By Oguwike Nwachuku
On Saturday, September 24, 2022, Governor Hope Uzodimma of Imo State, accompanied by officials of his government and those of the Navy, embarked on a historic tour of the bed of Orashi River from the Oguta Lake axis. Before the tour, the governor had gone to inspect the ongoing work at the Oguta Naval Base where facilities hitherto not available are now in place based on his personal intervention. Not many onlookers comprehended the import of the governor’s visit to Oguta in the first place, not to talk of the “unplanned” boat ride to God knows where, in their thinking. Are these the boats? The governor had asked the Commander of Oguta Naval Base, Navy Capt A.N. Umaru who, after answering in the affirmative signaled his men to get them closer and ready for the movement. Time was around 3.40pm.
Expectedly, those on the governor’s entourage, including but not limited to his Deputy, Prof Placid Njoku; his Chief of Staff, Nnamdi Anyaehie; Commissioners for Works (Raph Nwosu), Transportation (Rex Anunobi) and Information (Declan Emelumba ), among other top government officials, had looked forward to the “pleasurable” boat ride. But in no time, only the “lucky ones” sailed on the boat with the governor. After about 40 minutes of expedition, the initial excitement on the faces of the few who hopped into the waiting speed boats with the governor had evaporated with anxiety taking over. Did anybody beat them while on the tour? Then what happened? The big men were simply cowed by the occasional but normal waves that characterize boat ride. Sorry I digress. Nonetheless, all who “enjoyed” the boat ride experience from the Oguta Lake to the Orashi river where the latter meets River Niger and the Atlantic Ocean confessed on disembarkation, that it was a worthwhile adventure. The onlookers had also waited patiently to receive the good news about the new “discovery.” Governor Uzodimma told them that the boat ride was in keeping with preparations for the dredging of the age-long Orashi river for which Prersident Muhammadu Buhari had given approval. Governor Uzodimma had proposed to Mr. President of the need to dredge Orashi river with the establishment of a Naval Base at Oguta. In his proposal, the governor had highlighted all the benefits that could accrue there-from which President Buhari saw reasons with him and gave his nod. The governor had thought, rightly too, that opening up the place could lead to the establishment of a free trade zone, while gas deposits of not less than $2 billion could be easily exploited. Besides, if properly harnessed, it will spur maritime business/trade, stimulate economic activities, enhance job and wealth creation in Imo State, South East and beyond. Dredging the river, Uzodimma further reasoned, will also serve as a ready but veritable corridor for the Navy to navigate on the bed of the Atlantic Ocean through the Orashi river to check the perennial illegal oil bunkering and other forms of criminality thriving on the country’s blue sea.
In the past, the Orashi river was the artery that connects residents of today’s Rivers, Bayelsa, Anambra and even Benue States to their neighbours in Oguta in Imo State where the lake serves as a melting pot for sundry socio-economic activities. Suffice it to say that the bed of both Oguta lake and Orashi river has always served as steady but reliable transportation route for economic, cultural and even political interaction between Oguta people and their neighbours. The biggest import of Governor Uzodimma’s proposal to Buhari for which approval was given is that after dredging of Orashi river, big vessels can conveniently sail and berth on its bed, up to the tributary of the Oguta lake. Huge Gas deposits in the belly of the blue sea hitherto thought impossible to exploit and evacuate will now become possible as the diverse producers and their customers line up to savour the monetary gains from gas economy. The entire tributary will now become an all-purpose river with the socio-economic benefits that come with it in Imo State, South East and beyond. A day earlier when the governor played host to visiting Rear Admiral Silyranda Lassa who was at the Government House, Owerri to represent his boss, the Chief of Naval Staff, Rear Admiral Awwal Zubairu Gambo and communicate Uzodimma on their level of preparedness to implement President Buhari’s directive, the governor minced no words in saying that the Orashi river portends great economic benefit to the South East. Hear Governor Uzodimma: “The Government of Imo State considered it expedient to propose to Nigerian Navy for a partnership to open the access of Oguta Lake and Orashi River up to the Atlantic Sea in River State to enable bigger vessels come into Imo State. “When realized, the project will help the Navy manage the security situation in the area, eliminate cases of crude oil stealing, pipeline vandalism and enhance security. “Additionally, the realisation of the project will stimulate economic activities, create more jobs for our people and then boost the economy of the State. “Government will sign a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) leading to the project implementation proper. “The project is work in progress. When the MOU is signed and the other processes concluded, the authorities will come up with the highlights of work plan which will be made available to the public.”
Rear Admiral Lassa acknowledged that “a lot of natural resources abound in the area” and added that “when they are opened up, Imo State will be one of the leading States in the gas industrialization activities in Nigeria.” Since news of plan to make the Orashi river more viable through dredging broke, key stakeholders in Imo State with third eyes have been serenading Governor Uzodimma and his unusual capacity to make things happen. First was the foremost elder statesman, business mogul and politician, Chief Emmanuel Iwuanyanwu. He said: “Our people should be grateful to the President and Governor Hope Uzodimma, because for many years we have talked about the dredging of the river. Now, it has come to reality, this will open a lot of opportunities in the South East in terms of tourism and other economic activities.” Iwuanyanwu is not a lone voice on Orashi river dredging. Another elder statesman and a known activist, Chief Bob Njemanze, said, “the project will not only endear the hearts of residents of the State to the governor for attracting it, but also it will boost the economic and social activities of Imo.” To the President of Imo State Amalgamated Traders Association (ISAMATA), Chief Emmanuel Ezeanuchie, it is “a wonderful achievement that would make things easier for traders in south East.” “It will boost the economy of Imo State if other states come into Imo to transact business,” he added.
Perhaps, the view of Chief Peter Mgenwelu, another elder statesman in the Imo State should be considered extra-ordinary because his link to the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). He said: “If we do not dredge the Orashi river, South East will remain in poverty. My prayer since I heard Uzodimma mention this is that, I am saying, God let him achieve it. If he achieves it, our children would be happier, they would have more jobs and they would be able to achieve other things.” There are those who, for the sake of politics, will gleefully criticize Governor Uzodimma even in moments of great achievement or feat like the one he has recorded with the proposed Oguta Lake/Orashi river dredging. Of course Imo people know such persons for their penchant to do things that would perpetually put the state down and so will not be surprised if they think differently about the Orashi river proposal. However, there is no other way for Governor Uzodimma to demonstrate or display capacity and strength than the recent outing at the Oguta Lake enroute Orashi river. From the look of things, the Orashi river is on its way to becoming an economic hub in the South East of Nigeria, and when that is achieved, it will play complementary role to the economic activities of the other seaports operating in the country. The credit will obviously go to Governor Uzodimma.
Those who know Governor Uzodimma too well are proud to say that he did not happen to Imo State as an accident. If anything, they wish that his type is found in their own clime because of the governor’s uncommon wisdom and innate gift of constantly thinking out of the box.
While on a courtesy call with members of the Governing Council of the Federal University of Technology, Owerri (FUTO) during the week, the Pro-Chancellor, Senator Jack Tilley-Gyado made a comment that almost drew tears from the eyes of his audience at the New Executive Chambers.
What Tilley-Gyado said is simply a sad reminder of the age long maxim that the prophet is not known in his land.
“Governor Uzodimma is a gift to Imo State and Igbo race. Igbos have a special role to play in Nigeria when they listen and adhere to the advice of people like Hope Uzodimma, he said.”
Tilley-Gyado noted that Governor Uzodimma’s projects and programmes have continued to dominate discussion at critical quarters, so much that the Pro-Chancellor feels not only enamoured by them, but desires that Governor Uzodimma avails him the opportunity of the technology he deployed in arresting perennial flooding in Owerri to be replicated in his own State of Benue.
If you are among those still thinking that Governor Uzodimma came to Imo State because of the allure of political office, better think again because his best is yet to come. If anything, the good news is that Imo people will at the end be the ultimate beneficiary of Uzodimma’s unusual capacity to expand the frontiers of socio-economic development of the State because ab initio, he did not come here to joke.
.Oguwike Nwachuku, Chief Press Secretary/Media Adviser to Governor Uzodimma writes from Owerri.