SPECIAL REPORT: Imo: Dilemma Of Eastern Heartland

Okorocha - Uzodinma Carricature

BEVERLY HILLS, March 29, (THEWILL) – The prevailing circumstance in Imo State can be likened to that of a crew rescued from a sinking ship by the Devil. If the word to capture the true mood of the people is lacking, it is not Dilemma.

Indeed, Imolites, or Ndi-Imo, as they are also called, are caught up in the intricate web of a dilemma – the extent they probably have not encountered in the 45 years of the state’s existence (since 1976). Their dilemma emanates from the bid to wriggle out of the grips of Owelle Rochas Okorocha, the former governor who was set to foist his family dynasty on the people, and the imposition of an unwanted leader, Hope Uzodinma, a governor they did not elect. Both Rochas and Hope are engaged in a fierce battle for the soul of Imo, with the people suffering the consequences.

Besides the well-orchestrated succession plot, Okorocha had allegedly looted massive assets of Imo and converted them to his family’s possession through a perfected legal process that only the unusual force of a state law could reverse. Imo was allegedly ravaged, excavated and pilloried by Okorocha and his family. No area was spared – from state funds to landed and movable properties. Okorocha allegedly cornered all for himself and his family in the worst show of impunity ever witnessed in the history of the state.

Ndi-Imo needed a strongman to match the hegemonic grip of Okorocha. Who can save Imolites; who will go for them? Okorocha had physically departed from government, but his looming virtual image could be felt all over the place. He had positioned his men to descend on the opposition or any challenging voice, without mercy. Okorocha’s strong men were allegedly out to steal, to kill and to destroy. The fear of Rochas became the beginning of wisdom as fervent prayers were offered for an unusual divine intervention.

Then emerged Emeka Ihedioha – the popularly elected governor who had made his mark as a federal parliamentarian on the platform of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP. He rose to the level of Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives before deciding to contest for the governorship of his state.

It was a change of canticle for Ndimo, from ‘Nunc Dimittis’ to ‘Te Deum Laudamus’ as is the pattern of the Anglican Church (where Ihedioha himself belongs). Ihedioha took over the seat of power in a most celebrated atmosphere of delight, thanksgiving and fulfilment. He began the arduous task of rescuing Imo from the dynasty-designed grips of Rochas amid fortified resistance posed by Okorocha guards.

Under Ihedioha, government workers’ salaries and retired workers’ pensions were prioritized. Education, the hallmark of the state’s existence, which had been abandoned, butchered and destroyed under Okorocha, began to plumage and grow again. It was like the time had come to sing the late Jim Reeves’ countryside beautiful rendition, “Lord we thank Thee ….” Imolites at home and in diaspora began to breathe the fresh air of life, with eye that was able to see a beautiful tomorrow. For them, Ihedioha had come to save Ndi-Imo the steady flow of fear, anxiety and uncertainty from the leadership of a man whose initial behaviour turned out an inevitable preliminary to mindless looting.

The smooth journey had attained the point of a cruising level when it was traumatically truncated: Senator Uzodinma was pronounced the “duly elected” governor of Imo State by the Mohammed Tanko-led Supreme Court of Nigeria. It was the same Supreme Court that had declared that Uzodinma was not a candidate of any political party. Uzodinma’s emergence as governor remains a knot yet to be untied by the nation’s judiciary in its decades of existence.

Of course, the world saw it as an attempt to square a cycle bearing in mind the facts of the case. Imolites are perplexed: Uzodinma had lost the legal battle at both the Tribunal and at the Appeal Court. He was declared an interloper. How can a candidate without a party be declared a winner and with votes he did not earn? Besides, he came a distant 4th. Uzodinma emerged from No 4, without technically belonging to any political party to become governor. But the Supreme Court insisted it has the supreme wisdom.

In his dissenting judgment when Ihedioha asked the Supreme Court to set aside its January 14, 2020 ruling, Justice Centus Nweze, who was not part of the original seven-member panel that nullified Ihedioha’s election, said remarkably, “The decision of the Supreme Court in the instant matter will continue to haunt our electoral jurisprudence for a long time to come.”

In his article entitled “Hope Uzodinma’s 100 days of hopelessness,” published in The Niche of April 29, 2020, Ikechukwu Amaechi predicted that the consequences of the Supreme Court’s shenanigan will be dire for the state. “What the country’s apex court did by imposing Hope Uzodimma on a people who rejected him at the polls is to create a hopeless situation for the state. The consequences are better imagined.”

Ihedioha has gone; but the battle to retrieve Imo assets from Okorocha had to be fought, and fiercely too. Imo was about being swallowed by Okorocha and his family. The level of state asset allegedly appropriated by Okorocha can only happen under a tough-minded tyranny, with every stream of dictatorship and brutality running through the blood veins. Of course, no ‘simple’ or ‘soft’ man can dare Okorocha. If he was allowed to go with those public assets, Imo would remain the fiefdom of Okorocha’s family forever.

Gov. Uzodinma, the leader imposed on the people; the personality Ndi-Imo rejected, is confronting Okorocha. The people are cheering; they are also weeping. Uzodinma is doing a “good” job; but he is not the people’s choice. He is the rejected stone that would not be accepted as the corner-stone. Here lies the dilemma of Ndi-Imo. “Thank God Okorocha is gone and being dispossessed of the people’s properties he illegally acquired for himself and his family. But the man doing the job is not wanted. He is an interloper”, said a traditional ruler who would not want his name published.

“When Imolites went to the polls on March 9, 2019 to elect a governor, they voted massively for the candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Hon. Emeka Ihedioha; not Hope Uzodimma, the man now sitting pretty in Douglas House.

“The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) dutifully returned Ihedioha winner and on May 29, 2019, he took the oath of office.

“But the sovereign will of the people was whimsically upended on January 14, 2020 when the Supreme Court illogically declared Uzodimma, the man who came a distant fourth, winner of the election in which the same Supreme Court had ruled barely two weeks earlier that he was not even a candidate,” Amaechi wrote in the February 24, 2021 edition of The Niche.

Recently, the top echelon of the ruling APC stormed Imo State to celebrate with Uzodinma on the first anniversary of his Supreme Court victory and to witness the commissioning of 46 roads he claimed to have constructed within one year in office. He used the opportunity to rename the popular Asumpta Avenue, adjoining the imposing Catholic premises of Assumpta Cathederal, to Muhammadu Buhari Avenue.

The personalities that graced the occasion included Senate President, Ahmed Lawan. Lawan presided over the session that approved Buhari’s $22.7 billion dollar loan for projects that excluded the South-East. He moved to beat the gavel amid protest against the illegal removal and replacement of Mrs. Chinaelo Anohu-Amazu, former Pension Commission (PenCom) Director-General. Lawan retorted that he is not in the Senate to interpret the law, and arrogantly told Senator Enyinnnaya Abaribe, who spoke on behalf of the SE caucus, to approach the court of law.

“Does this show you that Uzodinma is here for the people?”, a top government official said on point of anonymity. “I know he is retrieving Imo’s properties illegally acquired by Okorocha, is it not the living that will enjoy recovered properties?”

Recently, over 300 Imo teachers stormed Government House demanding the payment of their 12 months’ salary, faulting Uzodinma’s claim of paying the workers regularly.

Also, a delegate of South-East Anglican Bishops visited Gov. Uzodinma in Owerri.

“Their visit and posing in a photograph with Governor Uzodinma for whatever reason is a deodorized sacrilege”, said a prominent religious leader who pleaded not to be named in the report. When reminded that he is doing a good job by challenging Okorocha, the clergyman said, “They are the same; Uzodinma will turn out worse than Okorocha. Imo is doomed; we are in a serious dilemma.”

Across the state, the people are bleeding inside themselves. They are concerned that Imo, a state of enlightened and well educated people is ruled by characters whose antecedents and educational backgrounds are expressed in unprintable words. Imo ranks among the states with the highest candidates in the West African Examinations Council (WAEC), National Examination Council (NECO), and the Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board (JAMB) examinations. Imo children also emerge tops in these examinations among candidates from the 36 states of the federation and the Federal Capital Territory (FTC). Imo also belongs to the league of states with the highest number of professors.

The Uzodinma-Okorocha debacle is telling on the state. There is low spirit everywhere. Businesses are down and many players are out. As a civil service state, Imo economy depends largely on workers’ salaries unlike other states that are business-driven. Rural roads are in very bad shapes as electricity supply has become persistently unavailable. Countryside businesses, such drinking and entertainment spots that thrive during festivities have their doors locked. Food items are expensive; as major markets operate without the buoyancy that characterise their 8th-day holding. Cost of transportation is high because of bad roads and high cost of fuel – over N200 per litre.

The National Bureau of Statistics Unemployment and Underemployment Report for Q4 2020 showed that Imo has the highest rate of unemployment with 56.64 per cent among the 36 states of the federation and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT). The state also recorded the highest combined unemployment and underemployment rates of 82.5 per cent, among its peers and FCT.

According to the report, Imo has a total of 1,102,525 unemployed persons as against its 1,946,682 total labour force as at Q4 2020. Imo also recorded the highest rate of unemployment with 48.7 per cent in Q2 2020, suggesting a worsening trend of 794 basis points in Q4 2020.

The Imo PDP Publicity Secretary, Ogu Bundu Nwadike, bemoaned cloud of mis-governance that has descended on Imo State under the “incompetent, corrupt and hypocritical APC/Uzodinma-led government”. Nwadike told THEWILL that the economic consequence of leadership by lying, looting and propaganda which characterizes Hope Uzodinma’s administration, reflected in the recent unemployment rate published by the NBS. “Can you imagine Imo recording the highest unemployment rate in Q2 and Q4 2020 among the 36 states of the federation, worse than Zamfara, Bornu, Yobe, Katisina and the likes?”

The Chief Press Secretary to Gov. Hope Uzodinma, Mr Oguwike Nwachukwu, would not respond to the issues raised in a note to him, concerning the mood of the people under a governor that is not the people’s choice. Nwachukwu only responded by asking “Who told you they did not vote for him?”

The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) in June 2020 disclosed that it returned N2.7 billion recovered from Okorocha,to the state government. Mr Imam Usman, zonal head of the EFCC Port Harcourt office, said the returned fund was part of the N7.9 billion recovered from different bank accounts linked to the ex-governor.Usman said N2.5 billion was returned under the short-lived administration of Emeka Ihedioha, immediate past governor, while Hope Uzodinma, incumbent governor of the state, received N514 million in the previous month (May).

THEWILL visited parts of the three senatorial zones of the state recently and spoke with a cross-section of the people. Virtually every Imolite was incensed.

“We are saddled with a governor we never elected; yet we need someone in authority to fight Okorocha. Hope Uzodinma is prosecuting the battle against Okorocha; yet we did not vote him into power and do not like him”, said a traditional ruler who pleaded not to be mentioned.

There are allegations that Uzodinma is silently looting the state treasury. A source told THEWILL that Ihedioha’s short-lived administration discovered huge funds siphoned by the banks from the state government accounts. According to the source, the banks reached an agreement with the government on how the funds running into billions of Naira would be refunded.

“The deal has entered into voice mail under Uzodinma”, said the source close to the state government.

Greater fears are being expressed that Uzodinma and Okorocha might eventually reconcile, striking a deal that would earn Uzodinma the support of OkorocÄha while the latter is allowed to part with his loot. That appears another dimension to the dilemma of the Eastern Heartland.

List of Properties and Monies Allegedly Looted by Rochas Okorocha During 8-year Tenure as Imo Governor

1. The N59.6 billion taken from the local government system
2. The Eastern Palm University built with Imo money but personalized by Okorocha.
3. The N96 billion being the stolen portion of Imo’s IGR for eight years.
4. N40 billion siphoned through the unexecuted 27 general hospitals projects.
5. The Old IBC premises at Orji.
6. The Nekede and Orji Mechanic Villages.
7. A vast expanse of land on the Sam Mbakwe Airport road was acquired by the Government for the purpose of attracting a Naval Base.
8. The Adapalm in Ohaji which Okorocha said was leased out to investors and left in ruins to date.
9. Westbrook Hotels was built by Okorocha’s son-in-law, Uche Nwosu.
10. WODDI Wellness Center owned by Okorocha’s wife, Nkechi, built on the former Imo State Secretariat Annex, a land forcefully acquired from the State by Uche Nwosu as Commissioner for Lands.
11. The Reach FM owned by Uche Nwosu, without any known legitimate means of owning such huge property.
12. The multi-billion Naira Farmers Market built by Geraldine, Okorocha’s sister, on land belonging to the State.
13. Over twenty-five plots of State land acquired by Uche Nwosu upon which El Freeda Foundation was built. This is the Foundation through which billions of Naira have been laundered out of the State.
14. Extervia Mega Supermarket opposite Civic Center Estate owned by Ogechi Ololo, Okorocha’s sister.
15. Municipal Plaza owned by Nkechi Okorocha built on land forcefully acquired from a civil servant by Uche Nwosu.
16. Twitter Bites acquired by Geraldine Okorocha forcefully from Mr. Fans.
17. Spibat Estate most of which land was forcefully taken from Mbieri people by Okorocha.
18. House of Freeda Malls in Owerri, Abuja and Lagos built by Uloma, Uche Nwosu’s wife.
19. A mighty poultry farm beside Shoprite owned by Uche Nwosu on a land forcefully acquired.
20. A probe into the JPROS financial sleaze perpetrated in Okorocha’s first term.
21. Recovery of over N800 million given to Okorocha’s sister, Geraldine per annum, for Christmas trees.
22. Recovery of the N600 million diverted through the supposed renovation of the Imo State Secretariat.
23. Recovery of the N18 billion looted through the alleged construction of primary school blocks across the State.
24. Recovery of all the markets in the State which Okorocha has claimed 30% ownership.
25. Recovery of the ISOPADEC funds and the 13% oil derivation funds which amount to over N20 billion.
26. Recovery of the cardboard industry at Owerri-Ebeiri in Orlu.
27. Recovery of the N2 billion diverted through the construction of the completely worthless Akachi Tower.
28. A probe into and recovery of over N120 billion diverted through failed road projects. There is no single road project done by Okorocha that is not a failure.
29. Recovery of hundreds of plots of land taken from the State by Okorocha and family, spread across the state.
30. Recovery of Imo’s security votes which Okorocha personalized for eight years.
31. Recovery of IRROMA equipment worth billions of Naira looted by Okorocha.
32. Recovery of ITC vehicles and investments looted by Okorocha, and many more loots!
33. Bailout funds diverted by him and his family.