By Collins Ughalaa, KSC
On Sunday, August 30th, 2020, the Ohaji-Egbema and Oguta Socioeconomic Development Initiative, led by the astute leader and former Inspector General of Police, Sir Mike Okiro, organized a civic reception in honour of all the appointees of the Governor, Distinguished Senator Hope Uzodimma, from the two sister local governments. The reception was graced by almost all the appointees, including the undisputed apex leader of the oil-producing areas of the state and the Special Adviser/Coordinator for Petroleum and Gas Matters to the Governor, Rt. Hon. Goodluck Nanah Opiah. Almost all the traditional rulers of the two oil-producing local governments were in attendance as well. Of course, topnotch politicians from the area graced the occasion, in solidarity to their Leader.
Expectedly, the issue of the detained staff of the Imo State Oil Producing Areas Development Commission (ISOPADEC) came up for deliberation. First, the traditional rulers raised the issue. To them, attacking the convoy of the Governor was an anathema, something unheard of, and something that the youths of Oguta and Ohaji-Egbema LGAs should not be associated with. According to the traditional ruler of Osemoto, HRH Eze Frankline Okafor, attacking the Governor’s convoy was reprehensible. By the way, Eze Frankline Okeafor is the Chairman, Oguta LGA Council of Traditional Rulers, and he spoke on behalf of the traditional rulers. He noted that there was no justification for the attack on the Governor’s convoy, whatsoever. Of course, the traditional rulers appealed to Opiah to appeal to the Governor to tamper justice with mercy. They pointed out that it is customary in Igbo land, that when a father disciplines his child with the left hand, he brings him back afterwards with the right hand.
As striking as what the traditional rulers said could be, what the retired Inspector General of Police and leader of the group, Sir Mike Okoro, said was more striking. Recalling the sordid ordeal, the retired IGP wondered why armed non staffers of ISOPADEC could join a protest organised by the workers. He added that it was worrisome how the protest turned violent, saying that the attack on the Governor’s convoy was unjustifiable, and does not reflect the attitude of the people of the oil producing communities.
The retired IGP made another eye popping poser. Recalling that during the eight years administration of former Governor Rochas Okorocha, youths from the oil producing areas were reportedly used as thugs to wreck havoc in Owerri as agents of then Imo State Environmental Transfortation Commission (ENTRACO), harassing hawkers and traders in Owerri, and how they were as well reportedly used to disrupt the National Convention of the All Progressives Congress (APC) in Abuja in 2018, molesting a former Deputy Governor and other top members of the APC in Imo State in the full glare of the public, Okiro wondered whether there were no youths in Ogboko, Orlu and elsewhere, that could have been used as thugs.
If you were conversant with stories from Imo State, you could recall the sordid episode that led to the demolition of Ekeukwu Owerri, leading to the death of the 10 years old young Somtochukwu in 2017. To the chagrin of the leaders of the area, the youths from the oil producing area were reportedly unleashed on the streets against hapless Imo people, most of them were innocent people seeking their daily bread. In no time, the name of Ohaji-Egbema and Oguta local government areas became tainted as many saw the oil producing area as militants and government’s thugs. Okiro added that the attack on the convoy of the Governor was a fallout, hangover of the eight years of the Okorocha era.
Okiro’s introspection opens the vista of a new discourse on the matter. Without sounding indifferent, is it commendable, fashionable, to attack the convoy of a Governor for any reason? Put differently, would we not be moving close to anarchy if the security of the number one citizen of the state is not guaranteed? Don’t we have other and better ways of seeking resolution of our problems? And particularly, why should Ohaji-Egbema and Oguta youths be the fall guys all the time for the rest of the state? Why should they be the ones to attack the convoy of the Governor? What could have happened if the security team of the Governor had opened fire in reaponse to the attack? Why have the youths from the Mbaise Clan not attacked the convoy of the Governor? We should learn not to put ourselves in harm’s way.
If you are still in doubt, we implore you to ponder why the youths of Owerri did not attack Okorocha’s convoy for all the offences against the ancient kingdom, not limited to the demolition of Ekeukwu Owerri and New Market, but including the reported forceful acquisition of their lands and the bulkernization of the once one kingdom into five kingdoms. We further implore you to consider why the youths of Ogboko did not stone former Governor Okorocha irrespective of reported forceful acquisition of their land for the establishment of the Eastern Palm University (EPU), the Mobile Police Squadrum, amongst others. Put differently, who made the youths of the oil producing area the powerhouse of the state? If we don’t demystify this egocentric presumption, the oil producing communities might become a theater of war in no distant time, or continue to have brushes with the government. Either way, it leaves sore taste in the mouth.
It is in this vein that we consider what Opiah said at the event very instructive. Assuring that the Governor would increase funding for the interventionist agency when the Board is reconstituted, Opiah said that the government would in no way tolerate any act of thuggery, brigandage, or anyone inciting the youths of the LGAs into thuggery. He added that Governor Uzodimma was determined to engage the youths of the oil producing communities in more meaningful ways than had been the case in the oil producing area, especially in the areas of job creation, infrastructure development, and the general development of the oil producing communities.
Opiah noted that Governor Uzodimma is taking his time in reviving ISOPADEC, adding that the Governor is shopping for credible persons that would run the Commission. He said: “ISOPADEC is dear to our Governor. He is about reviving the commission, which he has begun by initiating ideas and actions to sanitize ISOPADEC and make it healthy for the Management and Board, which will be constituted soon. The Commission will witness a boost and become a major development agency when reconstituted. The Governor will not tolerate thuggery and anything relating to it going forward. His desire is to create jobs for the youths in the oil producing areas and Imo State generally and leave lasting legacies in our communities.”
He further assured: “The Governor has no reason to short-change Ohaji-Egbema and Oguta LGAs. All he has been doing is to revive the Commission that was messed up, especially during the Okorocha era. He is taking his time. And this has affected the reconstitution of the Board of ISOPADEC. This will make sure that people of integrity who will be guided by his development template are chosen to man the Commission. The Governor has not misappropriated the monies belonging to the Commission. He has saved about N2BN, and this will be unleashed on our communities once the Board is reconstituted. You can imagine what that could translate into in our communities”.