By Ethelbert Okere
Just before the Lekki fiasco on Tuesday 20, October 2020, some Facebook irritants in Imo state posted a picture of three youths, two males and a female, in a pool of mud water. The annotation to the photograph was that it was taken along the road leading to Nekede and Ihiagwa (both in Owerri West local government of Imo state) from the popular Poly Junction, along the Aba Owerri high way. The road leads to two federal institutions of higher learning – the Federal Polytechnic, and the Federal University of Technology.
The photograph was taken during a protest gathering of some youths at that junction. But, according to the youths, it was not part of the ENDSARS protest – by that date, ENDSARS protesters in the state had left streets of Owerri – but against the poor state of that particular road.
Nobody denies that the road in question is in a poor state but it is instructive that the protest by the youths regarding it in particular coincided, roughly, with ENDSARS. The question, therefore, is: Why did the youths, said to be made up mostly of students of the two institutions, wait till ENDSARS to start their agitation on that particular road? The road in question has been in that state long before ENDSARS.
Yes, the youths needed to drive home a point but the timing lends credence to the belief in several qualities that the organizers – or sponsors as some put it – merely wanted to take advantage of ENDSARS first to paint the current administration in the state in bad light: as insensitive to the plight of youths and, second, to orchestrate the allegation that it has deliberately refused to fix roads in the state, generally.
But nothing can be more fallacious than that. Agreed, some roads are in a poor state but to lay the blame squarely on the door step of the current administration is to cheapen the argument. Yes, government is a continuum but we must rightly divide the narrative so as to avoid muddling up of issues. While it is proper and legitimate to draw the attention of a sitting governor to issues bordering on the welfare of the people, it must not be done in a manner as not suggest that once a governor vacates offices, all his misdeeds are forgiven and forgotten and the incumbent made to carry all the blame. That is cheap and can only be the hallmark of a people that lack the level of sophistication Imolites are associated with. Unfortunately, partisanship is gradually eroding the discerning attributes of our people, such that as it is today, some politicians in the state would not mind making a 360-degree reversal on an issue in order to get even with a new enemy.
For example, I had in a previous article I drew attention to what seemed to be a change of mind by some elements in the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) over the party’s earlier stance on the conduct of the Rochas Okorocha administration which it succeeded. Some elements in the party made utterances that suggested that Governor Hope Uzodimma should discontinue with some of the panels set up by the administration of Rt. Hon. Emeka Ihedioha – its own administration – on some of the activities of his predecessor, their fear, perhaps, being either that the outcome of some of the panel sittings may no longer favor Ihedioha or enhance Governor Uzodinma’s profile.
Clearly, what those politicians were pursuing were personal, at best partisan, interests and certainly not that of the generality of the people. One is not unmindful of the cliché that in politics, there are no permanent enemies but permanent interests but the quick caveat here is: What type of interest? Self serving interests or that of the generality of the people? Unfortunately, what we now have is a situation whereby individual politicians see their personal interest as one and the same thing with that of those whom they supposedly lead or serve. As far as I am concerned, what Imo politicians, generally, have merely succeeded in doing is to create permanent enemies among themselves and none of interest, whether temporary or permanent.
Going back to the matter of roads, however, I can state without any fear of contradictions that nearly all the commentaries on the state of roads in the state are jaundiced by partisan proclivities, indeed as part of the antics of the so-called opposition to get the Supreme Court reverse itself on its judgment of January 14, 2020. The prospects of that expectation are not the concern here, but the point is that though it is their right to seek ‘redress’, those at the forefront of that “struggle” should do it with the needed decorum.
In at least three previous articles, I had noted that it amounts to an assault on the collective psyche of Imolites to suggest, as some PDP elements do, that Governor Ihedioha “perfected”, to employ their very language, everything in the state and that Governor Uzodimma is now undoing what he did. As I had noted, such an argument at best amounts to making a mockery of Ihedioha’s otherwise brilliant career. I am not sure that His Excellency, Rt. Hon. Emeka Ihedioha, would like his so-called supporters to continue to describe him in such superlatives when, for example, parts of some internal roads rehabilitated during his seven-month-long tenure have already collapsed. Even though a tabulation of the areas or spots affected is not within the scope of this essay, I know that Rt. Hon. Ihedioha is humble enough that if his attention is drawn to that, he will admit that that was not what he had expected when he gave out those jobs to the contractors that handled them.
In any case, some of those contracts were still ongoing when Senator Uzodimma came in and as is well known, he gave the contractors the go-ahead to complete them. I then ask: Should Governor Uzodimma be blamed for the collapsed of those portions or spots? Yes, he is the man on seat right now and government, they say, is a continuum but it is cheap to ascribe to him the failure of those roads, to the extent that some unscrupulous elements expected the highly sophisticated Imo youths to abandon the noble objectives of ENDSARS and to, instead, begin to demonstrate on intra city roads that had been in sordid states for upwards of eight years. Incidentally, the contentious road was one of those that were under rehabilitation under the Ihedioha administration and on which work was allowed to continue by Governor Uzodimma. But as is well known, the contractor abandoned site, after receiving about 1.4 Billion Naira mobilization money from the immediate past administration, and has refused to return despite entreaties – even threats – by the governor, for reasons best known to them. Only a few days ago, the state executive council resolved to retrieve the money from the contractor and re-award the contract to a more competent firm.
Granted that the incumbent administration has the responsibility of ensuring that the roads are put back in order, it is not in the interest of the generality of the people for some elements to use it as a weapon for their struggle for political relevance or rebirth, to the extent of asking youths to protest over it at such a volatile period. Imolites are discerning enough to realize that no serious road rehabilitation or construction work can go on right in the middle of the rains. I have come across commentaries to the effect that the rainy season is not an excuse but that is a crass misconception. It is a well-known fact that big construction firms do not do roads during the rains. Of course, here in Imo, we once saw a previous administration do roads in the thick of the rainy season. But the contractors were alleged make-belief companies hurriedly registered by insiders of that administration and the results are very well known. Is it not high time Imolites began to insist on standards?
I once provided some consultancy services for a candidate for a federal legislative office and who happens to come from Owerri zone and particularly from the Owerri federal constituency. Once, he asked me to draft a speech for him for a meeting with stakeholders from the Nekede-Ihiagwa axis but I told him that he did not need a prepared speech. I told him that all what he needed do was to point out to the people the fact that previous federal legislators in the zone, and federal constituency in particular, failed to draw the attention of the federal government to a road that leads to two big institutions owned by it; and that he would, if elected, make sure that it got into the federal budget the very next season.
Although my client did not make it to the National Assembly, it is an incontrovertible fact that Imo had, before Uzodimma, produced people who held top federal legislative offices and who were in a position to make the federal government partner with the state in building that road; at least on account of the existence of those two institutions in the state. Unfortunately, politics in Imo state is all about who occupies Douglas House.
It is heartwarming, however, that Imo youths, generally, have comported themselves well in the ongoing crisis and which I have acknowledged in an earlier article entitled, “Salute To Imo Youths.” Yes, some public places were burnt but it was not with the active collaboration of Imo youths. The perpetrators were evidently acting on behalf of some pay masters, going by the cowardly manner they reportedly went about torching those places. Only yesterday, I learnt that the arsonists who set ablaze a police station and two courts in my area did so by throwing petrol bombs from a far distance and then zooming away in motorcycles.
Unlike other states, there have been no records of looting of hidden COVID-19 palliative in Imo state. Apart from that it is a confirmation that the state government did not hoard any, what it means is that the conduct of Imo youths, in general, should be built upon by the state. And His Excellency’s plan to empower 500,000 of them in the next two years is a good starting point. More importantly, it is a clear message from the youths that they are not, generally, available for sordid errands.