No well meaning citizen of Imo State can afford to be untroubled by the obvious implications of the sad news two weeks ago that “Douglas House”, the official residence of the Imo State Governor, Chief Ikedi Ohakim, was devoured by a mysterious fire, barely one week after he moved in there with his family. According to reports, three children of the Governor were trapped in the building while the fire raged, and would have been consumed by it, but for the timely intervention of some gallant security personnel who defied all odds to rescue them.
The new Governor was not in town when the ugly incident occurred. In a badly run country like Nigeria, where a very significant public utility like electricity is managed by light-minded, inept and irremediably corrupt individuals, fire incidents in public buildings have ceased to come to anyone as a surprise. But in respect of the one that razed the Governor’s Lodge in Owerri two weeks ago, the likelihood of power surge has been ruled out. According to the Secretary to the State Government (SSG), Chief Chris Okewulonu, power surge was ruled out as the cause of the inferno, because, “from where the fire started, no electrical appliance was on at the time the fire started.”
Chief Okewulonu told reporters in Owerri that instead the State Government was suspecting sabotage. “Looking at the circumstances surrounding the ugly fire incident, one cannot completely rule out sabotage … We strongly feel there was a sabotage, it is not a case of power surge; security chiefs have been detailed to unravel the cause of the fire,” he said.
I sincerely hope that it would turn out to be true that no form of sabotage was at play in this mysterious fire. Indeed, I would hate to believe that anyone in Imo State today would allow his desperation for power to goad him into acts that can only unduly overheat and destabilize the state and create unnecessary fear among the citizenry. Certainly, it is still the same people the power-seekers are wishing to govern that stand to lose each time the State Administration is distracted by such gory incidents like the one that just occurred. Time and resources that would have been deployed to beneficial use would then be devoted to efforts aimed at getting at the root of the matter and arranging elaborate precautionary measures to forestall a reoccurrence. It can only be true that a lot of developments in both the public and private sector are retarded in any state where the atmosphere is soaked with a strong feeling of insecurity. Indeed, despite its myriad of challenges, Imo has enjoyed relative peace. It is only normal to hope that no one is nursing the ambition of reversing that record.
Right now, there are several cases at the Election Tribunal where co-contestants are challenging the declaration of Ohakim as the duly elected Governor of Imo State by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC). The least one could ask for is that the litigants should confine themselves to this civilized method of seeking justice which the judicial process ably represents, and resist the temptation of turning Imo State into what Prof Chinua Achebe once called “a bankrupt and lawless fiefdom.” Indeed, no one would be benefited if Imo State today takes over from Anambra, Oyo or Ekiti as the next theatre of violence!
I do not want to believe the insinuations contained in the statement by the Secretary to the Imo State Government until investigations are concluded and findings made public. All I can say now is that it is only fair and just to expect that while the legal battles are raging at the electoral courts, the most decent and civilized thing the Imo people would expect from anyone is to allow the man presently in-charge there now a conducive atmosphere to think straight and conduct the affairs of the state with minimum distraction, instead of any person taking the laws into his or her hands. Resort to violence as a way to register or settle political or any form of disagreements or disputes has since become obsolete. What purpose, if one may ask, would have been achieved if the three innocent kids of Ohakim had been roasted in the fire that broke out at Douglas House two weeks ago? Let somebody tell me what has been achieved now that the Governor’s Lodge has become a heap of ashes? Okay, now that state recourses would be used to rebuild the razed house, who stands to lose but still the long-suffering people Imo State?
I am deeply concerned about Imo State. It is after all my state. I don’t want anyone to turn it into a war zone. I have no particular interest in who becomes the Governor of the state, so long as the person performs. All I am interested in is the development of the state.
For many years now, I have watched the state decay with incredible speed. Owerri, the state capital, which, in my opinion, is the only spot in the state that could be classified as an urban centre has remained an endless embarrassment to those of us from the state. As one leaves the Sam Mbakwe Airport, the major thing that reminds one that one is about to enter Owerri is the great pyramids of filth that gallantly greet one with their peculiar, rude ugliness and putrid perfume.
Imo, one of the oldest states in Nigeria has done so well to distinguish itself as one of the most under-developed. The other sub-urban towns in Imo, namely, Orlu, Okigwe, and maybe, Oguta, have nothing significant to recommend them. A place like Orlu, where former Gov Udenwa and I both come from remains a glorified rural setting. In fact, I have always vehemently rejected any attempt to refer to Orlu as an urban centre.
Virtually no city in the state is planned in an orderly and attractive manner. Most people can’t even remember again that Imo State is an oil producing state and that it gets higher allocation from the Federation Account than several other states, although Obasanjo, whose every attempt to disguise his primitive hatred for Nd’Igbo has failed woefully, had ensured that both Imo and Abia never partook of the special development fund mapped out for oil producing states. (Although if we had got it, would it have made any difference?)
Industrialization in Imo State is at near zero, and that is to put it mildly. Unfortunately, the out-gone Administration had an army of non-Imo friends out there who cheered it on, magnified its modest success, and sang it to the skies that it was the best Administration in the land. Of course that should surprise no one. After all, is it not okay and convenient to praise Mugabe if you don’t live in Zimbabwe? Yes, anybody without a stake in a state, depending on the state of his conscience, can lavishly applaud the governor of a grossly underdeveloped state for his “marvellous achievements”, but those from there would always know the real situation on ground, and be genuinely concerned. They cannot afford to join the chorus of praise singers because it is their land that is being underdeveloped and at the end of the day, they will all live with the decay.
Now, even as Ohakim battles with his opponents at the tribunals and contends with distractions such as the fire incident of two weeks ago, he must realize that the Imo people are, despite all that, waiting for him to make difference in their lives. The expectation is really high, because, having waited for too long for any meaningful development to take place, the people have become very impatient. So, he may have to just organize himself quickly, roll up his sleeves, and get down to work. There are several prominent communities that have remained without access roads and pipe-borne water. Security, too, in the state, especially, in Owerri, is a matter for serious concern. Ohakim should build other urban centres in the state, aside Owerri, and history would give him a pride of place because of that. Dr. Chris Ngige did not complete a four year tenure in Anambra State, but he still remains a hero in the minds of many today because of his spectacular accomplishments which left lasting impacts on the lives of the people.
Since Ohakim’s predecessor did not think industrialization was such an important factor in development, he has an opportunity now to make a difference by pursuing that, to fight unemployment, grow the economy of the state and improve living conditions of the people.
For him history beckons, and how he responds to the challenges before him would greatly influence the kind of assessment he would receive, especially from this column.
Maybe, I will add that when the Governor’s Lodge is rebuilt, it should be renamed. Enough of these colonial vestiges that only evoke unpleasant memories.