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!
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.