By Austin Uganwa
Rt. Hon. Emeka Ihedioha, Imo state Governor rallied key state stakeholders for a crucial summit inside the Ahiajoku Conference Centre in Owerri, the state capital, Thursday, July 18. The summit, the first of its kind was distinctive, historic and symbolic in many respects. It was an assemblage of the cream of Imo politicians, political office holders; civil servants, industrialists and royal fathers. The artisans and indeed Imolites in the lower rump of the ladder also came in their numbers. The expansive conference hall and its gallery were filled to their brim and there was an overflow.
Unmistakably, it was the first time since the inception of the state in 1976 that a civilian governor would hold such a foremost and extensive interactive session with the people within 50 days of inauguration. The summit which essentially was Ihedioha’s first major public outing since assumption of office on May 29 this year, intrinsically underscores one of his key campaign promises of running a participatory, collaborative and heeding government.
The event, according to the governor was held for three critical reasons. The first was to provide the people insight into the state of affairs of Imo. The other was awareness- creation on the introduction of Treasury Single Account and the new pension scheme towards strapping up the people’s broad buy-in, necessary to underline the success of the two policies.
Far more fundamental as Ihedioha emphasized was to harvest the aggregate opinions of the people on how to move the state forward. Logically, this was underpinned by his policy thrust of taking government back to the people.
The summit was unsurpassed in the pattern it opened incredible and mind boggling can of warms on the unimaginable level of misrule the state was subjected to under the watch of immediate past governor of the state, Owelle Rochas Okorocha. The unbelievable rot in the state; indeed Okorocha’s open sore and barefaced licentiousness were laid bare in the most unmistakable manner by various speakers whose presentations were imbued with facts, figures and evidence-based.
The presentations were made by Governor Ihedioha, Dr. Abraham Nwankwo, former Director-General of Nigeria Debt Management Office and currently chairman Imo State Financial Advisory Committee and Mrs. Roz-Ben Okagbue of the Imo Pension Scheme. The trio relied on data they gathered directly and the findings from various committees set up by the government to evaluate Okorocha-headed administration.
The revelations were scary, shameful and largely incongruous with a democratic government that swore to hold the people’s mandate on trust. Disbelief, shock and trepidation visibly ran through the spines of the Imolites who were in attendance as they were confronted with scandalous, alarming and clinical details on how the once vibrant state was ruthlessly bled to comatose by Okorocha’s government.
Ihedioha told the gathering that, “Our interim findings show a consistent pattern of massive looting and stripping of public assets, dismantling and carting away of public property such as electric poles, vehicles, tucks, office equipment and furniture etc.” He added that unsustainable debts were incurred on behalf of the state running to over N100 billion and a myriad of lawsuits and garnishee orders amounting to N30 billion. The lawsuits, according to him, arose from several ill-conceived and fraudulent contractual agreements deliberately consummated by Okorocha administration.
The infrastructure base of the state according to the governor is in total ruins. This is incontrovertible. A trip around the state reveals that virtually all the roads and bridges in the state and Owerri municipal are in dreadful and dilapidated conditions. The few that were rehabilitated in the state by the last administration were done with substandard materials and direct labour leading to constant washout and breakdown
It is self-evident that the overhead bridges at Orji and Amakohia near Owerri municipal which were recently constructed by the past administration have been certified collapsed by the Council of Registered Engineers of Nigeria (COREN).
Abraham Nwankwo submitted that Okorocha-headed government undertook the most irresponsible fiscal regime without recourse to accounting mechanisms, transparency and due process. He told the bewildered Imo people that the administration operated 250 accounts in various commercial banks many of which were concealed and served as conduits to siphon public funds
Roz-Ben Okagbue noted deceitful documentation of pensioners with annotation that the last time the past administration paid the pensioners was in 2014. Based on available records, she disclosed that the present government would spend between N1.2 billion and N1.3 billion on monthly basis to cater for the over 27,000 pensioners in the state.
Given the fascinating steps the new administration has taken too soon to rebrand, resuscitate and re-erect the state, Ihedioha-led government appears undeterred by the enormity of the burdens it inherited from the past administration. The new government has introduced Treasury Single Account towards the enthronement of probity, accountability and transparency in the fiscal sector.
Besides, it has also commenced the verification exercise of pensioners so as to standardize and begin in the next couple of weeks the monthly payment of the pensioners. The rehabilitation of the dilapidated Owerri municipal roads has commenced while 10 critical roads and bridges in the state have been mapped out for urgent salvage.
*Uganwa is Senior Special Assistant on Documentation to Imo State Government