By Barr. Ekene Bob-Ekechukwu
Since the creation of Imo in 1976, the State has been ruled by only six (6) elected civilian Executive Governors. Apart from the regime of Sam Mbakwe and Evan Enwerem which were abruptly terminated by military intervention, there was a smooth transition of power from Achike Udenwa to Ikedi Ohakim. However, it is commendable that Udenwa who inherited almost nothing from the preceding military government, was able to lay the foundation of the post-military administration Imo State. Udenwa reversed the epileptic economic order of Imo State to a buoyant and private sector driven economy. He brought enterprise, productivity, hardwork, transparency and discipline to the business of governance. He also introduced gradual revolution in the Imo psyche of political leadership and followership, thereby entrenching the philosophy of politics without bitterness.
Despite the paucity of funds then, he was able to make notable achievements in the areas of construction of several kilometres of quality roads, building of the massive State Secretariat, revamping of some industries, the civil service and the education sector, etc. He also created enabling environment for investors to invest in the State, especially in the hospitality and tourism sector. It is also noteworthy that during his tenure, Udenwa commenced repayment of previous debts owed by the Mbakwe administration, which Ohakim later completed in his own time. At the end of the day, Udenwa handed over several billions of Naira to Ohakim with a debt burden of N24 billion.
Ohakim had no problem taking off with his administration because Udenwa did not make things difficult for him. He took bold steps by starting some short and long term projects. Examples include the Oguta Tourism, construction and expansion of network of roads, employment center, elimination of ghost workers, replacement of two-wheeled bikes (okada) with three-wheeled ones (Keke NAPEP), severance of relations with, and total elimination of the politics of godfatherism, fulfillment of the election of local government chairpersons, instead of the use of hand- picked administrators. Imo State capital was renewed with the Clean and Green programme. He also erected functional traffic lights at the needed intersections in the city of Owerri. There were several road constructions going on in and around Owerri, thereby creating employment in that area. The Oguta tourism project and dredging of Nworie River was also underway during that period. In essence Ohakim did improve on Udenwa’s achievements and Imo was better.
Unfortunately in 2011, Ohakim lost his re-election bid to Rochas Okorocha who contested the guber elections on the platform of All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA).
He handed over N26 billion in cash to Okorocha. He also handed over all the other assets he recieved from Udenwa, and even more, such as buildings, equipments, vehicles, land and so on, to Okorocha. Ohakim did not make things difficult for Okorocha, rather he created a conducive environment for Okorocha to start work. Elated, Rochas even exclaimed, after receiving the monies from Ohakim, that Imo State is very rich. Sadly, today, Okorocha has squandered all the cash and other assets handed over to him by Ohakim. He also converted most of the government properties and assets he recieved from Ohakim to his personal use and that of members of his family.
Some of the affected government properties include:
1. Part of the building housing Imo State Liaison Office in Abuja which he allegedly sold to Sen. Benjamin Uwajumogu
2. Imo House in Lagos
3. Old Secretariat converted to Woodi Wellness Centre owned by his wife, Nkechi
4. A land in Kuje, Abuja where he is also building a private University.
5. Eastern Palm University (now recovered by Imo State Government)
6. IBC Quarters converted to Rochas Foundation College
7. Shell Camp Quarter
8. All government reserved areas then acquired by the Okorochas, etc
Under Okorocha, the economy of the State virtually crashed as nothing was moving. The ex-Governor preferred to siphon billions of taxpayers money through the erection of edifices such as monuments and statues when workers and pensioners were being owed and the people were starving. Little wonder Imolites were shocked to their marrows when it was revealed that the Akachi Tower gulped a whooping N700 million. Several hundreds of pensioners and contractors died due to non-payment of their entitlements which was obviously embezzled. Several billions were also siphoned through the ill-advised urban renewal programme which ended up ruining good roads built by past administrations and replacing them with “China” roads, blocking the drainage systems, thereby causing unprecedented flooding of the city during rainfall. In fact it can be said with out fear of contradiction that Okorocha ran the most wasteful and clueless administration in the history of old Imo State. In addition, he immorally, awarded plum contracts and gave political appointments to his siblings and in-laws through which also, billions were looted.
When one considers the recent revelations on what transpired under Okorocha’s regime, like the Zigreat-gate contract scam where he awarded over N20 billion contract to a fictitious company, the discovery of looted government property in All-in shop warehouse owned by Okorocha’s wife, the Okorocha’s properties acquired under questionable circumstances sealed by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), the missing bailout funds, the dubious investment in the non-existent Imo Air project, findings of the several Committees set up to that effect, and so on, it can only be concluded that trillions of Naira were looted under the watch of Rochas Okorocha.
Suprisingly, when it came to his turn to handover, unlike his predecessors, Okorocha reneged. He refused to handover to Gov Emeka Ihedioha and went ahead to empty the Treasury in order to make things very difficult for the new government. He also left behind an unprecedented debt burden of about N200 billion for Ihedioha’s government to pay. Looking at the heavy debt burden and the depth of infrastructural decay in the State presently, one may rightly ask what Okorocha did with the over N1 trillion he recieved as both Federal allocation and other revenues in the 8 years of his regime. The kind of acute fiscal recklessness and scandalous looting that took place under Okorocha, has made that of Udenwa and Ohakim pale in significance. In conclusion, one can easily consider Udenwa and Ohakim as Saints who deserve to go to heaven, when you juxtapose their administration with that of Rochas Okorocha.