By Jerry Chukwueke
Imo state governor, His Excellency, Senator Hope Uzodimma, is the chairman of both the Progressive Governors Forum and the Southeast Governors Forum. Those who were privy to his emergence in the two groups in May 2023 attest to the fact that it was effortless and seamless. It was even said that his colleagues were jostling over who would first nominate him for the positions. The reason was (is) simple. Senator Hope Uzodimma exudes sheer charisma, charm and warmth.
The two offices require no specific qualifications outside just being a governor but Uzodimma’s colleagues knew that he has something beyond what every one of them has.
Since Uzodimma’s emergence on the nation’s political landscape in June 2011, many keen observers have not failed to wonder how it took his people – the people of the Southeast – so long to discover such a hidden treasure. To be sure, Southeast, if you like Igboland, has an array of brilliant politicians but what stood Uzodimma aside was that he came to Nigeria senate exuding an aura of confidence and a grasp of issues never known of new comers. Minus his earlier exposure as governorship aspirant and candidate in his home state, Uzodimma was essentially a private-sector operator.
As a matter of fact, one major issue raised by his key opponents during the 2011 general elections was that he was bereft of public service experience needed to represent his people at the hallowed chambers of the senate. Uzodimma not only shamed his critics but he also went ahead to prove that he was a rare gift to the rest of the country, not just from his people in Imo West but also the entire Southeast.
Signs that Senator Uzodimma was going to introduce a new vista into Nigeria’s politics were seen when he emerged as the chairman of the senate standing committee on aviation even as a new comer. That was a clear feat as such committees were usually reserved either for ranking legislators or those who had had an earlier exposure in the relevant sector in their career.
As is well known, it was during his tenure as chairman of that committee that the nation embarked on far reaching reforms in the aviation sector, prominent among which was the transformation of some of the leading airports in the country including the two in the Southeast – the Sam Mbakwe International Cargo Airport, Owerri and the then Enugu airport, now the Akanu Ibiam International airport.
In his eight years in the senate, Uzodimma sponsored over twenty motions and bills but perhaps the most significant – for the purpose of this article at least– were those that had to do directly with the well being of the people of the Southeast. One was the motion calling for the acceleration of work on the second Niger Bridge and the rehabilitation of the older bridge, in the interim, to make life easier for his people who were subjected to untold hardship as a result of the dilapidated state of the first bridge built in 1963.
That motion awakened the executive arm of government which moved in with greater alacrity. The other was a bill to establish an Erosion Control and Prevention Commission which Uzodimma sponsored essentially with the Southeast in mind. While leading the debate on the floor of the senate on August 12 2015, Senator Uzodimma was emphatic that the issue of erosion was “more catastrophic in the Southeast”.
But certainly the real discovery of Goodhope Odidika Uzodimma, the son of Michael and Rose Uzodimma, took place on January 14, 2020, the day the Supreme Court of Nigeria restored his mandate as the winner of the March 9, Imo state governorship election. The story is, of course, too well known to be retold here but what no one can be tired of saying is that Uzodimma as governor has succeeded in telling the rest of the country that an Igboman has the capacity to provide good leadership even in the face of the most debilitating or provocative circumstances.
The steadfastness and resilience with which Governor Uzodimma confronted the security situation in Imo state – taking that as an example – is a lesson which ought to be learnt off by heart by anyone who aspires to a position of leadership whether at the national or sub-national level.
Again, the story is too well known to be repeated here but what must not be glossed over is that the contrived insecurity in the state was quite capable of halting even the most modicum of development. Even though those who vowed to make the state “ungovernable” knew they had no such capacity in the real sense of it, they did all they could to make the state physically uninhabitable. Again, realizing that that was not possible, they shifted their target to distracting the governor to the extent that he would not have the time and resources to carry out his assignment. Of course, not many knew what the governor was going through since the details of security breaches and those involved are usually guarded. Even when things got to a point when Governor Uzodimma promised the people to name names, he was constrained by the fact that such disclosures are the prerogatives of the security agencies.
Even so, the conspirators got what they never expected from Governor Uzodimma. For, against their expectations to smoke him out for a fight, at the detriment of governance, he refused to be distracted and even accommodated elements amongst them who, seeing the futility of their antics, at a point gave up. The point being made here is that it was Governor Uzodimma’s God-given attributes as tolerant, accommodating and slow to anger that saved Imo state from erupting into a conflagration as intended and planned by those who lost to him in the power game.
In my view, the Uzodimma experience should be a subject of further inquiry for political scientists. Needless to say, what the rest of Nigeria went ahead to witness in Imo state in the first four years under Senator Uzodimma is a study in resilience and uncommon passion to serve. As it is today, there is a compelling new narrative taking shape under Governor Uzodimma, evidenced in the increased investment in education, healthcare and infrastructural facilities in the past four years.
Governor Uzodimma’s educational reform emphasizes the need for skill acquisition in order to tackle the problem of youth unemployment. Hence, the inauguration of the Skill-up Imo project which is specifically designed to provide free training and support for hundreds of youths for either productive employment or self employment.
Part of this strategy also involved the creation of a full-fledged ministry of job creation and employment as well as the ministry of digital economy; making Imo the only state to do so in the federation. This is with a view to introducing a digital economic blue print to enhance development in accordance with global best practices.
Other epoch-making strides in the education sector under the administration include the recovery of the Kingsley Ozumba Mbadiwe University, Ideato, the establishment of the University of Agriculture and Environmental Sciences, Umuagwo and a brand new Imo State Polytechnic at Omuma.
On health, Governor Uzodimma embarked on the construction of 305 primary health centres across all the electoral wards in the state. The administration secured the approval from the Nursing and Midwifery Council of Nigeria, to reopen various government-owned schools of Nursing and Midwifery in Owerri, Awo-Ommama and Aboh Mbaise.
Perhaps the most remarkable achievement in the health sector was the re-accreditation of the Imo State University Teaching Hospital College of Medicine and which enabled the college to graduate three batches of medical students some of who had spent over eleven years in the medical school. Also within the period under review, the Federal Medical Centre, Owerri was upgraded to the enviable status of a Teaching Hospital.
In just four years, the Shared Prosperity administration of Governor Hope Uzodimma embarked on the construction of over seventy roads, majority of which have been completed.
But by far the most spectacular is the reconstruction and dualisation of the 36-kilometer Owerri-Orlu road and the reconstruction of the Owerri-Okigwe road measuring 59 kilometers and cutting across seven local government areas.
Until just two years ago, a journey from Owerri to Orlu or vice versa took up to two hours as a result of the deplorable state of the road. Today, the same journey could be done in just twenty minutes. Ditto for Owerri to Okigwe which can now be done in less than thirty minutes as against upwards of two hours hitherto.
Other major milestones recorded in the area of infrastructure include the reconstruction and commissioning of the Imo State House of Assembly Complex which was abandoned for more than eight years; the recovery of the landscape across Trans-Egbu Housing Estate and Dick Tiger road from perennial flooding using the balloon-driven technology.
For several years, residents of that area had abandoned their homes because of flooding until the 3R administration came to their rescue. There was also the rehabilitation and dualisation of MCC road which had been in a state of disrepair for several years and the tarring of the road linking Toronto junction in Uratta, in the Owerri North local government area, to the popular Road Safety junction in Egbu, also in the Owerri North local government area.
Physical infrastructure alone, experts say, does not amount to good governance. Over seventy per cent of good governance, they say, is derived from the intangible, that is, those things that cannot be seen or touched. In other words, a government can pave the streets and roads with gold and still stands accused of bad governance. Good governance also essentially includes the ability of the governor to control his emotions, to empathize and generally bring human face into governance. In the area of intangible, Governor Uzodimma also scored very highly.
Mention has earlier been made of his uncommon capacity for tolerance even in the face of extreme provocation. Beyond that, however, is that Governor Uzodimma, even while confronted with a very hostile opposition and a debilitating scourge of insecurity, was able to maintain political stability and harmony in the state. Perhaps the biggest evidence of this in that contrary to the negative prognosis of book makers, the recently held governorship election was almost effortless, to the extent that for the first time in the history of elections in the state and even elsewhere, the governor won quite overwhelmingly in all the twenty seven local government areas of the state. Already, it is being said in some circles that such a superlative performance is deserving of scholarly inquiry but for those who have been familiar with the Imo political terrain in the last four years, the contributory factors are not farfetched; chief of which is that Governor Uzodimma created an atmosphere where every section or part of the state now has a sense of belonging, quite unlike before.
Take the Imo Charter of Equity which seeks to ensure that key elective offices, particularly that of the governor, are not monopolized by one section of the state. The issue is not new but for the first time in the history of the state, Governor Uzodimma entered a covenant with the people to ensure that not only will power move to another zone after his tenure in 2027 but that also the people are encouraged the uphold the Charter thereafter.
As far of the Imo collective is concerned, nothing could be more reassuring because it is the careless attitude to power sharing by some critical stakeholders that is responsible for the perennial political and social disharmony in the state. When Imolites describe Hope Uzodimma as the “Peoples Governor”, it is not just because he has built physical infrastructure but essentially because they have come to realize that he has a genuine concern about their wellbeing even beyond his own tenure.
Until barely one year ago, not many people knew that the Southeast has a direct link to the Atlantic Ocean through the Orashi river in Imo state. But on October 21, 2022, the federal government flagged off a project for the dredging of the hitherto cancelled and underdeveloped water ways into the Atlantic Ocean under the initiative of the Uzodimma administration. This is a watershed in the development of the Southeast which, through both ignorance and mischief, had been branded as landlocked.
Apart from the Orashi river, there are at least two other major rivers in the Southeast that have direct access to the Atlantic Ocean. With the pioneering efforts under the Orashi river project, the potentials of the maritime industry in the Southeast will be unlocked. In particular, it will give residents of the zone, especially traders, access to the sea through the dredged water ways. Apart from trading, the Orashi river dredging project will encourage gas optimization in the Southeast as it will make the zone suitable for gas industrial clusters, petrochemical plants as well as fertilizer plants.
To be sure, each of the governors of the Southeast has a good idea of what to do to develop his state. Elsewhere in Awka, Umuahia, Abakaliki and Enugu, each of the state governors and their governments are articulating strategies for transforming their respective states. But that is not enough and that is where synergy comes in. And that is where the happenstance of Governor Uzodima’s headship of the Southeast Governors Forum confers on the region a huge profit.
Under Uzodimma’s leadership, the governors have, more than ever before, seen the need to work together. Critics of the Southeast, both within and outside, had before now berated the governors for trying to go solo in handling some of the challenges facing the zone; more so in the area of insecurity. It was not uncommon to hear or read things like, “Anambra is not Imo” from those who should be calling for a singleness of purpose. That attitude has changed under the leadership of Governor Uzodimma; and to bear testimony to this is no better a person than the Director-General of the South East Governor Forum, Senator Uche Ekwunife.
While addressing the media after a meeting of the forum last August, Ekwunife had commended Governor Uzodimma for providing good leadership for the forum. Said Ekwunife: “From what we have witnessed so far, the SEGF under the chairmanship of Senator Hope Uzodimma will signal a steep-change in the socio-economic fortunes of the Southeast. He is a man of ideas, courage and team work.” Is there anymore to add; perhaps except to say: “For Uzodimma, the People’s Governor, It Is Yet Morning On Creation Day.”
*Jerry Chukwueke wrote in from Owerri