The immediate past governor of Imo State, Mr. Ikedi Ohakim, has warned his successor, Mr. Rochas Okorocha, that the anger of the citizens of the State is brewing against him and his administration’s policies.
Mr. Ohakim’s warning is contained in a letter to his successor. Titled “Current Trends of Events In Our State” and dated 22 August, Mr. Ohakim opened with the rote greetings typical of such missives before aiming arrows at the conduct of Mr. Okorocha and policies of his government.
The first target of Mr. Ohakim’s arrow is the ongoing demolition of structures in Owerri, the State capital, on account of road construction. The former governor said he has been receiving complaints from those affected that on the government’s action.
“I have personally driven around 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 demolish 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,” wrote Mr. Ohakim.
He added that in the face of the grim economic phase the country is passing through, Mr. Okorocha should have realized that this is a wrong time to demolish properties, as many use them as the only source of livelihood.
While conceding that multiple lane roads are desirable, Mr. Ohakim said the impact of such should have been considered. He called on Mr. Okorocha to inform officials of his government, who claimed the government can do as it wishes with people’s land, that such claims are false and constitute an assault on the dignity of the people.
“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,” he added.
Mr. Ohakim drew Mr. Okorocha’s attention to Ogun State, where he said Governor Ibikunle Amosun attempted a similar exercise, but was legally resisted, backtracked, negotiated adequate compensations and modified the project to reduce the rate of demolition.
Similarly, Mr. Ohakim pointed out that the road expansion exercise in Owerri is at variance with the city’s master plan and any known element of road design, arguing that the huge economic loses from it will outstrip the benefits derivable from “the few metres to be gained from the proposed expansion”.
He contended that matters are worsened by the fact that the expansion will ensure that there is no room for the replacement of pipes and cables, as the proposed roads will end at the foundation of people's houses.
A graver problem, Mr. Ohakim alleged, is the fact that the ongoing road expansion exercise has not been captured in the budgets of the state over the last five years.
This, he pointed out, connotes indifference to due process and reflects bad governance.
“It is a 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,” he argued.
In addition, he accused Mr. Okorocha of not taking into consideration the peculiarities of Owerri, which he said is the only State capital with a twin design concept.
He explained that Owerri is located in a valley, the reason the original designers of its master plan considered a variety of engineering and technical issues.
One of such, he said is that indiscriminate excavations, as currently happening, would make the city highly susceptible to flooding.
It was in the attempt to limit the city’s vulnerability, he claimed that the that the old part of the city was designed to be left with minimal destruction and the twin city fitted with 62 flood draining manholes, which require periodic desilting.
Mr. Ohakim called Mr. Okorocha’s attention to the road expansion projects carried out under his administration, which he said were executed with fidelity to the masterplan and with thought about the salaries of workers and payment to pensioners.
“We 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 MI motor way with the money meant for salaries of workers and our aged pensioners,” he claimed.
He told his predecessor that if he had consulted professionals, he would have been informed that Orlu Road, Okigwe/Orji Road and Egbu Road, which were dualized by his (Ohakim’s) administration between 2008 and 2010, have reached the maximum permissible limit of expansion recommended by the master plan.
The ongoing excavations necessitated by the road-expansion programme, Ohakim pointed out, have destroyed the water pipelines on which the late Chief Sam Mbakwe's administration spent over $34 million to lay.
“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,” he further wrote.
The former governor also laid into Mr. Okorocha for his treatment of Nworie and Otamiri Rivers, nature’s gift that Ohakim said the State is about losing.
Mr. Otamiri, he said, 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,” Mr. Ohakim stated.
He equally accused Mr. Okorocha of attracting the people’s ire by his administration’s shabby handling of the Imo State Water Corporation, which he said resulted in the sacking of over 200 technicians trained by the immediate past administration.
“Your administration is paying little or no attention to affordable clean drinking water. Our people are dying,” Mr. Ohakim said.
Another complaint in Mr. Ohakim’s letter was the abandonment of three ring roads started by previous administrations in Owerri that you were caught in the current dilemma over roads in Owerri. These, Ohakim argued, should have been completed with the funds Mr. Okorocha is spending on those being expanded by his administration.
“I am in a position to know that the funds you are currently channeling 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,” the letter stated.
On the Eke-Ukwu Owerri Market, which the Okorocha administration has slated for relocation, Mr. Ohakim advised that it should be left alone, as proceeding with the relocation would have grave grave economic and social outcomes. Rather than relocate the market, Mr. Ohakim advised Mr. Okorocha to relocate Ama Hausa along Douglas Road.
The space occupied by the market, he argued, has become too small to accommodate the trader population and promotes lack of hygiene.
“I am of the view that Ama 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."
On Mr. Okorocha himself, Mr. Ohakim said the governor has been a poor advertisement for adherence to the rule of law, as he routinely disobeys court orders. This habit, Mr. Ohakim reasoned, is being copied by the people and has made the State into a lawless enclave and provoked a slew of lawsuits, notably filed by contractors, on account indifference to due process.
This, Mr. Ohakim explained, has cost the State up to N7 billion in judgment debts, a sum that could rise up to N50 billion, further dent the capacity of the government to fulfill its obligations and yoke future administrations with gargantuan indebtedness.
“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 favorable judgments that have left the State with a total judgment debt and garnishee proceedings in excess of N7 billion. 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,” reasoned Mr. Ohakim.
Mr. Ohakim stated that he watched a recent video showing Mr. Okorocha’s encounter with artisans at the Orji Mechanic Village. The artisans, he said, regrettably, were rude to the governor. However, Mr. Okorocha’s response to their rudeness, added Mr. Ohakim, was less than dignified.
He advised Mr. Okorocha to relook the economy of the State with a view to seeing how it could be revitalized.
One of the ways he recommended to his successor is a focus on revenue-yielding, employment-creating capital projects, for which he should ensure that contractors are faithfully paid to enable them pay their workers and sub-contractors so that money can circulate. He also advised that he should discontinue further demolition of properties and road expansion projects in the older section of Owerri.