When he was newly sworn in as the Governor of Imo State, I wrote a widely published article where I challenged Governor Ikedi Ohakim to lift the state from the long doldrums it had fallen into since after the golden era of Sam Mbakwe. Among other things, I did charge him not to think he could give Ndi Imo half measures just because the immediate past Governor, Achike Udenwa gave him no measures at all. I also charged him to ensure that his would not be mere celebration of propaganda because that is bound to boomerang. The governor was to reply to mine at a public reception, which my organization, Aka Ikenga organized for him at the Lagos home of computer mogul, Leo Stan Eke. He publicly quoted copiously from my article and assured not only me but also members of Aka Ikenga and indeed, all Nigerians that his was not another celebration of propaganda but a government that would leave an indelible footprint in Imo State.
One can say that the three governors who have been members of Aka Ikenga have acquitted themselves so well in office that we members are proud to be identified with the group. Governors Chris Ngige, Peter Obi and Ikedi Ohakim, in power, have demonstrated exemplary understanding of the needs of their people that Aka Ikenga feels proud recommending them as role models of what its members stand to do in governance.
On Saturday, November 15th, the Imo State government flagged off Imo Rural Roads Maintenance Agency (IRROMA), for the purpose of ensuring that no part of Imo State rural areas remains inaccessible through bad roads. Before this intervention, the sorry state of rural roads in Imo State has been a huge scandal the various governments after Mbakwe have found too difficult to handle. More than eighty-five per cent of these roads saw any work on them when Mbakwe was in power. Within this long period, these roads have completely collapsed and so many of them have gone extinct.
This horrible state was not helped by the rot in the local government system where allocations to that tier of government have been unconscionably employed to feed a club of political area fathers and free loaders who see such allocations as free funds that is meant to settle their gluttony. What more, the very order that reigned in the period between 1999 and 2007 encouraged this licentiousness and every effort was geared towards making the local government funds a settlement fund for political lackeys of the powers that be in the various states.
One of the cardinal promises of the regime of Governor Ikedi Ohakim in Imo State was to reform the local government system and make it much more meaningful to the people for whom that tier of government was created. At the back of the mind of the regime was the fact that the success of the local government system is at the root of the success of the Ohakim government and for this, the government leveraged on the goodwill the effective performance of the local government system invested in the Mbakwe regime, still nostalgically revered as one that gave real meaning to the lives of Imo people. Driven by the desire to re-enact the golden urn of the Mbakwe years, the regime decided to make the local governments the centerpiece of its governmental delivery.
The reform was to reveal, among other sordid fact that a contract culture at the local councils ensures that an avenue for siphoning the allocations of the local governments is sustained through the award of contracts at bloated sums. Facts showed that grading a kilometer of road is awarded at the hefty sum of N5million, an amount that can asphalt a road of that distance if well employed and fact also showed that in most cases, no work at all were done on the sites even when the money have been effectively retired. It was found out that in most cases, over 65 per cent of this bloated contract sum ends up in individual pockets. What more, an ingenious way through which local government funds were being siphoned was through what came to be known as ‘judgment debts’, which involves securing dubious judgments for questionable debts and it was found out that in most cases, these judgments and the payments thereafter were procured with the connivance of local government staff who also partake in the sharing of these booties.
Shocked by these revolutions the government decided to form IRROMA as a permanent Works Department in all the local government areas to intervene, all year round, in the horrible state of both local government, state and federal roads in all parts of the state. The aim is to open up the neglected rural areas and link all parts of the state as a part of the plan to make Imo State a one-city state and boost socio-economic activities of the state. IRROMA hopes to recreate the glorious days of the Public Works Department (PWD) of old. It aims at creating an active Works Department in each of the 27 local government areas of Imo State. Apart from ensuring constant maintenance and rehabilitation of the rural roads and infrastructures, IRROMA will create jobs for over 3,000 unemployed youths in the interim period and expand its structure and workforce with time. For a start, IRROMA will employ 27 Civil Engineers to drive the initiative in each of the 27 local government areas, 27 Supervisors, 27 Drivers, 27 Equipment Maintenance Personnel and several skilled and semi-skilled workers to work in the Works Department in a move aimed at unleashing a rural revolution in Imo State. There are further plans to turn thousands of idle youths in the rural areas into casual workers that would drive IRROMA and turn them into the experienced staff that will continue driving this initiative thereafter.
Immediately after the flag-off of IRROMA, each of the twenty-seven local government areas in the state went home with the following equipments;
• A brand new caterpillar,
• A Brand new tipper loader,
• A brand new Toyota Hilux Van,
• A brand new Bus for Vigilante services,
• Several brand new motorcycles for IRROMA staff,
• Several new road maintenance equipments,
• Several cleaning equipments for local government Clean & Green Initiative, etc.
Also, several Toyota Hilux security patrol vans were released to the police and other security agencies all over the state, several brand new Chevrolet cars were released for the Imo Municipal taxi scheme and several trucks were released for the Clean and Green Initiative of the government.
IRROMA was given a mandate to deliver 300 rural roads in one month. The beautiful thing about the IRROMA initiative is that it is a sustainable program that will work all year round, to not only open newer roads and accesses but also regularly maintain these roads in all seasons. Again, it works with communities making presentations about roads they feel should be worked on and getting responses in record time. A bigger and better equipped state IRROMA stands by to work on bigger challenges and fix the urban roads. A maintenance workshop has been established in Naze, near Owerri to ensure the equipments are regularly maintained. There is a plan to continue expanding the equipment and staff of IRROMA to become mini-construction companies and there are plans to upgrade the status of roads IRROMA will do in the rural areas. Further, there are plans to set up an asphalt plant, as parts of the larger IRROMA plan to ensure consistent supply of asphalt for Imo roads.
Looking at the outline, the initiative that has cost Imo State over N4billion is a product of good thinking and a desire to take governance to the very level where it matters most: the badly neglected grassroots. This is a laudable programme that should be embraced to every state government to address the issue of neglect, which the rural areas have suffered since the decay of governance in the country and I understand similar intervention efforts are being planned for other sectors of governance in the state. If this works, it shall surely go a very long way in returning government to where it matters and that is the beauty of democracy. Imo is a test case and we shall closely monitor the implementation stage because that is where most laudable schemes go awry. The government should closely monitor IRROMA and ensure a high benchmark of achievement is established to drive competition among the local governments. It should ensure that delivery matches the commitment and the general enthusiasm that has welcomed IRROMA, not only in Imo State but also in other parts of Nigeria. Indeed, this is a welcome development any Imo man should proudly recommend to others. Indeed, it is a good thinking from my state Imo and I believe the people will be better for it. I think it is a good move that must be encouraged if we have the mind of ensuring that governance must positively rub off on the people, especially at the grassroots.