By Toni Wakiki Akuneme
In his inaugural address to Imo people in January this year, as their 6th democratically elected governor, Senator Hope Odidika Uzodinma reiterated his commitment to purposeful governance benchmarked by free enterprise, social security, and rule of law. He pledged (on oath) to “restore financial discipline, entrench due process and conduct government business in the most transparent manner “
I met the man Hope Uzodimma sometime in 2011 when my cousin, Hon Uche Obiozor, presented me to him as his constituent who was posted to the Nigeria High Commission in Ottawa, Canada as Immigration attache (then he had just become the senator for my Orlu zone).
The next time I met Uzodimma again was in 2015 when I just returned to Nigeria after my foreign service and he had asked to meet with the youths of my town, as part of his non-partisan constituency briefing. Fortuitously, I was nominated unanimously to tell the distinguished senator, the expectations of Awomamma youths. After that meeting which held in the home of one of our elder statesmen, Sir Jerry Onuwa, the senator held my hand and whispered to me, “no wonder they made you their spokesman “. I smiled.
We never met again until in 2017 when I was elected president of the global forum for all Awomamma people (ADF) and we paid the senator a courtesy visit in his Abuja office. Again, we interacted cordially on the need to include Awomamma in his constituency program and projects. Instantly, the obviously impressed senator, asked his then Legislative Assistant, Ralph Nwosu, to allocate one civic center, one solar borehole, and two feeder roads for the Awomamma community in their list of NDDC interventions. The borehole was completed within a few weeks while the roads are still under construction and the civic center has been published by NDDC in their 2019 projects but yet to be commenced.
I cut a deep impression of the man Uzodimma after those meetings and other more intimate contacts I had with him later on in 2017 and 2018 in the company of my cousin Alloy Nnawugo, his classmate way back from Mgbidi Boys college, who always visited from London. I never saw Uzodimma as someone who pretended to be perfect. He rather came across as a simple, friendly but highly focused man who knew exactly what he wanted from life and possessed an unambiguous and charming style for pursuing his life’s ambition.
Fast forward to January 2020 and behold Uzodimma had become the Executive Governor of Imo State after a two-time stint in the Nigerian Red Chamber. Uzodimma must have come prepared, having had his eyes on the crystal ball in Douglas House since 2003, seventeen clear years before he finally wrestled the coveted seat from Mr. Emeka Ihedioha of the rival People’s Democratic Party. I have no doubt that the new governor is coming on board with an uncommon zeal that is already energizing the entire state towards sustainable development founded on inclusiveness and collective responsibility. His robust political experience and active Legislative career at the federal level must have equally exposed him to policymaking cum leadership strategies and skillsets that will help him navigate the curves of statecraft in his avowed bid to achieve the New Imo of his dreams.
I am convinced that Uzodimma fully understands the need to very quickly impress Nde Imo who may not afford him a second chance for a good first impression, given their checkered political experience and against the backdrop of the remarkedly divine way in which he launched himself into Douglas House, beginning with his dislodging of the Okorocha hold on Imo and then the unseating of an Ihedioha who claimed to be the governor albeit not meeting the mandatory two-third spread of votes cast in the 27 local government areas of the State.
Recent political history in Nigeria shows that such governors who reclaimed their mandates by divine Judicial intervention like the Peter Obis and the Rotimi Amechis, wasted no time in giving their people real QUALITY service delivery, being naturally fired up by their peculiar circumstances. Uzodimma is not likely to be any different, judging by his sure and steady flow in the last 100 days of his administration, by way of citizen-based governance. His first moves included the continuation of all genuine policies and programs initiated by the ousted, ill-fated government of Mr Ihedioha, to truly underscore that government was a CONTINUUM, such as retaining the famous water engineer Emeka Ugoanyanwu who has started the reactivation of the hitherto moribund Otammiri Water scheme, retaining all the road construction contractors in the state especially in the state capital, Owere, retaining all the panels of enquiries instituted by Mr Ihedioha against the activities of former governor Okorocha, prompt payment of workers salaries and pensions but with a caveat that only physically identified persons will be captured. No more ghost workers and ghost pensioners.
Other salient but silent milestones of the Uzodimma administration that are not easily discernible to the uninitiated, include the prompt signing into law the bill on Enhanced Criminal Justice Administration which aims at simplifying complex court proceedings and decongesting the prisons in line with Federal Government Reform efforts to make Nigeria Prisons more of Correctional facilities than punitive. Thus, innovations like speedy trials, alternatives to imprisonment such as Community paroles and Plea bargaining will be the hallmarks of Justice administration in Imo state which becomes one of the few states to domesticate this new law in consonance with the Federal government.
Uzodimma’s greatest achievement in the past three months is unarguably his ability to forestall the entry of the dreaded Coronavirus into the entire Imo state, which has received both local and international commendations. Doubtless, the total lockdown of the state naturally affected social and economic development in the state especially the arrival of dozens of foreign investors that had been issued visas for business meetings with the governor and his team. Some of these investors were to come from Japan to discuss alternative power generation and distribution potentials in the state, while another group from Canada were set to arrive Owerri for high-level discussions on livestock and other agro-based services. A third group from Israel had also gotten their visas to come for the signing of agreements on affordable housing and construction projects and the beauty of all these engagements is that they are bringing their own funding from offshore and all IMO government is expected to provide is just the enabling environment and political will to drive these businesses with the attendant multiplier job creating potentials.
Uzodimma sure has such political sagacity in quantum deposits and little wonder he prefers to call himself the Oracle of PROSPERITY as he gears up not just to create wealth for ndi Imo but also to ensure that such wealth is equitably distributed among the rich and the poor with special focus on the vulnerable groups in the state. The governor is fully convinced that if a greater percentage of Imolites are gainfully employed, crime will reduce, tourism, for which Owerri has come to be known, will triple and Imo will become more prosperous. Already, once the lockdown is over, the governor is personally set to engage the leadership of major professional organizations like NBA, NMA, ICAN, COREN, NUT, NLC, and so on, so they can come to Owere for their Annual General Meetings, which he will personally attend the opening ceremonies and encourage the government-owned hotel to offer them free venues and discounted rooms and services. The idea, which Uzodimma copied from the city of Miami, is to ensure that all round the year, the state capital and its environ will remain busy with activities such that hoteliers, restaurants, beer pubs, cab drivers, business owners, and other tour operators will be fully engaged from January to December. With this plans comes the massive reorientation of all major stakeholders in the tourism sector to ensure that visitors to imo state go away with the desire to come back again and again, based on a solid impression.
The governor is committed to upgrading the infrastructural and environmental systems around the state, with urgent emphasis on Owere the capital. He literally has taken over the daily supervision of waste disposal and monitoring of ongoing road construction projects in the state. Uzodimma is so passionate about the Recovery, Reconstruction, and Rehabilitation of the New Imo he visualizes that he has vowed to go round by midnight once the lockdown is over, to physically inspect street lights, potholes, security patrols, and traffic lights to be sure that contractors don’t try to compromise his aides. He Hope’s to make the state free from such abuse like littering the streets and urinating publicly as first offenders will be used as scapegoats to test the determination of the state. Uzodimma is aware that all eyes are on him, having made clear promises during his campaigns and inauguration. He does not have any slightest plans to go back on those promises. He sees the whole process of governance and politics as a hobby and is not in it for personal aggrandizement. Uzodimma has a date with destiny and will rather quit than try to shortchange ndi Imo. Uzodimma ultimately wants to make Imo the symbol of QUALITY east of the Niger. Quality people. Quality products. Quality services. Uzodimma has already dusted the original masterplan for the state as created by the legendary Sam Mbakwe and is willing and able to reinvent the new Imo of Mbakwes dreams which successive governments ignored. Uzodimma will engage with all stakeholders in periodic town hall meetings to review his strategies and plan new ones. In the end, all Uzodimma wants is for ndi Imo to get a good life while God alone takes all the glory.
Let the Coronavirus go away so the good times can begin.
Toni Wakiki Akuneme Senior Special Assistant to the governor, writes from Awomamma.
NB: This was written before Imo recorded its first case of Corona.