Rt. Hon Goodluck Nana Opiah is a veteran politician and community leader. He hails from Abacheke Community in Ohaji/Egbema Local Government Area of Imo State. He was elected to the Imo State House of Assembly in 2003 to represent Ohaji-Egbema State Constituency. He was overwhelmingly reelected into the Imo State House of Assembly in 2007, where he became the 8th Speaker of the House on June 5, 2007. During his time in the Imo State House Assembly, the Imo State Oil Producing Areas Development Commission (ISOPADEC) was born through his private member bill. In 2015 he won the House of Representatives election to represent the people of Ohaji/Egbema/Oguta/Oru West Federal Constituency, where he remained active until 2019. Within the four years, he was in the House of Representatives, he posted superlative performances. Opiah has a burning desire for the development of the oil-producing community. In this interview, he speaks on the performance of Distinguished Senator Hope Uzodimma in office as the Governor of Imo State, stressing that despite the distractions and the circumstances of his emergence as the Governor of the state, he has surpassed the expectations of many people. Excerpts:
Governor Hope Uzodimma has marked his 100 days in office. As a major stakeholder in the state, would you say the circumstances of his emergence as the Governor of Imo State in any affected his performance in 100 days in office?
The administration of Senator Hope Uzodimma came into being on the 15th day of January 2020, after the Supreme Court of Nigeria had declared him the authentic winner of the 2019 governorship election on January 14, 2020. He took over formally and strongly on the 15th of January. Within the same week, his opponents, the Peoples’ Democratic Party (PDP) and Rt. Hon. Emeka Ihedioha went back to the Supreme Court for a review of that judgment. That was a substantial distraction. It was even a subtraction from the 100 days we are talking about, because that review process lasted till the 3rd of March when the Supreme Court reaffirmed the judgment of January 14. You can see that even the 100 days we are talking about is short by over 35 days of distraction and unnecessary legal struggle by the opposition. That 35 days was supposed to be a major focus for the new administration to take over and run with the ball. It becomes even difficult to say that Distinguished Senator Hope Uzodimma has been Governor for 100 days. Having said so, I must say that between the 15th day of January when Distinguished Senator Hope Uzodimma took over as the Governor of Imo State and now, he has surprised all expectations. He has surpassed, by my assessment, my expectations of him as the Governor of Imo State.
Why do you say that the Governor has surpassed all expectations just within 100 days in office?
I said so because the previous administration where someone was declared a winner, before the handover date a transition committee was set up, a formal handover process took place and there was adequate preparation and adequate takeover. Distinguished Senator Hope Uzodimma took over the governance of Imo State just from nobody. There was no handover as we speak. There was no foundation laid for him. But with his hands-on experience, both from the public and private sectors, he started like a professional administrator. He started like someone who has been around the government for a long time. First, he has been able to do a careful and critical study of all the ministries and parastatals, departments, and agencies of the Imo State government, and of course, all the local government councils in the state, within that short period of time. On his palms are the problems and prospects of Imo State. So, for me, that is a major achievement. He has been calm, calculated and focused and determined to take Imo to the next level. He has done exceedingly well. He has delivered both the tangible and intangible dividends of democracy. He has been able to lay a solid foundation for the Rule of Law and Constitutional Democracy.
Could you elaborate on what you mean by tangible and intangible achievements?
Distinguished Senator Hope Uzodimma has done very well on both ends. The Rule of Law is completely in place. He has been able to enshrine into law the Criminal Justice Administration, which makes it possible for the Judiciary to dispense Justice without hindrances and makes it possible for the citizens to access Justice without difficulties. He has also made it possible to decongest the prisons in the state, which is good for our democracy. He has been able to ensure a stable Legislature for Imo State. Today, the Imo State House of Assembly is rancor free, united and more prepared to discharge their legislative functions better than it was eight years ago. And this was done without harassment and intimidation. I am so happy that that aspect was achieved because we used to have a near moribund Legislature before the arrival of Governor Hope Uzodimma. We used to have a Legislature that was more or less an appendage of the Executive. Today, we have a Legislature that is autonomous, clearly on their own and doing their own business the way it suits them.
Within the 100 days in office, the Governor has able to supervise a free and smooth transition from one Chief Judge, the Head of the Judiciary, to another Chief Judge. The first time in the history of the state that we would have a female Chief Judge. These intangible achievements may not mean so much to some people but they are very important for the survival of our democracy. On the other hand, Distinguished Senator Hope Uzodimma has been able to put in process strategies to revive ailing or moribund parastatals in the state. Adapalm Nigeria Ltd that had not produced palm oil in the last 15 years is producing oil now. The mill has been rehabilitated and functioning in full capacity. This is no mean achievement at all because at a point it looked like the rehabilitation of Adapalm was impossible. But here is a man who just assumed office in the past three months or thereabout and oil is flowing in the state.
The Governor is making great efforts to rehabilitate the Avutu Poultry through the new Ministry of Livestock Development. I am sure you know that water is now running in Owerri metropolis. For decades now it looked impossible that water would run in Owerri. But Distinguished Senator Hope Uzodimma has rehabilitated water supply in Owerri Township within 100 days in office. More exciting to me is the fact that he did not come into the office as a confused person. He didn’t come into office unprepared. He didn’t indulge in the blame game. He came in and faced governance squarely. He inherited some ongoing projects from the previous administration and he did not abandon any. He encouraged the contractors to go back to their site. It was expected that serious contractors would continue and unserious contractors were thrown out of the window and new ones came in so that the projects would continue. So many projects are going on and nearing completion. I am sure you know the Control Post/World Bank/Umuguma Road. It is receiving serious attention. In a couple of weeks the nightmare the people living in that area, and indeed Imo people in general face, will be a thing of the past. There are other road projects that are ongoing at the moment: the Chukuma Nwoha Road and Port Harcourt Road projects are ongoing. These are achievements of a man who is knowledgeable enough to pilot the affairs of the state. Salaries and pensions are paid promptly.
Would you say that the coronavirus pandemic affected the Governor’s performance in any way?
Distinguished Senator Hope Uzodimma emerged the Governor of Imo at the time the coronavirus became an issue and he was able to live above the expectations of many people. He was able to put strategies and structures in place to ensure that the pandemic is contained in Imo. He put in place the Imo Initiative designed to ensure the safety and good health of the people. He has been able to provide palliatives to the people of the state across the local government to cushion the effects of the lockdown. One of the things he has done is to identify loopholes in the Internally Generated Revenue of the state. All the leakages are being blocked. In addition, he has been able to tackle the issue of security with all seriousness. Logistics have been provided to check crime and criminality, including armed robbery and kidnapping in the state. That effort is paying off. There are no cases of crime reported on a daily basis as it used to be. You hardly can hear cases of armed robbery and kidnapping in the state and Imo people now sleep with their two eyes closed. The coronavirus did not affect the performance of the Governor in any way. Some people could have used the coronavirus as an excuse. But the Governor is not someone that makes excuses. He faced the challenges squarely and he has surpassed the expectations of everyone, just in 100 days in office.
Going forward, what do you expect the Governor to do, especially as we come out of the coronavirus restrictions?
One of the things I expect him to do, going forward, is to set up a high-powered economic team that would begin to think out of the box on how Imo would survive the COVID-19 pandemic, especially with the dwindling price of crude oil which is the mainstay of the Nigerian economy. I think that we need to look for alternatives. We need to think properly on how to sustain the economy of the state in the coming months and years.
You are from Ohaji-Egbema LGA and a stakeholder from that area. How have the people of your area benefited from this government?
I come from the oil-producing area of Ohaji-Egbema and Oguta. One of the best things that happened to us is that we have Distinguished Senator Hope Uzodimma as the Governor of the state. He is a man who is very much abreast of the workings in the oil sector. More than ever before, the Governor is showing interest in the welfare of the people of the oil-producing communities of Imo State. We are very glad that he is there now. The 1999 Constitution (as amended) provides for the 13% Oil Derivation Fund for oil-producing states, and by extension the oil-producing communities in the country. The government of Imo State as at 1999 and thereabout did not make available the Fund for the development of Ohaji-Egbema and Oguta Local Government Areas until 2006 when I took it as a responsibility to come up with a bill that saw the establishment of the Imo State Oil Producing Areas Development Commission (ISOPADEC) which functioned between 2007 and 2011. From 2011 till the coming on board of Distinguished Senator Hope Uzodimma, that Commission was moribund. It was unable to deliver any form of amenity to either Oguta Local Government Area of Ohaji-Egbema Local Government Area. All the funds accruable to that Commission was messed up. Nobody was able to account for them even as we speak. Within these three months the Governor has been able to save the money belonging to that Commission to the tune of over a Billion Naira. That money will be used to serve the people of Ohaji-Egbema and Oguta Local Government Areas. The people will determine what to do with their money. It had never happened before in the history of the oil-producing area and in the history of the state, that people would decide what their money would be used for.