How Uzondinma can meet governance bar Ihedioha raised in Imo
It is no longer news that last Tuesday, January 14, the Supreme Court held a damning judgment in the annals of judicial/political history of Nigeria, voiding the declaration of Chief Emeka Ihedioha as the winner of March 9, 2019 governorship poll in Imo State, and in its stead, declared the immediate past senator who represented Imo West Senatorial District, Chief Hope Odidika Uzodinma, as the validly elected governor of the state.
The verdict comes after about seven months and two weeks of a post-electoral legal battle. By the historic judicial pronouncement of the nation’s apex court, the ambition of Ihedioha was cut short, ushering in the joy of Uzodinma and his camp into the governance of the state.
Also instructive is the abrupt end to the Peoples Democratic Party’s (PDP) administration, signalling the back to the power of the All Progressives Congress’s (APC) government in the state. Senator Rochas Okorocha, also an APC stalwart, had held power until May 29, 2019.
In swift obedience to the judicial ruling, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) responded by withdrawing Ihedioha’s Certificate of Return while issuing Uzodinma one immediately on Wednesday, January 15. Uzodinma returned to Owerri, Imo State capital, and was sworn-in by the Chief Judge of the state, Paschal Nnadi.
Some political bigwigs, who witnessed the swearing-in at Heroes’ Square, Owerri, included Okorocha, Minister of State for Education, Chukwuemeka Nwajiuba, All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA), and candidate in the 2019 Imo governorship election, Senator Ifeanyi Ararume among others. After days of Uzodinma’s swearing-in, Okorocha’s celebrated son-in-law, Mr. Uche Nwosu, just back to the fold of the APC, went to the new governor with a plethora of his aides and political associates and pledged loyalty to Uzodinma administration. With the development of the congregation of the old politicians who largely are with Okorocha, it is apparent that the administration of Uzodinma will be dominated by the three groups, consisting of the trio of Uzodinma, Okorocha, and Ararume.
The combination of former Imo State governors and political pundits, including Chiefs Achike Udenwa, Ikedi Ohakim; former deputy governors, Douglas Acholonu, Ebere Udeagu; former Minister of Aviation, Dr. Kema Chikwe; a one time Minister of Commerce, Charles Ugwu; former Chief of Staff, Chris Okewulonu; former Chief of Staff during Udenwa administration and later Commissioner for Health, Dr. Vin Odokwu among legions of persons will likely be missing in the new political dispensation in Imo State. This is because they had identified with Ihedioha. Some even had their children and relations appointed by the immediate past administration, with Ohakim and Chikwe being examples.
Before the verdict, many Imo sons and daughters were beginning to come to enjoy the administrative style of Ihedioha. The former Deputy Speaker, and later Acting Speaker of the House of Representatives, indeed had won the hearts of many in his brief stay in office. He has instituted an enduring administrative strategy of building strong political institutions, anchoring them on his administration’s constant position of maintaining the rule of law and independence of the three arms of government - judiciary, legislature, and executive – by ensuring that there was no interference. He also achieved putting in place retirees’ biometric database, which culminated in ascertaining the accurate figures of the existing retirees. After about three months of the exercise, all the captured retirees began to have their pensions regularly. Such development had never happened in a long while.
Similarly, workers’ full salaries were restored, which changed the equation as the last lap of Okorocha’s years in office saw civil servants’ salaries being cut by about 70 per cent. Ihedioha changed it, directing that accurate payment be made.
Also of note during the short stay of Ihedioha, which no doubt restored hope in the minds of Imo people, was the reconstruction and rehabilitation of about 25 critical roads, including five federal roads in the state, which were in sorry conditions. Solid construction work had started before the ouster. He confessed that about N40 billion would be spent on the roads.
It is also noteworthy that before Ihedioha presented the 2020 appropriation bill of N197. 6 billion, which was later passed by the 27-member Imo State House of Assembly and was eventually signed into law last December, returning the budget circle of January-December. The sacked governor signed Executive Order 005 that enthrones Treasury Single Account (TSA), which led to the closure of over 250 state accounts created by his predecessor. With the development, the internally generated revenue profile which hovered at about N250 million, when he came on board on May 29, 2019, rose to N1 billion as of December.
He also reduced the cost of governance from 32 ministries to 18 with fewer appointees. But his major impediment remained the over N1 billion deduction from the monthly federal allocations, because of the over N23 billion bailout funds, which Okorocha’s administration accessed. Ihedioha also cried out that over 73 per cent of what came to the state was used in payment of workers’ salaries and retirees’ pensions.
Other areas Ihedioha scored goals included the institution of due process, Intelligence and Price Bureau Unit, Diaspora Department, training of 600 youths in Nasarawa for Agriculture programme, and the donation of five plots of land to the Afrixim officials for the building of structures and investment to the tune of $18 million (N50 billion). Other include groundbreaking and commencement of the building of 5,000 housing project at Azalla, Owerri North Local Government Area of the state, resuscitation of Avutu Poultry Farm, the building of four technical education among others considered to be people-oriented signature projects.
Immediately the pronouncement removing Ihedioha was made, tension and anxiety enveloped Imo people’s minds. There was the initial moody situation in Owerri metropolis. The moody disposition of the people in the capital city was whether the administrative goals of Ihedioha so far would be maintained, sustained, and surpassed.
The same day the Supreme Court handed down the judgment, Uzodinma directed the Director-General of his Campaign Organization, Chief Cosmas Iwu, to issue a letter to all the heads of financial institutions placing “No debit order” on all Imo accounts. It read: “Order of Post No Debit on all accounts of Imo State Government, effective immediately. Following the Supreme Court judgment of 14 January 2020, I’m directed by His Excellency, Senator Hope Uzodinma, to take this as your authority/instruction to place a Post No Debit (PND) order on all accounts of the Imo State Government maintained in your various institutions from the office of His Excellency, the Executive Governor of Imo State.”
Consequently, Uzodinma, mindful of the apprehension and the people’s perception of the political turn, made reassuring promises to the people of the state during his swearing-in, where he pledged that the rule of law and the independence of the three arms of government would be observed by his administration.
He also promised that five cardinal policies and programmes of his administration would be anchored on three ‘Rs’ - Reconstruction, Rehabilitation, and Recovery. He consequently directed the accountant-general of the state and the permanent secretaries to forward to his office details of contracts awarded in the state, including payment pattern since May 29, 2010, to him for perusal and necessary action. The period involved informed the people and the media that he had begun the probe of Ikedi Ohakim, Okorocha and Ihedioha’s administrations.
In order to match the ‘indelible footprints’ left behind in the seven months and two weeks’ reign of Ihedioha, Uzodinma reassured the people in his speech titled “The time has come for a new prosperous Imo State,” said: “I am very glad, and I feel highly fulfilled, that at last justice has been served on the Imo governorship election matter. This rare victory is a victory from God almighty. It is the victory that reminds us that as God of justice, our Heavenly Father will never abandon the course of justice. Even when the road is rough, daunting and hazy he remains faithful.
“I, therefore, dedicate this victory to God. Indeed, I lack enough words to express my debt of gratitude to the almighty. To him be glory, praise, and adoration forever and ever. Amen.
“In this historic moment, the judiciary stands out for special commendation. Once again, that revered temple of justice has by this historic judgment reassured Nigerians in general and Imo people in particular that the judiciary remains the real bastion of hope for justice. History will remember that in the face of a spirited attempt to subvert justice with a web of smartly crafted technicalities, the judiciary did not cave in but instead painstakingly untangled that web and ensured that justice was done in the end. This diligent attention to the course of justice is truly salutary. I duff my cap for them for restoring confidence in our judicial process.
“To my wonderful and exceptionally outstanding supporters and admirers, I say to you all ‘thank you very much indeed.’ I thank you for your resilience in the face of intimidation. I thank you for your perseverance in the face of suffocating deprivation. I thank you for your tenacity in the face of uncertainty. I thank you for your relentless prayers and encouragement. I can never thank you enough.
“I say to all the good people of Imo State that this is the time, and indeed the hour, for us to join hands and build the new Imo of prosperity for all. This is a great victory every Imo son and daughter has been waiting for. Now it has been actualised to the glory of God. And I assure you that irrespective of political party this victory is for all Imo people because it is a victory against corruption. It is a victory against impunity. It is a victory for justice. Be rest assured that no one shall be isolated or excluded from governance on account of the political party, religion, and place of origin or social orientation. We all have equal stake in the new Imo state.
“My government shall be a faithful covenant between the people and the government. I shall execute, with utmost diligence and fidelity, the five cardinal programmes of my administration anchored on the three ‘Rs’ of Reconstruction, Rehabilitation and Recovery to ensure prosperity for every one…
“While I say a big thank you to Imo people for standing by me all through these difficult months, let me use this opportunity to say to all of you: Orule na omume! The new Imo State of our dream is here at last. And this is the hour to come and join hands with me in the factory room to produce a better, prosperous Imo state. Thank you all and God bless.”
Ihedioha, after maintaining a brief silence after he was judicially dethroned, issued a statement rejecting the ruling. He said the ruling did not reflect the will of the people. He also directed his former members of the state’s Expanded Executive Council and other appointees to prepare a comprehensive handover note to the incoming administration, warning against carting away of state government’s property.
Ihedioha stated: “I am reporting back to you our great Imo people on the fate of the mandate you freely gave to me as governor and Engr. Gerald Irona as Deputy Governor. This mandate has now been truncated and cut short by the Supreme Court, in contravention of the will of the people.
“I do not agree with the judgment of the Supreme Court. I think it is unfair, unjust and does not reflect the voting that took place during the elections. It also didn’t take care of the sensibilities of the people of Imo State. But as true democrats, Engr. Gerald Irona and I have no option but to respect the outcome of that judgment.
“My dear good people of Imo State, I address you today following recent developments affecting our dear state, and in particular the Supreme Court judgment of 14 January 2020. In my relationship with you as governor of Imo, I had employed regular consultations and dialogue as tools of political discourse. This informs this course of action.”
The former governor said he cherished the goodwill and support of Imo people within seven months and two weeks, noting: “We shall always cherish the tremendous goodwill and support you gave us as we grappled with setting up a new administration to rebuild a state that was devastated by bad governance.
“In the last seven months, we sought to elevate merit, unity of purpose, honesty, transparency and an inclusive approach to governance, as the hallmarks of our administration. We sought to restore once again the pride and dignity of Imo people. We worked very hard to re-engineer the Imo renaissance. But God knows why he has allowed this current state of affairs.”
He regretted that the judgment came to him and others as a rude shock, explaining: “No doubt, yesterday’s Supreme Court verdict came to us as a rude shock and surprise considering the facts on ground, legal precedence and clear verdict of Imo people on March 9, 2019, that returned me as governor with the highest valid votes of 273,404.
“Consequently, we have put machinery in motion to handover the reins of office to the APC candidate as the next governor of Imo State. May we use this opportunity to express our gratitude to God for the opportunity to serve within the short period he granted us. We sincerely appreciate you for all your solidarity and goodwill. We would forever cherish and treasure your love, your trust, and your partnership. We made our mark. Rebuilding our dear state is neither easy nor personal, but a task undertaken for our today and tomorrow.”
While thanking the people of the state within the period he held sway, the former deputy speaker of the House of Representatives said: “I thank you all for your support, which saw us achieve so much and reversed the negative trajectory of Imo State within a space of seven months. It is significant to note that Imo State was looking good again. We were declared the least corrupt state in the country, the fastest state growing economy in Nigeria and the most improved, in terms of the deployment of information technology in service delivery.
“Our infrastructure was significantly coming to life; civil servants and pensioners were now being paid as and when due and optimism returned to Imo State. It is on record that we were acclaimed as the most sports and diaspora-friendly state. Most importantly, we returned life and activities to our local governments. Yes, we had good plans to make Imo the center-piece of commerce, industry, technology, and tourism by providing good leadership and first-class infrastructure. Under our watch, Imo became safe with our systematic approach to securing lives and property.
“All these were made possible by your prayers, support, and sacrifices. I, therefore, appeal to all Imolites, especially our teeming supporters, to remain calm and to shun any action that is capable of resulting in a breach of the peace. We can always have different parties, but we would have only one Imo State. In the same vein, I urge you to extend to my successor, the same support you gave to me. It is my wish that he will continue on the path we had set for the rebuilding of our state as well as consolidate on the progress and milestones we achieved.”
He concluded with the following parting words: “It is incontrovertible that we ran a good race, fought tough battles, (including, principalities and powers) and governed the state well, with the fear of God, accountability, transparency, and entrenched due process. We, however, take solace in the book of Ecclesiastics 3:1, ‘To everything, there is a season and a time to every purpose under the heaven’.”
Perhaps, the only meaningful thing that can rekindle the hopes of Imo State people is the ability for Uzodinma to jettison excuses and prove that he has the capacity and political will to surpass the achievements of Ihedioha with whatever acumen he brings into his governance style. Imo people were already used to Ihedioha’s governance that works for them. Uzodinma cannot afford to toe a different path as helmsman.
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