By Charles Odibo
A shocking story appeared in some national newspapers with the scary headline in a leading online platform, “Okorocha Building Bridges without Professional Design, Engineers Cry Out.” According to the story, then President of the Council for the Regulation of Engineering in Nigeria (COREN), Kashim Ali, stated that bridges being built by then Governor of Imo State, Senator Rochas Okorocha, were without plan and input from professional engineers. Mr. Ali whose tenure ended in April 2019, according to the story, made this revelation while addressing Senators, and put the nation on notice that several efforts by the association to call the state government, under Okorocha, to order had failed. Apparently exasperated, he warned that “in Imo State, there is a tragedy about to happen. Their bridges are being built without design.” Continuing his narrative to the shell-shocked Senators of the out-gone 8th National Assembly, he chronicled their efforts to make Okorocha’s government see reason and do the needful. Said he, “we went there, we said, let’s see the design so that we can ascertain the condition of these bridges. We made a plea, they refused to give us. We asked for the engineers or anybody involved in this project so that we can at least interview and know the integrity of the bridges. So we had to make a pronouncement to the effect that there was a problem that such could cause but because we don’t have enforcement power, we cannot stop the project.”
Fast-forward to June 6th, 2018 – The bridge at Children’s Amusement Park located at the Ikemba Ojukwu Centre, Owerri, built by former Governor Okorocha’s administration collapsed during rainfall at night.
Fast-forward to May 17th, 2019 – The Vice President of Nigeria, Professor Yemi Osinbajo, visits Owerri, the Imo State capital, and commissions the controversial Okigwe/Orji road flyover in the city of Owerri, for use by motorists, as part of Okorocha’s parting gift to ndi Imo
Fast-forward to June 18th, 2019 – Just one month after the commissioning of the Okigwe/orji road flyover, by Vice President Osinbajo, and 20 days in office as Governor of Imo State, Rt. Hon. Emeka Ihedioha received distress calls from motorists that a portion of the flyover has cracked and was caving in, and he promptly visits the Okigwe/Orji road flyover with government officials, heads of security agencies, and the leadership of the Nigeria Society of Engineers (NSE), Imo state chapter.
This is what the former Chairman of NSE, Owerri chapter, Engineer Emeka Ugoanyanwu, told the Governor during the on-the-spot assessment visit at the failed portion of the bridge, “The issue of this flyover is part of the problems we are having now in the state because we raised this issue. This is a failure of a weak superstructure which has a problem. COREN and NSE, we have what we call ERM (Engineering Regulatory Monitoring) Inspectorate of which I was in charge as Chairman then. We visited the two flyovers in the state and we wanted to know the contractors, because each time we come they refer us to the Governor’s office and by our professional ethics we don’t like to go disturb the Governor, we work with the contractors so that the government will get value for its money. So after this we decided to carry out a preliminary integrity test on this flyover and the tunnels, which showed complete failure on all engineering principles and standards. Then ERM Inspectorate Unit in Imo wrote a letter to COREN, and COREN tried to have audience with the Governor but it failed. They (COREN) now had to call a press conference in Lagos asking the government to discontinue the construction works. Immediately COREN raised this issue the contractor (whose names are neither known to us nor Ministry of Works) rushed to this site and started generating pillars under the flyover, which is a criminal offence, because those pillars are not carrying anything they are just to deceive people that they have additional structural stability or reinforcement for the bridge. So COREN had to rush to the national Assembly and got an amendment to our Act so that there can be prosecution. So we request that the NSE, Owerri branch be commissioned to carry out a detailed integrity test of this flyover but meanwhile access to this flyover should be blocked so that we don’t have a major disaster in the state because the problem with engineering failure is that when it fails it affects so many people. Its unlike so many other professions because if a doctor makes a mistake, maybe a patient will die, but if we have a failure here it can result to the death thousands.”
Right away, based on the professional advice of the NSE, Governor Ihedioha asked the state Ministry of Works to immediately close to traffic the flyover and other life threatening projects executed by the Okorocha administration, as identified by NSE.
The chronology above, were not isolated events in Imo State between May 2011 and May 2019 when disregard for due process and disdain for strict adherence to law were the norm rather than the exception. The construction of phantom projects; plethora of abandoned projects like 27 new General Hospitals, which the former Governor, Rochas Okorocha, confirmed he paid N27 billion for, but which are all presently abandoned and inhabited by rats and lizards and overgrown by weeds; creation of amorphous arms of government and institutions not known to the law; salary and pension arrears owed to workers and retirees; and huge debts overhang defined Imo state’s ugly past, unleashed by an undeserved hostile administration. Indeed it was a sad reminder of an unforgettable dark era of an endowed state for eight sordid years.
It was a time that, sadly exhibited the bestiality of government to its people; reminded the governed of rulers’ insensitivity to the plight of their subjects; and starkly revealed the nauseating failure of men entrusted with the opportunity of service to others but who rather, chose the ignoble path down the hill of ignominy.
Well-meaning sons and daughters of the state were practically chased out of the state as attested to by Chief I.D. Nwoga, a former Minister and founding Chairman of Imo State PDP, in April at the inauguration of the Handover Planning Committee by then Governor-elect Emeka Ihedioha.
In fact Imo’s ugly past degenerated to the point where the elite and leaders of the state across party lines were forbidden by the former administration from publicly speaking their minds on the state of Imo State. A practical example was on January 5, 2018 when Imo leaders of thought under the aegis of Imo Economic Development Initiative (IEDI) led by Professor Maurice Iwu, a former INEC Chairman, paid the former Governor a visit to, according to Thisday (January 14, 2018) “reveal the anomalies that had bedeviled the state for the past seven years.” The former Governor acceded to the meeting on the condition that it would be a private meeting and so, ahead of the meeting the former Governor, according to the Thisday report had “directed all those coming for the meeting from the government side should drop their phones with the protocol personnel at the entrance of the meeting venue…the governor didn’t want any development that could jeopardize the progress of the meeting.”
But the page has turned for the better, for ndi Imo, if morning shows the day.
Governor Emeka Ihedioha’s clarion call to ndi Imo to “reclaim the state from despondency and hopelessness with a full assurance to serve the best interest of our people” is beginning to manifest in his early steps and actions.
The foundation and building blocks for an Imo State that will endure are daily being put in place by the administration of Governor Ihedioha. The mantra of the administration, ‘Rebuild Imo’, anchored on good governance, human capital development, job and wealth creation, and integrated infrastructure development are studiously and painstakingly being implemented to create the state that the Governor envisions.
The people of Imo State can now look forward to a state where there is due process, openness, transparency and accountability in the conduct of government business; a government that is genuinely committed to reinvigorate and reposition the state public service as a vehicle of service delivery to the people; respect the autonomy of the judiciary in order to promote the rule of law; restore the autonomy of the local government; and ensure strict observance of the principle of separation of powers as it affects the state house of assembly.
But above all, the dawn of a new Imo which signals the entrenchment of transparency in governance, is an opportunity for soul searching by ndi Imo who allowed a once respected people and state to become a laughing stock among the comity of states.
With renewed hope as offered by Governor Ihedioha, whose antecedents prove that he can be trusted to lead as he has promised, ndi Imo can now rise in unison to say that never again shall they allow public officers who violate the sanctity of their oath of office, desecrate the sacred land nurtured by the Imo River, and destroy the cherished values of a people.
*Odibo is a Marketing and Communications Practitioner
Governor Emeka Ihedioha’s clarion call to ndi Imo to ‘eclaim the state from despondency and hopelessness with a full assurance to serve the best interest of our people’ is beginning to manifest in his early steps and actions