By NBF News

As a bonafide Igbo son and citizen of old Imo State , prior to the creation of Abia in 1991, I have this habit of closely following developments in Imo just as I do those of Abia. To me, the two states are one and the same and are aptly captured by the popular saying 'Abia na Imo bu nwanne,' which simply means that Abia and Imo are brothers.

But one thing that has struck me lately are the criticisms hauled at the incumbent Imo State governor, Dr. Ikedi Ohakim, by a few politicians in that state who feel that his methods do not guarantee them their bogus lifestyle, which they were used to all these past years, even under military rule when they held every military administrator posted to Owerri hostage. I keep asking myself, 'How come Ohakim who was revered and hailed by this parasitic group as Ochinanwata (Boy King) has suddenly become something else? Is it really true that his government is not doing much?'

I decided to investigate before drawing my conclusions. It proved to be a journey of discovery which left me wondering just how blind and treacherous some critics could be in their desperation to pull down their target. Nothing I saw in Imo, in any way, justified the mischievous missiles constantly fired in Ohakim's direction by the most vociferous of his critics, who happen to be members of his own political party, the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP. For one, what I saw on the ground gave me proper indication that Ohakim possesses a clear idea of what he wants to achieve as governor.

He seems to have captured this in his 14-point agenda clearly set out in his manifesto and in his New Face of Imo programme launched soon after he assumed office on May 29, 2007. In summary, the programme is intended to rebrand Imo as a beautiful state of choice for tourists and investors, thus expanding economic opportunities for Imo citizens and laying a solid foundation for a better state.

At the heart of the New Face of Imo initiative is the Clean and Green programme which has, in my view, substantially restored the Owerri Master Plan, cleaned up Imo and greened its environment. Impartial observers have been full of praises for the programme, among them the Federal Ministry of Housing and Environment, which gave Owerri, the Imo State capital, the award of the cleanest city in Nigeria . Again, the Ohakim administration clearly scores high marks in the area of security. The security situation in the entire South East is well known to many Nigerians.

In the case of Imo, Ohakim declared war on crime and criminals almost as soon as he stepped into the Government House, Owerri. Just over a month after he took over the reins of government, the governor, on July 10, 2007, set up a Security Committee with a prominent retired Army officer as chairman. The committee came up with an integrated crime prevention programme code-named 'Operation Festival' which the administration bought and promptly started implementing.

To enhance the effectiveness of Operation Festival, all the 32 police formations in the 27 local government areas of Imo and all the Police Observation Posts scattered all over the state were linked with high-tech communication equipment. Police patrol vehicles and motorcycles were also equipped with modern communication gadgets. This made it possible for the various police formations, patrol vehicles and Police Observation Posts to contact one another promptly once a crime was reported anywhere in the state. Today, Imo under Ohakim is one of the few states to make kidnapping a capital offence.

Besides, his administration launched an ethical re-orientation programme aimed, primarily, at changing the psyche of the people and educating them to resist criminal tendencies, especially involvement in or toleration of kidnapping.

Have you been to Owerri lately? If so, you no doubt noticed that a modern intra-state transport system is now in place. Known as the Imo Municipal Transport Service (IMTS), the scheme was launched on December 21, 2007 and is the first ever integrated transport system since Imo State was created in 1976. The scheme comprises branded air-conditioned taxis, mini-buses, purpose-built luxury buses and specially dedicated airport taxis. Today, Imo people now travel in comfort and dignity at a cost that they can generally afford.

But beyond revolutionising the way people travel, IMTS has also economically empowered thousands of Imo citizens as the vehicles are given out on hire purchase terms to beneficiaries who emerge through a transparent balloting system and pay back instalmentally from their proceeds. Obviously, such modern transport schemes cannot work except the roads are motorable. To meet this challenge, the Ohakim administration set up the Imo Rural Roads Maintenance Agency (IRROMA) charged with the construction of new rural roads in the 27 local government areas of the state and rehabilitation of existing ones that are in any state of disrepair. Patterned after the famed Public Works Department (PWD) of old, IRROMA's overall objective is to open up the neglected rural areas and link all parts of Imo. The aim, perhaps, is to make Imo a one-city state, thus boosting socio-economic activities at the grassroots.

One of the inevitable fallouts of the activities of IRROMA is job creation, as it has guaranteed the employment of over 3,000 youths in the state. The beneficiaries include civil engineers, supervisors, heavy equipment drivers, maintenance personnel, skilled and semi-skilled workers, as well as casual labourers who are expected to transform into experienced staff that will continue driving the initiative long afterwards. This has added to thousands of other jobs created through the establishment of the ENTRACO Cadets, mobile courts and traffic control wardens which has immensely contributed in taking many Imo youths off the job queues as well as empowering them economically.

That Ohakim has been able to achieve this much despite the distractions of being the governor against whom the greatest number of election petitions has been filed makes you wonder just how much more he could have offered Imo and its people. The 24th such case, by former APGA governorship candidate, Martin Agbaso, was only recently dismissed by the Supreme Court for lack of merit. It remains to be seen what impact this latest victory will have on Ohakim's performance.

Of course, it would be ridiculous to score the governor a hundred per cent, for he definitely still has more work to do to get Imo State there, so to speak. As the man himself admitted: 'We are not perfect, nor have we achieved all that we want to do for this state. We may have made some mistakes, but we are human. We have, however, shown an uncommon determination to lift the standard of living of our people with the New Face of Imo philosophy; we have remained focused because as the Holy Bible said in Ecclesiastes 11:4,

'He who observes the wind will not sow, and he who regards the cloud will not reap'. Considering how much he has been able to achieve with limited resources and under so much distractions in the past three years, it is expected that Ohakim - if he bows to mounting pressure to go for re-election and succeeds - would be able to finish any unfinished projects and leave Imo State far better than he met it.

*Umunna, a seasoned and award-winning
journalist and analyst, is Managing Editor of City Mail, Lagos.