By OBINNA EZUGWU
Orlu town, the de facto capital of Imo West Senatorial District – the home district of the incumbent governor of Imo State, Senator Hope Uzodinma – would have been its usual tranquil self with poor road infrastructure to worry about, but for a team of soldiers drafted to quell a budding security challenge. Few weeks ago, a uniform ‘security’ outfit appeared from nowhere, targeting mainly police check points extorting residents.
On Friday, soldiers drafted from the 34 Artillery Brigade Obinze, invaded the secretariat of the Biafra Independent movement/Movement for the Actualisation of the Sovereign State of Biafra (BIM-MASSOB) situated at Mgbee area of the town, burnt it down and fired sporadic gunshots. A passerby was allegedly felled by their bullets. The last time the town witnessed similar tension, was during the EndSARS protest; a protest that rocked the country around mid December last year. A number of people were allegedly killed by soldiers drafted to quell the protests which apparently turned violent in the area.
Orlu zone – Imo West Senatorial Zone – is a very significant part of Imo State. Since the return of democracy in 1999, the zone has held power almost exclusively, starting from Chief Achike Udenwa who became governor in 1999, serving until 2007 when he was replaced by Ikedi Ohakim from Okigwe zone. Ohakim was subsequently replaced after four years in office, by another Orlu son in Owelle Rochas Okorocha, who riding on the platform of the All Progressive Grand Alliance (APGA), beat then incumbent Ohakim of the People’s Democratic (PDP) in 2011.
Ohakim who though performed relatively well, anchoring his administration on Environmental Health Programmes, through which he maintained clean environment in the state, as well as built a number of projects such, the Ahiajoku Conference Centre, Yaradua Drive in New Owerri, Ngor-Okpala-Eche and Dikenafai-Osina roads, was undone by his perceived arrogance, notably the allegation, which ultimately proved false, that he slapped a Catholic priest, in a predominantly Catholic state.
Okorocha, his successor placed much premium on a controversial Free Education Policy.
And upon completing eight years in 2019, having in 2013, pulled away from APGA to join the emergent All Progressive Congress (APC), plotted to install his son-in-law, Uche Nwosu, yet another Orlu son, but lost to Hon. Emeka Ihedioha of the PDP who was declared winner of the March 2019 governorship election by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), and subsequently sworn in as governor on May 29, the same year. But seven months into his tenure, the Supreme Court January 14, 2020, sacked him as governor, in a judgment that caused national outrage, and was particularly, for many, a sad day for Imo.
In Orlu, the reaction to judgment was however, mixed. While it was generally accepted that an injustice had been done to Ihedioha, the first governor of the state from Owerri zone, there was also a feeling that another Orlu son becoming governor was welcome. Although past governors from the zone had done little for it by way of infrastructural development.
Okorocha had notably constructed the largely narrow road from Anara Junction, off Okigwe junction, through Orlu town to Owerri, the state capital, which helped to win him admirers for a period. But the road was poorly built, and lasted only a few months before starting to peel off. It’s fate also coincided with that of Okorocha, who was welcomed as governor with fanfare, only to see the support quickly dissipate. He was accused of building substandard projects, and of owing workers and pensioners for many months. But what ultimately affected his popular support, was his decision to abandon APGA for the APC.
When Uzodinma was sworn in as governor on January 15, the generality of Imo people who had endured eight years of what was generally considered uninspiring leadership under Okorocha, did not know exactly what to expect from a candidate who had only managed 4th position in the election results declared by INEC.
Ihedioha who had emerged winner of the governorship polls, had started well, and the people had reasons to be hopeful. Unlike Okorocha, he awarded road and sundry contracts to notable construction companies, and much needed construction had begun in earnest in various parts of the state in desperate need of good roads. And for the seven months he occupied the Douglas House, an air of satisfaction pervaded the Eastern Heartland. That was before the Supreme Court put paid to the trajectory, and ushered the former Imo West Senator as the next governor. To Okorocha’s credit, however, he transformed the capital city of Owerri into a modern city. He expanded the roads, built roundabouts and sundry infrastructure. But ultimately lost the plot by doing substandard projects across the state.
Uzodinma’s government was welcomed, at best, with apathy, and at worst with simmering anger. Coming at a time the people had only recently revelled in their defeat of Okorocha and his party, the APC, the last thing they wanted was another APC government, much worse, one that emerge under upsetting circumstances.
The new governor was soon nicknamed Supreme Court governor. When he visited Mmahu in Ohaji Egbema Local Government Area of the state on condolence to families of some victims who lost their lives during a truck crash two months into his administration in May, his vehicle was pelted with stones by youths chanting “Onye Oshi Votes” (one who steals votes).
It was obvious that he had his work cut out of him. He had to impress with his performance to be accepted. Ihedioha had laid the groundwork, adhering to popular demands from the masses. Many reasoned that the Uzodinma administration, in the spirit of continuity would continue with what was on ground.
To his credit, Uzodinma took steps in that direction, announcing that he would continue with the project of his immediate predecessor, because according to him, government is a continuum. And in what seemed like a fulfilment of that promise, contractors mobilized by Ihedioha were allowed to continue on for a period.
But soon the caterpillars were gone, and with it, many say, their expectations of the new governor.
“Initially, Uzodinma promised to continue with the roads Ihedioha started. The contractors stayed on sites for awhile after he was sworn in. But before we knew it, all of them disappeared,” noted Emeka Nneji, resident of Mbaise area of the state.
“As soon as Ihedioha was sworn in, he mobilized contractors to sites. He began work on this our road and many others around the state. The contractors had just finished grading it when he was removed. Now, the road is worse than it was initially because everywhere is now covered with dust. And nobody has any idea if Uzodinma has any plans of doing anything. In fact, people are losing hope.”
Like Nneji, many residents of the state say they are disillusioned. The state appear to be on a standstill. To his credit, the governor recently recruited some graduates into the state revenue service following due process and upholding merit as the only criteria.
“That’s the only positive thing that one can say has happened since he became governor,” Nneji said. “At least some qualified graduates got jobs without having to go through any godfather. Other than that, the state is in a huge mess.”
From Mbaise to Owerri and Orlu, the story is the same. The state capital remains mostly as Okorocha left it. In Orlu, the only project, residents say, have been done are pieces of gravel dumped on some bad portions of the road in the days leading up to the Christmas.
“There is actually nothing to talk about because the governor has not done anything,” noted Nnaemeka Opara, a resident of Orlu. “In terms of infrastructure, there is nothing on ground.
“But maybe some people have gotten opportunity to benefit from his administration in terms of appointment or financial reward. These are the kinds of people who will tell you that he is working.
“The reality, however, is that he is not doing anything. But it’s not as if we expected him to work for us. We didn’t vote for him, we voted for Emeka Ihedioha. He is there because of the Supreme Court, not because we noted for him. So, we have made up our minds that we don’t have a governor.”
When contacted to comment on Uzodinma’s achievements in his first one year in office, and to respond to assertions that he has done little, Mr. Oguike Nwachukwu, the chief press secretary to the governor, inquired to know if our correspondents were in the state, arguing that he could not respond to hearsay.
“Fine. But have you also made efforts to go see things for yourself or you just want to rely on hearsay and ask me to comment on that?” he asked.
However, when informed that our correspondents were in the state and interacted with residents, he declined further comments.
For the time being, the governor appears more focused on redressing the Okorocha years. And both men, from the onset have been engaged in allegations and counter allegations.
On Wednesday, the Uzodinma government said it discovered equipment of Nsu ceramic and tiles industry established by the then administration of Sam Mbakwe, in a warehouse owned by the former governor, Rochas Okorocha, along Owerri/ Aba road in the state.
In a find-out mission by the state Commissioner for Commerce and Industry, Simon Ebegbulem, to the location of the warehouse said that some patriotic citizens of the state revealed the hidden warehouse to government, stacked with various public-owned facilities.
The commissioner said that the equipment were transferred from Ehime Mbano Local government to the private warehouse in order to establish a personal industry by the Okorocha’s.
The said 55 feet by 200 length warehouse is adjacent to a warehouse where the then Emeka Ihedioha administration, discovered some of the public properties said to be owned by the state.
According to Egbebulem, “There was a time the administration of Hope Uzodimma, raised an alarm of the equipment of Nsu ceramic and tiles industries looted by Administration of Rochas Okorocha, that was after some patriotic citizens of the state raised an alarm of where these Imo properties looted and were kept by the Okorocha’s along Owerri/Aba road.
“We followed up to find out the truth and with what we have seen today, in Okorocha’s warehouse there is a plan by Okorocha, to set up a ceramic factory with government-owned properties as a personal factory.”
But in swift response, Okorocha accused the governor of pursuing relentless war effort against him.
Okorocha in a statement on Thursday by his media aide, Mr. Sam Onwuemeodo, accused the governor of invading a warehouse under the pretence that it contained items belonging to the state government.
“This is to inform the general public, that, as early as 6:15am today, being Thursday, January 21, 2021, Seven Hilux Vans loaded with heavily armed Police men, invaded a Warehouse along Aba road, opposite Alaba International Market, on the orders of the governor of the State, Chief Hope Uzodinma,” the statement read.
“We have also read what the Commissioner for Commerce and Industry, Mr. Simeon Ibegbulem said were recovered from the Warehouse. It was interesting to read that what the Commissioner said they recovered from the warehouse were street lights accessories and cartons of tiles and without his disclosing how he arrived at the Conclusion that those items were owned by the government.
“The government should disclose or publish the proof of ownership of all they claimed they had recovered. All these cock and bull stories have become irritating. If Governor Uzodinma was not demolishing Okorocha’s projects, he was invading warehouses in his government’s desperation to malign Okorocha.
“And the question is, how would all these help governor Uzodinma in the governance of the State. We have been reluctant to use the word clueless, but the government’s actions and inactions have given reasons to be described as such.”