After a due observation of the commitment of the people of Ohaji/ Egbema and Oguta LGAs, the two oil producing areas of Imo State, to the birthday of Governor Rochas Okorocha, I came to the conclusion, that the seemingly marginalized, deprived and under developed part of the state deserves no tears for their predicament.
The first scene indicating that the people are happy with their misfortune was a picture of some frontline leaders from Ohaji/Egbema, comprising traditional leaders, political icons of the APC family and colorfully dressed women of the LGA who moved en masse to felicitate with His Excellency, on his 55th birthday. At the event, the “powerful” entourage tried dancing away their “sorrows” while appreciating Okorocha.
Meanwhile, at the event, an unperturbed Okorocha, beaming with smiles crossed his legs in the sofa to admire the interesting dancing steps of the women.
Same gesture was shown by people of Oguta LGA when they came calling too.
As if the first show of the Ohaji/ Egbema and later Oguta people was a dress rehearsal, scene two witnessed a visit by a so- called Niger Delta people of Imo State, comprising youths and people of Ohaji/ Egbema and Oguta LGAs. The climax of the visit was the group’s donation of a Hummer bus to the Governor’s Rochas Foundation project, irrespective of the fact that assorted gifts had been extended earlier to the governor during the separate trips by the two LGAs.
A candid interpretation of the people’s kind goodwill to the governor on his birthday indicates that Okorocha’s disposition to them since 2011 he took over mantle of office has been favourable if the quantum of gifts to the first citizen of the State is to be counted. If those from Ohaji/ Egbema and Oguta who lavished Okorocha with gifts only decided to play to the gallery in other to answer “loyal and good” party members, to earn political appointment patronage at the expense of the monumental denials and maltreatment meted to their people, then there should be “No tears for the oil producing areas” for their utter neglect in the scheme of things. The tales of woes ravaging the people are enormous to induce them into putting their thinking caps on before they embarked on the trips to Govt House, Owerri.
Before the advent of Okorocha’s government otherwise known as Rescue Mission in 2011, the people of Ohaji/ Egbema and Oguta enjoyed steady power supply courtesy of a deal the state brokered with then NEPA and later PHCN. In the understanding, Imo State Oil Producing Areas Development Commission, ISOPADEC paid for power supply of the two LGAs. I am aware that for those in Orlu District; communities in Oguta LGA and some parts of Ohaji/ Egbema, ISOPADEC paid N3.5m, while N1.5m was given to Owerri District for the supply of towns on Port Harcourt road. The arrangement worked smoothly for years ISOPADEC came on board until Okorocha arrived and darkness set in. For several years, the entire LGA was enveloped in darkness, no thanks to government’s inability to pay as ISOPADEC could no longer sustain the deal. The blackout has remained a permanent feature of the legacy the Okorocha government bequeathed the people.
Residents of the State can recall that when the darkness became unbearable to people of Oguta Ameshi in Oguta LGA, aggrieved personalities in the community led by some artistes had to embark on protest march in their domain over the non availability of power supply. While some frustrated communities on PortHacourt Road, namely Umuagwo and Mgbirichi opted to renegotiate with PHCN, now EEDC to pay direct to them for power supply than be entangled in the ISOPADEC/EEDC shabby deal.
There is no gainsaying the fact that government through ISOPADEC has been paying lip service to the power supply question by engaging in media rhetoric that all debts to EEDC have been cleared whereas blackout remains the portion of the people. It appeared that the “powerful group” of men and women who met with the governor prefers the darkness since the issue of zero power supply in Ohaji/ Egbema and Oguta lacks merit for discussion before His Excellency.
The inability of ISOPADEC to play its constitutional role of an interventionist agency since it was signed into law in 2007 did not have a space in the minds of the “powerful delegation” that went to rejoice with the governor on his birthday. ISOPADEC, created courtesy of Goodluck Nanah Opiah, who represented Ohaji/ Egbema in Imo State House of Assembly 2003- 2007 is dying. The establishment of the agency authenticates that a percent of the total money paid for the 13% oil derivation fund be set aside for the development of the oil producing LGAs.
Since taking mantle of leadership six years ago, what the present government can boast of ISOPADEC is the gigantic State Secretariat in the Owerri, even as nothing has been heard of Liaison Offices in Ohaji/Egbema and Oguta as enshrined in the law setting up the commission.
Unlike the previous headship of the agency that had signature projects in the communities, no insignia of ISOPADEC in Ohaji/ Egbema and Oguta again than scrappy ongoing works the recently dissolved board instituted. Even the projects cannot be spotted because it was not evenly distributed. The non performance of the board and utter neglect from government may have led to governor’s dissolution of the Board members ten months after it was inaugurated. I can still recall when the present administration stated that the funds for the agency would be used for the establishment of a Maritime University at Ossemotor, Oguta. Yours truly through this same forum raised the alarm arguing that it was not only a possible means to waste funds of ISOPADEC but also a white elephant project unnecessary for the state to prosecute for such a deprived area in dire need of social amenities. I stand to be corrected if the subsequent abandonment of the Maritime University and recent handing over of the grass-filled project to the Nigeria Navy does not justify my earlier submission.
Only recently, a youth body, the Niger Delta Youth Forum, (NDYF) in Imo State, urged Okorocha to account for over 80 billion naira it has received as 13% Derivation Fund from the Federal Government between 2011, it took over power, till date. The NDYF chairman, Ezekwesiri Nwauwa, a lawyer and Prince of Izombe community in Oguta LGA, in a release made public said “the Governor was also urged beyond rhetoric’s and macabre dance of development, to embrace realities on ground and admit that his administration has completely failed to deliver on his election promises to the people of oil producing areas of Imo State whom his government has continued to deceive with bogus and unrealistic promises of development, not minding the huge chunk of votes our people returned to re-elect the governor in 2015”
The delegation who dropped the birthday gifts to the governor amidst happiness failed to note the observations of the NDYF leader who added in the same statement that “By the report aired on African Independent Television, AIT, on the 24th August, 2017, Governor Okorocha accepted the fact that IMO has received about 100 billion naira so far under his regime as 13% derivation. The implication of the above, is that the IMO State Oil Producing Areas Development Commission (ISOPADEC) has received about 40 billion naira statutorily (from Imo state Government) within the period under review as the 40% of the 13% derivation accruing to Imo state. However I was stunned when in the same report, Governor Okorocha made false claims of establishing 16 Emergency Response Centers across Ohaji/Egbema and by Local Governments. To keep the records very straight, no such projects exist in our area. The ultimate question to ask here is what the emergency response center is for. Health? Job creation? Infrastructural development? Youth and women empowerment or what? Nwauwa querried
To buttress the point about the white elephant project, Nwauwa said “It was also reported in the NATION NEWSPAPER of 25th April, 2017 that IMO Government has donated a state (ISOPADEC) owned Marine University to the Nigerian Navy. An elated Commodore Obenta, on behalf of the Chief of Naval staff received this package from our governor in his domain at the Imo Exco Chambers. It is worthy of note that this Marine University at Ossemoto in Oguta LGA was totally funded with ISOPADEC money, as a priority intervention project for the oil producing Areas. This project called Marine University was a totally misplaced priority as at the time Governor Okorocha forced it upon the "toothless bull dog ISOPADEC Board". The people wailed but to no avail, that the impoverished people of Ohaji/Egbema and Oguta needed "truthful and real" youth and women empowerment and not a "bogus" Marine University. The preference for actual empowerment was to reduce the hunger which was a direct effect of Nigeria's economic recession. The Governor is his usual style dammed all the useful advice and suggestions and went ahead to build the marine University with hundreds of millions of ISOPADEC funds. Today without any form of consultation with the people of the oil producing areas, the Governor unilaterally donated the facility to the Nigerian Navy. The youths and entire people of our region totally reject the handover of the Marine University to the Nigerian Navy and vow to resist such pronouncement made by the chief security officer of the state without due regards and consideration of the consequences of such actions”
Partisan productivity may have beclouded the reasoning department of the group not to be troubled by the poor state of Adapalm, a money-spinning downstream sector located in Ohaji/ Egbema LGA. Moments after Okorocha took over reins of power, the major interest of his government was Adapalm Palm plantation. There were high hopes after the Okorocha government gave an indication that the company was on the stepping stone to greatness following the coming of Roche, after it was baptized Roche Imo Palm Plantation. Details of the deal between the state government and Roche do not deserve a mention here because Adapalm went comatose leaving behind unremitting staff protest and strike largely based on unpaid salaries, including lamentations from the host communities of maltreatment arising from bad management. Today, the identity of the true owners and operators of Adapalm said to have been sold for 25 years is still shrouded in controversy as Roche and another investor continue to lay claim over ownership. Meanwhile, the initial promises that the concession of Adapalm would lead to immeasurable profit has become a mirage with the palm plantation complex in disarray. Same can also be said of the Obitti Rubber Estate, another money making sector in shambles.
The Oguta Lake, a veritable tourist abode with hotel and resort is in a kwashiorkor State since Okorocha came in, thereby questioning what could have motivated the group to dole out massive gift items including a brand new bus to the governor. it is no longer news that the former administration of Ikedi Ohakim, Okorocha’s predecessor secured about N18billion bond for the purposes of redefining Oguta Lake to a model hospitality centre. The Okorocha government inherited the bond but no impact on the site located in Oguta LGA. Despite initial promises, the Oguta Lake has become a forgone alternative among the priorities of the present administration. Okorocha's promises to make it one of the best resorts in the world has become hoax. Borrowing again from the NDYF lamentation story, Nwauwa, an activist said “there is total collapse and decay of infrastructure in Ohaji/Egbema and Oguta local governments, especially in the areas of health, education, electricity, water supply and road networks, even in the face of the accruing billions of naira to the commission established by law to develop them. Very many communities are yet to be electrified in the oil and gas rich zone of Ohaji/Egbema as we speak. The Oguta Wonder lake resort conceived by the Ohakim administration was abandoned after the already matured bond for that purpose was …. The Only Golf Resort in the entire South Eastern Nigeria (Oguta Lake golf course) is now bushy and overgrown with weed. What a shame! he remarked.
There are strong indications that the legendary afrobeat music maestro, Fela Anikulapo Kuti may have had the Ohaji/ Egbema and Oguta group who visited the governor for his birthday in mind when he came up with the song “suffering and smiling” considering what the oil producing communities are undergoing in the hands of Rescue Mission government. Ohaji/ Egbema remains the only LGA in the State that operates a District structure because of the vast population and land mass. Previous administrations considered it necessary to establish a quasi LGA secretariat at Umuokanne, Ohaji, to cater for the Ohaji people while Egbema, the LGA headquarters is for the Egbema divide. Similarly, the council merited two General Hospitals, one at Mmahu- Egbema and the other in Umuokanne in Ohaji District to help promote grassroots medicare for the locals. At the early stages of Okorocha government, the two existing General Hospitals were shut under the pretext of building another one situated at Obosima- Ohuba axis of Ohaji, instead of one for Ohaji and another for Egbema as was the case in the past. Even as the new General Hospital project remains a mere block work no one is sure of its completion date, the School of Nursing, the governor promised earlier as compensation for closing the General Hospital, Umuokanne only exists on paper and has vamoosed inside the pipeline of numerous projects lined up in the state.
In terms of infrastructure and amenities, Ohaji/Egbema is the least beneficiary of Okorocha’s acclaimed dividends of democracy. The much celebrated 1000 roads that was the mantra of Okorocha during his first tenure have no record of existence in Ohaji/Egbema. I stand to be challenged.
There is no single project credited to have been done in Ohaji/ Egbema under the present government. The acclaimed 1000 kilometer roads project is a ruse in the locality. Even the pre-cast school project Roche company that took over Adapalm built in some places across the State was a nullity in Ohaji/ Egbema.
Except the governor’s guests from the area during the solidarity panorama intends to insult the sensibilities of others from the LGAs, they would have realized that it amounts to theatre of absurdities to hand over management of the post Amnesty scheme of ex- militants from the area to someone outside the oil producing zone.
The NDYF didn’t also keep mute on the Amnesty Committee abracadabra. It added its voice in condemning the choice of the management by stating “Also recall that last year (2016), Governor Okorocha allegedly granted amnesty to some youths of Ohaji /Egbema and Oguta who dropped arms, renounced cultism and militancy. The wife of the Governor was later announced as the chairman of the amnesty implementation committee contrary to morality and good conscience. In the usual manner and style of the present government, as we speak nothing is happening regarding the amnesty bogus project in which funds was directly voted into under the supervision of Her Excellency Nneoma Nkechi Okorocha. The ultimate question is; what has the people of Ohaji/Egbema and Oguta done wrong to Governor Okorocha? the group’s chairman, Nwauwa, again asked.
There may not be need to consult soothsayers to note that majority of those who were part of the delegation to visit the governor during his birthday considered it a privilege to have a closer look at Okorocha and appreciate the magnificent structure he has put on ground in Government House, if not, they would have raised questions about the promised International Industrial Market and the Palm Produce Market earmarked for Egbema and Umuagwo in Ohaji areas respectively.
After the 2015 elections, Okorocha in line with his Factory, Factory, Factory, pre 2015 campaign slogan, said he would establish an International Industrial Market at Obokofia area of Egbema and Umuagwo in Ohaji. The areas were cleared and interesting gigantic billboards mounted signalling the coming of the markets.
Today, the overgrown weeds covering the location mean nothing to those who visited the governor with gifts. The projected has stopped with the weather-torn billboards government only managed to offer.
Remarkably, the only exciting assurances they people got from Okorocha during the visit was the promise of the creation of the office of the person to cater for Niger Delta matters. The elated Ohaji/ Egbema and Oguta delegates easily forgot how Okorocha in 2011 reduced the Bureau of Niger Delta Affairs manned by a special Adviser to nothing. The Ohakim government had Bureau for Niger Delta that acted as a liason between the state government and federal agencies like NDDC and Federal Ministry of Niger Delta. The Special Adviser in charge of the Bureau also attended state Exco before he became governor and degraded the office to where a mere PA became in charge in 2011.
Until the leaders of the oil producing areas extricate themselves from shackles and manacles of partisan proclivity, no one will weep for they people because they are suffering from self-inflicted injuries and destructive tendencies.
I rest my case.
Mejuobi, is a journalist based in Owerri, Imo State
By Kelechi Mejuobi, regular columnist of Trumpeta Newspapers, published on Thursday Oct 4,2017