STATE OF IMO STATE ADDRESS TO IMO STAKEHOLDERS BY GOVERNOR HOPE UZODINMA, ON DEMOCRACY DAY CELEBRATION FRIDAY JUNE 12, 2020, OWERRI, IMO STATE.
My esteemed great leaders of Imo State, I greet you all on this very glorious occasion of the celebration of Democracy Day in Nigeria. This being the very first Democracy Day to be observed on June 12, I find it apt and necessary to cast our minds, just a little bit backwards, to the very origins of this important event.
You will recall that in the rational desire to commemorate the great historical watershed of a return to democracy on May 29, 1999, President Olusegun Obasanjo declared May 29 democracy day. This was understandable. That day finally hammered the death nail on military rule in Nigeria. Against this backdrop the significance of the declaration was welcomed by many Nigerians. In practical terms, May 29 marked the end to impunity by force of arms, the triumph of the rule of law over capricious decision making. It boldly announced the collective resolve of our people to say, no, never again, to military despotism. Yes, it reflected all of that. But something was still amiss.
Years earlier in 1993, the people of Nigeria had demonstrated their noble yearning to shake off the chains of military rule. This occurred in the presidential polls of a transition programme to civilian rule, instituted by the military regime of the day.
All over Nigeria, the people-went to the polls; there was no report of fighting or threats to public peace anywhere in the land. Furthermore, there was not a drop of rain, throughout the length and breadth of Nigeria on that day of June the 12th. One could claim, therefore, that the election had the blessing of Man and Heaven.
But lo and behold, while the votes were still being counted and a front runner was clearly emerging, the military junta of the day, for reasons that have never been clearly expressed up till this day, annulled the elections.
After all the controversy, the blood, the smoke and tears generated by that inexplicable action, the Nigerian military officially beat a dignified retreat from politics back to barracks on May 29th 1999. But the acute importance of June 12th 1993, could not be shoved aside, just like that.
The supreme will of the Nigerian people in making their choices that day without an iota of rancour, foreshadowed the promise of a great democratic tradition, which successive administrations have sought to recapture.
Consequently, when President Buhari put pen to paper last year, for the recognition of June 12 as a true embodiment of the ethos of democracy than May 29, he healed a gaping sore on the conscience of the nation. Because, the annulment of that presidential election was a rape of the people’s will and an abortion to boost of their hopes for democratic rule in Nigeria.
I believe that President Muhammadu Buhari deserves commendation for his courage and foresight in rightly legalizing June 12 as the official democracy day celebration for the country. I doubt that without the travails and struggles of June 12 the final retreat of the military to the barracks on May 29th would have been actualized. Yes, May 29th was only the end product of the historic and heroic struggles of June 12 and therefore cannot overshadow what gave rise to it. Doing so will actually amount to celebrating the golden egg instead of the goose that laid the egg.
In my well considered view therefore, President Buhari is the hero of the Third Republic because he straightened the records of history and put it back in the right perspective. By so doing he has saved generations unborn from the danger of loosing sight of history, which often is the bane of our nation. In many years to come, when we would have all gone, the unborn generation will through the celebration of June 12, immediately grasp the import of the day. The historic lessons therefrom will never be lost on them. This, in a nutshell is what President Buhari has achieved. It is the historic legacy he is leaving behind and its salutary import should never be lost on us.
I invite you therefore to join me in paying tribute to all true democrats who believe in the rule of law and the supremacy of the will of the people over and above the will of individuals, however rich and influential they may be.
June 12 is your day! It is the day of Nigerian voter. It is the day that assures us that no force on earth, nor intensity of capricious manipulation, can torpedo the collective will of the people. But that is for as long as we remain resolutely vigilant in defending our votes. Join me also in thanking God for the initiative that He gave to man, this great idea; that a people may be ruled only by their consent in a free and fair election. That through such free exercise of will, the people can be represented in decision making by people of their choice, not charlatans imposed on them by a corrupt manipulative process.
This is the only characteristic, by which democracy may be labelled the government of the people, by the people and for the people. Any other standard, is a sham. To paraphrase a popular advert slogan, if it is not democratic then it cannot be democracy!
At this point, I wish to take advantage of this auspicious gathering to let you into my own thoughts on democracy. I refer to my three books on the subject matter namely (i) Giant strides of a Democratic Soldier Vol one, (2) Giant Strides of a Democratic Soldier Vol. Two, (3), and Contemporary Essays on Building and National Integration.
The books shall be made available to you before the close of this occasion. I believe you will find them quite thought provoking.
And why is democracy so important? Because it is the only system of government that guarantees accountability. What will governance amount to without Accountability and transparency? It will surely be like the biblical salt which has lost its taste and will thus become tasteless and useless. Yes, democracy without Accountability and transparency is worthless.
It is in recognition of this most essential part of democracy that we are here gathered. As respected leaders in the state, I invited you all to update you on the activities of government since my assumption of office on January 15th this year. This is in fulfillment of my campaign promise to give a quarterly account of my stewardship to stakeholders by way of a state of Imo state address.
But for the COVID 19 pandemic this maiden stakeholders summit would have held earlier. Again because of the pandemic not all who are supposed to be here were invited. This is to ensure that the COVID 19 safety measures are strictly adhered at this meeting.
Having said that, let me state that this administration being a beneficiary of an irrepressible norm of democracy, that is, the rule of law; by which the manifest injustice that stole our mandate was righted at the highest court in the land, we are honour bound to walk the talk in defending democracy always.
Arising from that also, we have no apologies to make for protecting the interests of Imo people and using the legal and constitutional instruments at our disposal to safeguard the commonwealth, for us and our children and their own children too.
From the moment I took the oath of office to become governor of Imo State, every action taken by me has been guided by this ethic. That was why I did not cancel any of the public works contracts signed by the immediate government before mine. Not because I could not, as others had done before me, but because the very idea of democracy is that of continuum. “Soja go, soja come” as our people are fond of saying, “but barrack remain.”
In this wise, governments come and go, but the people remain. Consequently no responsible leader will toy with the interests of the people or remain aloof when their interests are at stake.
How best do we protect the interest of the people? Simple. It is by ensuring by ensuring that the few are not allowed to deprive the many of their patrimony. If and when that is allowed to prevail then what we have is Aristocracy; government of a few by a few for the few. Other people will rather see this democratic aberration as Familocracy; government of a family by family members and for the family members and their cronies. Whichever one you prefer amounts to one and the same: A government that benefits a few people alone; an aberration!
In my view, that is the antithesis of democracy, which is government of the people for the people by the people. The difference between this two types of government was not lost on me when I assumed office.
Not surprisingly therefore my main consideration since assuming office has been my insistence that due process should guide the conduct of government in every material particular.
Before now, payment systems in government offices for wages and sundry public works have been mired in underhand practices. This is the origin of the so called ghost worker syndrome. But in actual fact there are no ghost workers, only criminals in high places, padding the wage bills of government departments, ministries and agencies to feather their own nests.
It was clear to me that if we allowed a few people to continue to pad the wage bills of government, and to divert tax deductions from workers to their private coffers, then it that we have endorsed the continuation of the cancerous syndrome of a few leaving on the commonwealth of the people, which has been the bane of our state for years.
I had no doubt that it was a herculean task to dismantle an age long cabal that had been feeding on a payroll fraud for years. I was equally aware that I could be misunderstood initially and worse still, that the opposition could catch in on it to blackmail and disparage me. But I was not daunted for one second.
No one fights a cabal and expects it to raise its hand in surrender. That is unthinkable. They have been fighting back in many ways than one. The opposition has gone into unholy marriage with them to label my administration with a legion of fabrications to incite the public against us. But I have remained unshaken because I know that light will always triumph over darkness. Because I have truth buckled around my waist and integrity for a breastplate, I fear neither conspiracy nor blackmail. It is only those who to equity with unclean hands that doubt their vindication by history. I am confident that sooner than later light will prevail over darkness and our people will appreciate the fact that not succumbing to doing business as usual was in the best interest of the majority and democracy.
I remained determined to do the right thing for the right reasons and for the benefit of the many. That right thing was, still is, stopping a gluttonous greedy few from institutionalizing Aristocracy and or Familocracy as the system of government in the state. Put differently, my mission was to restore true, undiluted, democracy. It is this backdrop that informed my determination to live by my oath of office; hence my insistence that in this modern internet age, government payments of any kind and volume must meet the standards of international best practices. With due diligence, we scrutinized the payments system and have been able to plug those loopholes, which criminally minded officials have hitherto exploited to siphon public funds.
Through this exercise, our administration has detected close to 3000 fraudulent payroll entries or ghost workers if you will. Hitherto the payroll manipulators would smuggle in as many names as they can into the payroll. But with my insistence on BVN, account number and phone numbers as well as tax IDs before salaries are paid, we have beat them to it.
I can also proudly announce to you that we have managed to save an average of N2billion every month from this exercise, reflecting plugged leakages in the Civil Service, the Public Service and the Pensions payrolls. This will increase as the months go by and heads of various ministries, departments and agencies imbibe the new culture of transparency and probity.
We have also established a digital template which ensures that all payments by government in and out of government must be automated. This is to ensure proper accountability.
Shocking revelations at an ongoing judicial inquiry, should be cause for worry to all Imo people. Government cannot be run as a family business or by a few people. Sadly, this is what has happened in the last ten years in Imo State.
To continue to allow a cabal of either politicians or civil servants to appropriate, for personal use, the wealth that belongs to everyone will make me an accomplice in the evil design to deny our people true democracy. This will bring ruin to our people. Let me say it loud and clear: I will not mortgage my conscience because, I want to bequeath a stolen inheritance to my children and generations yet unborn. I will not betray the true tenets of democracy just to receive a hasty applause. I will not betray Imo people for the interest of a few powerful people.
We empathize with our civil servants and pensioners whose salaries and benefits suffered undue delay because of the slow response of financial officers and heads of departments to the new payment protocols that we have introduced.
I am however very confident that sooner than later they will appreciate that the delays were inevitable, and in their interest also. Henceforth the payments system in the state will be in auto pilot. Every staff of government can now access his or her pay details just by logging in to the website of the government data centre from where they can print their pay slip, which details the salary management, including evidence of tax remittance.
Likewise the general public can equally log into the government website to obtain first hand information on government’s fiscal details such as budgets, contracts and other relevant information. Yes our fiscal regime is now on auto pilot and government business will no longer be shrouded in secrecy. That is democracy in action. That is accountability and transparency in bold display. In line with the new order of recovering what belongs to the many from a few, last month, I signed into law the bill repealing the huge pensions and gratuities paid to former governors, speakers of the State Assembly, and their deputies as well as former Honourable members.
So much has been said about the sheer audacity of that action. Expectedly some are quite happy with the development while some are not. Expectedly too, those happy are in good majority. I thank all those who have expressed their support and encouragement. For those who may not know, I am to benefit from the repealed pension bill when I leave the office. So if the repeal was targeted at anybody, I should be one of the targets. The truth is that the repeal is an economic instrument to avail the state more resources for development and not for vendetta. Besides the original bill was illegal and therefore undemocratic.
May I use this opportunity to assure all Imo people that, by the grace of the Almighty God, we shall not disappoint but continue to work for the best interests of the good people of Imo State. We shall continue to recover all Imo Peoples prosperity in the hands of a few. No amount of blackmail can deter us from this democratic assignment. Indeed the spirit of democracy is the driving force behind all our policy actions. The scrapping of consultants for the collection of government revenues was equally informed by that. So much money is lost to third parties because there is no objective way of knowing how much was collected and how much went to private pockets.
Besides, the entire revenue consultancy scheme lacked transparency and was merely politically motivated to provide easy payoff for political friends of those in power. Imo State cannot develop along that route. Instead, the state will continue to wallow in underachievement.
We have the resources to rebrand our state and position the Imo economy for a brighter future. All we have lacked are leaders with enough sense of history to think less of themselves but more for the collective good that can leave legacies that will outlive them, instead of the rabid desire for filthy inheritance for generations of their immediate families.
Without fear of any contradiction, I dare say that the defining difference between the present order and the ones that were in place in the last ten years or so is that we are determined not to do business as usual. We are determined to jettison the usual primitive desire to acquire estates upon estates even if it means sacking our entire village to grab their land.
We are determined to guarantee shared prosperity, wherein the wealth of the state shall be deployed to serve the interests of the people. This explains why our first step in road rehabilitation was to attack those roads and drains that can guarantee a flood free Owerri capital city.
Flooding in Owerri during the rainy season is better experienced than imagined. I remember vividly how horrifying the state capital can be each time it rains. The entire city comes to a standstill because of heavy flooding. Sometimes cars are swallowed in the flood. It was a nightmare to behold.
Such massive flooding of Owerri has indeed destroyed economic activities and rendered many homeless. Our shared prosperity agenda informs that we alleviate the economic hardships induced on the people by these flooding.
The first assignment was to get to the root cause of the flooding. From my needs assignment I discovered that the solution was in the dredging and maintenance of Lake Nwaebere identified to be responsible for almost 50percent of the massive flooding. The need for disilting of major drainage tunnels in the area was also identified.
These we have done. Today, to the glory of God, Owerri capital city is now flood free, even after the heaviest of rains. The nightmarish experience of the past wherein Okigwe Road, Bank Road, Wetheral Road, Tetlow and government house roundabout were always heavily flooded after the rains are now a thing of the past.
We have also done many other roads in this regard. They include MCC relief market road, Lake Nwaebere Road, Assumpta Umuguma Road, Assumpta Roundabout to Concorde Junction Road. In addition, work is in progress on many other roads in Owerri.
Some people refer to what happened at St. Joseph’s Catholic Church in Umunna Orlu Roundabout as a miracle. That roundabout linking Orlu main market to Nkwere, had been in a terrible state of dilapidation for years. It was a nightmare and death trap to motorists and residents alike. It took us less than a month to fix the road. Today traders commuting to and from Orlu market to Nkwere, Nwangele etc do so smoothly. Some of them think it is a miracle. You can’t blame them, afterall such an important economic link roundabout has been in very bad shape for years and no one cared. When the economic roads that allow our people to move their goods and services freely are fixed. It is a clear signpost of shared prosperity.
In the media industry, some people also see the incredible turn around we have done with the Statesman Newspapers as a miracle. When we came on board, the Newspaper was dead and at the point of burial. But through sheer determination and resilient doggedness, we have brought Statesman Newspapers back to life as a daily Newspaper. Our people all over the country and beyond now have the opportunity to get first hand information on the goings on in government and the State from the Statesman Newspapers.
It was the same shared prosperity philosophy that informed the immediate steps to rehabilitate the Otamiri water scheme and Adapalm.
I was moved by the pitiable sights of women and children ferrying water in jeerrcans, across the streets of Owerri, apparently fetched from the comfort zones of the privileged few who have boreholes in their homes. Those sights defined deprivation and want more lucidly than any dictionary can do. I had to take immediate steps to reactivate the Otamiri Water Scheme, abandoned since 1996. It is to the glory of God today and the joy of poor residents, that public water supply has been restored in Owerri capital city. It may not yet be uhuru but the fact remains public water supply has been restored in Owerri after more than 20 years. Because of burst and rust pipes as well as well as the substantial expansion of residential spaces in Owerri capital city, it may take a little while to ensure public water supply in every area, the fact remains that eventful journey of making portable water available to all, has started irreversibly.
In like manner resuscitation of Adapalm became a priority for my administration because of the great economic promise it holds. Today the oil mill is rolling again and now produces 100 metric tons of high quality red oil per day. That oil mill will soon be able to employ 35,000 workers in addition to the thousands of other informal jobs it will create along the distributive chain in the downstream economic sector.
My shared prosperity agenda is also behind the government’s decision to provide official cars to all permanent secretaries, something that has not happened in the last 15 years or more. It also informed our provision of staff buses for junior civil servants, just as it is the motivating force behind our acquisition of land for the building of low cost houses for Imo workers. In no distant time every worker in Imo state will have a roof over his head at affordable costs.
Our judicial officers are not left out in our shared prosperity agenda. We have provided all the judges in the state with official Prado Jeep SUVs.
My beloved leaders, let me say it as it really is: This administration, which I am the head, is passionate about the wellbeing of every Imo person. Our mission is to ensure that in the next three years the life of every single Imo son or daughter, including Children and Youths, including, the aged, is made better. We want to ensure that each is a beneficiary of a clear identifiable democracy dividend; road, power, or water supply, good health, quality education, employment (formal or informal), safety of life and property, or direct empowerment.
In essence, we want to drive home our shared prosperity agenda by ensuring that all the people are captured in the distribution of democracy dividends. That is the achievable and measurable goal we have set for our administration.
And talking of safety of lives and property, I make bold to tell you that we are more secure today than we were when I took over office. We have launched our security outfit tagged Operation Search and Flush (SAF). We have provided 100 Security Patrol Vehicles for a combined team of security agencies who make up the SAF outfit.
This has made it possible for the security agencies to patrol the state on a 24 hour basis. Each of the patrol vans is equipped with modern communication gadgets linked to a toll free call centre. In the event of any suspicious movement brought to the notice of the call centre, the nearest patrol vehicle to the scene will be contacted by the centre and within minutes the crime scene will be stormed. The general public is also expected to call the centre on the toll free number 112 for any useful information.
With these innovations on ground it is no surprise that crime rate in the state has significantly dropped. Let me use this auspicious occasion to reassure all Imo people that there is no threat of attack by Fulani herdsmen. Some mischief makers have been banding the rumour that Fulani herdsmen are hiding in the forests in the state waiting for an opportune time to attack our people. This is total falsehood, fabricated by the opposition. There is nobody in any forest. Most importantly we have a capable security outfit is equal to any challenge from either herdsmen or any invader for that matter.
We have equally taken proactive measures to safeguard the health of our people. In the face of the dreaded Coronavirus pandemic, we took immediate steps to prevent and control the spread of the virus in the state. We provided 30 ambulances, one for each LGA and three for the state capital. We also provided six well equipped isolation and treatment centres. Each of the ambulances is connected to the call centre. Any emergency development reported to the call centre is handled with dispatch.
We have not relented in carrying out aggressive public awareness campaigns on safety protocols for COVID 19. We have used all available medium, electronic and print media, social media and traditional media, to carry the message of safety measures to our people. It is to the glory of God that Imo state is one of the states with the lowest COVID 19 incidents.
Our health programme looks beyond COVID 19. We are looking at a comprehensive programme for the control and prevention of all infections viruses. To this end the government has concluded arrangements to establish a specialist hospital for control and prevention of infectious decreases.
Again because human worth matters to this administration, we could not afford to close our eyes to the long standing rot in the civil service secretariat. What we met on ground was a very messy situation. The 10 blocks housing the civil service secretariat were all leaking. The work environment was dirty and smelly. There was neither power nor water supply to the offices. It was indeed a mess.
The story is totally different today. The 10 blocks have all been re- roofed and being repainted. Water and Electricity supply have been restored to the blocks. Today the Civil Service Secretariat wears the dignified look of a complex where human beings carry out the serious business of working in the engine room of government.
The governor’s office I met was equally in a messy situation. The same goes for the governor’s lodge, the official residence of the governor. Through diligent and prudent management of scarce resources, my government has been able to renovate the governor’s office. Government business is now carried out from the official seat of government, no longer from a ramshackle Bush bar or from an open guest house. A remodeled governor’s lodge is almost completed. In a few weeks the state will have a worthy official lodge of the governor which our leaders will be proud to identify with.
I am glad to report to you that I should be able to increase the monthly internal revenue yield of Imo state to N5B in the next few years. I met an internal monthly revenue of N600M when I come on board. So far I have moved it 100 percent up to N1.2B. Be rest assured that I have worked out the framework to achieve the new monthly target of N5B without increasing taxes or introducing new ones. A combination of creative interventions and prudent warehousing of government receipts and inflows will do the magic.
Part of the bane of the revenue profile of government in the past was the unnecessary use of Consultants. Before I took over office there were so many Consultants in the internal revenue generation chain who were there to feed fat on the legitimate revenues due to the state in the name of Consultancy charges. My government has abolished all forms of Consultancy in the state so that every kobo belonging to the state will go straight into her IGR coffers, without passing through a middle man christened consultant.
My esteemed leaders, let me use this opportunity to assure you that we are working round the clock to enact a new Imo of shared prosperity anchored on my 3RS of Reconstruction Rehabilitation and Recovery. I foresee the dawn of a new Imo where the few can no longer oppress the many. An Imo that is based on equity and Justice. An Imo that provides a level playing ground for the majority to actualize their destiny.
In my view such level playing ground will be facilitated by providing affordable quality public education. Mindful of this my administration has facilitated the establishment of a new university of Agriculture and Environmental sciences at Umuagwo. A study carried out revealed that one University will not be able to provide sufficient learning facilities for the large number of potential undergraduates in the state. A second university therefore became necessary. I assure you that both the existing Imo State University Owerri and the new one at Umuagwo will be properly equipped to offer the best undergraduate courses in accord with international best practices.
Let me add, without any fear of contradiction that the end products of these institutions will be able to stand their ground anywhere in the globe.
Distinguished leaders of Imo state, let me assure you that this administration will never compromise accountability and transparency. Indeed my target is to position our state as the indisputable arsenal and bastion of democracy in the community of states in the country. I am sure that we are on course in this respect. It will not be out of place to say that we are setting the pace and that Imo State today is the Arsenal and the bastion of shared prosperity democracy in the country, to the glory of God.
To this end our annual budgets and all fiscal transactions are now available in the official website of the government. You as leaders and everyone else can access the site for any information you need or for any questions on areas you are not quite clear about.
In like manner I have directed the Ministry of Information and Strategy to regularly post relevant government information or activities to your personal emails or WhatsApp so that you can be always upto date with happenings in government.
My beloved Imo leaders, once again I thank you for making out time to be in this meeting. I want you to go home with one clear message: Imo, our Imo state, is in safe hands. And we are marching on unstoppably to the next level of complete automation of government business.
When I am done with my present assignment I want to look back with satisfaction that I left a worthy legacy of honest service to the people that changed their lives. I want to look back and beat my chest and say that generations unborn will salute a unique leadership vision that put Imo state on the path of irreversible economic growth and development. Above all I will want to kneel down and thank God for finding me worthy to be used as an instrument that changed Imo state for good.
Thank you for your time. Thank you for buying into the new Imo of shared prosperity
May God continue to bless all of us.
Sen. Hope Uzodimma
Owerri, June 12 2020