From Stanley Uzoaru, Owerri
Imo State Deputy Governor, Prof Placid Njoku, rarely speaks to the media, apparently due to his tight schedule in assisting his boss, Governor Hope Uzodimma, to develop the state.
But in this seldom opportunity, he revealed some of the things people never knew about the governor, insecurity in Imo State, as well as his terrible experience riding on some bad roads before they were fixed by the present administration. Excerpt:
What has the experience been since becoming Imo State deputy governor?
I’m privileged to be in office this time. Imo State is a state ravaged by poor governance system, essentially the government was run without any plan, previous administrations had implemented ideas without testing them and so we have not had anything that’s really enduring in the state, but with the Hope Uzodimma administration which came in 15th of January, 2020, we have been conscious in every step we have taken, everything we have done have gone through processing, full consideration and full evaluations of the needs of the people of Imo and so I’m delighted and privileged that I’m part of this administration and that I can make my own contributions to the development of my state, sustainable development of my state and in saying this one can specifically identify things that we have done during this administration that we know will last the test of time. The issues of salaries and pensions, I’m aware that in previous administrations in Imo State, pensioners were asked to fill forms and accept percentages of their pension and sign that they have been fully paid off for the month, we have had situations in this state where the pensions of Imo retirees were paid through consultants who leave way outside Imo State and money was sent to those consultants and they tried to send the money back to retirees in Imo State and you can imagine when you have over 20,000 cases, there would be quite a lot of funds that would be returned, failed transactions in the banks, what happened to those failed transactions, these are the questions that people never asked, so, we came in and saw the entire mess the state was in, salaries were being paid, but we do not know who got the salaries, who were paid the salaries, whether they were ghost workers, and so we consciously reviewed the system and thought that we need to do what we thought we should do so that irrespective of what party is in office, irrespective of who the governor is, that when you decide to pay salaries, you pay people their full salaries by that due date, if you want to pay pension, you pay people the full by the due date and so we commenced the process of computerisation which I can say today has advanced very significantly. We have captured nearly 50,000 people in that system and we have just a few fliers, which are there in the process, what did we find, we found, for example, there are civil servants who are earning three salaries in the same month, we found pensioners who are still being paid as civil servants and all sort of mess, but with the BVN we can now streamline this, you get your pay by that due date and there is no question about anybody getting more than what he’s paid, so that is what we found on the ground and for us, we are quite glad to leave for this state a very sustainable legacy at least in the area of payment of salaries, remunerations of those who have worked for the state and also do quite a lot to improve the quality of life in the civil servants themselves and the pensioners. The civil servants would tell you the state they once found themselves, for example, they have not had any promotion since 2014, these civil servants, they’re those ones who have retired, gratuities have not been paid since 2010 and you can imagine people who have worked for government and the state and they leave office and the basic thing they would get as civil servant, they can not even get and this was the challenge we faced. In every sector that we have touched, we are consciously reviewing what is the pace, where they want things to be and we are looking at the resources to ensure whatever we touch, we touch it finally.
What can you say about some of the governor’s road projects?
Let me talk about Ikeduru where I come from, when I’m travelling, I pass through Akabo at some spot there called Ekemele, it’s a piece of the road that is half of a kilometre, but everybody that use that road will tell you that when Ekemele was in its mess, you will spend nothing less than four hours on that particular spot. I’ve had the challenge myself, I spent five hours at Ekemele, I came back from a trip and got to Ekemele at about 10:00p.m, I thought I was going to pass through in few minutes, but I spent that much time trying to find my way out of that place that is half a kilometre at most, for five hours I did not leave Ekemele until 3:00a.m and government after government had done nothing, this problem of Ekemele had been there for 20 years, each government that came did nothing, they rendered one palliative or the other which ended up worsening the situation because they never analysed the soil type of that spot so that you will be able to know how to tackle it. When we came in, we didn’t want to do any palliative, in fact, there was a palliative they were trying to do when we came in, we just jettisoned it and went for sustainable final dealing with that problem. By November 2020, the government of Imo State led by his Excellency, Distinguished Senator Hope Uzodimma contracted Kraneburg Construction Company to do two roads, the Owerri /Orlu road, dualized distance 36 kilometres, but because it’s dualized, it’s 72 kilometres and to do Owerri/Okigwe road distance by 58 kilometers, government went on and ensured that this company, the basic things they needed, soil analysis, proper design of roads, where we needed to expand the roads, we expanded them, where we have to dualise, we dualised, in fact, the spot Ekemele has been finally sealed. If you drive by Ekemele now, you will never know that there used to be a bad spot called Ekemele, this is the kind of things we have done, very sustainable resolution to critical problems.
We know it has not been easy achieving this lot you have mentioned in the face of insecurity in the state, what’s the motivating factor?
I will like to say that we are very well studied about what our challenges are, we are sure of what our vision for governance of Imo is, from our first day, we were sure of what we would achieve in Imo State, insecurity in Imo State, we have properly characterised, it’s really not anything from anywhere; it’s from within Imo State and from around Imo State, we recognised that the essential purpose for this people who were responsible for this insecurity was to distract government, distract us from achieving anything, so that we look like a failed government, having recognised that we told ourselves that while we ensure that it’s secured, security is a very expensive business and the state managed to pay to secure its people. It’s better for us to pay than to have our people killed, while all these were going on, I mean the issue of bad roads, we did not fail to secure the people; Owerri/Orlu road was terrible and these locations were spots where armed robbers operate, we denied ourselves a lot to make sure that we did these roads and these roads are being done with streetlights.
How were you able to bond with your boss, the case is not the same with some deputy governors?
Problems between deputy governors and their governors is simply misunderstanding of rules; functions of the deputy governor are clearly defined in the constitution and you are supposed to facilitate the governor and, in fact, take assignments from the governor, that’s what the constitution says, but when you start arrogating to yourselves responsibility that you want to be this or that without working with your governor, you’re absolutely going to run into trouble because the governor himself knows that the deputy governor sitting there could also have expectations and he would try to manage his role as governor and attempt in a decent manner to accommodate the deputy governor, but you can have circumstances where there are deputy governors who are anxious to be this or that and this way, they will run foul of their governors. In Imo State, I knew what I signed in for from the beginning, I didn’t come in here as a 10-year-old boy and when his Excellency asked me to run with him for the job of governor and deputy governor of Imo State, I knew what that meant and I tried to the best of my ability to keep within the rule that is ascribed to me. There is absolutely no reason for a conflict when you are honest with yourself. The job of a deputy governor is a high-pressured job, expectations of people on you are very high, if you get carried away by the number of calls that you get, number of requests; you will start seeking things that are outside what you can get or you will start getting involved in activities that will demean your office. A governor must see his deputy as his colleague and I know how Senator Hope Uzodimma came to this office, we knew ourselves before we came here, I have respect for him and he has respect for me and I will say he has not done anything that will make me disrespect him and so, I’ve no cause to have any quarrels with him.
Can you tell us the other side of Governor Hope Uzodimma that people never knew?I’m very pleased to say that I’ve known Senator Hope Uzodimma before he asked me to run with him, he was the patron of the society I belong to in Abuja, he was the one that actually facilitated the society even before I joined the society and I didn’t know this, the society is St. Vincent de Poor, it’s a society in the Catholic Church that takes care of the poor people, it takes care of people who are sick. When we had challenges in the society and we needed some support, because of my background, people believed that I had access, so that they can channel their problems through me and in Abuja; we got to know each other, in needy situations when you go to him, he will give you all that he has to ensure that he remedies that situation. For example, during the Lent season, people do not understand who Senator Hope Uzodimma is, when there is fasting in Abuja, he used to cook on Wednesdays and Fridays for the people who had fasted, 6 O’clock, they come to church, he used to cook 200 meals in five parishes. I’ve been out of Abuja for two years, the understanding that I have is that he has even expanded in the number of stations where the meals are served, that’s what a lot of people don’t know about him. People don’t know that he is a generous man, but I say this to you, with his funds; he is very generous and he can do anything for the poor, but with government money, Hope Uzodimma do not want to be known as generous, he is stickler, you must earn whatever you want to get from the government purse. This is why people say that this not the Hope we used to know, he is not giving us money the way he used to give us. If you’re expecting money from government sources; you must merit it, otherwise, Hope will not give you no matter who you are. But, if it’s his personal money, he can give it to you, these are some of the things people do not know about him.
How confident are you APC would win the presidential election in 2023?
APC will take Nigeria by storm, we have all it takes to win, President Muhammadu Buhari has already laid the foundation, we don’t expect people not to ask questions after seven years, but we have wonderful achievements, take the Southeast, for example, look at the Second Niger Bridge, the Enugu/Port Harcourt Road, which have been there since PDP was in office, at one time, half of that road was not even passable. APC came in and said it would do it and that road is done, look at the Second Niger Bridge, fantastic structure to behold, APC came and built it and very soon, it would be commissioned by President Muhammadu Buhari. And if you add to the great jobs APC states are doing, look at the railway projects and other projects being executed in various states of the federation. We are hoping that the railway projects which will pass from Port Harcourt to Owerri will be completed in the next administration, that’s our expectations, APC does not promise and fail. All the agitations about ‘BAT’, he has arrived and filled space, they can now close their faces in shame, Bola Ahmed Tinubu is back and he will take the country by storm, he has hope to rely on and that hope is the hope that never fails and that’s Hope Uzodimma.