By Collins Ughalaa
"Aboliga the frog one day brought us a book of freaks and oddities, and showed us his favourite among the weird lot. It was a picture of the old manchild. It had been born with all the features of a human baby, but within seven years it had completed the cycle from babyhood to infancy to youth, to maturity and old age, and in it's seventh year it died a natural death." - The Beautiful Ones Are Not Yet Born, by Ayi Kwei Armah, page 63.
Often times I have had cause to remind myself that the ways of God is not same with men's. Whereas man would always dream of smooth ride to the gleam, God in his infinite wisdom oftentimes takes man to the gleam through the rough and narrow path. Thus, many of us have had cause to reminisce on the 2011 experience in Imo and come to the realisation that God ultimately does not lie; that true, "the thoughts of you people are not my thoughts, nor are my ways your ways...For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so my ways are higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts" Isaiah 55:8.
By nature man is inhibited from seeing beyond his nose, unless he has some special capacity to make mental notes of things far off. But then, he cannot see his tomorrow, or guarantee how those mental notes can translate to reality in the next minute. That is why we should put our faith in God all the time, because his thoughts for us are for good and not evil. We should not for any reason lose sight of the fact that God rules in the affairs of men and he can turn and upturn until his plans get fulfilled.
As reflected in the opening extract from Ayi Kwei Armah's fiction, no one in Imo State in 2011 would imagine that six years after, the Okorocha's administration that claimed to be on rescue mission would be so' rejected by the people, that the mention of Okorocha evokes the feelings of hunger, anger and pain. Governor Okorocha had spoken so emotively to the people of the state that they left the substance and pursued shadow. He had then told them that he was stooping low to become the Governor of the state and that he was going to become the President of Nigeria in 2015. He said he was in a haste to fix things in Imo and would hand over in 2015 after doing one term, by which time he said Imo must have been rescued. Imo people believed him. They preferred hopping on keke and eating corn and pear by the wayside. They preferred hugging beggers on the streets, but they rejected dhonour and integrity. Today we have all seen that honour and integrity pay.
Remarkably, like a flash in the pan, the Okorocha government in Imo has shown every resemblance to the old manchild contained in the pictures of freaks and oddities as told by Ayi Kwei Armah. The old manchild, otherwise now referred to as the rescue mission, has completed its full cycle from babyhood to adulthood and has died earlier than the old manchild, in its sixth year. What a sudden death!
Imo people had high hopes of the Okorocha's government that took over from Ikedi Ohakim, a man who was bashed for the wrong reasons, especially with the falsehood that he flogged a Rev Father. Ohakim was also accused wrongly of owning houses in South Africa and all over Imo State, from Wetheral Road to Douglas Road. But few years after he left office Imo people realised that all those accusations were mere dirty politics. His attempt to dredge Nworie and Otamiri rivers in Owerri and ensure that the twin rivers did not go extinct, in addition to the beautiful tourism programmes that would have berthed in Imo State, was callously politicised and used against him. All these falsehood have since come to the full glare of Imo people as falsehood. Many people in Imo now look back and curse those days of deception.
The anti people policies of the rescue mission government is illustrative of how badly Imo people have fared and the quantun of pain they have had to endure over the years. And these anti people policies ironically always evoke the pictures of the good old days of Ikedi Ohakim era.
Let's take for example, when Governor Okorocha promised to rescue Imo State, after six years, the question needs to be asked: what has Governor Okorocha rescued in Imo? While some posit that he has rescued only his family and cronies, the cogent point derivable from it is that the rescuing of family members and cronies is part of the reasons for the heightened anger and frustration in the state. Because, while Ikedi Ohakim was in power as Governor of the state, clannishness and running the affiars of government as family business was foreign. It was never a government policy to so do. The Ikedi Ohakim government can therefore never be forgotten as the government during which money circulated in the state. For money to circulate means that Ikedi Ohakim ran an all inclusive government.
Part of the plans to keep money circulating throughout the state was the novel 10,000 jobs which would have put about N450m monthly in the hands of Imo families, despite the global economic meltdown of the time. This fine policy has not been beaten, and in implementing it Ohakim ensured that the programme was transparent and based on merit. I have heard several persons lament that as in-laws and other relations to the former Governor they were not favoured in the 10,000 jobs recruitment because no executive influence was brought to bear to ensure that the interest of the Governor's family was protected. We cannot say this of the rescue mission government where the only official language is my family, my family.
The civil servants were one set of people the Governor cajoled to buy his message very early. Six years down the line, has the state civil service been rescued? The civil service in the state has become, at best, walking corpse under the Okorocha led rescue mission government. The brief and unmemorable honeymoon with the civil servants did not last beyond sewing uniforms for them and paying them once and for all N5,000 wardrobe allowance. Afterwards, embargo was placed on promotion of the civil servants for six years, their salaries were later slashed to 70%, after they were forced to pay some tax for education. Their workdays were later reduced to three from five in a week. What of the obnoxious policy to transfer civil servants to their communities to work with the CGC!
While these were going on, there has been no capacity building programmes for all the civil servants in the state. A civil servant who spoke with me recently wept bitterly that the last time they attended workshops, seminars and conferences was during the Ikedi Ohakim era. He said that it seems that Ohakim left with the keys of conference halls.
While Imo civil servants grappled with the harsh working environment imposed on them by the Governor whose campaign they contributed money to in 2011, Imo people have realised that one of the worst chapters in the Okorocha administration is the retarded political growth of the state since June 2011. When Governor Okorocha took over the reins of power in 2011, one of the inglorious actions he took was to sack the elected 305 councillors and 27 local government chairmen. Also, the Governor disingenuously disbanded the development centers he met on ground. Regrettably, whereas Lagos State Government has conducted elections in its development centers, Imo State which also created its own development centers alongside Lagos State and expanded same under the Ohakim era has had all those political milestones destroyed, albeit by the man that promised rescue. Not only are we bemoaning our loss of political development by the crass disingenuity of our Governor, Imo people are embarrassed at the realisation of the economic loss since six years. Imagine the quantum economic benefits Imo people would have got had the system of elected local government been respected and the development centres left to be.
Another sector that felt the leprous hands of the rescue mission government is the Commerce. Igbo people, nay Ndimo, are known to make their living from commercial activities. They wake up in the morning and head to their shops. They hawk their wares, and when they return home in the evening they kneel down and thank God for a good day. Today, Governor Okorocha is busy pulling down the commercial centers of Ndimo, thereby destroying the means of livelihood or survival of the very same people that brought him to power.
More than this, the people of the state have had it so rough under the Okorocha government. If your shop was not demolished at the markets, it is most likely your house was pulled down. And why did the government embark on demolition of buildings? The government says it is for its urban renewal programme. But what we see now is that the government's version of urban renewal is erecting Christmas lights and concrete projectiles that deaden the environment instead of renewing it. Have you pondered what could happen if a vehicle rams into the concrete projectiles erected at the center of the roads?
On public utilities, Imo State has become a rural jungle, where animals roam in search of individual survival. While the government embarked upon its urban renewal programme, it has destroyed all the water pipelines laid by successive governments in the state. One had thought that a government on rescue mission would have rescued the people by making public utilities, such as water, available to every household. But what we have seen is that water have been drawn from our throats and we thirst but cannot find water to drink anywhere.
Instead of making public utilities as important as water available to the people, what we have seen is the suspicious disappearance of water facilities and their equipment. All the water schemes built by the Ikedi Ohakim government have since been abandoned to decay while the people now turn to sinking boreholes in every household.
While the Governor now does as he likes, he forgets that the primary essence of government is welfare and security of the people.
Nothing could compare to the insensitivity of the Okorocha led government in Imo than its failure to provide basic health services to the people. From the government's Health at Your Door Step policy to building 26 general hospitals, the health policy of the government has been only hogwash as it is unproductive. If you doubt the failure of the health policy of the state government, while you return home for the Christmas, don't rely on the government for your health needs, because you will not see even a card of paracetamol in the government owned health facilities or the so-called general hospitals. You will see nothing but uncompleted buildings covered with grasses and only used by rodents as habitat. You would do well to confirm for yourself how we have journeyed in the valley of death for six years now in Imo. It is only by God's special grace that we are not consumed.
Therefore, heading to 2019, Imo people are now more aware that Ikedi Ohakim is most strategically stationed to the happiness of the generality of Imo people by bringing back the old good days and limping the state towards a powerfully bright future, in terms of implementing world class economic, educational and social progarmmes.
One of the programmes I will like to see implemented is the ambitious Oguta Wonder Lake Project and the deep seaport. Another is the refinery project in Ohaji/Egbema LGA, not minding that the piece of land acquired for the project has been diverted to other uses.
When I hear from the people of Ohaji/Egbema LGA that the Ohakim administration remains their golden era, you cannot but accept that as huge and beaitiful testimonial on the Ikedi Ohakim administration.
On the politic turf, Ikedi Ohakim is blessed to do one term only. The imperative of this is that if we are desirous of fixing Imo, all of us can be patient for another one term of four years instead of another eight years of jamboree and retrogression.
Therefore, Imo people are conscious of the fact that the politics of 2019 is the politics of correction. No matter the ugly situations we have been through this six years of pain and penury, we have learnt the lesson that God rules in the affairs of men and his ways are not our ways. This is the more reason all Imo people must rise up once and for all so that we can put Imo back genuinely in the mighty hands of God and be empowered to do more.