Imo State governor, Senator Hope Uzodinma is not oblivious to the fact that 2024 gubernatorial election in the state will be hotly contested with unprecedented number of opposition elements unrelenting in their quest to unseat his government which is popularly believed to be a construct of the Supreme Court of Nigeria. Given his brittle popularity and opposition across the state, Hope Uzodinma has undoubtedly committed to driving populist policies that he hopes will be the magic wand needed to engender goodwill and acceptability within Imo electoral space.
In furtherance of this position, Imo State government has in the last few days been the focus of many discussions as Governor Uzodinma recently assented to an important government-sponsored legislation repealing legally backed benefits for former Imo State governors and their deputies and Imo State House of Assembly Speakers and their deputies. In the past, these former state officials had received benefits running into millions of Naira annually under the Governors and Speakers’ Pensions and Privileges Law No 5 of 2007 put in place by Governor Achike Udenwa led administration. This new Law essentially prohibits these former state functionaries from receiving pensions and other entitlements after their tenures have elapsed, and after they have received millions of Naira in severance allowance on expiration of their tenures.
For any supporter of Hope Uzodinma, this is a populist policy and may be perceived as a strategic win for the ruling party, the All Progressives Congress, (APC). The reviews on social and conventional media have been mixed. Many have applauded this initiative, while others have, for the sake of caution, adopted a watch and wait attitude as every tenure is evolutionary and one sound policy position is insufficient to objectively appraise the governor’s overall performance.
As an avowed critic of historic failures in leadership and governance, it is difficult to accept any government policy at face value without exploring inherent motives, especially for past governments that have reputation for being unreliable, with large proportion of consistently inconsistent House of Assembly members queuing behind the governor as “oh yes” pseudo cabinet members. The current Imo State government is also generally believed to have been built on unpopular, fractured legal foundation which makes ongoing scrutiny, at a minimum, a moral necessity.
Generally, no one can argue the altruistic nature of this policy position now backed by legislation, but what one can readily argue is the integrity of the intent and whether the governor could move to repeal the Act in 2024 if he envisages electoral defeat. One would hope the governor is genuine and committed to ensuring that any unscrupulous legislation is repealed in the interest of many, not only the elitist few. But history has thought us not to trust our governments as most of our past leaders have been historically self-serving, full of rhetoric with appraisals of key performance indicators rife on sponsored billboards and other media. A recent example was the promise made by former Governor Rochas Okorocha upon assumption of office in 2011 that he would forfeit his N4 billion annual security vote with the accrual committed to widespread infrastructure development and capacity building.
Ultimately and quite unfortunately, Okorocha’s government became one of the greatest scams visited on Imo people in recent memory. A number of infrastructure initiatives by his government were executed using high interest loans taken on behalf of Imo taxpayers and posterity while he pocketed all his security votes for the 8 years that he held sway.
Okorocha has come and gone but his legacy has become a historic point of reference when discussing monumental failures in prudent leadership and governance.
The decision to repeal this piece of legislation is courageous, contemporary and overdue.
This is not about party politics but about the betterment of Imo State for the present generation and those unborn. It is opprobrious to note that two of the beneficiaries of this largesse-laden legislation have gone on to serve in other national capacities, including as federal minister and current senator respectively, which are positions that, on their own, attract monumental benefits and entitlements. For emphasis, there is no moral justification for former Governor Rochas Okorocha to be receiving millions of Naira in pension, cars and other largesse from Imo State government while simultaneously receiving billions of Naira annually from the federal coffers as a serving senator. This should be the same for former Governor Achike Udenwa who became a federal minister after serving as Imo State governor. No one can morally justify any frivolous expenditure in a state where youth unemployment is estimated to be nearing 38% which is almost double the national average of 19.58%. In Imo, millions live under the international poverty line of US$1.90 a day, with workers’ salaries and pensioners entitlements not paid when due for lack of funds and these competing priorities.
Imo people have over the last 20 years demonstrated electoral consciousness and many are vigilant and will remain so throughout the tenure of Governor Uzodinma. The governor must rise up to the significance of his name to convince Imo people that he has the vision to restore and renew hope. While repealing this legislation is a step in the right direction, a lot more would need to be done by Governor Uzodinma to convince Imo electorate that he deserves a second chance at the People’s House. Not heeding to the call to genuinely and selflessly serve Imo people will be the governor’s greatest strategic misjudgement. This is a time for the governor to build tactical alliances and his best allies moving forward should be ordinary Imo electorate.
If I were advising the governor, I would encourage him to streamline his government, repudiate inefficiency and have around him lieutenants that can generate leadership capital.
He should leverage on the abundant human resources at home and the diaspora to move Imo forward. He should as a matter of urgency ensure ordinary Imo workers and pensioners are paid their salaries and entitlements regularly. The focus of Governor Uzodinma in the coming years should be on prudent management of our collective resources. He needs policies to reinvigorate the state’s internally generated revenue base, explore and close permanently all bureaucratic loopholes used to siphon Imo commonwealth, build trust and goodwill among Imo people, and pursue populist but measured policies that are based on credible evidence; invest in agriculture, drive growth of infrastructure projects, including primary health and education; enhance the state’s security architecture and create greater economic opportunities for Imo people.
Any failure in delivering good governance based on sound leadership, prudent financial management, tolerance of divergent views, equity and justice for all will backfire with deleterious consequences at the polls come 2024. Dr Pedus Eweama is an Australian based medical practitioner, social & political commentator of Imo extraction.