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Can Uzodinma fit into Mbakwe’s shoes?

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Uzodinma

Imo State Governor, Hope Uzodinma’s assertion that he will surpass the erstwhile Governor Sam Mbakwe of Imo State is a tall order that requires undivided commitment and devotion to realise. A reference to Mbakwe rings bell, especially, in the heads of those who witnessed his exemplary and unsurpassed leadership in Imo State. Can Governor Uzodinma fit into those big shoes? I think he can. He has the opportunity to make history like Mbakwe.

Taking Mbakwe as a reference point, or should I say his yardstick, can be made a prayer point since the governor himself chose the uphill task. I don’t know why Governor Uzodinma chose to stretch himself that far. There would have been no much worry if he had chosen to surpass former Governor Rochas Okorocha; that would have been easier, for all he needed to do is to build solid engineering infrastructures that would not easily collapse, pay salaries and re-engineer the free education policy.

He could also have chosen to improve on the appreciable governance framework that his immediate predecessor, Governor Emeka Ihedioha, was initiating before abruptly leaving the stage. But to choose to surpass Mbakwe, whose indelible landmark achievements in every sector of Imo economy are unparalleled in the annals of governance in Imo State can only raise suspicion that Uzodinma has something up his sleeves, which only time will show.

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Our people say if you wake up in the morning and a chicken starts to pursue you, you should run, for you don’t know if it has developed teeth in the night. Imo people should hold their breath, for we don’t know what is beating the drum that Governor Uzodinma is dancing. Of course, our people say, when you see a bird dancing on the road, the thing that is beating the drum for it is somewhere in the bush. On that note, we will keep our fingers crossed until after four years when we shall come back to count the mileage covered after the race.

In the interest of young Imolites who were born 37 years ago, precisely in 1983, when Mbakwe and the other elected civilian governors across the country were sacked in a military coup by a group of senior army officers, a brief on Mbakwe will give an insight into the man Governor Uzodinma wants to surpass.

The iconic Samuel Onunaka Mbakwe (Sam Mbakwe or De Mbakwe, as some preferred to call him), governed the old Imo State from 1 October, 1979 – 31 December, 1983. The old Imo State comprised Abia State, part of Ebonyi State and the present Imo State put together. Mbakwe presided over this large geographical space with ease because he committed himself to the vision he had for the state. Governor Uzodinma’s job is lesser, having got only about one third of what used to be Mbakwe’s Imo State to govern. By virtue of Imo’s small size at present, he is supposed to truly surpass Mbakwe if he means what he is saying.

Before he assumed office, Imo State was more of a large farmstead with few motorable roads. Without wasting time, as soon as he assumed office, Mbakwe hit the ground running. He initiated many projects at the same time across the state.

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Sam Mbakwe, popularly called the “Crying Governor” because of his penchant to ask for more for Imo State from the Federal Government, could rightly be described as the father of modern Imo State. The transformation of Imo State actually began with him. When Mbakwe assumed office in 1979, Douglas was the only road passing through the centre of Owerri. The road was dilapidated and there were still mud houses with thatched roofs on both sides of Douglas.

Mbakwe did not waste time to get to work as soon as he assumed office. With practically nothing on ground to build on, Mbakwe started from the scratch to put things in place. His first assignment was to give Owerri a facelift. Douglas road was rehabilitated and made passable. This was followed with the opening of Wetheral road, serving as a ring road, to reduce traffic on Douglas, which was the only arterial road in Owerri.

The iconic Mbakwe then embarked on the construction of Imo Concorde Hotel (a five-star hotel) and the Imo Airport. Mbakwe fought a battle with the federal authorities who initially opposed the construction of the airport and refused to give support. Undaunted and determined to make a mark, Mbakwe persisted on the airport project without federal assistance. Instead, contributions came from Imo people who gave their full support to the project.

Within one term in office, Mbakwe’s accomplished what most governors could not do in eight years. His legacies included rural roads development in all the local governments of Imo State; one cottage industry in every local government area and above all the establishment of the Imo State University (IMSU).

Besides, the first ever independent power project – the Amaraku Power Plant, sold by the succeeding military administration, was built by Mbakwe. Mbakwe’s foresight was uncommon. He set Imo State on the path of incomparable socio-economic development before the administration was sacked in December 1983, just at the onset of his second term in office.

The foregoing gives insight into what a man of vision could do that history reckons with. Take note that Mbakwe was in the opposition Nigerian Peoples Party (NPP), yet he was able to always run to the ruling National Party of Nigeria (NPN) for support, which he often got. Governor Uzodinma is better positioned, being a member of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) to get more favour from the Federal Government.

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One way to realize his target is to shun every distraction coming from left, right and centre and focus on his mission. As the saying goes, unease lies the head that wears the crown. Governor Uzodinma should expect attacks and criticisms to which he should develop a thick skin and ignore. He should assume the proverbial animal that is not scared by gun shots while it grazes (anu ana agba egbe ya n’akpa nri). Mbakwe ignored all the criticisms and attacks leveled by the opposition NPN in Imo State during his time. While you are in charge, the opposition has the right to criticise. Show me a governor in Nigeria who is not being criticised and I will show you an idle governor.

The reported arrest of Citizen Ambrose Nwaogwugwu for labeling His Excellency as “Supreme Court Governor” is a distraction that could be ignored. What Mr. Nwaogwugwu said should be seen as his personal opinion and it ends there. Arresting and keeping him in detention unduly shifts the sympathy to him. Former Governor Ikedi Ohakim made a similar mistake and courted the anger of Imolites.

Other than that, Governor Uzodinma should face his job. Everything Mbakwe did was pro-people and this endeared him to Imolites. The repeal of the obnoxious pension and other largess for ex-governors and their deputies, ex-speakers and their deputies is a plus. Those are the kind of things the governor should be doing.

Finally, Governor Uzodinma should take the issue of payment of salaries and gratuities for workers seriously. The people won’t be happy to appreciate what is being done on empty stomach. Since insecurity has become vicious across the country, the Governor should brace up to protect Imo State in collaboration with other South-East governors. The reported intrusion of Fulani herdsmen along with Almajiri from Northern Nigeria is an ill wind that should not be toyed with. Destiny calls on the Governor to protect Imo people from an “invasion” if that is the case.

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