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ONWUASOANYA FCC JONES

In the past two days, the Imo State governor, His Excellency Rt Hon Emeka Ihedioha has visited some LGAs to flag-off the 380 kilometers of rural roads rehabilitation and construction, funded by the World Bank, through the AFD, Agence Franchise de Developpment or the French Development Agency.

Construction and rehabilitation of 380 kilometers is no doubt, a big achievement that must be commended by anyone who truly loves Imo State, no matter, the side of the political divide we find ourselves. The local farmers, the petty traders and everyone who has one business or the other to do in Imo State, will definitely benefit from this very wonderful project. Congratulations to Imolites on this.

The AFD assisted Rural Access and Mobility Project (RAMP) is majorly aimed at opening up better economic access to the rural communities through targeted improvement in road infrastructure. This is in turn, expected to shore up opportunities for rural farmers and other small scale businesses, thereby, enhancing economic opportunities, security and general living standards of the people.

The journey for Imo State to benefit from this great development opportunity did not start yesterday, it did not even start last year. It has been over five years in the making. This journey started in 2014, when the then governor discovered the enormous opportunity at rural development presented by the RAMP projects and didn't waste time in deploying every effort towards bringing this home to Imolites.

Being passionate about rural development and opening up of wider opportunities for prosperity of every Imolite, no matter where they reside, Owelle Rochas Okorocha saw the AFD as a veritable partner in his vision to make Imo, a one city State, through massive road construction. Hence, from 2014 till 2017 when the first stage of agreement for the RAMP projects in Imo was signed, the Okorocha administration never rested on its oars.

Being an international intervention agency, the National Assembly, Federal Ministry of Finance and of course, the presidency needed to make inputs before Imo could access the funds needed for the execution of the projects. Owelle, deployed his wide political and social contacts to ensure that the necessary legislative and administrative groundworks were properly laid out, thereby allowing Imo State to access this once in a while opportunity to drive development down to the grassroots.

One of the major selling points in Imo's push for the RAMP projects is the indisputable evidence that the State had done a similar project on its own before seeking for help from the World Bank and its partner, the AFD. The 15 kilometers of road done in each of the 27 LGAs of the State by the Okorocha administration, before making its proposal for the RAMP project, helped the State in its bid to access the support of the World Bank for the recently flagged off RAMP projects.

From late 2017 when the final paperwork was completed, till May 2019 when the project was originally flagged off by the then governor, Owelle Rochas Okorocha, a lot of effort had been invested. The counterpart funds, the design and the mapping out of communities to benefit from this project, were all concluded.

The Okorocha administration having paid the counterpart fund in full, had accessed the fund from the AFD and had the money lodged in Government Account before the expiration of its tenure. Contractors had already been hired, documented and allocated areas to work on, by the Okorocha government. It is not however known to me, if the present administration succeeded in swapping the names of the original contractors with their own contractors.

While the present administration in the State does everything to take credit for the attraction of this massive project, it is not open to any controversy that the only contribution they have made so far to the success of this project, is the largely unnecessary flag-off ceremony and the many beautiful pictures and PR stunts planted in newspapers and on the social media. The real work had been concluded by Ihedioha's predecessor.

For those who ask questions about why the projects took time in taking off, the best response is to educate them that international development agencies are very thorough and would do anything to ensure that the planning is properly done to avert a failure of the main project. Also, these agencies understand that public infrastructural projects are not done for political purposes, but for developmental and humanistic purposes. They didn't need to impress anyone, but have to do the due diligence to ensure that the projects last the test of time and serve the purpose for which it was designed.

World Bank funds are almost impossible to be diverted, because they are tied to projects, and these projects must be supervised by their officials. They don't just drop the money and allow you to disburse them however you want. They follow the project funding and execution, every step of the way, hence, it is usually difficult for the usual practice of diverting funds meant for such projects by unscrupulous politicians and public officials. Maybe, this is one fund that couldn't have been diverted by some red eyed PDP officials who are on the lookout for openings to steal government money.

It is however, a win-win situation for Imolites. This is one project that shouldn't be politicized for any reason, as it is going to benefit almost every Imolite, no matter their political persuasions. At over 380 kilometers of rural roads, each LGA in the State should be expecting nothing less than 12 kilometers of brand new road, constructed or rehabilitated.

In all, Imo people are the winners. Congratulations to all of us.
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