Immediate past Governor of Imo State,Chief Ikedi Ohakim has written a very caustic letter to his successor in office, Governor Rochas Okorocha accusing him of being insensitive to the plight of the suffering people of Imo State. Read the full letter below.
CURRENT TREND OF EVENTS IN OUR STATE
I bring you warm greetings from my family, and may the Almighty God continue to keep you and your family in the light of His grace. Let me go straight to the main objective of this letter, which is to draw your kind attention to a dangerous build up of anger in the State, especially against the backdrop of some of your recent actions as the current Chief Executive. I hasten to add, however, that I take full cognisance of the fact that this letter to you may be misconstrued as an attempt to get even with you, or play politics for reasons that are not difficult to fathom. It is definitely not.
Let me assure you that I mean well, first because we are both faithful of the Body of Christ whose main message is peace and love and secondly because both of us have had the privilege of presiding over the affairs of more than four million Imo citizens with whom we share a collective destiny. Politics or no politics, the reality is that in or out of office, anybody so privileged as you and I have the twin obligation of continually making inputs on how to achieve political stability and economic prosperity in the state. Your Excellency, believe me; this is the reason behind this letter and nothing more.
Still, let me add that I duly appreciate the current economic situation in the country which can be likened to the global financial meltdown of 2008 to 2010, which affected my own administration adversely, with crude oil selling at $38 per barrel. We had to work extra hard at resource management to maintain regular payments of salaries, pensions and allowances in those years and throughout my administration. It was tough.
1. DEMOLITION OF BUILDINGS IN OWERRI CAPITAL CITY
I have in the last couple of weeks received several calls from well meaning citizens of the state, drawing my attention to the ongoing demolition of buildings in parts of the Owerri Capital City, ostensibly in furtherance of a road-expansion programme your administration has embarked upon. Consequently, I have personally driven round the municipality and seen what is going on. The major complaint by those affected by these demolitions is that they were neither given adequate notice nor compensation discussed/paid before bulldozers were sent to destroy their properties .
I am told that some officials of your administration, to whom the people managed to have access, merely told the owners of the houses that they contravened existing regulations on location and specifications of buildings. I also hear that they are told that all land belongs to government and that the latter can take any land at will without giving explanations .
You and I know that given the current economic situation in the country, this is the most inappropriate time to destroy the houses of people or destroy structures that house their means of livelihood without adequate alternative arrangement. Agreed, multiple lane roads are desirable but it should not be achieved by suddenly throwing hapless citizens into homelessness, joblessness and excruciating economic pains from which they may never recover .
The state officials should be told that it is not true that government can take any land and ask the occupants to go to hell. To say such a thing in a place like Imo state is to assault the collective dignity of a people reputed as being among the most educated in the entire country. Your colleague in Ogun state, for example, who is of the same political party with you, attempted a similar exercise recently but met with stiff resistance and a barrage of court cases. He quickly retreated, organized a public hearing, negotiated adequate compensation and modified the project to reduce destruction of peoples’ properties.
2. ROAD EXPANSION
Your Excellency, your present road expansion in Owerri Municipal is not in conformity with the master plan and any known element of road design. For example, the huge economic loses from the present exercise will far outweigh the few metres to be gained from the proposed expansion. To worsen matters, no public right of way is left for the replacement of pipes and cables, as your proposed roads will end at the foundation of people’s houses.
I have it on good authority also that the ongoing exercise were not captured in any of the state budgets in the last five years . This, therefore, makes it fiscally wrong to embark on such projects because it negates the essence of due process and good governance.
It is trite argument that embarking on any project, however well-intentioned, without first putting it in the budget is against the law. It also makes room for arbitrary, uncoordinated and aimless application of funds and makes monitoring and accountability difficult if not impossible.
Besides, you have not taken into cognisance the peculiarities of Owerri Capital City. For example, Owerri Capital City is the only state capital in Nigeria with twin design concept. It is also the only Capital City in Nigeria located in a valley. This made the designers of the original Master Plan to take a number of Engineering and Technical issues into consideration. One of such considerations is that indiscriminate excavations, as we now have, would make the city highly vulnerable to flooding. It was indeed in the conscious effort to limit this vulnerability that the old City was designed to be left with minimal destruction and the Twin City fitted with 62 flood draining manholes which need to be desilted periodically to remove blockages and avoid vulnerability to flooding.
Your Excellency, I make bold to say that my administration, for example, found the need to expand certain roads in the state capital; such as Orji/Okigwe Road, Egbu/Umuahia Road, Egbeada/Orji Road and Orlu Road. This entailed removing illegal structures but we did so within the confines of the existing lawful master plan. We made sure all such projects were captured in the appropriation and the Federal Ministry of Works duly consulted both in design and execution. We did not embark on constructing the famed multi-lane English Ml motor way with the money meant for salaries of workers and our aged pensioners.
If you had consulted the professionals, you would have been told that Orlu Road, Okigwe/Orji Road and Egbu Road that were dualized by my administration between 2008 and 2010, have reached the maximum permissible limit of expansion, going by the city’s Master Plan.
Insisting on expanding the above mentioned roads further will only lead to both physical and socio-economic dislocations . that will ultimately defeat the overall objective.
Your Excellency, you will agree with me that the state is fortunate to have the Twin City design with the New Capital
City layout that still has so much space to accommodate innovations and new ideas so as to resist the temptation of turning the older part of the city into a perpetual archaeological excavation site.
3. DAMAGE TO PUBLIC WATER PIPE LINES
By the indiscriminate excavations now going on as part of your road-expansion programme, you are destroying public water pipelines that took Chief Sam Mbakwe’s administration over $34 million and four years to lay. It will require billions of Naira this time around to replace them if inhabitants of Owerri will ever enjoy public pipe borne water again.
As I write, nearly all the buildings, including business houses, along the affected roads ‘have now been disconnected from the public electricity supply as a result of the damage of electricity wires, cables and poles.
As a matter of fact, two Hotels along Orlu Road in Amakohia have closed for business and sent their workers away; ditto other businesses. This should not be at a time like this.
4. NWORIE AND OTAMIRI RIVERS
With due respect, Your Excellency, I want state that by your actions, we are on the verge of loosing two very important gifts nature gave to Ndi Owerri and indeed Imo State namely, the Nworie and Otamiri rivers. Otamiri, you must note, is the intake source of the Owerri main water scheme. Now that it is going into extinction, it means it can no longer play that role as an important source of life for the people. As things stand, both rivers may disappear within the next few years.
Your idea of linking the old and new Owerri through the two rivers is lofty but you failed it when you used ordinary culverts to cross over the two rivers. This is the greatest damage to these natural resources. You may wish to take a drive across the two rivers and see for yourself that your action has effectively constricted the rivers, causing a barricade for free flow of water.
Your Excellency, what should cross over the rivers are bridges, not culverts . I would like you to take a look at the bridge crossing Nworie at Egbeada and the one crossing Nekede road which were constructed during my administration as part of the inner ring roads project . You will definitely notice the width and head-room of the two bridges and appreciate what I am saying.
Interestingly, the first crossing over Nworie along Assumpta Avenue, adjacent to Holy Ghost College, is a full bridge, not a culvert. It is noteworthy that those who built that bridge more than sixty (60) years ago saw the need for a full bridge. Up to the late 1980s, students of Holy Ghost College were still swimming under that bridge. In fact, the whole idea behind the dredging project my administration attracted from the federal government through the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) was not only to return the entire river and the bridges across it to their original utility state, but also to improve on that, by having boats sail across with standard beaches to match.
Unfortunately, some uninformed people decided to play politics with it and we were even derided for coming up with the project. Today, the people know better. Nworie and Otamiri are headed for extinction. However, I advise that you follow up with the N9billion NDDC/Federal Government dredging project.
5. PUBLIC WATER UTILITY
Your Excellency, you and I know that there are two major things that make life meaningful for the urban dweller. These are water and electricity. Since electricity is in the exclusive list in our Constitution, state governments strive to pay attention to water . But in our own case in Imo, you have technically disbanded the Water Corporation and sent away over 200 technicians that were trained by my administration to man the state’s water schemes. You may wish to review that decision. I also urge you to revisit the 906 Rural, 7 Semi and 2 Major water schemes completed before your administration. Your Excellency, your administration is paying little or no attention to affordable clean drinking water. Our people are dying.
6. OWERRI CITY RING ROADS
Your Excellency, I am of the sincere belief that it was because you abandoned the ring roads began by previous administrations that you were caught in the current dilemma over roads in the Capital City of Owerri. There are three major ring roads in the Master Plan: inner, outer and outer outer . The inner ring road has a total of five fly-over bridges . I am, however , in a position to know that the funds you are currently channelling into the needless expansion of some roads within the state are enough to complete the ring roads. I can also state without any fear of contradiction that the only way to truly achieve the aesthetics you are probably very much after and as well effectively decongest traffic in Owerri, is to complete the ring roads.
7. EKE-UKWU OWERRI MARKET
Please reconsider your proposal to demolish the Eke-Ukwu Owerri market. Such a move at this point in time will have grave economic and social consequences. Rather than relocating the market, I think you should go to Amo Hausa along the same Douglas road and take a second look at the place. The space has become too small for the population and does not make room for good sanitation and hygiene. In fact, I am of the view that Amo Hausa should be relocated to give Eke-Ukwu Owerri more space for expansion.
I understand that some officials of your administration go about saying that you are following a plan and drawing made during my administration on Eke-Ukwu Owerri market. The truth, however, is that we made no drawings and we had no plan to relocate the market. Our plan was to build a new market at the New Owerri following the Master Plan.
8. RULE OF LAW
Another disturbing area Your Excellency must address seriously and urgently is your penchant for disobeying Court rulings and Orders. This has turned the state into a lawless enclave as the people, consciously and unconsciously, tend to take a cue from their governor. There is so much unruliness in the state with government officials showing the lead. But the truth is that they are like the proverbial young goat which watches the mother while it chews cord.
Your Excellency, there is a built-up anger over the way the people are being displaced from their business locations, more so as this reminds them of the indiscriminate revocation and reallocation of lands in Owerri for which several complaints have been made in the last five years.
Few days ago, I watched a disturbing video recording (which has gone viral), of your recent encounter with artisans at the Orji mechanic village. I was shocked at the heady demeanour of some of the boys towards you and while I condemn it entirely, I am of the view that your approach lacked gubernatorial finesse and decorum. You should avoid exchange of words with kids no matter the provocation. We may not be lucky next time in escaping an outright physical revolt from hapless youths who feel that they have been pushed to the wall or that the government is not sensitive to their plight.
Right now, there are over 250 cases in court against the state government by the very citizens you are governing. What an irony. When you assumed office, you adopted, curiously, the policy of awarding contracts without due process, claiming that due process is a waste of time. But at the end, problems have arisen because, there are little or no records to enforce agreements even in some cases where the contractors had put in large chunks of their money.
The ensuing disagreements led to Court actions and many of the contractors are getting favourable judgements that have left the state with a total judgement debt and garnishing proceedings in excess of N7billion. This may rise up to N50b in the next two years if care is not taken. Clearly, this will be a huge burden to incoming administrations and the entire state, besides that it makes planning, even for your own administration, difficult.
9. PIECES OF ADVICE
May I conclude this letter by offering Your Excellency the following pieces of advice:
i) Take a second look at the state’s economy with a view to seeing how it could be revitalized. One way of achieving this is to prioritize. Go now for only revenue-yielding and employment-creating capital projects, ensuring that contractors are faithfully paid to enable them pay their workers and sub-contractors so that money can circulate. The same with the payment of salaries and pension of the civil servants. I can assure you that with proper planning, it is possible to come up with an arrangement that will limit the vulnerability of the state’s civil servants to the general economic down turn in the country as a whole.
ii) Discontinue further demolition of both private properties and state-owned structures in Owerri Capital City and make good all such demolitions.
iii) Discontinue the road expansion projects in the old Owerri Capital City for reasons I have already given above. The roads are even wider than most London roads.
iv) Return to the ring roads which are of three interlaced dimensions: the inner ring road; the outer ring road and the outer-outer ring road.
v) Dismantle all the four culverts you built across Nworie and Otamiri rivers and replace them with appropriate bridges. If this is not done quickly, the two rivers will disappear finally. The environmental, health and ecological consequences will be very disastrous.
vi) Job! Job!! Job!!!; Factory! Factory!! Factory!!!; Industry! Industry!! Industry!!!. People are wondering what happened to that idea which caught the attention of many of us as it was laudable. Discontinue the 27 general hospital projects . They are White Elephant projects, pure and simple. The existing general hospitals and health centres are adequate in number but are just under-staffed and under-equipped. Go ahead to refurbish and equip them and use the sites of the 27 general hospitals project as cottage industries for each of the 27 Local Government Areas . With proper planning, this can create more than 5,000 jobs for the teeming unemployed youths among who are the 10,000 you disengaged unceremoniously on assumption of office.
vii) As a matter of urgency, bring back IMO ROAD MAINTENANCE AGENCY (IROMA); our Rural Roads are in worst condition ever and those you completed earlier are giving way for lack of maintenance. Our gutters and drains are not being desilted as regularly as required and the sanitation condition is becoming a public health issue.
viii) As a matter of urgent economic importance, raise the necessary funding for the relocation and rehabilitation of Orji mechanic village which you demolished out of annoyance and without adequate notice and attractive alternative.
Your Excellency, let me reassure you that there is no other intention behind this letter other than the desire to ensure that our people get the highest good from governance no matter who is in charge at any point in time. As I pointed out at the beginning, we have both had the privilege of leading our people but I believe there is a bigger obligation of ensuring that their welfare is not trampled upon even out of office. God forbid that after you might have completed your tenure, you will wallow in silence if confronted with issues that affect the general well being of the people you once governed and cherished. This is my guiding principle.
Finally, may I inform Your Excellency that since this is a formal letter, I shall copy very few leaders in the state who may wish to take a cue to similarly offer some advice. I wish you well and pray the good Lord to give you the wisdom and courage to embrace due process; consult stakeholders and professionals regularly and always do the proper things, to the glory of His name and to the good of mankind.
HE (Dr.) lkedi Ohakim.