As Imo State marks 40th anniversary – Part 2
Continued from last week
The sacking of Mbakwe among other governors in a military coup truncated what could have been another four years of meteoric development in Imo State. Mbakwe could have consolidated his achievements during his second term but that never happened.
The military administrators that succeeded him in Imo State from December 1983 to May, 1999, contributed little or nothing to the development of the state. Over this period, Imo State witnessed stagnation, until a new era dawned on May 29, 1999, with Achike Udenwa as governor.
I have earlier highlighted Udenwa’s appreciable impact in Orlu zone; it is needless repeating it here. Suffice it to say that after Achike Udenwa, little was added to Imo State until 2011, when Owelle Rochas Okorocha came on board and assumed the mantle of leadership. Rochas Okorocha’s emergence in Imo was a real blessing to Imo people. His philosophy and development paradigm is unique and conforms to the model used by most developed nations around the world, which focuses on education and infrastructural development.
Okorocha’s strong belief in education informed the establishment of the Rochas Foundation schools in some states of the federation even before becoming governor. His campaign trail in 2011 rode on the free education mantra, which many didn’t believe could be possible. As it were, all of Okorocha’s accomplishments in Imo State can be classified under education and infrastructural development.
The Imo 40th anniversary coincides with Okorocha’s fifth anniversary as governor. Within this short period, Okorocha has brought development to every nook and cranny of Imo State. It is impossible to enumerate all the accomplishments due to space constraint. Suffice it to say that every local government in Imo State has something to show. For instance, the building of the first and only tarred road passing Ikeduru LGA, from Azaraegbelu through Avuvu going to Owu-Amakohia, my community, though uncompleted, is historic. It will be appreciated if the governor could complete the road.
As I said sometime in this column, the free education policy of Okorocha marks a historic turning point in the development of Imo State in particular and Igbo land in general. The rest of the states in the southeast should emulate Okorocha, as a way of lifting the South-East from mass illiteracy. Education would even leverage the business acumen of the people. The Japanese are businessmen but they are educated. It should be clear by now that being rich illiterate business tycoons alone hasn’t helped Igbo land, especially, when it comes to the point of decision at the national level. Education is power and those who have the power control everything.
For centuries, Imo citizens, like the rest of the people from the other parts of the country (except the South-West to some extent), have wallowed in mass ignorance as millions of families could not afford school fees for their children. The old Western Region, which embraced free education in 1954 under the dynamic leadership of Chief Obafemi Awolowo, is on a higher pedestal than the rest of the country.
Conversely, Igbo children (boys in particular) were sent away by their parents to go and learn a trade that would serve as their source of livelihood. The girls were completely left out of the education equation. It wasn’t that the Igbo man was inherently business inclined. It was the circumstances that forced it; the failure to go to school forced thousands to embrace menial businesses as a survival strategy. And, since it was easier to become breadwinner through the short-cut of engaging in business than going to school, most people embraced artisanship and petty trading as a way of life.
But Okorocha’s free education has turned the tide for a more progressive future. The free education covers students in primary and secondary schools, and even tertiary. Some people still insinuated that it is a hoax but verifiable evidence shows that the free education is working. Part of the education policy is the renovation of many dilapidated school buildings in different communities in the state. Owerri urban has witnessed the renovation of all the hitherto decrepit primary and secondary school buildings. All the schools are wearing a new look. I was amazed with the transformation of the hitherto decrepit Development Primary School at Amawusa, Owerri, among others.
Okorocha’s education policy has given Imo State two new universities to be operated under a private-public partnership (PPP) framework. The universities are Loyola Jesuit University and Imo European University. Before now Imo had only five tertiary institutions. The two new universities will make it seven, which is still not enough. Those criticising Okorocha for setting up the new universities are ignorant.
Ogun State alone has 12 tertiary institutions, yet, according to the statistics released by the Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board (JAMB), in 2016, Imo State has the highest number of applicants with 102, 727 candidates, followed by Osun and Oyo states with 83,060 and 81,063 respectively. With this huge number, many Imo indigenes can’t get admission. Therefore, we need more tertiary institutions both private and public to boost education in the state.
Okorocha’s infrastructural development strides stem from his concept of creating something out of nothing. It covers all aspects of infrastructural needs of the state. All the three senatorial zones of the state are beneficiaries. The establishment of one modern General Hospital in each of the 27 local government councils of the state is epic. Here again, Ikeduru LGA, which has never had a general hospital, is a beneficiary.
Owerri, Orlu and Okigwe have received their fair share of physical infrastructure development. The progressive transformation of Owerri is remarkable with several new access roads to decongest traffic. It is amazing how the hitherto suburban agrarian Owerri has been turned into a tourist centre and is now one of the fastest growing cities in Nigeria. Today, Owerri boasts of a state-of-the-art Government House, iconic street gates and roundabouts, scenic manmade rocky fountains, International Conference Centre and of course the refurbished Imo Concorde Hotel.
In the same vein, the infrastructural development in Orlu is mind-boggling, to say the least. Both Orlu and Okigwe have been turned into cities comparable to Owerri. Okorocha’s dynamic leadership and foresight has transformed the former ramshackle towns into cities Imo people can be proud of.