Can Ihedioha meet the expectations in Imo?

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The politics of Imo State has never remained the same since Governor Emeka Ihedioha of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) emerged the helmsman. In this report, Associate Editor, Sam Egburonu, reports on the changing politics and the efforts of the new government to meet up with the high expectations of the people of the Southeast state

THE intrigues that surrounded the last governorship election in Imo State left no one in doubt that whoever wins the race will be of special interest to both the Imo State stakeholders and other Nigerians eager to see good governance in the southeast state. Everyone therefore expected the then governorship candidates to be aware of the high expectations.

So, as soon as he was declared winner of the election, Hon. Emeka Ihedioha of Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) promised to turn what he called the state’s “bad news to a good story.” He promised to do so by making fundamental changes in several critical areas, especially in the style of governance.

One of such areas, he promised to do differently is the relationship between the state and the local governments, which until then was reportedly frosty. When he went to the office of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to collect his Certificate of Return, Ihedioha said, “For us in the executive, we shall run a government that is responsible in every sense of the word. For us, the local government administration shall be appreciated and seen as an arm of the government that is respected because that is where the grassroots people participate.”

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Considering the intrigues, allegations and counter-allegations that trailed the past government of Owelle Rochas Okorocha over his style of governance and his relationship with local governments in the state, many observers have been keen on seeing if Ihedioha will fulfil his promise to local governments and restore confidence in the state’s civil service.

Though his government is just a little bit more than three months old, Ihedioha said he has already taken action on this critical area. “Another immediate concern we confronted head-on was the weakness of the state civil service due to high nepotism, lack of motivation, delayed salaries and under-payments by, sometimes, as much as 30 percent of salaries due. We, thenceforth, set up a review committee to look into cases of improper or irregular appointments, promotions and other related matters.

“The committee has turned in its report and, subsequently, we have approved the restoration of payment of 100 percent salaries to all workers in the state, recalled all unjustly suspended directors, reversed some undeserved promotions and sponsored officers to capacity building programmes. Similarly, local government workers have been paid the backlog of salaries owed them by the last administration. I can tell you that there is a renewed sense of motivation in the civil service across the state today.”

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Another area observers identified as immediate challenge to Ihedioha’s government is the problem of the state’s economy; especially the irony inherent in multiple taxation but low Internally Generated Revenue (IDR). During the electioneering campaigns, Omo indigenes made this a major campaign topic. So, while taking oath of office, Ihedioha pledged to change this story.

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In his 100 days address, he said: “we have signed into law, Executive Order 005, known as Treasury Single Account (TSA) Order to consolidate all government revenues under one account. We have also adopted other measures designed to plug leakages and increase Internally Generated Revenues (IGR) in the state coffers.

“We cannot achieve the right growth as a state without a sustainable revenue generating system. The state has less than 5 percent of the working population of over two million paying taxes and this is not an acceptable position. We met an arbitrary tax collection system leading to leakages, fraud and all sorts of irregularities.

“To ensure a sustainable IGR regime, we took steps to reform the state Internal Revenue Service. From August 2019 all cash tax payments have been banned and the government has mandated the use of the PayDirect Platform with a single source sweeping of revenue. This has started addressing the issue of multiple accounts and leakages, and the IGR has grown from an all-time low of about 300m in July to 600m in August.

“We have commissioned a Central Billing System which will drive the use of technology in tax collection. We have started a tax payer enumeration exercise with the attendant benefit of identifying the tax payers and ensuring they pay the right amount of tax to the right source.

“A transformation of the revenue service built on the pillars of People Processes and Technology to ensure that we serve the needs of the populace in the most efficient and professional manner, by operationalizing the autonomy of the Imo Internal Revenue Service in line with global standards.

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“We have also listened to your issues on multiple taxation and commenced a tax harmonisation exercise in a bid to eliminate multiple taxation and streamline taxes in a manner that will only focus on the most relevant taxes to be paid.

“Due to these strategic and fiscal responsibility moves, Imo State has gained positive image and is now on track to join the Open Governance Partnership league. It also now qualifies for performance-based grants of the World Bank as well as other multilateral development institutions. We are also currently developing the Imo Growth and Economic Development Fund. The fund will be unique in Nigeria and would serve as an investment catalyst for the Imo State economy.”

The Nation observed that at the twilight of Okorocha’s government, another critical challenge in Imo State, especially in Owerri, the state capital, was water supply crisis. Mazi Ikechukwu Ukachukwu, who resides in Mbaise Road, Owerri, said “water scarcity in Owerri had almost become a norm, so much so that some of us did not believe it could be reversed in a short while. This is because we had burst water pipes all over the metropolis, buried in the muds. The neglect has taken a very long time. You will not believe that sachet water here has always been N10 even when it was still selling for N5 in Lagos.” Ihedioha also said he has commenced action in this area: “For several years, the Otamiri Water Supply was not functional and our people in the state capital and its environs suffered untold hardships. We have therefore, provided what was required to get it working again. Specifically, water started running again in Imo on 24th July, 2019 after almost seven (7) years of dry pipes. In the same vein, work is ongoing to rectify cases of burst pipes across the major roads,” he said.

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His claims notwithstanding, some of his critics in the state, making reference to some of the actions attributed to Ihedioha at the dawn of his administration, like the demolition of some monuments erected by former Governor Okorocha, alleged that the new government may be doing more hype than it has actually accomplished in physical terms. “Is it everything the new government claims that we should agree with? I suggest the Ihedioha-led state government should go to the field and work instead of beating its chest so early in the morning. Though I do not agree with the way they condemned everything Okorocha did, I cannot deny that this new government seems more sensitive to the actual needs of the people. But they should leave Rochas alone and face the work for which Imo people elected them,” Kingsley Uzochukwu said.

But Dr. Nicholas Nwulu told The Nation during the week that the present state government is determined to make the needed difference in the area of agricultural development. “If Ihedioha continues the way he has started, Imo will soon experience positive revolution in agriculture…,” he said.

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Steve Osuji, the Senior Adviser to the governor on Media, who listed “removal of massive heaps of refuse across Owerri and environs,” as one of his principal’s first areas of concern, told The Nation during the week that the Ihedioha-led state government has “initiated the revamping of Avutu Poultry, Adapalm and Imo Rubber Estates,” amongst other areas of interest in the agricultural sector.

The governor himself also spoke glowingly of his interest in the development of the agricultural sector in his 100 days in office broadcast when he said: “Pursuant to our resolve to harness our agricultural potentials as well as generate employment, just a few days ago, we launched our Agricultural Roadmap which represents a comprehensive framework for self-sufficiency in food production, both for domestic consumption and for exports purposes. By our strategic location at the heartland of the South East and our endowment with the only international cargo airport in the region, we are certain that with the right investments, the state would harvest monumental benefits in this sector.

“I am happy also to report that the first batch of 500 youths selected from all the 27 LGAs in Imo State will be sent to a modern farm at Nasarawa State, in a few weeks, under the Imo Youths in Agribusiness Programme (IYAP). Here, they would learn the best practices in tropical agriculture, after which they will be supported to start their own businesses in Imo State.

“We have also commenced the establishment of a Rice Seed Farm Cluster on the Imo River Basin at Amumara Ezinihitte Mbaise LGA. This programme will make Imo State self-sufficient in the production of improved variety of rice seeds with a view to strengthening our rice value chain. Experts in rice breeding, production and processing from the Africa Rice Centre at IITA Ibadan will be training our groups of rural young farmers to grow and process improved rice seeds.

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“We have also commenced the introduction of light mechanization to farmers in areas where full tractorization may not be possible.

“The process for the rejuvenation of Imo ADP has commenced and plans are underway to train staff and reintegrate them back to intervention programmes that have suffered severe setbacks in the past as a preclude to granting access to reputable, time-tested investors.

“It is noteworthy that, the Avutu Poultry Farm has been cleared for a full restoration to a world-class standard. Similarly, Adapalm is being cleared through the relevant Committee and we would soon commence operations. The challenge of pending legal issues is being attended in order to clear the way for full optimization of its potentials.

“Our state is set to host the only Agribusiness Park in Nigeria at Ngor-Okpala. This comprises an agribusiness academy, and a smart agribusiness centre, thus positioning the facility for revenue generation and job creation. In a few weeks’ time, we would begin the process of data capture of afffected Imolites in the upcoming agriculture revolution program targeting 400,000 participants between the ages of 15-64,” he said.

By Sam Egburonu

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