By T.O. Ejiofor
All things being equal; by 29l1 May 2019, the Rescue Mission Government of Owelle Rochas Okorocha will vacate the seat of power at the Douglas House Owerri. The administration will thereafter go down the history as the second regime, after Chief Udenwa, which has ruled the state for two terms of an unbroken period of eight years. However while the administration lasts, there have been floods of contentious arguments and debates among the citizens of the state in favour and against the performance of this regime especially through the print and electronic media. Even within the ordinary gatherings of people around newspaper stands, market places., drinking and eatery spots, village and community meetings these arguments and debates usually take centre stage in most discussions, in some cases, the arguments and debates have become so hot that some die-hards on either side would be willing to stake anything in trying to win the other party.
Inasmuch as many nave undertaken to compile an account of the achievements of different administrations in the state; “it seems good for me having witnessed ‘events and developments right from the civilian governments of late Chief Sam Mbakwe to this regime of Owelle Rochas Okorocha, to present a fair and objective view over some burning issues from a vantage position. Although my position here may not be a popular one but I have deliberately chosen to toe this path in order to bring the two sides of the divide closer so that they can reason together. This is needful, so as to narrow the widening gap of ill-feelings between citizens, who ordinarily should relate as one irrespective of how the issues may be boiling in the hearts, let us embrace the wise saying that it is better to wait till the end of a man’s life before we can judge accurately whether he lived well or not. It is only when the tenure of this administration comes to an end by 29th May 2019 that anyone can judge its performance. By then books of records would be opened both documented and oral. Resources at its disposal comprising internally generated revenue and federal allocations received within the period in power would be summed up and matched with expenditures. Then comparisons would be made with records of previous administrations before arriving at an unbiased conclusion of its performance.For purposes of clarity, critical areas that bring about even and rapid development in the state are going to be highlighted.
1. INFRASTRUCTURE. FACILITIES: This comprises of a number of sectors but focus here would be on roads where this regime has scored itself very high. There is no doubt that Owelle’s government has opened up new roads especially in Owerri capital territory than previous governments of Udenwa and Ohakim. BUT the truth remains that a good number of these road projects are very poorly executed and falls far below standards thereby giving rise to derogatory term like “China roads7′ used in describing them. Indeed, reasonable portions of these roads have collapsed even while construction work were still going on leading to so many patches, resurfacing, reconstructions and amendments which are avoidable wastes of public funds if the right things were done at the onset. One thing that has remained like a puzzle is the failure of the government to disclose the names of the contractors so as to enable the public know who to hold responsible for collecting public money to do such very shoddy job. Many people in the state are of the opinion that there were no proper planning for these jobs like feasibility studies reports, engineering designs, specifications and bills of quantities which are important contractual documents for successful execution of road projects. Doubts and concerns have been expressed over the way and manner government is going about the execution of these jobs. There have been questions raised like; were these jobs captured in any budget? Did they pass through the State House of Assembly for scrutiny before awards? Has the House of Assembly been exercising its oversight functions during execution? Was Due Process followed in the award of contracts for the road projects? In view of the circumstances surrounding the whole projects, the government would be facing a difficult task trying to convince majority of well educated and enlightened citizens of the state on its sincerity and seriousness in the development of the state. In this respect, how can this government justify its reasons for abandoning work on many road projects it started at various levels of completion and dabbled into other gigantic projects using contractors who lack the technical know-how? Again, another issue which many concerned people of the state are finding difficult to reconcile is the reason behind the destruction and demolition of some projects executed by this very government within the past two or three years without recourse to the amount of public money expended to execute them. In this respect, projects that easily come to mind include the art work at Orlu road junction, Okigwe road round-about, perimeter fence at Akwakuma Girls Secondary School, primary school Amakohia near fly-over bridge, Imo International Conference Centre, government house chapel/lmo micro-finance bank just to mention but a few. There are doubts on the capacity of this government to complete these numerous road projects using the same inexperienced contractors who execute poor quality jobs despite repeated assurances from the Governor himself and his spokespersons. These fears and doubts are somehow justified considering the deplorable conditions of some of these roads at various stages while the government has embarked on another ambitious urban renewal programme. With the situation on ground now, the question in the lips of members of the public is: when will the projects like Chukwuma Nwoha road, double lane from Owerri to Orlu and many rural roads in the 27 local government areas be completed? Due to the poor quality of the jobs, government has spent and is still spending huge amounts of public funds on repairs, re-surfacing and reconstruction within a very short period of their completion. Does this not amount to fragrant waste of tax payers’ money?
2. NEW HOSPITAL PROJECTS. The construction of 27 new general hospital buildings, one in each of the local government is indeed a bold step by the Rescue Mission Government of Owelle aimed at bringing quality healthcare services closer to the people. BUT, two years remaining for this administration to relinquish power, a good number of these buildings have not even been completed before talking of providing necessary equipment and recruitment of medical personnel for the hospitals prompting the feelings amongst most citizens of the state that this may end up as a white elephant project. Obviously, it will take a very huge amount of money to. complete the whole 27 buildings, provide necessary equipment and recruit qualified medical personnel in other to make the hospitals functional which the state cannot afford due to other competing needs in the face of dwindling revenue. There Is this opinion that instead of embarking on the construction of these new buildings, government should have utilized the funds to renovate or rehabilitate existing hospitals and health centres, provide necessary equipment and employ more medical personnel, if these were done, many people living in rural areas would have preferred going there for their medical needs instead of travelling to urban centres.
3. FREE EDUCATION POLICY: This is one of the programmes of this Rescue Mission government which at its inception was greeted with great joy by the masses particularly people of very low income who could not afford to give their children basic education in the state. By extending the programme to accommodate undergraduates in the state owned higher institutions it offered a rare opportunity for many to actualize their dreams of university education. BUT, the scheme equally has some pitfalls. Before introducing the scheme, many are of the opinion that government should have taken pains to do a thorough ground work which would have saved the programme from so many hitches it is facing now. Consideration was not given to the anticipated increase in the school children enrolment, number of trained and qualified teachers, subject areas of teachers in secondary schools, available classroom blocks and their conditions. Except few schools in urban and semi urban centres which have received some attention, the situation in most schools in the rural areas are nothing to write home about. Even the construction of the so called 305 storey building classroom blocks did not address the needs of most schools as a good number of them are not in use. There is a reported case of only one physics teacher in the whole of a local government council in the state. Not only that the poor conditions of most classroom blocks in the rural and lack of necessary teaching aids will dampen the morale of the teachers, the painful experiences of the retired ones will definitely discourage them from putting in their best. Besides, the deplorable condition of most rural roads leading to many communities in the state will make any teacher who knows his/her worth to decline posting to these areas.
4 COMMUNITY GOVERNMENT COUNCIL, (CGC). When this idea of 4th tier government was introduced in the state, it was greeted with a loud ovation by a cross section of people who believed that it holds the magic band required to transform our rural communities yearning for development. BUT today the whole euphoria that came with CGC which almost caused the tearing apart of many communities has vanished and no one is talking about it in the state. All the energy and other resources that have gone into it have became a waste. As if that is not enough, the same government is trying to float another level of government almost similar to the failed one known as State Development Council (SDC). How far this one can go before falling into oblivion like the first remains only with this government.
5 URBAN RE-NEWAL PROGRAMME: Indeed, Owerri is wearing a new face as a result of this bogus and ambitious project embarked upon by this government in recent time. Of particular notice are Akwakuma – Amakohia road, Okigwe – Assumpta Avenue, Egbu road, new road joining the two fly-over bridges at Orji and Amakohia, MCC- Urrata road as well as Mbari Street where massive expansion work is going on. BUT, in the execution of this programme, a number of projects previously carried out by this government, including others done by previous governments as well as properties belonging to individuals and co-operate organisations have been destroyed. Again, what many have noticed in the way and manner this urban renewal is carried out seems to be a grand design to wipe off completely legacies of previous administrations in the state without offering a better alternative. If not, how does one reconcile the rationale for the removal of very solid precast concrete demarcations along Orlu road and replacing them with hollow blocks covered with weak concrete mixture which began to wear away after first rainfall on it. Take another instance of constructing a market in a flood prone area near Akwakuma – Orlu road which has caused a serious devastation of a portion the road. The unplanned emergency amendments and reconstruction going on in the area now would have been an avoidable waste of public funds if government had engaged qualified professionals and the job executed by a reputable engineering construction company.
Looking at the whole idea of urban re-newel, one had thought that it should have been one of the cardinal agenda of this government immediately it came to power. With it, there would have proper planning to determine the roads that would be affected, the scope of work; and several meetings held with individuals/business organisations whose properties are likely to be affected and compensations no matter how little to reduce their pains, losses and inconveniencies mapped out. In the absence of these, the whole programme looks like an afterthought aimed at covering up many deficiencies and divert people’s attention away from real issues. What this government has failed to explain is the reason for abandoning work on the tunnel meant to pass under the bridge across Otamiri Stream near Assumpta Cathederal after resources were wasted in extensive excavations and earthwork in the area. One may also wish to know why iron posts and cross bars are mounted on the so called In-land roads which prevent some categories of vehicles passing through them. This was not the case in any of the roads constructed by previous governments in the state. While majority of people in the state may still be expecting better quality roads that would stand the test of time, they may be disappointed as this government would most likely be spending the remaining period left reconstructing, amending, patching and resurfacing all the poor jobs done in other to keep the roads manageable until its tenure expires. These massive pillars and iron bars being introduced along major roads in Owerri may replace the chromium-coated iron pipes supporting the solar powered streets lights which are procured with public funds at high costs. Before the end of its tenure; this government will most likely come up with other innovations to replace some existing structures erected by it just to make the regime unique. It is therefore my candid opinion that public verdict on the performance of Owelle Rochas Okorocha administration should be reserved until it is out of power come 29th May, 2019.