The governor must hear this

By Emeka Asinugo, KSC
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It was like a jolt from the dreamland: the raw awakening that follows a nightmare. I saw myself asking myself: “what happened to the family of former Imo state governor of the second republic, Chief Samuel Onunaka Mbakwe and similar families in Nigeria’s south-east zone? Where are Lady Victoria Mbakwe, the widow of the late governor and her husband’s children? Where are they “hiding”? Why are they not visibly participating in state development any more, since the demise of the governor Imo people collectively loved and adored? What is actually going on? Where is everybody? ”

All through the length and breadth of Nigeria, the name and fame of Chief Sam Mbakwe resonated and towered in the eighties like a colossus which made a mushroom of his less achieving counterparts from other states in the country. For many in and out of Imo State in those days, Dee Sam, as he was fondly called by the good people of Imo State, remained the ideal governor and man of his people. He was the idol of Imo citizens. He still is the symbol of their choice of a God-sent leader. But when the man joined his ancestors years after General Buhari’s military junta dislodged the second republic, his family went into hiding, or so it seemed.

They went private, not because they were afraid of being hounded for stealing the people’s money. No. For unlike what happened in the civilian governments that followed, where state governors amassed immeasurable wealth at the expense of their own people, or what is happening now, where the money government should have spent on the welfare of their people is spent on security, Dee Sam was transparent to a fault. He never tampered with public money. He was one man Imo people could count on, one man whose achievements they could vouch for.

Those achievements included the Amaraku Power Station (which was later stolen by a succeeding governor), the Avutu Poultry (many of us don’t know if it is still functioning), the Imo Concorde Hotel (which is refurbished almost every year these days as a channel for siphoning public funds), the Imo State University and the Imo Airport, among others. Sam Mbakwe never built mansions for himself or for any member of his family. He never bought state-of-the earth designer cars for himself or his family. He never had overflowing local and foreign accounts. He never acquired extensive plots of land in Owerri, the State Capital, not even in Obowo, his home town. He never acquired estates here and there in Owerri, Umuahia and in Abakaliki like the governors who subsequently ruled Imo State after him. He was not known to frequent the Paris Club, the United Kingdom, Germany, Russia, Israel or Canada. When, for the first time, he visited the United States, he came home from Nebraska with a University for the state, a university whose many campuses he spread out at Aba, Okigwe, Orlu, Owerri and Umuahia.

In his days, Mbakwe did so much to empower the youths of Imo State. He did so much to empower the women and the physically challenged. There was the Akpodim Rehabilitation Centre. There was the Secondary School for the Deaf and Dumb at Ofekata Orodo. There was the Leper Colony at Uzoakoli. Which of the succeeding state governors remembered these great institutions for the handicapped in our local communities after Mbakwe’s tenure? Mbakwe was said to have spent the last penny in his pocket to make sure that Imo residents felt at home while he was their leader. He established cottage industries which offered them work. Many people were gainfully employed.

But what is happening to his family today?
It is still fresh in the minds of many of us that just a few years ago, his widow, Mrs. Victoria Mbakwe, called on governors of the South East to initiate and implement a policy that would cater for the families of deceased governors in the zone. She was particular about Imo, Abia and Ebonyi, the states which constituted the old Imo. She revealed that despite all the efforts her husband made to generally alleviate the suffering of the Igbo in Nigeria, and put them back on their feet in fierce defiance of federal opposition, subsequent governments have continued to neglect the late governor’s family as if they never existed. The family since been passing through a most difficult time and needed government intervention.

But the situation is intriguing.
Practically all the governors who ruled Imo State after Chief Mbakwe made good money while in office. Some, like Chief Achike Udenwa and the incumbent, Owelle Rochas Okorocha acquired plenty of lands and built many estates for themselves while in office, despite the fact that one of them was already rich before becoming governor. So, they can assume that they have provided for their families and would have no need to call on government in the future to care for them. Therefore, to get the legislature to make a law that would provide for the families of past governors and their deputies would seem trivial and unnecessary.

In a very solemn way, it shows that between the time people like Dee Sam ruled Imo and now, Southeast leaders seem to have lost the grip in terms of what is good enough for those who honestly served their states, not even with the likes of the Deputy Senate President, Chief Ike Ekweremadu, and Chief Emeka Ihedioha, the Deputy Speaker of the Federal House of Representatives in office.

One important thing we should always remember is that when the founding members of the South-East Governors’ Forum, Chimaroke Nnamani of Enugu, Chinwoke Mbadinuju of Anambra, Achike Udenwa of Imo, Sam Egwu of Ebonyi and Orji Uzor Kalu of Abia sat for the first time, they had pledged to work together, irrespective of their political leanings, for the interest of the larger segment of Southeast communities.

At that time, critics of the Southeast Governors’ Forum alleged that the governors were not doing enough to develop the zone. They failed to attract the attention of the federal government to the deplorable condition of infrastructure in the zone, especially the roads and the absence of clean drinking water. Today, most of the federal roads in the Southeast have remained nothing but death traps and many people are worried about why the Southeast governors have not deemed it necessary to go beyond rhetoric to embark on the repair of these roads themselves and get a refund from the federal government.

Even judging from the now moribund joint economic ventures in the Southeast zone, such as the Cooperative and Commerce Bank (CCB), the African Continental Bank (ACB), the Nkalagu Cement Factory, the Anambra Motor Manufacturing Company (ANAMCO), and the Emene Floor Mills, among others, most people see the Southeast Governors’ Forum as a jamboree of unfeeling, uncaring political colleagues. They opine that the governors need to be more proactive in their quest to improve the lot of the South-Easterners they represent. In the same vein, the debate on a constitutional review keeps resurfacing like a recurrent decimal, for instance. All eyes are on the governors who are expected to buttress the role the National Assembly would play especially in the creation of additional states in the zone.

It is against this background that the governors of the Southeast zone should decide to pursue issues affecting their people through regional integration like the issues we have at hand. The one I have in mind is the abandonment of the families of former state actors (courtesy President Jonathan) like state governors and their deputies after the governor is demised. It should never be done. And there is the urgent call to Southeast governors to come to the rescue.

To think that after all that the family of Chief Sam Mbakwe and similar governors from the South East had done for their people, the legislature has not found it necessary to contain them in its budget is, to put it mildly, very insensitive. And the governor must hear this.