Hon. Declan Emelumba, the Imo State Commissioner for Information and Strategy, in this interview with Amby Uneze, highlights some of government’s activities and achievements so far. Excerpts:
How has it been since you assumed office as Information and Strategy Commissioner in Imo State?
It has been hectic and at the same time, expectedly so because it’s not easy to really be the mouthpiece of government. People expected you to be almost an encyclopedia to know everything, which is what it should be. But we have been trying our best. Thank God it is not a very strange terrain and another thing is managing journalists is not all that easy. Of course, I am one and have remained so in managing them all along. It has been good so far.
This government is barely 10 months old and since inception what are the milestones it has covered in your assessment?
In fact they are quite a number and the list is so long, even though the time is short. This is a government that came into office in a not very normal process. When the government came in, there was nobody on ground to show us where to start, because there was no handover note, which made it quite difficult to take off.
So, the government had to start from day one to put things together since there was no transition period to organise the take off of a new administration, but thank God for the person of distinguished Senator Hope Uzodimma, who came prepared to face the mantle of leadership in the state, squarely. He didn’t have any problem taking off in spite of the prevailing circumstances then.
Within the first weeks, because he wanted to make sure that civil service was properly positioned, by trying to raise their morale as against what was left behind by former governor Rochas Okorocha, who had even mandated civil servants to work for three days a week and that killed the civil service in the state.
Within the first 28 days in office, the governor bought official vehicles for all permanent secretaries in the state. Before that, he had first toured the entire secretariat, where he saw that the buildings were dilapidated and had leaking roofs, etc. The ten blocks were reroofed and all necessary repairs were carried out, water was restored as well as light to the complex.
Within his 100 days in office, he was able to rehabilitate the governors’ lodge, which was clearly not in use by the time we came in. Okorocha was using what was called the ‘bush bar’ while Emeka Ihedioha operated from the Odenigbo complex. But this governor refused to stay outside the governors’ lodge, because he was actually elected as the governor of Imo State and therefore should operate from the governor’s office, which is the official seat of power.
Going there, there was nothing on ground: no water, no electricity, but within a record time he was able to restore the place back to normal as the seat of power of Imo State government. He remodeled and reconstructed the governors’ lodge, at least to restore dignity to governance. He also renovated the official lodge of the Speaker and that of the deputy speaker of the state House of Assembly. He bought official vehicles for the judges and at least, the three arms of government had their morale raised to do their job for the state.
I usually tell people that this is the first government that within 7 months commissioned roads. I have lived here in Imo and having been part of various governments either in the legislature or executive I have not seen any government that within seven months commissioned any road project. It is a record that has not been done by anybody.
He was also able to revive the Otamiri water scheme, and at least, water was able to run within some parts of Owerri metropolis. The same thing is with Adapalm. That place is working now and those who were sacked previously have been called back and they are now producing things like margarines, soaps, etc. You can say that this is a milestone achievement the government has recorded within the period that it has been in power.
More importantly, the migration from analogue to automation of salaries is a major feat for this government. You know, previous governments were afraid to embark on this automation, because they had felt that they would fight cabals that were involved in the payroll stuff, because of the misunderstandings. Now the government pays directly to workers and has eliminated the process of the payroll system, where they padded whatever they would want to pad.
That is the sanitisation of the whole system in the public service. It is a major achievement of this government, though it came with challenges. Now, you have some people who have not been able to comply with certain requirements like BVN and so on and so forth among the workers and pensioners.
Generally the automation process is very successful and the government is in a position to determine, one, the actual number of workers in Imo State, because you are captured biometrically. And then the government is able to pay the workers directly and no more through a third party into their bank account for those working in the ministries, parastatals and agencies. It is a laudable development.
What are the other achievements?
Government has trained a number of people within this period. It is overwhelming. Up to 15,000 youths have been trained through the CBN/Nirsal facilities that are now on the queue for the startup capital to start their businesses. This will definitely reduce unemployment in the state. The governor has also released N2 billion for youths in the state. Staff buses were also released to convey civil servants to and from their offices with complimentary breakfast. This is in addition to buying official vehicles for all government appointees and the permanent secretaries.
Government is also flagging off the construction of two major strategic roads: Owerri-Orlu and Owerri-Okigwe. They would be daulised and would be completed within 18 months. Again, the construction of seven world-class modern roundabouts in the state capital would totally change the face of the capital city. Of course, the number of roads that have been constructed including the balloon driven drainage at Chukwuma Nwoha where the entire flood that used to make Owerri perennially flooded would now be taken from and emptied it at Otamiri River.
That one is a major achievement also because when it is finished there would not be flood again in Owerri. Relief market road is now well constructed, same as Douglas road and the popular Ekeukwu market, which was destroyed by Rochas Okorocha, work has started there for 1800 stalls (international world-class modern market). Government has really done great within this short period to change the face of the state.
The demolition of the Somtochukwu Hospital built by Rochas Okorocha at the Ekeukwu market has generated concerns among Imo people. Don’t you think remodeling it would have been better than demolition, because we are talking about the state resources here? Why was it demolished?
In the first place, the area was originally the ancestral market of Owerri people and in the process of destroying the market, that little boy, Somtochukwu who was going to help the father in the market was shot. So, Okorocha was only trying to atone his sins and went to erect what he called ‘Somtochukwu hospital’. You and I knew that there was no hospital there, because it is the doctors, nurses and equipment that make up a hospital and not an empty building that had not been finished and did not pass any structural test.
That uncompleted building became a menace – a hideout in the city and it was an eyesore. Moreover, the modern market, which this government is trying to construct, would really bring back the glory of the city. That is even the best way to remember that little boy, Somtochukwu, because he died in the hands of Rochas Okorocha while going into the market to help his father. So the boy was not a nurse, nor a doctor, he had nothing to do with the hospital.
It is the same way he (Okorocha) scattered the 27 local governments with uncompleted buildings in the name of general hospital and not one of them has one syringe or anything to merit a hospital. It is total madness to call an uncompleted building a hospital. The point is that the building was a danger to the society, because it was a den for robbers. Secondly, if a market is to be conceived that building would be causing obstruction, so it has to give way for the modern market to be fully realised.
Again, you know that Okorocha has this penchant for lawlessness, that is why government has released a white paper on the judicial panel on lands and other related matters from 2006 to 2019 and which the government has now revoked all the allocations and lands illegally acquired from government, including the government house site, where he had gone to desecrate and parcelet and given out to friends, relatives and cronies. All those things should be recovered.
So if there is any structure that had been illegally erected against the original master plan of Owerri, of course, it should be demolished and the original plan will be restored. Like lawyers would say, ‘you can’t build something on nothing’. Ab initio, it was part of his arbitrary activities and actions. We wouldn’t allow all the plots he illegally took over from Imo people in Arugo and other places and given out to cronies, relatives, friends, etc to stand.
Government has decided to recover all those things and return them to the original owners and restore the master plan of the city, because he behaved as if the state was his father’s property or estate. So, anybody allowing that kind of madness to subsist means that the man was right after all, and that’s not true; he was a lawless person who almost ruined this state.
This government as a responsible one owes it a duty to recover and restore dignity of not only Imo people, who were brutalised by his lawlessness and arbitrariness but the dignity of Owerri master plan and Owerri capital territory, which he decided on his own to distort anyhow he liked. So, the Somtochukwu hospital is one of his symbols and recklessness. There is no way it could stand.
There are other panels set up to investigate activities in other areas, what is the government doing in releasing their whitepapers?
It is a gradual thing. Last week, the Exco deliberated on the whitepaper for the visitation panel on Imo State University Teaching Hospital (IMSUTH), which part of the decision was to dismiss the Medical Director for fraudulent activities, because they were busy padding their payroll anyhow! For instance, in December 2019, their total wage bill was N147 million, then, in January 2020 (which was the month this government was sworn in), they increased it to N236 million.
How do you explain within one month, this 100 per cent increase and so many other fraudulent things they were engaged in? So, council deliberated that and approved it and deliberated on the panel on lands and approved it. The Justice Iheka panel and others will definitely come up. When it is approved, that is, when a government official position will be made public I’m sure it will follow the pattern. Government would do justice to it