With the publication of my book ‘The Presidential Years: From Dr. Jonathan to Gen. Buhari’ I believed I had done my bit in contributing in a permanent structure my ideas of how Nigeria can attain true democracy. I still believe that any politician who genuinely wishes to grapple with the challenges of his office should be sufficiently equipped after reading the two volumes of my book. I thought I would stop writing and give way to younger journalists to, like a new government, continue from where their predecessors stopped. But after Rt. Hon. Emeka Ihedioha massively won the gubernatorial elections in my native Imo State, I felt compelled to write, first to congratulate him on a great and well deserved feat and then to point to him some of the challenges that are likely to face his new administration in a battered state crying for restoration.
The sheer joy and relief shown by the good people of Imo State on the election of Mr. Ihedioha were a clear indication that for these eight long years that looked like eternity Imo people had been subjected to a dictatorship. It was a period that unmistakably pointed to them to be wary of the sweet promises politicians make when they come to ask for their mandate. And it taught Imo people of the need to first ascertain the track record of public office seekers before they throw in their towels.
If there was nothing the Okorocha government taught them, this was it – that in future they must assess the character and track record of public office seekers before choosing among them, who to vote for, irrespective of party affiliation. This is even more important, seeing with what frequency these politicians are willing to dump the parties under which they were elected into public office to cross carpet to other parties they believe would enable them achieve their selfish ends. Okorocha taught Imo people so much despite his below average performance in the governance. But whether they have learnt anything remains for the future to tell.
Having said this much, I would like the new PDP government to recognize what we have always said: that government is continuity. In many democratic countries, the role of government in state development is always designed to be in continuity. And the new PDP government should not be an exception. A new state government which is elected into power continues from where the previous government stopped. It reviews the policies and policy thrusts of the last government, makes amendments where necessary and continues with the work at hand before new measures or dimensions are introduced into the system as the hallmark or distinct identity of the incumbent government.
Unfortunately, this has not always been the case in Imo State. The prevalent attitude was that whenever a new government came into force, be it at local council or state level, it would terminate practically all the on-going contracts and projects initiated by the previous government and start afresh to take the people through a new vision and a totally new direction. That is scarcely the way to get about building a state. It is a complete waste of the tax payers’ money. It is a waste of time. It is a distraction of government focus. But unfortunately, that appeared to be the way Imo governments had taken, the longer and uncertain road to statehood. But as they say, the story of a million miles begins with one step forward. Imo people will trust in Ihedioha to lead them to rightly put that first step forward in continuation of their state development from the days of Dee Sam Mbakwe’s reign.
There is much to be done. There is a need to clear the debris that have continued to litter the state capital in the last 8 years and tended to rob Imo of its glory as the cleanest city in West Africa, especially Douglas and Wetheral Roads and also Port Harcourt-Owerri Road, Aba-Owerri Road, Okigwe-Owerri Road, the important roads that lead into and out of the city capital.
Although most Imo people regarded Okorocha’s tenure as a massive fraud especially when it was rumoured that the cheque he gave pensioners bounced and were rejected by the banks and that he appropriated most of the state property to his personal family members and himself, it will be expedient that the PDP government of Imo State does not meddle directly with probing or prosecuting the Okorocha administration.
Imo citizens who feel sufficiently aggrieved by Okorocha’s maladministration should form a coalition and write a petition to the EFCC. The PDP government should only concern itself with the supply of relevant data when requested in accordance with the Freedom of Information Law. This is important so that the government will not be distracted from its focus on rectifying the anomaly that was the Okorocha administration. In a way too, the commitment of Imo people themselves in setting the values they would tolerate in the state from government agencies will go a long way to warn future administrations that there is a limit that the good people of Imo state can be taken for a ride.
Once Ihedioha is sworn in, he must take definite steps. The team he chooses to work with will be very crucial to his success. So he must do a proper shopping which I think he has already started doing in the knowledge that time is of the essence.
In what I called the ‘Rehoboam syndrome’ in my book, I criticized the prevalent idea of public office holders choosing people who are younger than them as “advisers”. Someone who is younger than you cannot give you proper advice. He will only tell you what you want to hear to be happy, which may not be the true reflection of the peoples’ feelings. Whereas the younger man would be more concerned with his pocket, with his ability to send his children to the best available schools and so on, an older person who has possibly finished training his children in the university will be more dedicated to advising his principal better in terms of coping with the challenges that attend to his public office. I think I dealt with that in one of the chapters of my book titled: ‘The agility of youths and the wisdom of old age.’ So a good team will always be an asset to the PDP government in revamping the fortunes of the state.
One other very important aspect that should distinguish the PDP government in Imo state should be the need to restrict the army’s interest in participating in the internal security of the state. Imo people do not need them policing their state. The place of the army is on the borders of the nation. Their work is to defend the territorial integrity of the country, not fiddling in the internal security of states. The army should allow the police to do their work. And if the number of police officers is not enough to maintain discipline in the state, the Commissioner of Police should recruit more people or develop a pseudo-police unit that can supplement the Nigeria police in the maintenance of law and order in the state at local council level. There are too many educated young people in the state who will be more than willing to join the police force.
The military is by training and orientation not equipped to manage a pluralistic society like Nigeria. The military is like a one-party government where authority flows from up to down and no one argues with his superior officer. This military orientation is at variance with democratic dispensation where people of like minds discuss community values and if there is a disagreement, the topic is put to the vote and the majority wins the day. So, if we must practise true democracy in Imo state, the military must be stopped from its influence on the evolution of democracy in the state and restricted to the barracks. They must be made to wear mufti dresses and remain completely unarmed when they visit town.
There will also be the need to put a few things right from the previous government. The abolition of the use of tricycles as a form of transportation in the state capital was not a step in the right direction. To keep money in the state and in the pockets of working class families, there will be need to reverse that abolition and bring back these services. There is a need for the development of parking spaces with proper meters in car parks. We may take a cue from how the Lagos toll gates are managed.
And while we are on toll gates, I wonder why none of the subsequent governments that have ruled Imo since the last 40 years has thought it expedient to do some contractor-financing of the major roads that lead into the state capital – the Owerri-Aba, Owerri-Port Harcourt, Owerri-Onitsha, Owerri-Okigwe and Owerri-Umuahia Roads – so that contractors like Julius Berger can take on the financing of these roads and the road users could pay tolls on them. In 20 or 25 years, the company would have got all its money back and the people would have enjoyed good roads that would make transportation and food from rural producing to urban consuming areas cheaper. Would the PDP government consider such options?
More importantly, most young people in Imo are now into what they call ‘baby boom’ business. The young unemployed girls now arrange with the equally unemployed young boys roaming the villages to get impregnated by the boys. They operate this illicit business with some unscrupulous local midwives and doctors who claim to own hospitals. These ‘hospitals’ look after the poor girls from the time they are pregnant until their children are born. The girls are paid about N80,000 each and the boys about N40,000 and they go, leaving the babies behind. The so-called hospital authorities then sell the babies to genuine couples in need of adopting children or to ritualists who kill the babies and use their body parts for money-making rituals.
This ignominious trade has been booming for some time in the eastern states and especially in Imo. The PDP government will face this challenge. And the way to turn this dilemma of Imo youths around is to encourage the ministry of agriculture to acquire at least half a mile of arable land in ALL of the 27 local government council areas for Government Farms. Each local government council should choose about two staple food items to cultivate in the state. There are yams, plantains, cocoyams, cassava, melon, vegetables, fruits like pineapple, pawpaw, oranges etc. Then the government should install factories within the farmland where the products can be refined and packaged for effective deliverance.
So, for instance, the local government that produces cassava can process it into garri and package it into N50, N100, N200, N500 and N1,000 units in the factory. Distributors will come to carry them from the factory. In such a way Imo people can gradually say bye-bye to the days when garri was measured in cups and the hygienic standard was questionable. The same goes for the other items that are cultivated in all the local council Government Farms.
This programme will be useful in more than one way. First is that it will stem the flow of young people into the few cities Imo people have, namely Owerri, Okigwe and Orlu, in search of work, thereby decongesting the urban population and the use of infrastructure in those places. Second is that it will enable not so literate youths to be gainfully employed in the Government Farms and the educated ones from secondary to university to work in the factories associated with the Government Farms.
There is so much to do to bring Imo state back to where it belongs. But first is the quality of the Team that will be directly in charge of administration of projects and equally important, the quality of advisers for public office holders. This is the journey of a million miles. And with the humble and intelligent leadership of our son, Emeka Ihedioha, Imo will definitely get it right this time.
By Chief Sir Emeka Asinugo, KSC
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