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By Chibuike Onyeukwu

Nothing better captures the tragedy that has befallen the good people of Imo state than that at a time when functionaries of other state governments are doing their best to provide their people with the necessary information on the activities of government, especially efforts to beat the deadly Corona-19 pandemic, the current administration in Imo State preoccupies itself with unsubstantiable allegations against citizens. Its Information Commissioner, Hon. Declan Emelumba and his colleagues have been celebrating a non-existent N19.63 billion, purportedly misappropriated by the immediate past administration headed by His Excellency, Rt. Hon. Emeka Ihedioha CON.

The story is not new but since Hon. Emelumba made his press release to select media houses in which he made the allegation, he has been shuttling from one radio station and newspaper house to another in a bid to win more converts in his (his principal’s) campaign of calumny against Governor Ihedioha. Not surprisingly, not a few people have been wondering whether the Hon. Commissioner thinks Imolites, a highly knowledgeable and sophisticated people, are deaf and/or gullible. In one of his outings, the operatives of the radio station where he took his blackmail to, in order to achieve some balancing, sought me for His Excellency’s side of the story. Initially, I was quite reluctant since my involvement, or indeed that of any other insider of the Ihedioha administration, would have merely lent currency to that orchestration. However, I eventually accepted to participate at least for the sake of listeners who stood the danger of being further hoodwinked by Emelumba’s shenanigan.

But I had only one question for the Hon. commissioner who was in the studio – the moderator phoned me: Mr. Commissioner, can you explain to Imolites why, for an audit that covered twelve months, a period more than half of which was during the administration of Governor Ihedioha’s predecessor, Rochas Okorocha, you went to town to announce that you have discovered a fraud precisely perpetrated under Ihedioha? Of course, he drew blank and for the rest of the programme, he flustered until his time – he probably bought the airtime – was up.

Since that programme, that question has re-echoed across the state. Why would the Hope Uzodimma administration lump an audit query that covers two administrations and single out one for criminalization, other than out of a deliberate plot to impugn the integrity of Rt. Hon.  Ihedioha, which has for decades, been a source of concern to Senator Uzodinma and his cohorts. Going by the profile of the Uzodimma administration so far, it needs no exaggeration to say that it will neither have an answer to this question, nor succeed in damaging the character of His Excellency which has, over the years, stuck. Apparently dazed, Hon. Emelumba, the arrowhead of the campaign, came up with even a more laughable matter. In a bid to curry the sentiments of the people against Ihedioha, he sent to media houses interior photographs of a vehicle procured during the period for official VVIP use. The public received his efforts to blackmail His Excellency with a pinch of salt. They paid no attention to it at all. Infact, it died on arrival. But suffice to note that the choice of that vehicle saved the state huge cost of purchasing several bullet-proof vehicles that would have cost over N400m.

This is not the medium to respond to that misrepresented claim but it is important, in the time being, to draw the attention of the Imo public to the language the Hon. Commissioner employs in propagating his false allegations. He talks with so much exaggeration and emotions that even the least discerning person would see that the campaign, aside being poorly scripted, is premeditated. For example, he refers to the Ihedioha seven-month administration as the “most corrupt” the state has ever had. I ask, “is this not an assault on the collective intelligence of the people? How did an administration that is barely three months old discover that of all the five civilian administrations – from Dr. Sam Mbakwe of blessed memory to Ihedioha – the state has had, Ihedioha, is the “most corrupt”? How did an administration that appears so mesmerized by the intricacies of documentations, as a result of which it is unable to pay contractors, salaries and pensions for three months, make such a reckless claim?

How did the administration come to its conclusion when a Commissioner for Finance was only appointed about three weeks ago? Meanwhile, the State Executive Council, constituted barely a month ago and of which Hon. Emelumba is a member, from records in the public has met only once. Meanwhile, none of the over 200 Special Advisers and Senior Special Assistants, inaugurated almost two months ago, has been assigned any portfolio. So, how did an administration that has found it difficult to settle down after 100 days able to determine which of its predecessors was the “most corrupt”? The target of this reckless statement is the report of the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS), which rated Imo State, THE LEAST CORRUPT among the comity of states in Nigeria after an independent survey of fiscal management in the 36 states. Question is, Who is Emelumba to shamelessly attempt an aspersion on the celebrated NBS report? Could it be that he still maintains his job as a campaign spokesperson?

Meanwhile, the government’s information machinery for handling the COVID-19 crisis has been lackluster. After a hurriedly put together “commissioning” of an “isolation centre” in the middle of a densely populated neighborhood along the ever busy Amakohia - Orlu road, Owerri, an event at which the social distancing rule was thrown overboard – there has been no information about the other isolation centres. Even though the Senator Uzodinma reeled out at least five other centres outside Owerri, nothing more has been heard about them. Meanwhile, the so-called government palliative is shrouded in mystery and secrecy. What and what is the government providing? What are the criteria for distributing them? What is the channel for distribution? What are the updates on the situation at hand? These are vital information a Commissioner for Information – official spokesperson of government, should concern himself with at a time like this.

I am certain that Emelumba is in the know that Imolites have not accepted Senator Uzodinma as their governor. And I am afraid they may never embrace his administration for the simple reasons that he does not have their consent through a popular mandate. Secondly, this lack of contract is worsened by his antecedents. Thirdly, they miss the man – Ihedioha - whom they freely gave their mandate to preside their affairs. The early signs of tendency for fraud, ineptitude, mistrust have further heightened the fears that the current administration would be worse than Senator Okorocha’s administration.

Just recently, reports have it that because of the secrecy in which the palliative matter is shrouded, most of the items are not getting to the targeted recipients. Imolites, especially those at the rural areas are lamenting that the quantity of materials they received are far below what was donated by the federal government and distributed by the state government. Of course, it does not require a diviner to know where the shortfalls are coming from. If an administration cannot effectively monitor the distribution of few hundreds of bags of rice, a few hundreds of packets of noodles and a few hundreds of thin yam tubers to a hapless populace at a time like this, with what magic did it discover which administration, since as late as the second republic, is the most corrupt.

It is evident that the Senator Uzodinma administration is using the purported audit report to divert the attention of citizens from its colossal failure within its 100 days in office, lack of payment of salaries and pensions as well as abysmal handling of the COVID-19 challenges. As I write this essay, there is no known location for testing centre in the whole of Imo State. There is no action plan on ground, save for Covid 19 face-caps and a few materials donated by well-meaning citizens. I know of a native parlance - Ala adighi nma wu Uru ndi Nze (It Is during crisis that Princes make profit).

Nigerians have also noted with dismay, the recent unwarranted attack on the entire workforce of the local government, under the umbrella of Nigeria Union of Local Government Employees, (NULGE) for demanding for the payment of their two months salaries. The body through its National President, Ibraheem Khaleel, in the report in Punch Newspaper, entitled, “Imo diverting LG funds despite NFIU guidelines – NULGE”, accused the Hope Uzodinma Administration of diverting LG funds. According to the National President, “The government of Imo State is tampering with the local government funds and has refused to pay the salaries of local government workers despite the lockdown. The government is deliberately diverting the local government funds, and has refused to comply with the NFIU guidelines on the allocation and release of local government funds. Since the government came on board, it has not disclosed the amount it got from the Federation Account and it has not implemented the NFIU guidelines, the money meant for local government has not been released and the governor is not paying the local government workers.” But this was never the case when Ihedioha governed the state.

Methinks this is coming rather too soon (within 3 months) for an administration that promised to consolidate on the solid foundation, deliberately and painstakingly laid by his predecessor, including the landmark policy of full autonomy for local government administration as introduced and implemented by the Rebuild Imo administration of His Excellency, Rt. Hon. Emeka Ihedioha CON for the period it was on the saddle. These are the issues the Commissioner and his colleagues should bother with rather than laboring to out-do each other in their desperation to dent the enviable profile and achievements of Ihedioha, man of the people.

After 100 days in office, the confusion among the aides of Senator Uzodinma, most of who are known corporate hangers-on, has assumed a more embarrassing dimension. It is noteworthy that this administration has broken the record since the creation of Imo State in 1976, to become the first to announce the appointment of over 200 aides without portfolios. And after 100 days in office, they are yet to be officially told why they should be paid with tax payers money, yet they are receiving salaries and allowances for doing nothing. There is no better evidence of failure than currently witnessed. One of them, in a chat with a friend, alluded to the fact that they are just loafing around the government house without offices and assignment, hence, they have kept themselves busy by keeping vigil in social media platforms and attacking anybody that enquires the government’s direction.

Hon. Emelumba, from all indication is a prince in the Uzodimma administration who cannot miss the opportunity offered by the attention his smear campaign is receiving. It was recently alleged that the Commissioner and his team have received huge amount of money running into hundreds of millions to “finish” Ihedioha. Hence, the more he rabble rouses and indulges in more drama, the more he warms himself to the heart of his principal, who is in desperate search for acceptance by Imo people and would do anything for it.

It is a fact that until recently, most of those in the frontline of attacks against Rt. Hon. Ihedioha have either drank from his benevolence and large heart or still place premium to his person, contrary to their current posturing. I pity their helplessness in this circumstance, given that they must prove their loyalty to the man at the helm.  Take for instance, Hon. Emelumba’s rejoinder for Ihedioha in 2018 to a piece written by Evang. Ethelbert Okere, entitled “Imolites Rise For APC”. The article came after the coalition, of which Uzodimma belonged, “collected” the APC structure in the state from ex Governor Okorocha. Hon. Emelumba was among core members of the PDP that shot down Okere’s article. The others are Ray Emeana, Amanze Obi, yours truly and others. The thrust of all the rejoinders was to rubbish Okere’s claim that majority of Imolites were rooting for the APC. 

From the look of things, Hon. Emelumba is not in a hurry wean himself of the toga of a hatchet man and an attack dog which is the real tragedy for both the administration and the state as a whole. This is so because attack dogs of administrations don’t serve in the State Executive Council which is the highest decision making organ of government.  The needful, has to be done. Maybe he hasn’t realized that the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP is ever poised to democratically situate its role of a virile and credible opposition, irrespective of the administration’s recent attempt to gag free press, free speech and constructive criticism.

All the above put together means that the people of Imo may have to brace up for more of the Commissioner’s combative tactics of arm-twisting his boss and assault on Ihedioha and members of the public who could task the government on its promises. But they can be assured that concerning the allegations being peddled around by him, Rt. Hon. Ihedioha, with whom Imo people bonded right from his first day in office, would do nothing to betray their trust.         

Onyeukwu writes from Owerri.

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