Imo state governor-elect Chief Emeka Ihedioha will face daunting task trying to fix the state when outgoing governor Owelle Rochas Okorocha hands over the reins of leadership to him on the 29th of this month. Chidiebere Iwuoha writes.
Clearing workers’ salaries and pension arrears:
This is indeed a big problem for Ihedioha because it is one of the yardsticks that determine the performance of any government, be it at the federal, state or local government level. In Imo state, workers and pensioners are not finding it easy as they are being owed backlog of salaries and pensions. While workers are being owed one month salary and being paid 70 percent or 80 percent of their salaries since Okorocha’s second tenure, the pensioners are being owed pension arrears running into years.
Governor Okorocha has repeatedly claimed that the percentage being given to workers were agreed upon with the state leadership of the Nigeria Labour Congress(NLC) some years back, when it was agreed that whatever came into the state, workers would take 70 percent while the government would go home with 30 percent. This was made practicable because of the economic recession which set in at that time. What Imolites keep asking is, “Now that the problem is over, why not revert to the present situation of plenty”. After all the governor made it clear that it was because of the recession that the sacrifice became necessary and that when things normalized salaries would be paid in full.
What Imo people, especially workers have not ceased to ask now is whether Ihedioha would revert to 100 percent payment and return all the 30 or 20 percent deductions made by Okorocha in the name of recession or would he choose only the reversal and ask them to forget the deductions as they did not happen in his regime.
Pension arrears became a big problem for the governor some two years back when he decided to pay them half of their arrears and tried to force them to sign that all had been paid. They rejected the offer and resorted to peaceful demonstration. Along the line, the senior citizens lost two of their helmsmen who were agitating for the full pensions. They eventually went to an industrial court and got a favourable judgment, but the arrears were still hanging as the governor did not settle the matter until the build-up to the 2019 governorship election. Further, there are still some retirees who claimed that they were never captured in the biometric exercise done by the governor’s team. All these would have to be tackled by Ihedioha.
The bailout/Paris Club funds
Monies released by the federal government to states on two or three tranches with specific directives that it be used to settle salaries and pension arrears of workers and pensioners. Sadly, workers were only paid one month salary while their arrears were not mentioned and pensioners got some months of their arrears.
The NLC state chairman, Austin Chilakpu, observed at the just concluded May Day celebration that they were celebrating on empty stomach. But the governor and his aides keep saying that they have cleared all salaries and pensions, while workers and pensioners have repeatedly refuted it.
Up until now, no government official has come to tell Imo people how the monies were spent or say where the money is lodged. The governor’s son-in-law, Uche Nwosu, was once accused of keeping custody of the monies when he was Chief of Staff. There was even insinuation that a certain Togolese cook of his made away with a large chunk of the money and was nowhere to be found. The case, which went to court, has not yet been trashed out. A few days ago, the Imo state House of Assembly handed down an invitation to the Accountant General of the state and the finance commissioner to come and explain to the lawmakers how the monies were spent, especially as there were controversies over the high debt profile of the state. Ihedioha will no doubt bring up the matter as Imolites are interested in it, if the assembly fails to get to the head of the matter.
Okorocha’s free education Programme
This is one programme of Rochas Okorocha that is shrouded in controversy. While he claims that Imo students in state owned higher institutions don’t pay school fees, his political detractors believe they pay because there are many fees ranging from acceptance to departmental to text book fees which students cough out every now and then.
The governor has boasted on several occasions that he was the first to introduce free education from primary to tertiary level in the state and that his successors would find it difficult to continue from where he stopped, having believed it was not possible. In fact, he said one of the reasons he wanted his son-in-law to succeed him was his conviction that he would continue with the project. He recently advised the governor-elect, Emeka Ihedioha to continue with the project since education has been adjudged the greatest industry in the state.
To show that the governor is serious with the programme, he has established more higher institutions in the state. In the last three weeks, he has got operational licenses for four of them approved by the National Universities Commission (NUC). The institutions are Imo state University of Agriculture and Environmental Sciences, Umugwo, University of Creative Technology Isiaku/Nkwerre, University of Science and Technology Umuna, and University of Medical Sciences, Ogboko.
It was the belief of the governor that thousands of university admission seekers from the state would no longer find it difficult gaining admission. In spite of these laudable developments, those on the side of Ihedioha and the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) believe that all these are traps as the in-coming government would not be able to finance the institutions. They are of the belief that the governor should instead concern himself with adequate funding of the old ones rather than establishing new ones. Some people are already advising Ihedioha to cancel or suspend the take-off of the institutions till further notice to avoid dabbling into the pitfall dug by the governor.
The state is no doubt littered with many block projects both completed and uncompleted, more than we had in the previous regimes of Evan Enwerem, Achlike Udenwa and Ikedi Ohakim put together. Former governorship aspirant Mr Okey Ezeh once described his government as “a government of pestle and mortar” while another described it as a “government of block and cement”. They have said he was doing all that to enrich himself since no known contractor is handling the projects. Some of the roads became impassable barely six months to one year after construction.
In essence Ihedioha would have to start all over again to construct roads which contract monies had been “eaten”. Though Okorocha has constructed new roads in Owerri, Orlu and Okigwe cities many are left unfinished which would compel Ihedioha to embark on massive road construction there from May 29.
The site of new Imo Government House, New Owerri is another headache. This area was mapped out as the site of new Government House by immediate past governor, Ikedi Ohakim but Okorocha opted to renovate the present place, demolished old buildings and erected modern ones. At the proposed new Government House site, he promised to build century towers (in the mould of skyscrapers), about ten in number. He started the buildings, brought them to first or second floor and abandoned them. Different buildings have now sprung up at the place, notably the new Imo NUJ secretariat, Labour House, NMA House, Entertainment House, all built by him, in addition to other private buildings. Is Ihedioha going to demolish these buildings or sack the occupants? That’s the question people keep asking.
Again, the statues moulded and erected by Okorocha have continued to stir controversies. While some people have advised Ihedioha to demolish them, some have advised him to demolish only the statues of those that did not contribute anything to the economy of the state or well being of Imo people, like those of Jacob Zuma of South Africa, Sirleaf Johnson of Liberia etc.
Also, the 27 hospital buildings constructed in the 27 local government areas are topical issues as none has been equipped by government as planned, but rather some were handed over to the army, navy, airforce, police against the wish of the people.