At last, things are turning up for Imo State, writes Steve Osuji
It may seem early in the day but the signs are good; very good indeed. It is such an exhilarating feeling to observe all the good behaviours and best practices one had written about and wished for in the last three decades unfold before one’s eyes.
It is not only that it is happening in one’s lifetime, but the fact that one is a participant observer. Not a better feeling in a long time one must confess. Again, the natural reaction is to argue that it’s too early to call but then, it is said that morning tells the day. And as Igbo say, a good farmer can tell a ripened corn by sight. You need not pinch the sheaf to know it’s ready for harvest.
The blitzkrieg of activities of last week finally left me with no doubt that Imo is on to a big deal this time.
First, an extraordinary Executive Council (Exco) meeting which had in attendance, paramount monarchs of Imo; industry leaders and heads of all the banks in the state was convened.
Purpose of this expanded (and extended) Exco is to intimate critical stakeholders about Executive Order 005. This implies that Imo State henceforth adopts the Single Treasury Account (TSA). Apart from the federal government, Kaduna is the only other State in Nigeria which has adopted a similitude of the TSA.
Hitherto, Imo was akin to an economic and financial gangland where the fastest to draw the gun kills the other. There were over 250 bank accounts purportedly operated by the state government: every ministry, department, agency and even individuals opened multiple and parallel accounts on behalf of government.
State revenue was a bazaar with a plethora of collection contractors. It was largely collect and keep; finders-keepers. While Government House, aka first family sat firmly on FAAC and lump-sum IGR takings, other denizens of the jungle scrambled over the remains of the feast. That was how come Imo State’s IGR record was a joke – about the least in the southeast. And Imo was supposedly an oil-producing state.
In just a couple of weeks, the Dr. Abraham Nwankwo-led Imo State Financial Advisory Committee has its interim report ready. Dr. Nwankwo was Director-General of Nigeria’s Debt Management Office (DMO) for about a decade. Prior to the DMO job, he had a stint as Senior Advisor in the World Bank. There couldn’t have been a better choice for the job.
In just a couple of weeks again, the intractable Imo Pensions scheme has been unraveled as the Pensions Review Committee in conjunction with consultants presented an interim report.
Verdict: the last proper payment of pension was in 2014; no accurate database of the pension system in Imo State; payment of pension became a racket in the last four years as the system was managed by various contractors. It was a huge payday for jobbers while retired workers lived in pain and penury.
It has therefore been decided that Imo must urgently migrate to electronic database platforms for her pension scheme. This means that there shall be electronic capture of pensioners. This means that no more carrying of appointment and retirement letters, no more tedious and expensive verifications, no more long queues and delays in payment of pensioners, no more fraud in the pension scheme and the ability of the government to plan and project its pensions outlay over many years is most salutary.
This is the new regime that will kick in for Imo pensioners this year. Imo pensioners are indeed in for a good time under Governor Emeka Ihedioha. Contributory pension will follow after the system has been revamped and benchmarked under current best practices around.
The committee on the National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS) is hard at work. The State Health Insurance Scheme to cover the entire 305 wards of Imo State is being aggressively pursued. It is a tacky issue but not an insurmountable problem. As the bureaucratic knots are being carefully untied, the governor let it be known that “We have the political will to wring change in this state.” It is always a reassuring charge to members; especially hi-impact members of his team who are burning for a rapid reform of the odious status quo.
Debris of the mis-governance of the past eight years is being removed on all fronts. The taps in Owerri city had been dry for many years. This has necessitated urgent rehabilitation of the Otamiri Water Scheme. It had been dysfunctional and abandoned for years. Work has commenced and taps will run again in Owerri soon.
TSA, pension scheme, National Health Insurance Scheme, Public Water Supply, a return to the UN system through the return of UNICEF: If you didn’t see the connection here, what about the return of the World Bank Group to Imo State after a long hiatus?
The immediate past administration of Governor Rochas Okorocha was of course not up and doing in paying counterpart funds; in addition, its officials were alleged to have sought to compromise the bank’s team which supposedly led to their retreat for about two years. It was nigh impossible dealing with the last government, they determined.
Last week, a team from the World Bank/International Development Association led by Mr. Salisu Dahiru met with Governor Ihedioha in Government House Owerri. They were later to flag-off the Ezemazu-Urualla Gully Erosion control project in Ideato North. It is a project under the World Bank/NEWMAP programme on erosion and watershed management.
Notwithstanding the shenanigans of past officials of government, the new government of Governor Ihedioha promptly paid up the counterpart fund of N500m required to kick in this N9.8b project, World Bank’s biggest in Nigeria. The leader of the WB team couldn’t hide his surprise: what they had chaffed over for about eight years has been resolved in about four weeks of a new government. It is a mark of leadership, a landmark achievement and it is unprecedented, he remarked.
The markers are right and the signposts are pointing in the right direction. It’s about leadership and governance; it’s about the grundnorms and rule of law as a mantra for good governance.
Consider these facts: no serious leader would govern a state without an Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice. Though the cabinet is not emplaced, the governor sought leave of the State Assembly to appoint one. And he reached for the very best of Imo in Nnawuchi Ndukwe, (SAN). They don’t come much better.
Again, you can’t begin to run a modern government without a bureau for procurement. Thus one of the first offices set up by the Ihedioha administration is the Bureau for Public Procurement and Price Intelligence (BPPPI). And only the best mind in the land had to run it. The lot fell on Dr. Pascal Egwim, an ex- Regional Logistics Manager for Shell in Africa and a lead Procurement Consultant for Nigeria’s Bureau of Public Procurement; to name just a few accomplishments.
There is Prof. Chudi Uwazurike, a multi-disciplinary academician, administrator and politician heading Diaspora affairs.
Engr. John Obinna Chukwu, retired Permanent Secretary, Federal Capital Territory Administration (FCTA) and Fellow of the Nigerian Society of Engineers has been virtually dragged on board; a technocrat with deep experience in public works. He will lead the massive road projects to be embarked upon soon as the rains recede.
The best hands and minds are consulted daily for the Imo Rebuild project. Kanu Nwankwo was tapped for stadium main bowl re-grassing; Olympian sprinter, Charity Opara co-opted to see to new tartan track project. Prof. Jude Njoku and company sorting the miasma that has been made of university education in Imo and another team lead by Hon. Charles Enwererm and Prof Peter Okorie wringing the change in Imo technical and vocational education.
Things we thought could never be done are already happening. LGA elections have been set for December this year; State election commission has already been put on notice by the governor. We must not exceed the statutory period stipulated by law for interim conditions to last in LGAs, the governor warned ISIEC.
Imo is about to bask in the euphoria of reason and commonsense, we are about to say goodbye to the era of tomfoolery and bare-faced brigandage; the markers are being rigged in the right places for the rebuild of Imo.