administration´s efforts to drain the swamp created by the previous APC government includes the famed sanitization of the payroll system through which worker´s salaries are paid electronically into their accounts with accurate Bank Verification Numbers (BVN).
It was gathered through the approach the government has been saving more than N2billion monthly for the state, just as the state secretariat was re-roofed with the restoration of water and power supplies to the ten blocks.
Burdened by the past years of hype, the current administration is said to be wary of making a song and dance of its efforts to redefine governance in the state. Of particular note is the reactivation of the moribund Adapalm, which is said to generate more than 100 metric tonnes of top-quality red oil daily.
The Uzodinma administration has also with the past four months in office rehabilitated the Otamiri water scheme constructed by Sam Mbakwe, which was last serviced by the military administration in 1996.
It was gathered that the rehabilitation of the water scheme facilitated the restoration of public water supply in Owerri, the capital city. Governor Uzodinma was also said to have renovated the governor’s office, which Ihedioha exposed to the world as having been abandoned for over 10 years.
Civil servants said they have begun to exude confidence in the new administration, especially after the government provided official cars to permanent secretaries and staff buses for those on junior cadre.
One other gesture by the state government to increase productivity among public servants in the state was the procurement of 23 Sports Utility Vehicles (SUVs) with the street value of N22m each for judges in the state.
The Commissioner for Information and Strategy, Declan Emelumba, explained that the objective was to motivate the judges and make their job easier for increased productivity.
Emelumba disclosed that as part of the fiscal probity of the Uzodinma administration, the vehicles were procured at the cost of N22million per vehicle as against the N37million per vehicle earlier budgeted for them by the Ihedioha administration.
It was gathered that unlike what obtained during the Iberibe years, government receipts have been digitized with payments now being made through established data centre leading to the giant leap of the internally generated revenue from N600million to N1.2billion monthly.
Governor Uzodinma was said to have surprised the generality of Imo State people when he initiated and signed the repeal of the abominable Governors´, Speakers´ Pensions and Privileges Law, through which the state was losing more than N1.2billion that could have been ploughed into development projects and upscaling the living wellbeing of the people.
The fact that the current administration has succeeded in constructing more than 26 roads, six out of which are strategic roads with major drainage systems, shows that something is being done to erase the sad chapters of the past APC administration.
One other great initiative that observers said further endeared the current administration to the people in the governor´s decision to sign the executive order, which authorized the reduction of the broadband Right of Way (ROW) for telecommunication companies.
Governor Uzodinma had on May 20, 2020, signed Executive Order No. 002 of 2020, which significantly reduced the ROW of telecom companies in the state from N4500 to N145 per meter in line with the Federal Government policy.
According to the stipulations of the EO 002, “the reduction is a manifestation of the state government’s determination to spur the telecommunication companies to further invest in broadband infrastructure and to trigger ancillary on-line services, especially in the field of education.”
By that gesture, the government strategically positioned the state for accelerated deployment of affordable and reliable modern high-speed connectivity in the state.
One development that threw open the silent battle between the new APC administration and the former, was the findings of the Imo State University Visitation Panel, headed by the former Minister of Power, Prof. Chinedu Nebo.
Although Ihedioha instituted the panel, while submitting its findings, thirteen months after it was set up, likened the rot in IMSU to what happened in the state within the period 2011 through 2019.
Nebo, who was also a Vice-Chancellor of the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, while submitting the executive summary of the panel´s report, highlighted a lot of shortcomings including, age falsification, need for Information and Communication Technology (ICT) compliant staff, particularly principal officers, digitization of the university, merit-based succession plan and shortfalls in school fees paid by students, forensic audit, mismanagement of the Bursary department leading to massive leakage of internally generated revenue and lack of knowledge of student population as well as bloated salaries for some workers. Indeed, the visitation panel was short of describing the institution as a citadel of corruption.
Feeling that the scam of his fangled free education programme had been unmasked, Okorocha, through his publicist, Sam Onwuemedo, accused Prof. Nebo of doing a hatchet job on behalf of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).
Instead of responding to the weighty findings of the panel, Onwuemedo said: “In the voluminous report, the Panel made a disturbing and very dangerous recommendation. The Panel recommended for the abolition of the free education programme introduced by Okorocha soon after he was sworn-in, in 2011 as governor. Prof Nebo described the Programme as a “Scam” and even went ahead to recommend School fees for IMSU and by implication, other State-owned tertiary Institutions in the State.
“One may not also be totally wrong to contend that this academic guru or giant, called Prof. Chinedu Ositadinma Nebo was, to a reasonable extent, a creation of the PDP. He “smells” PDP, PDP. In 2004, the PDP government appointed him the Vice-Chancellor of the University of Nigeria, Nsukka. The moment he ended his tenure as VC, the PDP government under Dr. Goodluck Jonathan, appointed him a Director in the Niger Delta Power Holden Company Limited, Operators of the National Integrated Power Projects, (NIPP).
“Prof. Nebo is one of the PDP fans. You know them by their actions and utterances. If the academic guru were to be APC fan, he would not have imagined telling Uzodinma to say bye-bye to free education.”
It is left to be seen, how far the current administration will go in sustaining its silent achievements and engendering political harmony in the state.