In the published Federation Account Allocation Committee (FAAC) disbursement for August, released in September 2017, Imo State received Gross Statutory allocation of N4.832b but net allocation of N3.964b, because of deductions at source for a combined debt of N869m, whereas neighbouring Anambra State, for instance, got gross statutory allocation of N4.477b but net allocation of N4.333b, with a paltry debt of N141m. This gives an indication of the level of financial prudence of the Imo State government.
In an April 23, 2016 report in Punch, “N338b Bailout: Benue, Imo, diverted funds – ICPC Report”, Imo State is one of only three states in Nigeria that ICPC accused of mismanaging the recently disbursed bailout funds from which the state received N26b but still owes salaries of workers and pensions of retirees.
But the above indicators are a tip of the iceberg of what has become the “Imo conundrum” given the avalanche of negative stories that have been brought upon the state by the actions or inactions of the government. A simple “Google” of Imo State will leave you in shock as to why the leadership of a once progressive state has embarked on a tragic race to the bottom.
Imo State’s sons and daughters at home and in the diaspora have suddenly become nostalgic of the good old days of “Dee” Sam Mbakwe, first civilian governor of the old Imo State – angry and disappointed that succeeding governors have squandered the solid foundations set by Sam Mbakwe and expectedly, hopeful that 2019 will become the year of their liberation from the clutches of a non-performing “rescue” mission.
Against the backdrop that the current Governor, Rochas Okorocha, is completing his second and final term in office, Imo State will be the cynosure of eyes as the race for his successor unfolds by the day. Christmas in Imo State this year will be electrifying with all manners of permutations, scheming, and alliances, across party lines especially among the two leading parties, APC and PDP.
It is, therefore, not surprising that all kinds of groups – political and non-political are emerging within and outside the state, expectedly united by the desire to raise and focus on the issues that currently plague the state and need to be frontally addressed, going forward.
Prominent among these issues are gradual destruction of the state’s public service system, fallen standard of education, poor health care delivery, youth joblessness, insecurity, and total collapse of public infrastructure.
Nigerians woke up one morning in 2016 and were alarmed to hear that the Imo State Governor, without legislative approval, has cut civil service working days from five days to three days and ordered civil servants to farms. He also ordered and coerced civil servants to forfeit a percentage of their hard-earned salaries, while also cutting pensioners pay by 40%.
All these while he goes about executing unplanned and largely unbudgeted white elephant that have remained largely uncompleted, with little benefits to the lives of ordinary Imo people; building a new university with state funds (whose ownership is unclear) while Imo State University and The Polytechnic Umuagwo are hugely underfunded with many unaccredited courses.
Unknown to many, beneath the façade of the Imo State Government’s trumpeted free education is a decaying system. To be sure, the quality of education – primary, secondary, and tertiary – is at an abysmal low. Teachers are regularly owed salaries; there are no training and re-training programmes for teachers to update their knowledge; there are inadequate teachers, especially for Mathematics and the English language; and school infrastructure has decayed over the years
The story of healthcare in Imo State is scary as captured by the state chapter of the Nigeria Medical Association, which highlights are as follows: an alarming increase in reported cases of HIV/AIDS with no corresponding emergency response by the state to tackle the upsurge; Imo State University Teaching Hospital has lost its accreditation to produce medical doctors
In one-fell swoop in January 2016, Governor Okorocha embarked on a mass sack of workers in 19 parastatals, agencies, and departments in the state civil service on contradictory stands of “sharp practices”, and using “the entire resources” of the state.
Rising incidents of crime across the state as routinely reported in the media have caused residents to live in fear, wondering who may be next in the series of murders, and kidnappings, amongst others. Save for the knee-jerk Imo Security Network, whose mode of operation is not clear, no one seems to know or understand the government’s strategic plan for combating all forms of security lapses in the state. These are the issues around which Imo people are united.
Ndi Imo are therefore earnestly looking for a true leader, a man or woman, who will remind them of the glory days of Sam Mbakwe and restore the dignity of the Imo citizen.
More importantly, however, is the willingness of the Imo people to galvanize themselves, volunteer their time and resources, to mobilise grassroots support for the actualisation of their long desired dreams.
Enter Emeka Ihedioha, former Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives, and leader of resurgent PDP in Imo State, who has from two flanks aligned with the peoples’ desire to actualise the Imo State of their dreams by canvassing the strengthening of grassroots development through the nation’s third tier of government and giving Imo youths a platform to volunteer for grassroots mobilisation of ndi Imo.
In a keynote address recently at the National Congress of Rural Sociological Association of Nigeria, held at Michael Okpara University of Agriculture, Umudike, Abia State, Rt. Hon. Ihedioha made a strong case for strengthening the local governments so as to accelerate grassroots development and strengthen our evolving democratic governance.
According to him, “there is a direct link between democracy and rapid grassroots development…Unfortunately, however, local governments have not been performing the development functions that underscore their institutionalisation in Nigeria… the constitution did not provide adequate political autonomy for the local governments in Nigeria. It did not, also, stipulate specifically, that the composition of a new local government council should be solely through democratic elections. These factors leave local governments at the mercy of state governments to determine the nature, content and direction of local government elections and method of administration.”
He regrets that whereas more Nigerians live in the rural areas, and so democracy should be strongest at the grassroots to accelerate development, the reverse is the case as grassroots governance is rather weak and almost insignificant.
The former deputy speaker therefore eloquently posits that “development of grassroots must begin with the active participation of people at the grassroots in governance. With a vibrant and functional government at the grassroots level, affairs of the local people can then be managed by means of their positive participation. Democracy is never complete until there is active involvement and participation of the people. Similarly, development is never complete unless the people are consciously carried along and involved fully in the development process.”
He canvassed strong local governance that caters to the diverse objectives of self-governance of the community not just to provide some local services but to also support the life and liberty of citizens, provide them democratic space for participation and facilitate outcomes that enrich the quality of life for residents.
Against the background of the issues identified around which Imo people are united, Ihedioha is pleased to note that many people and communities are becoming more conscious of the expected obligations of government towards the electorate, and have started mounting pressures on officials to act accordingly through channels such as Community Based Organizations (CBOs), enlightened individuals and other pressure groups. This, to him, is development in the right direction, as it will gradually continue to have impact in drawing leaders’ attention to act on community and rural demands, thereby bringing about development.
Ever willing and able to match words with actions, he asserts that Nigeria will not get its economics right until it gets its politics right, a subset of which is that except people at the grassroots participate fully in the process of governance, meaningful development that is rightly theirs, will remain a mirage.
Now, putting words into action, across Imo State is the emergence of what has become a rapidly growing grassroots mass movement, the Ihedioha Youth Movement (IYM), an initiative that seeks to mobilize the young men and women of Imo, who wish to volunteer to spread the message of liberation of the state across the 27 local government areas of the state.
The grassroots movement will teach volunteers about the simple conversations with their friends, family and neighbours on the issues that Imo people want improvements on.
Through this novel approach of organizing volunteers to hold political conversations with neighbours and friends, Mr. Ihedioha, in raising the discourse on grassroots involvement in development, also wishes to encourage Imo people, at home and abroad, to debate such important issues as our fallen education standards, poor healthcare delivery system, destruction of the civil service, decaying infrastructure, and insecurity, amongst others, as a way to stimulate the growth of Imo State, and restore its pride.