By NBF News

Critics certainly are important in any society that is democratic or claims to be one. They do not only draw attention to problems, omissions or oversight by functionaries of state, but also point to possible alternatives or solutions. By doing so, critics, when they mean well, help to bring about changes that engineer growth and development.

In Imo State, critics have never been in short supply even under despotic military regimes, and that is to be expected in an area with high literacy rate. I should also mention that the state boasts of the highest number of literate adults in Nigeria, statistically speaking.

The tribe of Nigeria's professional critics, Imo state chapter, has been particularly active in the past few years and seems to have found their rhythm in the present dispensation, with Ikedi Ohakim as the Chief Helmsman. One of their major achievements, in the past, was running not a few military governors and administrators out of Owerri, any time their interests were hurt or threatened in any way.

From the tone and content of the new style of criticisms of the present administration in Owerri, the practitioners seem to have made up their minds that nothing good can come out of the Ohakim government.. This Imo State chapter of professional critics has been particularly hard on Governor Ikedi Ohakim's cardinal programme, the New Face of Imo, fashioned out by a 165-man Transition Committee of Imo elders and intelligentsia promptly set up by Governor Ohakim shortly after he was elected, to critique and enrich the 14-point agenda canvassed in his manifesto.

But Ohakim, had, in his maiden broadcast to his people as governor on June 4, 2007, explained that the New Face of Imo is primarily aimed at presenting to the world the beautiful face of Imo; the face of a state and people capable of attracting tourists and investors and of expanding economic opportunities for Ndi Imo.

Designed to significantly change the attitude of the people of the state, their values and orientation towards life, the New Face of Imo preaches transparency, accountability, rule of law and respect for human rights. The programme signposts a paradigm shift, away from the old tendencies that crippled progress in the state in the past. Some of those tendencies include godfatherism, entitlement mentality, political warlordism, extreme sectionalism and feasting on the resources of the state. The overall aim is to lay a solid foundation for the transformation of Imo to a model modern state.

The pillar of the New Face of Imo is the Clean and Green Initiative designed to restore the Owerri Master Plan, clean up the state and green the environment. Implementing such a programme would inevitably involve taking certain non-populist actions which would bring a measure of pain, albeit temporary, to Ndi Imo. Professional critics soon capitalised on this.

They went to town with the tale that the Ohakim administration is anti-people, painted a scary picture of how the Clean and Green Initiative was programmed to impoverish the masses and inflict serious pain of them. The critics, of course, did not fail to question why the Ohakim administration was planting flowers and grasses when Imo people were hungry. 'Would the people eat flowers and grasses', they asked?

The critics chose to ignore the many potential health and socio-economic benefits of the programme. As a style, they pretended not to know that a clean environment guarantees healthy living and clean habits; ensures an orderly society and spiritual cleanliness. They preferred to ignore that a clean environment promotes tourism and creates many jobs as a result, keep people out of hospital, attracts investment and reduces crime rate through the removal of the illegal structures which provide hiding places for criminals.

Three years down the road, even the critics, if they are sincere, would admit that Imo has changed for the better as a result of the Clean and Green initiative, which they had given practically no chance of success. They cannot deny that Owerri, the Imo State capital, has become one of the cleanest cities in Nigeria, a fact that was acknowledged by the Federal Ministry of Housing and Environment.

The critics cannot deny that all those illegal structures destroyed under the Clean and Green Initiative opened up, not only Owerri but other towns in the state. They cannot deny that in the Imo State of today crime rate is remarkably down, market fires have reduced and illegal structures no longer provide cover and habitation for criminals and their weapons.

That is not all. The critics should be candid enough to admit that the ban on commercial motor cyclists in Owerri has drastically reduced the rate of road accidents, or that commuters are more comfortable and safer in the tricycles, and the fares are comparatively cheaper - thirty Naira as against eighty Naira charged by commercial motor cyclists, locally known as inaga.

With less than a year for Ohakim to conclude his first term in office, the preponderance of opinion on the streets of Imo is that the Ochinanwata, as the governor is fondly called by his admirers, has, largely, delivered on his promise to give the state a new lease of life.

On Nigeria's Democracy Day, May 29, the Imo State chapter of the Trade Union Congress of Nigeria wrote to Governor Ohakim to congratulate him for providing purposeful leadership to the state in the past three years. 'The TUC will ever remain grateful to your administration for providing dividends of democracy to the people,' the Congress said in a letter signed by its chairman, Comrade O. J. Onyekawa, doffing its hat for the governor for his latest feat in empowering Imo youths through the provision of 10,000 job opportunities.

But Ohakim is not being celebrated only by his people, but also by non-Imo indigenes that are far removed from the politics of the state.

Chief Emeka Anyaoku, a distinguished Anambra son, former Secretary-General of the Commonwealth and incumbent President of the Worldwide Fund for Nature (WWF), only recently remarked that 'I see Governor Ikedi Ohakim as a Nigerian leader of Igbo extraction and I hope and wish that his political progress will be based on that . . . His Clean and Green Programme is something close to my heart. What he has pioneered here in Owerri is a project I will be telling my colleagues in Switzerland, Headquarters of the WWF, that something very good is happening in this part of the world.' Those who are privileged to know Chief Anyaoku at close quarters say that he is not given to frivolities or exaggerations.

He is said to be real always.
Such open testimonials should, however, not be expected to silence Ohakim's critics, as the most vociferous among them are aggrieved political opponents who are specifically angry that the new order in the state no longer favours them at the expense of the people of the state. But criticisms, in some curious ways, are double-edged swords.

They can, when constructive and devoid of ulterior motives, propel the one being criticised to higher heights and engineer the correction of some mistakes, but when destructive and ill-motivated, they may distract or demoralise. The second possibility is obviously the goal of many of Ohakim's critics, which explains why they have refused to see any good in whatever the administration does.

But Ohakim seems not to be one who can be easily distracted or demoralised. To quote him: 'Whereas politics can be a popularity contest, leadership is about taking hard but necessary decisions for the sake of the people. We have gone beyond politics, especially retrogressive politics. We are now at the level of providing leadership to our people. We are not perfect, nor have we achieved all we want to do for Imo State. We may have made some mistakes, but we are human. While we will always welcome constructive criticisms, visionary policies and programmes will always prevail over the nay-Sayers!'

By refusing to be distracted or demoralised by professional critics, Ohakim has remarkably acquitted himself thus far as governor. This may explain why he has come under pressure to run for re-election in next year's general elections, so as to have the time and space to finish his good work. Ohakim is yet to say if he would be running or not.

His body language is yet to too clear to the ordinary eyes. But he realizes that his covenant with Ndi Imo remains unfinished yet. Whatever may be his decision and when it finally comes, it would be left for the people of Imo state to decide if they want to continue with the new face of Eastern Heartland or, God forbid, take a huge regrettable step backwards.

Umunnabuike is a Port Harcourt-based Development Analyst.