Imo State governor, Hope Uzodimma marked his 100 Days in office with a broadcast to Imo people last week and followed up with this Exclusive interview with Saturday Vanguard. It’s his first interview since he became governor. It was done online. Excerpts:
Congratulations on your 100 days in office. What would you say informed some of the actions you have taken since you came on board?
Well, thank you for congratulating me. All the actions I have taken in office have been informed by the desire to serve Imo people to the best of my ability in truth and in utmost sincerity of purpose. Knowing that Imo people have not been so fortunate with selfless service in the past, my actions have also been informed by the need to rekindle our People’s faith in governance by providing palpable good governance that is purposeful, result driven and incomparable with anything they have seen in the recent past
Would you say that you are on course considering the challenges you met on ground.
Yes I am very much on course irrespective of the challenges I met on ground because I came quite prepared. I came with a well spelt out manifesto of three Rs; namely Reconstruction, Rehabilitation and Recovery anchored on a new Imo state of shared prosperity. So from day one I hit the ground running
Of course I met enormous challenges on ground. For instance there was no handover note to me. I also met an empty treasury. There was also the COVID 19 challenge which broke out less than one month I came into office. Yes the challenges were there but they did not daunt me because I came in with a clear road-map And I can tell you that there is Reconstruction, Rehabilitation and Recovery going on in Imo state as we speak
And can you highlight the major problems you met on ground?
I already mentioned some of them as no hand over note, empty treasury etc. But I think that one major problem I met on ground was a corrupt public sector that allowed millions of public funds to be fleeced by just a few. For instance there was this monumental payroll fraud in both the public and civil service through which billions of Naira were lost to a cabal monthly. I also met a very sorry situation on ground wherein monthly allocation to the Imo state oil producing areas commission (ISOPADEC) was shared amongst a few Buccaneers from the area who claim to be leaders.
The situation was really pitiable because every month these Buccaneers just shared the 13% allocated to ISOPADEC for the development of the oil producing areas leaving the area with no development. So a corrupt public sector was a major problem. Another major problem was that official government offices and lodges such as the state civil service secretariat, the governor’s office, the State House of Assembly, the governor’s lodge, the Speaker’s lodge etc. were all in a state of disrepair. You can say that the entire government apparatus was in a state of rancid decay and this greatly ridiculed the image of government
What measures are you taking to manage these problems considering the lean times?
It must be sad that the economy is taking a dive at the time you came on board. Are you afraid you may not live up to expectations?
Well my first reaction to the problems was to sanitize the public sector particularly the corrupt and compromised public payroll system that I met.
There was so much rot in the system. The summary is that a public servant in Imo state could not tell you the breakdown of his or her monthly salary because there was no pay slip to provide details. A staff did not know how much that was deducted from the monthly salary as tax, and if it was actually remitted to the board of internal revenue. Out of about, 56,000 Imo workforce, drawn from both the public and Local government services, only 17,000 are captured in the Pay as you earn (PAYE) tax regime of the board of internal revenue. There was also the issue of multiple BVN entries such that five names in a payroll will have one BVN
So I had to take immediate steps to stop the rot. Beginning from the end of this month every staff in Imo state public service shall have access to his or her monthly pay slip by simply logging in to a new Imo data centre which has automated all outflow and inflow of government finances.
This guarantees absolute transparency in the conduct of government business. By all the measures I have put in place to checkmate the public payroll fraud I am able to save about N2b monthly for the state
I also tackled the issue of a few people sharing ISOPADEC allocation. I have been able to stop the Buccaneers and I have also saved over N1b for ISOPADEC so that when I constitute a new board they can use the money for the development of the oil producing areas. Those who looted ISOPADEC funds may not have heard the last on the matter. They should not expect to get away with such brazen perfidy.
We have also re-roofed the leaking state civil service secretariat and rehabilitated the dilapidated structures.
So we are doing quite a lot. I can assure you that we are not going to be caught napping over dwindling state allocation from the centre. I already have mapped out a programme to boost the monthly Internally generated revenue from its present N1.2b to N5b. So I don’t think we will not meet our expectations or targets
Coronavirus pandemic has changed the world. Will the effects not derail your plans for Imo? How do you plan to manage the problems of Covid-19 which are global and may be worse in Nigeria because of our one product economy – oil ?
For sure COVID 19 is a threat to global economy. Nigeria and Imo state are not spared. But as I already explained we are taking proactive measures to cushion the anticipated fall out from the pandemic by our plans to increase our monthly IGR to N5b, without raising or introducing new taxes
We will also rehabilitate ailing industries. Adapalm is already on line. The Statesman Newspaper has been revived and it is now a daily Newspaper. I know that as a Journalist you will agree that that is a great achievement. The rubber industries will follow, then show the industry. We expect not only to create new jobs by this industrial policy but also to increase IGR.
Imo appears to show potential in tourism with hotels everywhere in Owerri. But is tourism all about hospitality business? Your roads, infrastructure, filth on the streets are not what a city that wants to boost tourism should showcase. The problems are huge and capital intensive. Aren’t you overwhelmed already? You inherited these problems but where do you start? Is building hotels all you need to boost tourism?
Of course building hotels is not all there is to tourism. We have already taken steps to control the perennial flooding in owerri capital city by constructing and rehabilitating six roads that house the main drainage systems that control floods in owerri. These roads have not been touched since the end of Dee Sam Mbakwe era. So with this initiative owerri will be flood free in the raining season
As you rightly observed we met some of the problems,like refuse littered around the streets of owerri,but we are working very hard to clear all that. We just passed an Executive bill on waste management. In no distant time, through a public private partnership, the problem of refuse collection in owerri will become history. Waste is wealth as they say, and we are set to make that happen soon in Imo state like in other parts of the world. We are also bringing back to life the Nekede zoo. The zoo offers a lot of tourists attractions. So I believe a true tourism environment is already being enacted
Imo people say that since the days of Sam Mbakwe they have not been blessed with great leadership. They wonder if it is a curse and are praying for a leader with vision and care for the people. Can you say that God has answered their prayers with your coming? In what ways will it be different?
Yes I can say that God has answered the prayers of Imo people through my emergence as the governor because I
In my own case those who knew me before I became governor in 2019 , exactly 30 years after Mbakwe, will tell you that I have enormous compassion for the poor. People can testify to that. I am also not estate crazy so I don’t have a background of either estate acquisition or expansion. I also have a clear vision of my agenda for Imo state and it is honest and result driven .In a few months time Imo people will see this vision translate into provision of breathtaking infrastructure that will permanently change the economic landscape of the state. In a way I can say that I am De Sam.Mbakwe’s reincarnate. At the end of the day I can assure you that our people will confess that an improved, better and digital version of Dee Sam Mbakwe has come on board and they will give glory to God
What can you say about rural development in Imo? Is it an area you want to pay special attention and not lose focus on Owerri?
Definitely I will pay equal attention to rural development. My manifesto is clear on a clear vision for backward integration as a development strategy. Certainly the rural areas will witness a new era of economic renewal.
Having come from a private background, are you facing challenges with your civil service? Are they buying into your dream or are a stumbling block?
I am not a stranger to public service. Remember I was a Senator for eight years. I know that the cleansing I am doing in the civil service is bound to ruffle a few feathers but that is only a cabal that has been feeding fat on the sweat of the Imo public workforce. The vast majority of civil servants are happy with our payroll reforms. They are happy that they now have official staff buses to convey them to and from work and that their permanent secretaries now have official cars. These are things that they have not seen in over 20 years. So they are happy and I don’t have any problems with them.
Governor Rochas Okorocha built some infrastructure with state fund and gave them away to some federal bodies like the army, police etc. Imo people condemned his actions. Do you have plans to retrieve them especially those not functional and yet to take off? Would you say he was doing unnecessary charity with Imo Resources?
The government is looking into the matter and we will soon take a position on that
Finally, where is Imo now and where are you headed with Imo?
Right now Imo state is in competent hands. lmo state now has an experienced driver, with valid driver’s license on the wheel, with proven track record of competence and capacity. So Imo is in safe hands and we are laying the needed foundations for a robust corruption free economy
I can assure you that I am taking Imo state to the next level of a prosperous self sufficient modern economy where the majority will be better off than I met them.