By Chibuike Onyeukwu
In the course of a recent interview with a prominent citizen of Imo state and front line politician, a journalist with one of the leading national newspapers in Nigeria (name withheld), posed the following question: “…Could you talk to Governor Ihedioha in view of the current state of dilapidation and near frustration in Imo?”. The politician in question (name also withheld), a very cerebral leader, gave a brilliant answer but it was in the question, itself, that I took interest. Two expressions that struck me in the question are: “TALK TO” and “…STATE OF DILAPIDATION”
By requesting from the interviewee if he could “talk to Governor Ihedioha…”, the interviewer tended to suggest that he believed that His Excellency is withholding action in tackling the dilapidation, and needs to be persuaded to do something. Even though it is hard to know whether the interviewer is an indigene of Imo state (the interview carried no byline) that aspect of the question tends to reflect a notion held in some quarters within the state. But nothing can be more misleading than that.
There is not an atom of inaction or hesitance in pursuing the administration’s programme for tackling the near-collapsed state of infrastructure it inherited. Here, of course, the roads – both federal and state – are the main centre of concern because of their current abysmal state. However, it is already in public domain that in his 100 days in office, His Excellency flagged of an 81-Kilometer urban roads rehabilitation project worth N23.4 billion. 14 roads are covered in the project in the Owerri capital territory while the state government has commenced discussions with the federal authorities over the rehabilitation of federal roads in the state. Perhaps it is appropriate here to recall the exact words of the governor at the flag off ceremony on Thursday September 19, 2019: “We are commencing … comprehensive roads rehabilitation across the state to address the sorry state of our roads. We have tried to provide palliative measures on the roads, ranging from distilling of drainages, to address the perennial flooding, to filling failed portions.”
The governor went ahead to emphasize that his administration is very much concerned with the quality of work that will be delivered to the people. He said: “In order to ensure that a good job is done and to guarantee durability, painstaking processes were observed. The process of getting to this point was transparent and followed due process. All these were done to ensure not just quality assurance but value for money”.
He maintained that, “my administration would not consider geographical divisions in addressing the developmental needs of the state”, adding that part of his administration’s cardinal agenda, “is to run a one-stop state, where democracy dividends will be evenly distributed across the 27 local government areas of the state”
The 14 roads earmarked for construction under the project include Nkume/Umuowa/Owerri Ebiri/Umuna/Orlu; Imo State University Teaching Hospital/Umuna; Mgbidi/Oguta; Douglas/Emmanuel College/Naze and Naze/Poly/Iheagwa/Obinze.
Others are Control-Post/World Bank; Ahiara Junction/Okpala; IMSU/Bishop’s Court; Okigwe Town/St. Mary’s Catholic Church; MCC/Toronto junction, Aba Branch/Ahiara Junction; Concord/Zuma/Port Harcourt, among others.
The above are not inclusive of the N13.8 billion, 380km road rehabilitation projects in 20 local government areas in the state also flagged off by the governor through the RAMP2 Project, as well as flag off of the N10 billion, Urualla Gully Erosion project in collaboration with NEWMAP.
There are three key words or phrases to note here: Painstaking, Due Process and Quality Assurance. Taken either singly or together, what these three expressions mean is that what appears to be a delay is nothing other than a deliberate move and determination to tackle the problem from its root. In other words, the administration is, first and foremost, tackling the cause of the pervasive dilapidation which is the penchant in the past, for shoddy jobs that were hurriedly executed, without a design, procurement, supervision and delivery.
One question that comes to mind is, why did all the roads in the state collapse at the same time? The answer is not difficult for fathom. They are products of careless, nonchalant and unprofessional practices that preceded their “construction”. Today, that trend is being reversed.
In a previous article, I pointed out that in spite of criticisms in some quarters, we cannot stop making references to what the people saw in the past, not for pushing back the blame, as some people erroneously say, but in order to constantly remind ourselves that this administration has no option but to give the people a new and better deal. Through his proclamations at several fora, Governor Ihedioha has both inadvertently and deliberately armed the people with the ammunitions to confront him if he fails to live up to his promises, in this particular case on the quality of roads to be delivered to the people. It takes a lot of courage to do such a thing.
A good number of citizens of the state have on their own canvassed for understanding from the people, given, especially, the fact that the administration came in during the rainy season when not much could be done. While that remains a truism, the administration does not necessarily flaunt it. Nothing stops if from toeing the populist line and stampeding contractors into beginning and handing over roads in just a period of one month and get praised to high heavens. But it has since become quite clear to the people that the Ihedioha administration does not have populist tendencies and proclivity for tentative accolades.
This type of attitude may have its own cost but for the administration, what matters is the ultimate. While stop-gap measures are being taken to provide palliatives, nothing can diminish the importance of the administration’s determination to ensure that the era of shoddy jobs are gone in the state. And it is a matter of time for the people to begin to work on their score cards on the governor and his administration, needless to emphasize that Governor Ihedioha shares passionately in the pains of the people but he is also very much aware of the fact that like all pains, this one is temporary. And for a leader who has a track record of performance, that he will also deliver this time around is like saying that tomorrow will come.
At this juncture, it is pertinent to look at some of the things the lmo-born leader had to say in the interview referred to, earlier in this write-up. He said, among other things, thus: “His Excellency, Rt. Hon. Emeka Ihedioha was not drafted into politics. He went into it as an act of deliberate volition, with vigor and purpose, breaking all barriers. When it comes to political complexities, Ihedioha demonstrates uncommon dexterity and excels …I believe that there is a man in Ihedioha’s quest for the torn and crown of Imo state … His greatest challenge, however, is to re-invent the Imo of the days when men were true leaders. With his team of compatriots, I have no doubt that the current state of dilapidation and near frustration in Imo will be adequately attended to”.
What this top politician has done here is to guarantee the governor before the people, that he sees nothing else other than another round of brilliant performance for which Rt. Hon Ihedioha is known.
Perhaps unknown to many, most of the infrastructural facilities, particularly roads, that are currently in existence in the state – even if they are now in a state of decay – have inputs from him, either singularly or working in conjunction with other well meaning leaders in the state. For example, as Chief Whip of the House of Representatives, he attracted the 35 km, dual carriage construction of the Owerri-Elele(Port Harcourt) at the cost of N23.5billion. The approval and award of the contract for the dualization of the Owerri-Aba road, though still ongoing, was largely as a result of his efforts, not forgetting the several rehabilitation and maintenance of the Owerri – Umuahia road. The governor also facilitated various roads across the three zones in the state which are still very much in good shape today.
In Ngor Okpala, the road from Okpala – Eziama to the border with Rivers state and the famous Mbaise ringroad were courtesy of him as member representing Aboh Mbaise/Ngor Okpala Federal Constituency. Today, the roads are still in a very good state even though the Rivers state end (from the border to Igwuruta) and which was constructed during the same period, has collapsed. We can go on and on but it is not just about Ihedioha and his “uncommon dexterity” but about the entire people of Imo state who have resolved to be on the same page with their governor as he rebuilds the state.
To be sure, government is a continuum – even though some governors in the past tended to rubbish this verity. In the instant case, what led to the current unprecedented infrastructural decay in the state is known even to the school pupil in the state: Poor quality of jobs that were executed without due diligence and expert advice. Take the road expansion project of the immediate past administration, for example. Apart from that the “expanded” roads – Okigwe road, Wethdral road, Orlu road – are all collapsing, less than one year after they were done, the expansion, itself, is the major cause of the unprecedented flooding being witnessed in the state capital, Owerri. And the reason is simply because, besides that the project was executed without inputs from experts, it was done in contravention of the provisions of the Owerri Capital City Master Plan that was drawn up right from the inception of the state in 1976; and which every successive administration between then and 2011, had tried to adhere to.
Unknown to many, the consultants that produced the Master Plan were specific on the size of the roads, size of drainages, number of manholes e.t.c that should be constructed in the city; and warned that any distortion of the Master Plan will lead to disaster especially as Owerri, from reports is situated in a valley. The result of going against that advice is what we are seeing today.
But determined to avoid further distortions and, therefore, more problems, His Excellency has dusted up the Master Plan. A couple of weeks ago, the government set up a Judicial Commission of Inquiry on Land and other Related Matters, covering between 2006 and May 2011. One of the terms of reference of the Commission is to determine the extent to which the management or mismanagement of land within the stipulated period affected the Owerri Capital City Master Plan. Surely, the rebuild Imo programme of the Ihedioha administration, which the people of the state have gladly embraced, involves a range of issues. But as far as the administration is concerned, it precludes savoring in the euphoria of tentative praise singing.
The cheering news is that the governor is without doubt, on course and has at various fora, called for patience among the citizens as he painstakingly and deliberately navigates the ship of state from its present ruins, with the assurance that Imo will surely be rebuilt.
Onyeukwu writes from Owerri.