By Collins Ughalaa
For purposes of space and convenience I have chosen to treat this subject in parts, first beginning with the 8 years of the Redemption government of Chief Achike Udenwa, and then the 4 years of the New Face administration of Chief Dr. Ikedi Ohakim.
But before I set out, let me correct the erroneous impression that has found sweet abode in the minds of many people, including members of the party. I am aware that even the staunch members of the PDP will give me some hard knocks because of revelations herein, but that is because of what they know or they chose to believe, and it is ok. However, if they had taken a little step further they would have found cure for their biases.
The story has been on for more than 18 years, that Owerri Zone gave their slot in 1998 to Chief Achike Udenwa of Orlu Zone to become the Governor of the State. That Chief Achike Udenwa came a distant fourth position while Barr Humphrey Anumodu, from Owerri Zone, came first.
Those who spread this falsehood do so because they want to make political capital out of it, or that is what they chose to believe. They always want to paint the picture of how Owerri Zone has done so much for other zones and how they have been mistreated.
My research shows that contrary to the widely held belief of Owerri Zone leaders trading off their opportunity in 1998 because they considered Barr Anumodu a hard nut to crack and Udenwa a more amenable person, Chief Udenwa won the governorship primary election of the PDP clean and square.
In the frenzy to grab the gubernatorial ticket of the PDP in 1998, some of the aspirants padded the votes in their respective LGAs and had very astonishing numbers without a good spread across the LGAs. They calculated erroneously that having the highest number of votes without cutting across the LGAs was all that was needed. Thus, the delegates’ votes from Mbaitoli LGA was highly inflated to give the candidate from that area the impression of getting elected as guber candidate without winning a majority spread of the 27 LGAs. This happened with others, even some from Orlu Zone, as they concentrated on vote padding in their respective LGAs. But Chief Udenwa did not inflate his score in his Orlu LGA, neither did he inflate his scores from his Zone. He won a convincing majority delegates’ votes across the state, and the PDP leaders had no option than to stand on the side of truth. They called the gsme at the centre.
The Governor of Imo State should not be the product of any enclave. He should demonstrate his level of acceptability by winning votes across the State. It did not matter who was involved. Even though many of the people who shout on the rooftop how Owerri Zone made Chief Udenwa Governor have not seen the primary election result of the party in 1998, what mattered was that someone won the majority spread of the votes cast and that person was Chief Achike Udenwa.
Having cleared this, it needs to be stated that perhaps outside physical infrastructure the biggest achievement of the Udenwa era was the peace of the time, political and economic development of the people and his drive for ethical reorientation.
Coming from the military era, many people still suffered the hangover of the military days and as such they behaved in such manner and wanted government transactions conducted in such brutish military mentality. But Udenwa wanted to deepen democracy, and thus a campaign for attitudinal change was born. This in turn led to the creation of the Imo State Orientation Agency. This agency has been bastardized by the Okorocha government. Imo State was not the only government in need of mental and attitudinal rebirth needed for the growth of democracy after the exit of the military.
If you knew that all legacies are not tangible you would begin to appreciate the efforts put in to change the mentality of a people that have become used to military ways of doing things, even government transactions. What would you say of a man who who did not send his children to school but spent his money building houses for them and saving what was left in the bank for them? What of the man who spent his money sending his children to school but built little or no houses and made little or no savings? Who left a befitting legacy for his children?
Despite knowing that all legacies are not tangible, the Udenwa administration conducted local government election two times. This means that we had more about 350 councillors doing legislative businesses at the local government level and taking development back to their wards. We had 27 elected local government chairmen in place with their aides and assistants. The economic implications is unimaginable.
Politically, the presence of elected local government officials would ease traffic and concentration on the state government as many people were satisfied dealing with their LGAs and not to frequent the office of the Governor for anything at all. The political stability resulting from this can also only be imagined.
The Udenwa administration did not stop at the LGAs. But in order to deepen democracy and bring development closer to the people, the Udenwa administration created the Local Government Development Centres. These institutions of governance helped in no small measure in building the human capita needed in the state. Look very well and you would see that the Udenwa era through the LGAs and development centers raised strong politicians who have become useful to themselves and the state.
For example, Hon G. Irona who later became both member of the Imo State Assembly and Federal House of Reps was the Executive Chairman of Oguta LGA during the Udenwa administration. Senator SamDaddy Anyanwu who later became a member of the State Assembly remains the product of that glorious era. Hon Goodluck Nana Opiah who is now a member of the House of Reps was a member of the House of Assembly in the Redemption era. He later became Speaker of the State Assembly. The Ikenga Orlu, Hon Mayor Eze, was the Executive Chairman of Orlu LGA and Chairman of ALGON during the Udenwa administration. He later became a member of the House of Reps. The current Speaker of Imo State House of Assembly, Rt Hon Acho Ihim, remains a product of the Udenwa era. What of Toney Black? What of Barr Soronnadi Njoku who was a Commissioner for Agriculture in the Udenwa administration? He later became the Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice during the first term of Governor Okorocha. The list is endless.
Regrettably, all this lofty achievements were rubbished and wiped away by a man who wants to rewrite and retell the Imo Story. As first victims, he wiped away the development centers and created his toxic fourth-tier government christened Community Government Council. He also sacked all the 350 elected councillors and 27 elected LGA chairmen.
While Governor Okorocha was destroying the development centers his counterpart in Lagos State was busy conducting elections into their own development centers inherited from the Tinubu era, same time Udenwa created his. And it has been so since in Lagos. You can only imagine the impact of the development centers in Lagos.
To make sure that peace and political stability reigned in Imo, Udenwa did not muscle the LGAs. He allowed the people to choose their executive chairmen and councillors and that brought a lot of peace and political stability that allowed the government the peace of mind to now engage in equitable and prudent allocation of its scarce resources to the various sectors of the state. Even when it had the power to keep power in perpetuity in Orlu Zone, Udenwa mustered all the energies at his disposal and stopped prominent and wealthy Orlu sons from eyeing the governorship seat in 2007. He Zoned the governorship to Okigwe Zone.
Has it ever occurred to you that as at the time Udenwa became Governor the State was highly indebted to foreign creditors? They successive governments, including the Mbakwe government, got the State deep in foreign debts. It was the Udenwa era that began the repayment of those debts. At the end of the month after each deductions at FAAC, the Udenwa government would be left with almost nothing.
Having paid back the debts, and in excess, the Okorocha administration has got more than N20bn as refund of the excess debt payment by the PDP governments. Imagine a Governor leaving N20bn for his predecessor! Would you classify such Governor as a failure? Consider also that the Udenwa era never enjoyed the kind boom in revenue as Okorocha is enjoying now. But you could see easily that prudent management helped the Udenwa era.
With almost zero income, Udenwa made sure salaries were paid and pensions not owed and had money to engage in other meaningful legacy projects. For example: Udenwa developed the popular Civic Center, a residential area for the who-is-who in the State. As a prudent manager, Udenwa gave out the more than 75 plots of land and got only one for himself. None for his wife. None for his children. And he did not leave it undeveloped. With the about N4m paid per plot of land the Udenwa administration instead of pocketing it deployed same for the development of the Civic Center. And we have it to thank God for.
Today the civic center is a wonder to behold. Interestingly, after six years, the Rescue Mission has developed nothing but has rather gone on destruction mission instead. The Okorocha government had forgotten that it was the Udenwa era thag produced the Imo State Oil Producing Areas Development Commission (ISOPADEC).
When some people talk about the PDP in disdainful tones they feign ignorance of the fact that Udenwa breathed life into World Bank, spreading development to Umuguma. Beyond the World Bank, what we know today as Akanchawa, reaching to Concorde Hotel, and New Owerri are all creations of Udenwa’s magic fingers.
Chief Udenwa did not demolish Concorde Hotel because he did not build it. He did not sell it either. With the little income available to his government he was able to renovate the Concorde Hotel and that opened the gate of tourism in the State. At the time the football legend, Kanu Nwankwo, wedded his lovely wife at the Concord Pool Side, and Concorde Hotel got the attraction of oil companies.
Today, the real owners of Concorde Hotel remains doubtful. And shockingly, despite the long period of closures and renovations, Concorde has become beautiful habitat for rodents.
It would actually require volumes of books to chronicle the glorious era of the PDP in Imo. But mention must be made that the Udenwa era built general hospitals and opened the General Hospital Road at World Bank. Perhaps the crown on the efforts of the Udenwa era was the Imo State University Teaching Hospital with the state of the art medical equipments shipped from abroad. But till today, the Okorocha government has allowed the containers to rot at the wharf and the medical facility to decay in Orlu. Had the Okorocha government paid one kobo attention, Imo State would have become a medial tourist center.
Not many people have forgotten that by the time Udenwa came on board civil servants did not have decent offices. They did not even have enough to accommodate them. To solve this problem once and for all and to spread development to the New Owerri, Udenwa built the gigantic new Secretariat. He did not rest there. He renovated the State Assembly complex and built the State House of Assembly Road. This singular act led to the springing up of hotels such as All Seasons Hotel, Links Hotel, Newcastle Hotel, Dreamland Hotels, etc. Today, that area is a living testimony to what credible leadership can do.
Our people say that an angry man does not take a goat to the market. He would strangle the goat. However, the Okorocha government has gone on with so much contempt for his predecessors. In order to portray his predecessors in bad light, especially Udenwa, he has renamed the Redemption Housing Estate. This Estate opened up the Avu and Obinze area and pushed development to that direction. Today many people are happy landlords in that area, and from there they access Owerri everyday and do their businesses and return home.
Conversely, despite all the noise of the APC government in Imo, it has been one step forward, 1,000 backward. It has been a story of failed projects and cluelessness.
The APC government said the PDP wasted its 12 years planting trees, but today the APC government has not only removed the trees and deforested the State, it is wasting our money roofing all the roads in the State. If this is not the full definition of clueless leadership, then we must ask that the authors of the English dictionaries should go back to school.
For over six years the APC government had delivered no hospitals. No drugs. Nothing. It has been a government that delights in throwing jibes at its predecessors. Nothing more.
Despite selling the general hospitals the APC government has allowed Imo people to die in their numbers as a result of lack of public medical facilities. And wherever you see any medical facility in the State, they are the remnants of the glorious PDP era. It needless to repeat the fact that the 27 general hospitals of the APC has provided nothing at all. The Health at Your Door Step is only as sweet as it sounds and nothing more. Perhaps this government is only a government of slogans, for the sloganeers and by the sloganeers.
…To be continued.