Imo State is on comatose bed

I penned my last commentary on Nigeria in 2003–an editorial for my
monthly newsmagazine, THE NIGERIAN, entitled “This Too Shall Pass”
which correctly predicted how the tyrant, Abacha would be trashed into
dustbin of history. Except for occasional, brief commentaries and
some unavoidable rebuttals to correct or elucidate obfuscating issues,
I have, despite all temptations, provocations, resisted to join issues
with todays, newfangled pundits on Nigeria.

Why bother to comment about a country where majority hardly read.
The few daily “browsers”—a common phenomenon at many Nigerian
newsstands today and the uppity class that can afford to read the N150
a piece daily newspaper, have no respect for historical antecedents or
care less about the country. Majority of Nigerians appear to have
abandoned their fate to hope, providence, predestination or both. No
place is this hopelessness more palpable than in Imo state where many
wake up every morning praying that the Almighty will, in His infinite
mercy and powers change or bring a good leader who will steer their
state on the right course. Others even hunger for the same day when
He summoned Abacha to come in for judgment that made room for the
quasi democracy in the country today.

I worked in Imo state in 1976 as a reporter for NTA Channel 6 Aba
where I covered various areas including the Imo State government
house. I was there when the first military governor of Imo state,
Navy Commander Ndubuisi Kanu was pounding the pavement tirelessly to
lay the groundwork of what would be part of todays Imo state. Then,
there was no “You are from Owerri, I’m from Okigwe or I’m from Orlu”
madness. Everybody was caught in the euphoria of a new state and
ready to contribute anything to make the place the envy of other
states. It was indeed the envy of other states as its capital became
the cleanest city in Nigeria.

I’m from Orlu Senatorial Zone, Imo state and proud of it but I write
this piece not as Orlu man or an apologist to any politician. I
write as a citizen who has the interest of Imo at heart. I presume
all hack writers, sycophants and paid goons covering the falsehood
that is going on in this state today will do same and be truthful to
themselves. A time will come when posterity, prosperity, our
conscience will ask us what legacy we left for our young ones yet
unborn. Imo was here before Ndubuisi, Lawal, Adenihu, Nwachukwu,
Mbakwe, (all whom I covered as a reporter) Ikwechegh, Udenwa, came and
left. It was here when Ohakim got here and would be here when he
leaves. Imo is greater than me or any of its citizens.
What is happening in Imo today would surely be enough to make Sam
Mbakwe, the first civilian governor of Imo, stir in his grave. I
recently returned from Imo state after a four month stay and saw
firsthand how my own dear state is now on a shameful, downward, spiral
trend. People there have either been “flogged into silence”,
apologies to Samuelson Iwuoha who alleged that the governor whipped
him mercilessly for dare criticize his policy or are afraid to speak
up in the face of deceit, fraud and shameless corruption of
unimaginable proportion being perpetrated by the present government of
Imo state. It is an open secret that those who spoke up against the
maladministration in Imo have either being harassed, silenced,
kidnapped or even assassinated. While Aba has broken the ignoble
record of being the kidnap capital of Nigeria, Owerri is fast catching
up. The difference however is that while kidnappings in Aba are for
financial gains, almost all the kidnappings, abductions and even
assassinations in Owerri, nay Imo today are politically motivated.

Is it a coincidence that the list of victims runs like Who is Who of
people who have variously criticized, disagreed or fallen out with
Ohakim’s government: Take a look! PDP staunch members Ziggy Azike
and Alex Obi escaped abduction and kidnap respectively. Former
Chairman of Obowo L.G. A., Dr. Ray Emerenini abducted. Stella, Wife
of PDP staunch member, Festus Odimegwu kidnapped. Former PDP State
Chairman, Magnus Orjiakor beaten to stupor. Two traditional Rulers,
Eze Samuel Ohiri of Orodo Autonomous Community and Eze Oliver Ohanwe
of Isiama Autonomous Community all kidnapped, Bob Kay Njemanze, son of
popular Eze Njemanze of “Ikwechegh, na kwa echeki” fame and former
gubernatorial candidate, Uche Onyeagocha all manhandled, former member
of Imo State House of Assembly, Stamford Onyirimba’s mother, kidnapped
which led to her sudden death. Steven Uzoeshi, a reporter with the
Nigerian Compass, escaped death. Reporter, Wale Olukutun, of Radio
Nigeria, tortured and left for dead, Samuelson Iwuoha, an unrelenting
critic of Ohakim’s government, allegedly flogged by Governor Ohakim
himself in his office. The latest victim is my dear friend, Alan B.
Onyemaechi who remains kidnapped even as I write this piece. Who’s
next?

Some people advised me that I risk being killed if I write this
article. Well, to them I say, “Thank you for caring.” I heard this
advice before when I was the Producer/Anchor of NTA Aba powerful,
fearless, investigative news program, “A Matter of Truth”. Real
Journalism is a calling for the few and intrepid in a society. All it
takes for evil to thrive is for few good men to do nothing. Sometimes
it is better to live a short honorable life than live many years as a
slave. Todays internet and some “brown envelop” journalist will
definitely make our predecessors cry.

Let it be on record that in the past, I objectively described Achike
Udenwa, my fellow Orlu townsman and the immediate past governor of
this state as a very bad governor. As a reporter armed with facts, I
still have no apologies for what I said then. His recent confession
and public apology of how he employed chicanery and skullduggery to
foist Ohakim on Imo has proved me right. Three years of Ohakim and
many have embraced the naked truth that Udenwa was indeed a saint—or
the least reprehensible.

When a man marries a second wife, Igbos say, he knows the best. If I
thought that Udenwa was bad, I leave it up to you to come up with a
word to qualify what Ohakim’s leadership represents.

From May 2007 to February 2010, Imo State received a sum of N109
billion from the federation account and N100 billion as special grant
plus additional N12 billion for erosion control, all from the Federal
Government. It sourced a sum of N18.5 billion from the capital
market through the issuance of its N40 billion bond. Statutory
allocation from the federal government including the 13 percent of
mineral derivation and excess crude accounted for the 84 per cent of
its total revenue while taxes and Internally Generated Revenue, IGR,
accounted for 8 per cent of its revenue. In 2008 alone, it earned N66
billion. The governor once bragged during a stake holder’s meeting
that the state was generating N430 million monthly, an increase from
the measly N161 million which his predecessor made monthly. Since
2007, Imo state has received over N400 billion from the federal
allocation. All these figures would have made Imo indigene proud
except for one thing. Apart from few young “Masquerade” trees and
green grasses hurriedly transplanted onto Wetheral and Okigwe road
dividers, the two major entry and exit roads in Owerri, the state
capital—thanks to recent visit by the president, Imo has nothing to
justify the huge resources it made in the last three years. Despite
the media blitz and hoopla generated by the governor’s hack writers on
the “success” of his only true project, the Clean and Green Initiative
aimed at keeping the capital clean, the city remains dirty. Gutters
and culverts still reek of dirt and ooze repulsive, repugnant odors.
If governor’s idea of giving job to the people is to hire mothers,
housewives, dress them in bright orange suits, broom and dust pan in
hand, to disrupt labyrinthine traffic in the pretext of sweeping clean
sands out of the road so as to give the impression of how clean the
city is, the governor has done very well.

Critics have questioned the reason behind this obsession by Ohakim
administration to continue to usurp the function of Owerri Local
government by making it look cleaner at the expense and detriment of
other major cities of Imo. Hear the governor’s press secretary, Henry
Ekpe: “The governor came and embarked on massive cleaning of Owerri
for people to have fresh air.” What happened to other major cities,
like Orlu or even Okigwe–the senatorial zone of the governor? Once,
I was driving through Ugiri community after a serious thunderstorm and
came to a point where old women, mothers and wives were clearing the
road of fallen trees with their machetes. So much for clean and
green –only in Owerri! Try to drive through Amaraka junction when it
rains. Unless you have a Payloader, high Truck or similar automobiles,
you will definitely be a customer to a company of boys who hang around
that vicinity waiting to push out cars from the poodle for a very high
fee. Since Ohakim usurped the role of Owerri Local Governments, one
would expect his Clean and Green squad to come to the rescue of these
beleaguered citizens. The governor avoids Amaraka when it rains and
prefers to drive through the Mbaise road—a longer road that connects
the boulevard to his palatial home in Okohia. Is this what Nigerians
now call dividends of democracy? Haba!

Imo is under siege. It has become a skeleton of its former self. The
citizens are groaning with pain. They envy development in other
latter day states like Akwa Ibom and Delta states while their governor
squander all the money and opportunity it had to develop the state.
For instance, no matter all the criticism against its governor, Akwa
Ibom, spent over N250 billion to build 205 road networks and the
testimony is there for all to see. If you remove the addresses and
names on the road and streets in Uyo, its state capital, any first
time visitor would think that he/she is in a well-developed foreign
country. Its newly completed Airport is one of the best in the
country. Keep in mind that Imo was created before these new states.

Instead of developing the state, the governor appears to have taken
the business of fooling the people to a ridiculous level. On the day
the president visited the state, there was suddenly street lights in
Wetheral and Okigwe roads in Owerri in broad day light, prompting the
residents to wonder what was amiss. I was there. Owerri never looked
that beautiful with buntings and several billboards all heralding the
“achievements” of the governor. Unbeknownst to these august visitors,
carefully hidden generators at nondescript points powered those
shinning lights and the only three traffic lights in the town. This
was akin to what happened in January 21, 2008 when the then president,
late Musa Yar’dua “commissioned” the Okigwe regional Water Project
which the governor completed with the financial assistance from the
federal government at a whopping cost of N1 billion. The president
turned the tap on and water was gushing but little did he know that
the water was actually coming from a tank filled ahead of his visit?
It took mere 24 hours for the tank to go dry. By then the president
was back in Aso Rock!

This ad zapped.

If there is any project that would make any Owerri, nay Imo citizen
cry, it is the Nworie River Dredging project. For want of where to
siphon money from, the governor suddenly embarked on the elephantine
project of dredging not even a stream but a rivulet that is no more
than few kilometers long. The joke in Owerri is about what Ohakim
told late president Yar ‘Adua when he last visited the state. “Mr.
President, when we are through with this project, you would be able to
navigate from this “river” to Oguta Lake and from there to River Niger
where you can sail away to the ocean.” “Really?” the president, a
university graduate retorted rhetorically, not wanting to break
protocol or destroy the hospitality of his host. Today, except for
press reports that put the initial amount spent on this project at N
8.5 milion, nobody, not even the government can say with exactitude
how much Ohakim has sunk into this phantom project. Currently, the
governor has successfully passed on this white elephant to the Niger
Delta Development Commission, NDDC as the sponsor of the project,
perhaps due to the heat it has been generating.

When the governor assumed office, his first achievement was to install
two giant TV’s at the Wetheral Road Roundabout and Control Post.
Today, those TV’s have disappeared. The governor secretly dismantled
them and the generators that powered them after he suddenly realized
the futility of competing with NYC’s Times Square TV glamour in a city
where many agonize daily to eke out a square meal.

If the TV project is a joke, consider this. The governor suddenly
woke up with the idea to dualize the major roads in Owerri. If
dualizing is euphemism for demarcating existing roads, then the
governor is right. But if it means expanding and dualizing the
Onitsha-Owerri road as Julius Berger Construction Company did, then he
has deceived the people. He stated that he spent N6 billion in
“dualizing” the Umuahia/ Owerri road and succeeded in convincing late
president Yar ‘Adua to commission it. Poor Yar ‘Adua. That was the
price he paid for Ohakims defection to PDP!
As if this insult is not enough, the governor is now building a “Fly
Over” from Orji to linkup with Egbeada, Owerri-Junction. “Fly Over?”
the residents wonder what took the governor so long (except now that
the election is around the corner) to do what other neighboring states
easily did. Right now, it is a nightmare to pass through the
Iwuanyanwu’s so called glass house in Orji and Akwakuma,
Owerri-Junction or the Nworie Stream narrow bridge due to belated
constructions going on simultaneously at these points.

Talking about phantom projects brings one to another pitiful project
called Agro Nova Farm Project. Governor Ohakim once painted a colorful
picture of how he would turn Imo into the bread basket of the nation
by entering into partnership with some South African farmers to
establish a modern farm. Three years later, this project like other
failed projects is still on the architectural drawing board. The list
is legion. Is it our dream Imo Airline, Oak Refinery at Ohaji/Egbema
that never was? Or the N60 billion Oguta “Wonder” Lake Resort and
Conference Center that the governor hardly mentions now? Wait a
minute! What happened to the 150 kilometer long Freeway that the
governor promised will pass through 500 communities, 19 local
government areas, 39 markets with 13 electronic tollgates and
connecting Oguta Resort and the entire state? Hear him: “It is on
record that we are constructing the most ambitious road project, the
150 kilometer Boulevard called Imo Interconnectivity Multilane Freeway
with work going on in four sections.” Where are these locations? Is
this the Imo state we know that the governor was referring to or
another state? Well, unless modern miracle turns this mirage into
reality before the forthcoming election, it does not appear that His
Excellency is in a hurry today to fulfill this promise anytime soon.

The case of Standard Shoes Industry is a very pathetic one.
Abandoned by previous administrations, Ohakim government quickly saw
an opening to siphon money. He rushed in and secured a loan of over
N350 million with high interest from Oceanic bank to resuscitate this
factory. In recent press interviews, the governor’s spokesperson has
been passing the buck to the Commerce commissioner, stating that he is
the only one who can give the status of the loan. Well the status of
the factory is that it is overgrown with weeds and yet to produce a
single Slippers while government continues to pay high interest for
the Oceanic bank loan.

Whether it is schools which are dilapidated or clinics which are
gradually becoming extinct, the story is the same. There is no
tangible project going on in this state today. Ohakim claimed that he
awarded a contract of N30 billion to some road projects in the state
but you won’t know that if you drive through the unmotorable roads in
the state. The best photo I took while in Owerri was a “New Face” Van
trapped in a pool of water at one of the gullies at Chukwuma Nwoha by
MCC road. Need I say that this is a microcosmic symbol and
personification of the “new face?” of Imo today. I could win a
Pulitzer with this. The only visible achievements by Ohakim
administration today is his newly commissioned office and the
government house project. The so called IRROMA road project which the
governor has touted as his baby but is actually a conduit pipe to milk
the state coffer dry. It has relied on heavy deductions from the
Local government revenue to execute this program which clearly is
illegal.

The culpable neglect of Okigwe has prompted some exasperated pundits
to opine that Ohakim could have done to Okigwe what Udenwa did to
Orlu, his hometown when he brought the Imo State University Medical
School and the international Market there. Okigwe people are still
waiting for Ohakim to move the Imo State University School of
Engineering to Okigwe as Udenwa did for Orlu. Call it nepotism, call
it favoritism, call it what you may, but at least a major city in Imo
has been developed. Today, Okigwe which can easily pass for Imo
version of Hollywood, U. S.A. city with its lovely hilly terrain and
beautiful landscape has nothing to show the world that its Son of the
Soil is currently the governor of the state.

I cannot end this piece without the mention of Ohakim’s much dreaded
ENTRACO. Created as an agency charged with keeping Owerri clean, it
has been used to victimize and traumatize Imo citizen especially
Owerri residents. The enabling law establishing this hostile agency
was passed retroactively by the “Do Nothing”, rubber stamp Imo State
House of Assembly. One day I was driving through a nondescript street
in Owerri when suddenly I was accosted by some fierce looking men from
nowhere all armed with iron spikes and bars. They quickly threw
spikes in front of my car, forcing me to an abrupt stop. I came out
of my car. At first I thought they were armed robbers, assassins or
kidnappers. “Oga, you de in trouble O!, they all chorused. I asked
them who they are. They said they are ENTRACO men. “What did I do?” I
asked innocently. “You no no se dis road na One Way street?” they
queried me. I asked them the penalty for driving through One Ways
street. They told me N25, 000. I told them I would pay the fine on
the condition that they give me a receipt. They bluntly told me that
there was no receipt. I asked them to show me the One Way sign. They
said I should have known if I live in Owerri. Some passersby who were
attracted at this scene told them there was none, but they cared less
and soldiered on. When I told them how things are done in a civilized
world like U.S.A., their leader became livid on hearing the word,
“America.” “Make u no call America or we go increase the price O and
you go pay am for American dollar”, he added. Not even my pleas to
these ruthless souls that I was rushing to Orlu to prepare for my
Mom’s burial the next day could sway them to let me go. I had no
option but to pay. And you guessed right, they did not issue receipt
to me.
ENTRACO is a lord unto itself. It started by ordering all property
owners to repaint their houses or face government wrath. Thank God,
it did not make good that threat which many landlords ignored after
its dreaded deadline passed. ENTRACO knocks down people’s buildings,
pulls down stores and businesses without recourse to due process.
They remove license plates on cars parked on the streets. But
ironically the rich and powerful well connected to Ohakim’s New face
government, park their cars illegally and anywhere they choose while
majority who pay these so called “fines” hardly get receipts. Any
wonder that when election time comes, these ENTRACO men who masquerade
as Vigilantes Vice versa will metamorphose into party hoodlums who
will besiege polling booths to intimidate voters to insure “victory”
at all cost for their choice candidate.

Presently, Ohakim seems unstoppable. He has the power of incumbency,
money—some say enough of it from the government coffer, which he
controls–to continue as governor. He has not failed to use that
influence to his advantage. He shops for hack writers and priced
journalists who are willing to devour anyone who opposes him or do his
rebuttals for a fee. Here is another typical example. A journalist,
Maximus Uba and former press secretary to Ohakim until they parted
ways has been fierce critic of his policies. He was abducted from an
Abuja hotel by Ohakim “police boys” and rushed to Owerri to appear
before a court to answer for his critical analysis of the state budget
which the governor found distasteful. In the past, Mr. Uba had
written most critical and damaging commentaries against the governor
as can be found in the archives of many Nigerian news websites. One
day he shocked all his colleagues and made about turn and joined team
of the governor’s bandwagon of praise singers. His reason was that
since the amiable governor (his words) has won all his court cases, he
now merits being “his” governor. Talk about joining them if you can’t
change them. It would take a credible election and probably more than
another eight years to undo the damage he has done to Imo state. As I
was writing this, news came from Owerri that my dear colleague in the
fraternity of pen, NUJ, Maximus Uba who recently jumped ship to become
one of Ohakim’s praise singer was killed in an automobile “accident”
in Abuja. The “accident” is being investigated.

Just before I returned to the states, I attended the Nigerian Union of
Journalist, NUJ Press Week at the government donated Press Center to
fraternize with my old colleagues. I was dismayed when the current
chairman of the NUJ took over 50 per cent of his welcome address to
extol the kind qualities of the guest of honor–the wife of governor
of Imo State, Mrs. Chioma Ohakim and how she bankrolled all the
expenses incurred by the union for the whole session which lasted for
a week. Hear him: “Her Excellency, Lady, Barrister Chioma Ohakim
paid for everything we ate and drank. She provided this birthday cake
which we are going to cut today, gave us dinner last night to the
point that we were over fed. In fact she is the first wife of a
sitting governor to visit this center and “answer to our needs anytime
we call upon her. We are indebted to you Her Excellency. Thank you
Her Excellency.”

“Welcome to Imo state Press, sorry Praise week?” By the way, if you
are just tuning in to our Orient TV or our FM station, where we are
coming to you live, bear with us if you are experiencing static or
poor reception. We were still re-negotiating with the foreign company
that sold this substandard N2 billion Transmitter to our government
that bought it for us. Next time you have problem reaching us, try
our “sister” station, Abia Broadcasting Service, ABS. It is currently
the clearest voice across the Niger. Thank you and have a good night.
Don’t forget to vote for our dear action governor.”

McLord Obioha is the Publisher of the US based THE NIGERIAN
newsmagazine and AFRICAN NEWSREEL, The Newspaper. He lives in New
York.

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