ROCHAS ,IMO STATE AND GOVERNANCE
Putting apart petty politics, it is rational to state that May 29th 2011 was a political turning point following the defeat for a long time of an incumbent governor Chief Ikedi Ohakim who desperately sought to win a re-election from the Imo State electorate.
On that historic day, majority of Imo State citizens of elective age voted massively for Chief Rochas Anayochukwu Okorocha of the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) and rejected Ikedi Ohakim of the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). Ohakim fought his electoral misfortune in the court of law but lost at the last count in the Supreme Court of Nigeria.
Popular opinion in Imo State prior to that election of Okorocha was that the incumbent [Ohakim] failed woefully to galvanize the electorate because he could not prove with empirical evidence what his four year administration was able to achieve to have transformed the living standard of majority of Imo State people who previously gave him their beloved mandate but who were left desolate and impoverished.
Apart from massive media hype and half-baked propaganda which the then Imo State administration inundated the good people of that state with, there was practically no developmental infrastructure on ground in most urban and rural areas of Imo State to justify the huge federally shared allocations and the internally generated revenue netted in during the four year regime of the immediate past administration in Imo State.
Sadly, two years after Imo State people rejected the then Peoples Democratic Party's government from power, all the statutory investigative institutions in Nigeria have failed to bring all those that managed Imo State's public fund for four years to account for how every money generated by that State was spent given that from every available pragmatic and empirical evidence, there was not much on ground to justify such huge expenditure incurred between 2007 – 2011. Unfortunately, the civil society in Imo state is too weak to initiate advocacy for comprehensive probe of the regime devoid of political witch hunt.
Financial records made available from the Federal ministry of Finance show that several Billions of money were released to Imo State within the period between 2007 to 2011. All the indices however pointed to widespread poverty, lack of good rural and urban road network, lack of clean water for millions of Imo people and the health and educational infrastructures were in serious decline even as Imo State students from indigent homes were never supported by way of scholarship scheme.
It is now two years since the incumbent governor took over from the rejected Chief Ohakim's administration and from opinion poll, the current administration is well within the scope of gradually fulfilling the terms of social contract it entered into with the good people of Imo State. In the area of urban developmental infrastructure, the Rochas Okorocha government scores favourably in the thinking of most people even though a lot more needs to be done to bring about equitable urban development especially to Okigwe town that has perennially suffered neglect even from the last administration headed by an Okigwe senatorial zone-born Chief Ikedi Ohakim.
It is hoped that the current government will break the vicious cycle of criminal neglect of Okigwe town in terms of urban infrastructure.
The current Okorocha's administration told the people in clear terms that it was in office to render selfless service to the populace who have over the years suffered total neglect from successive administrations both at the federal and state level.
Imo state is known for the devastating erosion and other environmental problems whose scope far outweighs what the state resources can handle, but sadly, the Federal government's special fund for such environmental problems are often diverted by Abuja politicians. The heavily overfed Senators of the Federal Republic only recently uncovered the massive fraud perpetrated by the Federal Government with the special fund totaling over a trillion Naira. Will these humongous amount go down the drain just like that and the alleged thieves are walking free in the corridors of power in Abuja while states like Imo goes through traumatizing environmental problems such as gully erosion?
Although, I am yet to see good and clean drinking water particularly in rural areas like Arondizuogu and few other places, but from my interaction with some persons in the Rochas Okorocha administration, the government thinks positively about bringing development closer to the people. Governor Okorocha also told me that he is determined to bring about rapid rural infrastructural development during his first term.
Those close to him said the governor recently announced that aggressive industrialization through effective public and private sectors' partnership would be pursued to a logical conclusion.
In line with this resolution to revive all ailing state-run industries, governor Okorocha announced that N1.7 Billion has been approved for payment of salary arrears owed workers at the Imo palm plantation and Concorde Hotel, both of which have been leased to private sector managers to revive and begin to make profit to the coffers of the Imo State government.
Information obtained from the media unit of the government house in Owerri Imo State, stated that; “Following the concession of Imo Palm Plantation and Concorde Hotel by the government of Imo state, the governor, Owelle Rochas Okorocha has perfected arrangement to pay arrears of salaries, gratuities and severance allowance to staff of the establishments totaling about N1.7 Billion Naira.”
The governor who reportedly addressed workers of both establishments last week at Ahiajoku Convention Center, regretted the insensitivity of the past administration in respect to the welfare of the workers. He said" It is disheartening that the past administration decided to run the state down by diverting the revenue generated by these establishments and also owed the workers over 18 months of salaries. This smacks insensitivity of a government that ordinarily suppose to take care of its workers".
Okorocha explained that the decision to partner with the private sector to revive those industries is to ensure optimal productivity and further boost the internally generated revenue for the state.
He further explained that the payment will be made monthly for two years with the first four months paid in a swoop.
The governor added that on payment of the first four months, the workers will be disengaged to enable the new management of both establishments recruit workers of their choice under the concession agreement.
He however, directed workers of Imo Palm Plantation to return to the ministry of Agriculture for redeployment.
Salutary as this gesture looks, but I sincerely believe that the private sector managers being brought in to manage the two ailing but highly profitable ventures hitherto run by the State, should be made to cough out money to settle all outstanding payments that ought to be paid to these workers especially those working at the Imo Concorde Hotel that may not be re-absorbed by either the new owner or the state government. Allowing their entitlement to hibernate for two whole years while they are out of work is not a good way of discharging them. Moreover, Imo Concorde hotel unlike the Imo plantation company is known to be very profitable as most people who visit Imo prefer staying there during the duration of their official or private visits.
It is expected that the governor and his economic team should go back to the drawing board to work out measures on how to adequately settle these workers that would be thrown into the labour market before allowing the new owners to take up the running of those facilities.
Again, the state government should painstakingly invest in Agriculture, healthcare and education as these are the three sectors that can economically empower our people and create tremendous human capacity and modern skill on Imo work force and the citizenry and transform them into employers of labor and not seekers of jobs.
Rural healthcare infrastructure which are in the various stages of dilapidation should be revived because the majority of the farming population stay in the villages whereby most of these basic social amenities are lacking thereby denying them of the enjoyment of the dividends of democracy and the enforcement of their fundamental human rights enshrined in chapter four of the constitution of Nigeria of 1999 (as amended).
* Emmanuel Onwubiko; Head, Human Rights Writers' Association of Nigeria blogs @www.huriwa.blogspot.com.