It is always darkest before dawn. No one can tell it better than Hope Uzodinma, Governor of Imo state. Perhaps for the first time, he has revealed publicly what stirred his heart when he was pursuing his governorship ambition. At the stakeholders’ meeting in Owerri, the state capital, last Saturday, he told a coterie of guests that included politicians, church leaders, businesspeople and royal fathers what he promised God if He would make him Governor. “Let me be very clear on this”, he said: “I prayed fervently to God to make me Governor of Imo state. I promised Him that I will use the opportunity to serve Imo people diligently and honestly to improve their socioeconomic well-being. God answered my prayer and made me governor. I cannot afford to disappoint Him.” He was greeted with intermittent applause. The Governor knows that the people present have recorded it for him as a ‘convenant’ between him and God, and will remind him if he disappoints. You see, a governor is not only a symbol of democracy, he’s also the spirit of leadership that the people look up to in times of crises and needs.
No doubt, the emergence of Senator Uzodinma as Governor, against all odds, through the verdict of the Supreme Court, remains something a lot of people are yet to come to terms with. It can only be providence. As Lyndon Johnson, the 36th American President once noted, “at times, history and fate meet at a single place to shape a turning point in a man’s unending search for freedom.” The import of that is not lost on Gov Uzodinma. Since he became governor, he seems to have always kept in focus the circumstances that brought him to Douglas House, the seat of power in Imo state. Lessons learned the hard way are crucial. Imo state has sailed through rough seas in recent times, and now needs calmer waters in order to sail out of trouble. Projecting competence, courage and firm determination in dealing with urgent matters are essential tools he can only ignore at his own peril, because responsibilities abandoned today may return as a more acute crisis tomorrow.
So how can Gov Uzodinma do this and retain the confidence and trust of the people? Trust is about levelling with the people, telling the unvarnished truth . He has chosen to always come to the people through what he called “Imo state stakeholders” meeting. The first of such meeting took place July, 2020. That of last Saturday was the 4th in the series. It took place at the Eze Imo Palace, Owerri. Few months ago, he had interacted with leaders of the 27 local governments in the state. Because the essence of leadership is the ability to appeal publicly to a large and widely different constituencies at the same time irrespective of political leanings, the stakeholders’ meeting gives substantial content to the vision and direction of the administration. Gov Uzodinma senses that the mood and circumstances, coupled with the mandate he had received, have created an opportunity for successive action. He has taken the chance with two hands. That’s why French sociologist/ political theorist Alexis de Tocqueville observed long ago, that, “democratic men are more apt to complete a number of undertakings in rapidity than to raise lasting monuments of their own achievements, they care much more for success than for fame.” Uzodinma says that’s exactly what he’s doing by letting the people know what he has done in the last one year, and the next thing he plans to do with his 3-R Agenda( Reconstruction, Rehabilitation and Recovery).
The picture which emerges from the above description seems that of a man for whom all human contacts have a purpose. He says it’s part of his administration’s “resolve to be accountable to the people and submit government’s policies and programmes to them for periodic evaluation and validation.” That’s the essence of governance. It was good the governor did not say it has been smooth sailing for the state. He admitted that the last one year has been very challenging and , indeed, traumatizing to the people and evidently unsettling to businesses” . Nothing could be more unsettling than dealing with the security challenges of unimaginable proportions that took place few months ago , resulting in loss of lives and property, including that of innocent citizens and security officials. But, hope is eternal. And restoring hope in Imo, Uzodinma agrees requires “urgent and radical approach that will create an enabling environment for people to do business without fear and related encumbrances”. He showed leadership by appreciating the role the leadership of the church and others played through prayers during the trying times, saying peace and safety have returned to the state. His scorecard talks about uncommon achievements in key sectors, civil service administration, road infrastructure, education, among others.
According to him, the Internally Generated Revenue(IGR) of the state has increased from N600 million he met to N1 billion monthly. The state is relying on Adapalm, the largest oil mill in West Africa to come fully on stream soon. Meanwhile, the governor says that the oil mill which produces over 100,000 metric tonnes of grade one red oil, will be in full steam soon. If it does, it has the capacity to employ about 30,000 of Imo people. Much more needs to be done in increasing the revenue base of the state and make it less dependent on the monthly federal allocations. Youth employment is key to changing the narrative of Imo state. Currently, national unemployment rate at 33.5 percent, while youth unemployment is estimated at 47 percent. The governor explained his administration is doing something in that direction through skill acquisition and entrepreneurship programme in partnership with the Central Bank of Nigeria(CBN). The state government, he said, has already spent N8 billion in that area. Revamping the Civil Service, the engine of bureaucracy is of great importance in realising government’s policies and programmes. In that regard, the governor said the service has been restructured based on merit with the appointment of eleven permanent secretaries, while training and retraining had since begun . The state secretariat, he said, has been given a facelift by fixing the leaking roofs, while buses have been procured to transport servants to and from work at no charge. In his words, “this sends a loud and clear message to boost the morale of the state civil service”. For me, this is where policymakers should assist identify the potentials of the state and its people and turn them into opportunities that investors must leverage on. The enabling environment must be there. Everyone seems to agree that the fiscal automation of the state civil service which has been completed, will help check financial malfeasance and “ghost workers” syndrome and reduce corruption. Stakeholders gave him thumbs-up when he said that salaries of workers and pensions of retirees are now being paid up to date, except for those who have not regularise their biometrics. Until now, Imo state records perhaps the worst infrastructure deficit in the SouthEast, with decrepit roads and flooding at the onset of every raining season. Gov Uzodinma said that over 42 roads across the state have been rehabilitated. Two of the notable roads that have been given a facelift are the Fire Service and Warehouse Junction. The state capital cannot continue to look like a modern village, 45 years after Imo state was created.
Heartwarming the governor has promised to give justice and the rule of law a pride of place and ensure that every citizen of the state, irrespective of political affiliation is fairly treated, just as he welcomes constructive criticism. His words, “we are first and foremost, Imo state citizens”, and ready to “welcome great ideas that will add impetus to the commitment of building state where every stakeholder will contribute to the development of the state”. In all, as the governor rightly said, there’s time for everything, time for politics, and time for governance.