Governor Hope Uzodimma was upbeat for much of last week when he hosted the cream of Nigerian editors. It was the 18th All Nigeria Editors’ Conference (ANEC), the annual watering hole of editors in Nigeria. Owerri, the blustery capital city of Imo, was at its premium as a connoisseur’s best pick for all that is good in life: good food, choice drinks, enchanting night life and a sultry sunset complete with all its prospects.
Editors are gourmets. And they satiated their voluble appetites with an assortment of local foods that the state could offer. Imo has so much to offer here. Feasting on the legendary Ofe Owerri, the rich tapestry of lush green soup (vegetable soup), the fresh Okra soup garnished with Ugba (fermented African oil bean seed) or the native soup, editors had a mouthful of the culinary endowments of the Eastern Heartland. Never mind that some editors chose to feast on other beautiful and goodly things that Owerri has in lavish measure.
But the kernel of the conference was politics, 2023 elections and how leaders and the media can connect the dots to link governance with development. Appropriately themed, 2023: Political Landscape, Credible Election and the Role of Editors, the conference offered editors the opportunity not only to interrogate leadership in Imo State and the country at large, but also to witness from a front-row perspective, the touchstones and emblems of development in the state. Much more, it presented Governor Uzodimma a rare opportunity to tell his own story. And he did with convincing vocal tonality. One manifest totem in the Uzodimma story is the clarity of his vision, the inexplicable hand of divinity that seems to pave his path. Uzodimma came from the Senate to become governor of the state. Not many politicians get this honour. In Nigeria, it’s usually easier to transit from governor’s seat to the Senate. The reverse path is usually paved with thorns and spikelet. That is the path that Uzodimma took, a path less travelled.
But the governor says he was not a product of happenstance. He insists his emergence as governor has the imprimatur of divinity, because Imo at that time was caught in the deadly politics of self-annihilation. He recalls the road to government house thus: “A group of elders from Owerri and Okigwe zones led a delegation to me to come and salvage the situation knowing my political pedigree. Many of those who led that delegation are alive and some of them are present at this occasion. Their confidence that I could stop the political drift emboldened me. So, driven largely by patriotism and, feeling somewhat like the biblical Moses, I rose to the challenge to set Imo free from a looming political servitude.”
Despite the storms he had to contend with, Governor Uzodimma is convinced that he has added tangible, measurable value to the state, far better than he met it. He was quick to trot out evidential ensigns to underscore his transformational governance in the face of multitude of treachery and organised mischief from a confederacy of political traducers and hirelings.
He reels out a few of the infrastructural monuments, bar roads, education and healthcare, that signpost his government: “Today, we are conducting all government businesses in Government House because I rebuilt the place. Before I came into office, government businesses were conducted in bush bars and guest houses. Today, we hold our Executive Council meetings at the brand new, state–of–the–art Executive Council Chambers built by my administration. Today, members of the Imo State House of Assembly have returned from their exile of more than eight years wherein they were conducting the business of law-making in a make-shift building after the House of Assembly complex collapsed. They have returned to the hallowed Chambers because I completely rebuilt it and gave them a new Assembly Complex with state-of-the-art communications gadgets. Today, our state judges can proudly raise their heads high before their counterparts from other states because I have provided them with SUV cars as their official vehicles.”
The list is long. But it wasn’t just the governor that acknowledged a paradigm shift in the state’s development index. Editors from across the country and across all spectrum of communications – print, electronic and online – attested to the steady climb of Imo out of the abyss of under-development and terrifying insecurity that once swamped the landscape.
President of the Guild, Mustapha Isah, Barr. Dupe Ajayi-Gbadebo (a Fellow of the Guild) and Mr. Imoni Amarere of DAAR Communications Limited, among other editors noted that Governor Uzodimma is quietly changing the hitherto infrastructural deficit status associated with Imo State.
They point to the signature Owerri-Orlu, Owerri-Okigwe roads, other newly reconstructed roads within the Owerri capital territory and in the hinterlands, the remodeling of Imo State University Medical School now equipped with high-end medical diagnostic equipment, the state polytechnic in Omuma, to bolster technical education in the state, among other facilities as emblems that index the Uzodimma leadership as both responsive to the people’s yearnings as well as responding to its constitutional obligation to the people.
The eye-catching completely rebuilt Imo State House of Assembly Complex caught the fancy of the editors, and almost spontaneously, while inspecting the Complex, a motion was moved at the Chambers scoring Uzodimma’s government above average.
But it was not all praises. The editors urged the governor to speed up construction works on roads to ease the traffic pains visited on commuters. Imo State is a huge construction site in the governor’s quest for urban renewal and this has brought pains on commuters. Editors also advised the governor to fix federal roads in the state some of which are in bad condition.
While ANEC 2018 brought editors face to face with the governor and his team, this year’s conference tops the scale on many fronts. It recorded the highest investiture of Fellows; it was the first time a South East state hosted ANEC, 18 years after its inaugural edition in Ada, Osun State. And this: it was the very first ANEC that witnessed the investiture of Fellow on a traditional ruler, His Royal Majesty, Igwe Victor Awogu, the traditional ruler of Ossomala community in Ogbaru, Anambra State who came decked in the majestic regalia of his stool. HRM Awogu was a former Managing Editor of New Nigerian Newspapers as well as a former staff of the Daily Times in its glorious years.
Uzodimma applauded the media for its role in birthing and sustaining democracy, but he left the practitioners with a charge: the quality of journalism is dropping; cases of libel and mischief reportage are writ large. There is an overriding need to rein in misguided journalists and ensure that journalists stick to the ethics of the noble profession. Here, the governor is right. And I wager that editors at the conference got the message. There is an urgent and compelling need to weed out charlatans polluting the media space with jejune and hokum, just so it can effectively play its role to achieve credible elections in the emergent national political order.