By Declan Emelumba
Whereas Christmas is a time of spiritual introspection to appreciate God for His love to mankind through the birth of Jesus Christ, the Redeemer, it is also a time for celebration and re-union of family members, especially in the eastern part of the country. The festival period affords various families the opportunity to not only meet with one another but also carry out one form of ceremony or the other. Beyond that, it avails them the time to cook sumptuous meals. And the favorite is rice and chicken or any other meat. And it may be shocking that not many families in Nigeria can afford the luxury of celebrating Christmas the physical way because of the global economic downturn occasioned by the COVID-19 pandemic.
For such families in Imo State, they were still in a pensive mood, wondering how they would join their neighbours for the great feast, when manna literally fell from above in the form of a Christmas gift from the state governor, Senator Hope Uzodinma. The surprise Christmas package, which the governor christened stimulus, which I prefer to christen, a special Christmas bundle, actually took everybody by surprise in that there was no publicity about it. He quietly instructed his aides to embark upon the exercise in a discreet manner, apparently to ensure that the process of selection of beneficiaries was not in any way compromised. And what a bumper stimulus package it was!
Imo has more than 4,000 polling units. Twenty indigent families were selected from each of the units and given N10,000 for Christmas. This is not about the amount but the number of families touched by the gesture of the governor. Many of them may have been forlorn, with no hope of anybody helping them to celebrate Christmas, until Uzodinma’s timely intervention. But the governor was not done yet. He went to the 305 wards in the state and selected 27 persons, who were given N50,000 each for Christmas. Then he reached out to 27 leaders from the 27 local government areas and gifted them N50,000 to enable them celebrate Christmas in grand style. It is instructive that the amount of money, running to millions of naira, which was injected into the units, wards and local government areas of the state, significantly boosted the economy of the rural areas and put smiles on the faces of thousands of indigent Imo citizens.
It is also significant that when some workers in some states of the federation were praying and waiting for their December salaries to enable them join others to celebrate this year’s Christmas, those in Imo were already collecting their 13th month salary, courtesy of their governor. In a civil service-dominated state like Imo, the economy comes alive when workers are paid. The markets and traders notice and feel the impact immediately. So, when workers went on a shopping spree shortly before Christmas, the traders knew that pay day had come!
But it was not just pay day alone. Even as the alert for the December salary was coming, that of the 13th month followed suit. It was a promise kept by Uzodinma, who, on a visit to the workers earlier in the week, had told them that, in spite of the lean resources of the state, he would pay them the 13th month salary to appreciate them for their support for his government and their services to the state generally. When Uzodinma made that promise, some workers cynically dismissed it as one of the gimmicks of politicians. Others also adopted the wait-and-see attitude. But those who knew the governor well as a philanthropist ever before he came to office believed him. As a compassionate man who feels the pain of others, Uzodinma knew that impacting the workers positively was like reaching the entire population of the state. Keeping to that promise was also another way of reassuring the workers that government truly valued them as partners who drive the engine room of the administration. It was also a way of wiping away their tears from the years of betrayal by previous administrations that treated them with levity. That was why the workers were ecstatic when the alert for the 13th month salary started rolling in.
In fact, there was wild jubilation at Imo State Secretariat last Wednesday as workers received their 13th month salary as promised by Gov. Uzodinma. Hundreds of workers congratulated one another with hugs as the alert of the payment, which commenced on Wednesday, continued on Thursday. Although that Thursday was supposed to be a half-day workday for the civil servants, many of them stayed beyond that as they continued to discuss the positive development. Mrs. Olivia Ejirimka, who works with Owerri Municipal Area Council, said it was the first time she was witnessing the payment of 13th month since she started work many years ago: “My brother, when the governor made that promise, my attitude was like ‘let’s wait and see;’ now that he has fulfilled it, help me thank him.”
Similarly, Mr. Ezekiel Chukwuka of the Ministry of Finance described the 13th month salary payment as the greatest miracle of 2021. According to him, what the workers were praying for was to “get our December salaries, not knowing that our action governor had another surprise for us.”
While commending the governor for the gesture, Mr. Chukwuka pleaded that it should be a regular feature every year.
In the same vein, Mrs. Oby Amadi Obi, permanent secretary, Ministry of Information and Strategy, expressed appreciation to Uzodinma for being a caring father to workers in the state. She recalled that the governor had, on assumption of office embarked upon renovation of the state secretariat and provided junior workers with free transportation. She said the payment of the 13th month salary was an icing on the cake of good packages for the staff. The leadership of the Nigeria Labour Congress had on Thursday paid a thank-you visit to Senator Uzodinma, where they expressed gratitude to him for redeeming his promise to pay the 13th month salary to workers. Chairman of NLC in the state, Comrade Philips Nwansi, told the governor during the visit that the 13th month payment was the first in the history of Imo State.
Uzodinma also remembered bus Imo operators who received free fuel from government to aid their operations during the period and subsequently celebrate a meaningful Christmas like others. Indeed, the governor had in his remarks at the 2021 Christmas carol on Thursday, December 23, 2021, pledged to positively touch the lives of Imo people in a special way during the Christmas celebration.
Said he, “On the part of government, we are very mindful of expectations of citizens in this season of love and sacrifice. Consequently, in spite of the very harsh economic times, we bent over backward to put smiles on the faces of Imo workers by paying them 13th month salaries, in addition to providing them with bags of rice for the season. This is the first time this has happened in Imo State. We also extended a hand of love to bus Imo operators by giving them free supply of fuel for their operations. Our hope is that the cumulative impact of these measures will translate to a rosier, more memorable Christmas for a majority of our people, to the glory of God.”
It was indeed a memorable Christmas for Imo people because, apart from the largesse, Uzodinma ensured all-round security for both residents and visitors alike during the festivities. Before the day. he has assured Imo people thus, “Let me use this opportunity to announce to all Imo people that your state is safe for you and your loved ones to celebrate this Christmas and new year. Security agencies have been working round the clock to ensure that you are neither harassed, intimidated nor attacked during the festivities. Government has taken the war to the criminals.”
He had also appealed to the criminals and their sponsors to repent and turn a new leaf, for the sake of Christ. There is no doubt that the governor took concrete steps to ensure that the state was safe for Imo residents and visors alike during the Christmas celebration.
However, the greatest practical lesson he taught Imo people by his actions was love. He used the Christmas period to spread love through the nooks and crannies of the state. He used the period to remember the less privileged scattered in the 4,000 polling units in the state, the 305 wards and the 27 local government areas. He led by example, by ensuring that he, as governor, could not enjoy the Christmas if his workers were hungry, hence, the payment of the 13th month salary to them and the stimulus packages to indigent citizens. Through these touching gestures, Gov. Uzodinma became the true Father Christmas to his people.
•Emelumba is commissioner for information and strategy, Imo State