A younger colleague put a call that got me thinking the other day.
“Oga Emeka, I want to make this inquiry from you, knowing that you are from Imo, Orlu, precisely,” he begged. I encouraged him to go on, since I did not have any particular thing in mind, nor anything to hide.
He was in dilemma and in fear. His father-in-law was to be buried in a neighbouring community from my Orlu hometown. His dilemma: Considering the reports of security challenges in the state and Orlu zone in particular, was it wise and safe for him to attend the burial as tradition demanded with his kinsmen, sneak in alone or, better, stay away?
To say the least, I was literally deflated by those questions. What should be my response, without adding to the fear that had already seized him? What should I say without uncertain developments making me appear to have deceived him and exposed him and his people to harm? It was, indeed, a tough task. Of course, I managed to allay his fears, where necessary, shored up his confidence and gave him some tips on how to go about the exercise.
From the moment he hung up, I was utterly disconnected. It dawned on me the extent, Imo, my state had become an object of derision and disdain among people within and outside the state. Nothing can really hurt as one being reminded how ugly he is. Imo, currently, is in a mess. No matter how one wants to be patriotic or make things up, the story out there about the state is not palatable. Truth be told, the state has lost its virginity to rapists in various ways.
Hardly any day goes by these days without sordid tales from the state. The stories may have elements of embellishments or exaggeration but they cannot be entirely dismissed with a wave of the hand. There is always a story of blood, cold blood, spilt without qualms. It is either the security agents engaging the youths or vice versa. It is a rat race of sorts. The assassination of ex-presidential aide and All Progressives Congress (APC) chieftain, Ahmed Gulak, last Sunday is one that has further sullied the image of the state. Before then, there had been instances of arson and other violent disturbances in some communities, with public facilities torched by unknown persons.
To every citizen of Imo, the turn of events in the state calls for deep introspection. Imo does not deserve its current, curious lot. Here was an entity that the late Dr. Sam Mbakwe took to an unprecedented pedestal in human and material resource management. Then, it was a thing of pride to come from Imo.
Imo is one that epitomizes self-help in community development. It has not had the privilege of being pampered by the government at the centre but has not allowed that to weigh it down. In 1981, faced with acute transportation system, the state, under Mbakwe, built an airport, constructed first-class university and did other things that made it the envy of others and a pride to the citizens.
At the level of individual and communal initiatives, the people equally give good account of themselves. Imo, for instance, ranks tops among the states with the highest number of professors of different backgrounds in the country. It counts among states with highest number of candidates sitting for competitive examinations, annually. In the last 10 years or more, the state has consistently featured among the first 10 states in WAEC and JAMB examinations. At local levels, giant strides are being recorded.
The lesson in all this is that, in Imo, there is still a reservoir of hands and brains willing and ready to take the state to the next level. Imo cannot be left to remain the way it is, now. Retrieving the state from its uncertain state requires a coalition of efforts by men and women of goodwill, irrespective of political affiliation, to stand firm and say: enough is enough!
The disconcerting spectacles of offices and public buildings brought down or razed in orgy of indiscretion by misguided youths do not speak of the real stuff Ndi Imo are made of. They remind one of the inglorious years of the Civil War and its relics.
Certain expressions underline the philosophy of the average Imo indigene. We build and do not destroy; we nurture life and do not kill. We started off with a punch line of Land of Hope, indicating our undying conviction that we would make it, regardless of the odds. It is now the Eastern Heartland, signifying the broadmindedness and readiness of the state to play a big role in the Orient. Such elevated dreams and aspirations cannot be actualized in the present atmosphere of confusion and lawlessness.
The first step in returning Imo to the path of honour is the return to the days of hard work, as opposed to the current trend in glorifying sudden and rootless wealth. The youths must be made to understand that there is no path to enduring wealth other than industry and perseverance. Every segment of the society, including the family, the religious and traditional institution, should be involved in this process of ethical reorientation. We all are guilty, one way or the other. Getting the youths on the right path will kick start the move at instituting credible leadership recruitment process which has eluded the state since the exit of Mbakwe.
Imo does not have the luxury of time in reversing its story. The leaders also do not have the time for blame game of finger-pointing and recriminations. The job at hand is much and requires all brains at work. It is high time the various community leaders were empowered and encouraged to take charge of basic security issues in their localities in liaison with relevant agencies of the state. Being on ground and close to the people, they know those living around them. But doing this and getting it correctly demands that the community leaders themselves are men and women of proven integrity and defined means of livelihood.
The youths also need to be carried along in finding a solution to the current situation in Imo. They are the future of the state and need to be factored into the agenda at repositioning it. They need to be heard and their recommendations taken seriously. In all, Imo needs team spirit to return to its enviable position in Nigeria. And in this, time is of essence.