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His Excellency, Governor Emeka Ihedioha CON, is under no illusion that every Imolite is clapping for him but it would amount to blackmailing the entire people of Imo state to say or suggest that in just six months after they freely gave their mandate to him to preside over their affairs, they have become terrified of the prospects of their collective destiny. Imolites are not that poorly willed or small minded.
Of course, there are challenges that tend to infringe on their welfare but it is completely out of place to suggest that they have resigned to fate, to the extent that hyperboles like “Imo Stands Still” can be used to describe their current state of affairs. Yes, there is pervasive economic deprivation across the country but the average Imolite would certainly not accept the impression that he is the most hit, not in Owerri where an average citizen has a sense of responsibility to himself.
Today, the issue of bad roads has taken center stage on national discourse but Imo, by any stretch of imagination, cannot be taken as typically illustrative of this national problem even when cognizance is taken of the carryover of the poor quality of work done on Imo roads in the past seven years. The point, therefore, is that our numerous commentators on the affairs of our dear state should be careful in their choice of language, to avoid an inadvertent talk down on the entire Imo collective. Those of them who have briefs from their political godfathers or mentors are perhaps even more challenged because the ultimate interest of their principals cannot be served by giving outsiders the impression that their own kid and kin are lazy, cannot afford their own meals and can allow themselves to be suffocated by filth.
This is the message a first time visitor to the state would get after reading recent reports in some local (Owerri-based) newspapers. In the course of my duty as Chief Press Secretary to His Excellency, I have refrained from pointing at holes at media reports by our colleagues especially in the local print media; the reason being that apart from the fact that my duty is to court their camaraderie, they make the state as a whole proud. Outside Lagos, I dare say, Imo State boasts of the most vibrant print media in the country. Individually, the practitioners in the Owerri media axis, to put it that way, can stand shoulder to shoulder – if not neck above shoulder – with any practitioner in the ‘national media’.
Imperatively, there is the need to guard against the growing vulnerability of the local practitioners to the highly inclement political weather in the state. Politicians can afford to talk or write in hyperboles but media practitioners, particular journalists in the print media, cannot.
Let us take a recent report (Friday October 25, 2019 edition) in one of the newspapers in the state. The report, among the things, claimed that “Hunger, bad roads, huge refuse dumps and insecurity have dodged every path of the state resulting in total collapse of all economic activities”. This is exaggerated to the extreme. The language employed here is a stereotype and seemingly a product of a template from which the anchor of the story took his narrative to suit a predetermined objective.
It is, of course, not true that there is “total collapse of all economic activities” in the state. Not even the most pessimistic partisan opponent of the administration of His Excellency would employ such a language because his co-partisans would advise him that the language is too ordinary to make the needed impact. This means that if hardened politicians can afford to be that circumspect, more should be definitely be expected from media practitioners whose code of ethics requires utmost prudence and objectivity. The report in question then went further in its narrative; “Some who spoke on conditions of anonymity lamented the turn of events in the state accusing the state government of insensitivity… Some of them said they voted for the present government due to their campaign promises of turning things around within a short period, however frowned at the lackadaisical attitude of the government saying they are hugely disappointed with the present administration”
The above narration can certainly not be about Imo state and its people. Imolites do not sound this cheap. Yes, there are issues about roads but it amounts to an assault on the psyche of a people known for their sophistication to suggestion that they expected a complete turnaround of things within a space of six months given the devastation that was left behind by the past administration. The “short period” referred to in the report cannot be taken for the six months the administration has been in existence. And certainly, no Imo man or woman, even with the strongest penchant to partisan indecency, would describe the administration as “lackadaisical”. As I noted earlier, politicians endeavour to be prudent in their choice of words. Unfortunately, many media practitioners, who most of the time provide the vehicle through which politician express themselves, employ unedifying words in other to impress. This is not good enough.
No Imo fellow, outside the victimhood of bias, would describe the administration of Governor Ihedioha as “lackadaisical” even with the current challenges posed by the poor state of physical infrastructures, especially roads. The highly discerning and sophisticated Imolites would not, no matter the circumstance, describe as “lackadaisical” an administration that has within six months courageously addressed the pension logjam that had sent many retiree to their untimely graves, not to mention the restoration of the 100% payment of workers’ salaries.
Yes, there might still be some rough edges to be smoothened, but the average Imo pensioner will not agree with the above report, coming less than a week after he received payment that had, a mere six months ago, looked impossible. Imolites would not agree that an administration which in less than 100 days returned governance to the people by restoring the local government system to full autonomy as “lackadaisical”. The good people of Imo state would not be cajoled into accepting such a talk down on their state under an administration that has tripled internally generated revenue. This is besides coming up with a system – the Treasury Single Account, TSA – that has effectively blocked all avenues through which top government functionaries in the past stole state to stupor. As I write this article, investigations are on over how it came to be that the past government operated as many as 250 bank accounts through which they stole money belonging to the people.
Even the much talked about issue of bad roads is not without cognizance of the fact that the current state of affairs is a carryover from the penchant for shoddy jobs in the past. Minus those who are suffering from mindsets of extreme partisanship, nobody in the state would stop asking why the three major roads within the Owerri metropolis – Wedthral, Okigwe road and Orlu road – are collapsing in less than one year after their celebrated expansion.
The obvious fact of partisanship in a media report that refuses to acknowledge that this new administration has already awarded contracts worth over 23 Billion Naira to cover 81km of existing roads within the state capital and its environs, is underscored. Of course, it is convenient to ignore such facts once there is a fixation anchored more on partisan interest than the imperatives of journalism ethics.
Without a doubt, there has become an urgent need for the narrative to change. The discourse on the affairs of state has to be elevated or, indeed, taken back to the level for which Imo and its people are known.
Together, we will rebuild Imo
*Onyeukwu is Chief Press Secretary to Governor Emeka Ihedioha