By Declan Mbadiwe Emelumba
His birth was symbolic. On the 12th day of the 12th month, he came to the world 62 years ago. His parents named him Hope because they saw a new awakening in him. Amidst the uncertainties of that time, Chief Michael Uzodinma, Igwe of Ozuh, Omuma and his wife, Ezinne Rose Uzodinma of Omuma in Oru East Local Government Area of Imo State decided through the name they gave their child that he will grow up to be the hope of the hopeless. When Senator Hope Uzodinma, the Governor of Imo State, became a philanthropist before the age of 30, the philosophy and prophecy of his name came to fulfillment. And for the past 32 years, he has never looked back as he continues to lift mankind and humanity through education, welfarism, leadership and above all service. For a man who has recorded significant successes in business, politics and governance, Hope Uzodinma actually epitomizes the Igbo adage that a cock is known the very day it is hatched.
Although he was born into a royal family, Hope Uzodinma decided early in life to crack his own kernels. Although he was a child of promise, he sacrificed his comfort to ease the pain of others. Although he struggled to make it in life, he vowed that the children of the poor; the widows and other underprivileged people would have an easy life through what he can provide for them. Knowing full well that education holds the key to development, Hope Uzodinma early in life invested in human capital development, through his education foundation. At the last count, more than 300 people have become university graduates, majority of whom are unknown to him personally.
Even as he was growing his businesses and engaged in large-scale philanthropy, Hope Uzodinma knew that he needed a higher platform and pedestal to serve the people the way he wanted. That accounts for why he joined politics early enough. By 1979 when he was barely 21 years, he had emerged the Youth Leader of National Party of Nigeria (NPN) in Imo State. Even when the road was rough and the challenges looked insurmountable, he never gave up. As a key player in the formation of the defunct UNCP during the short-lived third Republic, the man knew that his ultimate goal was to be a vehicle through which millions of people would be emancipated politically and economically.
Indeed, at the on-set of the current republic in 1999, Uzodinma elected to be a Kingmaker, funding the elections of many people and demanding nothing in return, except service to the masses. In 2003, he joined the fray formally and ran for the governorship of Imo State under the Alliance for Democracy. It was a learning process for him as he confronted the crude politics of the system euphemistically called “carry go”. But he was not deterred. He continued to nurture and fund aspiring politicians who actually believed in his philosophy of excellent service to all.
It was not surprising that in 2011, all the political and business stakeholders in Orlu Zone (Imo West Senatorial District) drafted him to run for the Senate seat under PDP. It is instructive that the vocal Orlu Political Consultative Assembly (OPOCA) bought the nomination form for him and kick started the campaign before informing him of that decision. The body simply hinged its reason on the fact that it was only Hope Uzodinma that will redeem them from the political and economic slavery of underrepresentation, underdevelopment, lack of infrastructure and poverty.
Hope Uzodinma’s entry into the 7th Senate was remarkable. Even as a rookie Senator, he was appointed the Committee Chairman on Aviation. His first motion calling for the declaration of state of emergency on erosion in the South East shook the nation because not many people were aware of the devastating effect of erosion in Igbo land until Uzodinma drew their attention to it. His collaborative approach with the Executive which led to the remodeling of the Akanu Ibiam International Airport, Enugu and Sam Mbakwe International Cargo Airport Owerri served notice that indeed a performer has arrived. Within the Senatorial District, millions of the constituents saw the difference. Skill acquisition programme for women and youths after which businesses were established for them became the norm. Widows were assisted to start up something to make a living while the federal government started paying attention to the dilapidated roads in the zone. Similarly scholarships were awarded to indigent students while jobs were provided for some qualified graduates. Such an awesome and effective representation had its rewards. He was re-elected with a landslide in 2015.\
Uzodinma’s second missionary journey in the Senate brought out his patriotic fervour. As usual, he was named the Chairman of a Committee, this time that of Customs and Excise. By the time he went to work with his committee members, it was discovered that some customs officers were colluding with some companies to rip the nation off billions of naira. Through their efforts in plugging the leakages in export and export chains, the committee saved Nigeria so much money. As the gold fish that he is, his colleagues from the southern part of Nigeria noticed Uzodinma’s leadership qualities. They made him their chairman. By the time he left the Senate to assume the office of the Governor of Imo State, Uzodinma had sponsored no fewer than 10 quality bills and motions, thus proving that he was also adept in his primary assignment of making laws for the good governance of Nigeria.
Becoming the governor was not easy. Some reactionary elements in All Progressive Congress (APC) in Imo State had erected roadblocks for him even after the national leadership had given him the go-ahead to contest the primaries. But being a determined man; being a courageous man; and being a resilient man, Uzodinma was not deterred. Until he emerged the flag-bearer of APC in Imo State, many thought it was impossible because the machinery of the state government was against him. However, his triumph at the primaries marked the liberation of Imo State and APC from the hands of an Emperor who had subjugated the people and filched their patrimony. Again, even when it was glaringly clear that Uzodinma was the most popular of all the candidates for the governorship election, the opposition PDP thought otherwise. Relying on rigging and other under-hand tactics, PDP sought to subvert the will of the people by stealing the election. But a Daniel came to judgment. The Supreme Court recovered the stolen mandate of Uzodinma in January this year. The rest as they say, is now history.
But what is more than history is the dexterity and honesty with which he has executed his assignment as the governor of the state in the last 11 months. In his tradition of accountability and transparency, he dealt a blow on pension thieves in the state. He dislodged those padding salaries and succeeded in saving N2b for the state monthly. Appreciating the civil service as the engine room of government, Uzodinma embarked upon a massive reform in the system by returning powers to the Permanent Secretaries castrated by the previous administrations. He rehabilitated the state secretariat and provided public amenities including water and power to the staff. For the senior civil servants, he provided official cars and for the junior ones, he gave air-conditioned buses to convey them to and fro work.
As a compassionate and kind man, he was disturbed that Owerri, the state capital, had been without public water supply for two decades. He did something about it by fixing the Owerri (Otamiri) water works. Today, children can fetch water from their homes without risking being knocked down by vehicles while in search of boreholes water run by private individuals.
Because Uzodinma assumed office about the same time as the novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) was sweeping through the world, it brought out the warrior in him. Seeing that the state was bereft of any functional health facility, the governor set about changing the narrative. Apart from purchasing and deploying 30 ambulances to all the 27 local government areas of the state, he built world-class isolation centres for the treatment of patients. He followed it up by launching a free medical scheme for the underprivileged through mobile clinics while a comprehensive healthcare system is being evolved.
On roads, Uzodinma has built more than 20 quality roads scattered throughout the state while several others are on-going including the dualization of Owerri – Okigwe road and Owerri – Orlu road which will gulp N55billion. Also recognizing the importance of security, Uzodinma has purchased 100 brand new vehicles equipped with modern communication gadgets for security agencies to enable them fight crimes in the state. He has also set up vigilantes in all the wards to work with the security agencies. Traditional rulers have been put in charge as the chief security officers of their communities. That way, it is easier to identify and arrest the criminals.
However, Uzodinma is also being proactive by ensuring that youths are not lured into crime in the first place. As earlier mentioned, he had been funding skills acquisition programmes for youths as a private citizen. He has expanded on that using the instrumentality of government. A total sum of N2billion has been released by the governor for the training and empowerment of youths in various vocations. Another N4billion will be disbursed as the programme progresses to ensure that the youths of Imo State are kept gainfully busy.
Meanwhile, other windows of opportunities have been opened to them through the resuscitation of the multimillion naira Adapalm Nig. Ltd., left comatose in the last 15 years. With the production of 300,000 metric tonnes of palm oil daily, the industry is set to expand the economic frontier of the state. In other sectors including education, agriculture and tourism, the government has left no one in doubt that his Prosperity Agenda encapsulated in the 3Rs of Rehabilitation, Reconstruction and Recovery, is on course. It is unquestionable that his vision and mission of making Imo great again, as late Sam Mbakwe started, through quality governance are yielding fruits.
However even as he is focused on serving the people of the state, Uzodinma has not forgotten that he is a patriotic Nigerian who should be concerned with the progress and peace of the nation. His soothing voice has been heard calming frayed nerves during volatile national discourse. In the place of violence, he offered peace. In the place of division, he offered accord. He believes that Nigerians are better off living together. This nationalistic fervor attracted the attention of the Coalition of Ethnic Nationalities of Nigeria Youth Leaders of Nigeria which few months ago honoured Uzodinma with the Pan-Nigerian Governor title. That is not the only recognition the governor has received since he emerged on the consciousness of the Nigerian people as a successful businessman operating four flourishing companies; as a philanthropist catering for the welfare of thousands of people, and as a public servant, politician and author, changing the lives of others through governance. From the influential Catholic Church to Faith based organizations and international bodies and local communities, Uzodinma has received numerous awards and recognitions.
That his friends are honouring him today that he celebrates his 62nd birthday shows that they also appreciate the man whose Midas touch has brought happiness to millions of Nigerians in the last three decades. As a man who was born to serve with excellence, Senator Hope Odidika Uzodinma still has a lot to offer in the years ahead. As Chinua Achebe said, “it is still morning on a creation day”. Happy birthday, my leader.
•Emelumba is the Commissioner for Information and Strategy, Imo State.