Imo State Governor Hope Uzodinma spoke to reporters recently about the challenges he inherited when he took over and the efforts he is making to tackle them, the misconception over zoning of political offices in the state and how his administration is prosecuting the Covid-19 war.
What were the challenges you inherited as governor?
The challenges were quite enormous. In the first place my predecessor did not handover anything to me. Not a single handover note.
So, I had to start like a man groping in the dark. It was a great challenge indeed. But that did not deter me because I was also prepared for the task of governance.
I also did not have an office to operate from or a lodge or governor’s residence to lay my head after work. It was a really daunting experience.
I couldn’t fathom why previous administrations abandoned the governor’s office and lodge and preferred instead to operate from a bush bar or guest house as office.
I was determined to correct the anomaly. So, from day one I moved into the governor’s office. There was no water supply and power in the office complex.
In the first two days in the office tankers were used to fetch water to the complex. In fact, I used a bowl to flush the rest room after usage.
It was as bad as that. But I am happy that today we have a functioning governor’s office complex with power and water fully restored.
The other challenge was a disillusioned and disoriented civil service that I met on ground. Before I came on board the civil service was actually in comatose.
There was a time they were asked to come to work only three times a week. Those of them who dared come around the state secretariat on the days they were not supposed to come to work were chased around like pick pockets.
Salaries were paid whimsically; not as and when due and no fixed monthly receivable. The workers could not determine how much to expect at the end of the month as salaries.
To make matters worse there was no pay slip to know salaries were arrived at or even how much was deducted as tax and evidence that the tax was remitted.
It was really a sorry state of affairs; it was completely messy! The work environment was another challenge. The roofs of the ten blocks of the state secretariat were all leaking.
The blocks were all run down and dirty. There was no power or water supply in any of the buildings. It was a horrible site indeed.
So, I don’t think it will be wrong to say that I met a failed civil service on ground and it was indeed a big challenge. I didn’t see how a government could function well with the type of civil service met on ground.
What efforts are you making to unite your party and the state?
You are right. Yes, I inherited a politically divided state, including a divided political party. I think the major cause of the political division in both the state and my political party, the APC, was the governorship election.
You see, there was brazen political robbery in the last governorship election in the state. What happened in the state in the last election was unprecedented.
Something Imo people have never seen before. A political party that did not win an election was declared winner of the governorship election.
This was a party that did not meet the constitutional requirement of winning one third of the votes in two thirds of the 27 local government areas in the state, yet it was declared winner.
It was a product of high level conspiracy and it was very offensive to the political gladiators in the state and the generality of Imo people.
Every Imo person knew that I and the APC won the governorship election clean and square. In the haste to rob me of my victory the conspirators excluded my results from 388 polling units.
But, they did a very tardy job of it. So, this brazen robbery was roundly rejected by the people and the political leaders.
This was what led to the unprecedented number of litigations against that election. Naturally, all these heightened tension and division in the state.
But, when finally justice was served through the Supreme Court judgment of January 14, which restored the mandate to the rightful winner of the governorship election; that is my humble self and the APC, the tension and divisiveness dropped significantly.
As you must have noticed, virtually all the political leaders in the state, including the governorship candidates of the other political parties were at my swearing in ceremony on January 15.
The only candidate who was absent was the one who my stolen mandate was recovered from. The point is that with justice served in the March 9, governorship elections, a credible platform for reconciliation and unity was laid.
We have moved forward from there. I have met severally with these leaders and I can assure you that we are on the same page on moving forward for our state.
In the actual sense of it, some of them like those in AA have come back to the APC, family. That also goes to show that the internal division in our party, which was also caused by the governorship election is beginning to give way for peace and unity.
Even in the PDP, I can tell you that many of their leaders have joined APC. Some of the few still left will join sooner than later. But, I think that the most pronounced sign post of political unity is the fact that virtually all the members of the State House of Assembly have joined the APC.
These are the people who represent Imo people in the 27 local governments. That is a big statement on forging political unity in the state.
And mark you they joined on their own accord because they also appreciate the fact that the restoration of the stolen governorship mandate was a good starting point for political unity.
They appreciate that injustice was perpetrated in the governorship election, which has been ratified through the historic Supreme Court judgment of January 14.
However, in every political setting you must have dissents. You cannot have 100 per cent unity; otherwise you will be running a one party state which is not healthy for democracy.
So, we still have pockets of opposition. Unfortunately, they don’t seem to know that there’s dignity in opposition when you engage the government constructively.
They appear to be overwhelmed by the prodigious achievements we have recorded in less than four months. Confused and bereft of constructive ideas they now resort to dishing out all manner of blatant falsehood in the social media against the government, in the name of propaganda.
Their situation is really pitiable. So, I can tell you that Imo state is far more politically united today than it was a year ago or six months ago.
The Owerri zone is claiming that you usurped their slot to be governor and even prominent citizens from that zone have openly tackled you. What is your attitude to this?
First of all, let me say that I appreciate the zonal sentiments in the state. I also appreciate the need for equity and fair play in the distribution of important political offices in the state.
I must also add that I also appreciate the fact that the right to decide who becomes the governor of Imo State lies squarely with Imo people.
The Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria guarantees them that right. Now, it will interest you to know that there has been no governorship election in Imo state that all the zones did not field candidates.
In 1999, the sentiment was for an Orlu person to be governor. Achike Udenwa, Ezikel Izuogu, Rochas Okorocha and Greg Mbadiwe, all from Orlu zone joined the fray.
It did not stop Humphrey Anumudu and Mark Odu from Owerri zone and others from Okigwe zone from contesting also.
I believe that at the end of the day Udenwa won because majority of Imo people voted for him across all zones. In 2003, when Udenwa was contesting for a second tenure, he had challengers from owerri, Orlu and Okigwe zones, including my humble self.
Again, he won because majority of Imo people voted for him across all zones. In 2007, Ikedi Ohakim won not because the sentiments favoured Okigwe zone, but because Imo people voted for him.
Ifeanyi Araraume, Ebere Udeagu and others from Okigwe zone were all part of the race. It is instructive that Martin Agbaso, Humphrey Anumudu and others from Owerri zone took part in that election.
Orlu sons were also in the race, including myself and Festus Odimegwu etc. In 2011, Ohakim was due for a second term, but he lost to Okorocha not because Okorocha was from Orlu zone, but because Imo people voted for him.
Again, candidates from every zone were in the race. I can go on and on, but the point to note is that it is Imo people who have the final say as to who governs them.
So, I can tell you categorically that I did not usurp any zones chance to be governor but I rather took the chance given to me by God, Imo and history to become governor.
Let me also add that I am not aware of any prominent Owerri person who has tackled me on this matter. On the contrary I can assure you that I am working with prominent Owerri people who are at home with my governorship.
How are you tackling the issue of sabotage? It was learnt that the water plant you reactivated was vandalised.
Imo people have already risen to the occasion. First Imo Elders’ Council condemned the vandalism. Prominent Owerri sons like Prince Bob Njamanze and Prince Lemmy Akakem were among them.
Imo state chapter of Ohaneze also condemned the action. Many prominent Imo people have equally done so. It is reassuring that Imo people are not happy with what happened.
This is a project that has brought back public supply of potable water to our people yet some people went and vandalised it.
That is sadism in the extreme. However, the police are investigating the matter and the culprits must surely be brought to book. But, let me sound it clear that my administration will not condone sabotage from any quarter.
There is certainly a limit these agent provocateurs can test my patience. I am aware that some people openly vowed that they will make the state ungovernable for me.
I am also aware of all the efforts they have been making to deliver on their promise. But, I have news for them: They will soon account for all their inglorious acts and they will not like the price they have to pay for their tomfoolery.
A panel of inquiry was set up by Emeka Ihedioha to probe former Governor Okorocha. You did not disband it. What would you do with the report?
I had no reason to disband the panel. I believe that every government must be held accountable for its actions or inactions.
Besides I just came into office without any handover note so the outcome of the inquiry may as well prove to be a veritable source of information or data for my government to operate with.
So, there was no need to disband the panel. As for what I will do with the outcome of the inquiry I will prefer we don’t cross the bridge before we get there. Let the report come first and we will know what to do with it.
You promised to increase the Internally Generated Revenue (IGR) from N 1.2 billion to N5 billion. How are you going to meet the target? Will you tax the people?
I will not introduce any new tax on the people nor will I increase taxes. I intend to achieve the N5 billion monthly IGR target by expanding the Imo economic and the internal revenue net to catch new revenue heads from corporate enterprises in the state that have been evading taxation.
On the expansion of the Imo economy I can tell you that we are already on track. Adapalm is now working and we are putting in place a new mill that will increase its daily productive capacity The other ancillary factories of the company will soon commence production of by products such as soap, margarine etc..
In no distance time the company will be employing about 35,000 people. We are also going to revive a few other companies like the shoe industry, and the glass industry.
All these will pay off positively in terms of menu of the state. Now we have a good number of oil companies and oil servicing companies and telecommunication companies that operate in the state and are not paying taxes to the state.
We also have banks and other companies that under declare their nominal roll to the state for the purposes of tax returns. Only a few days ago, I signed an Executive Order drastically reducing the Right of Way for telecommunications companies from N4500 to N145.
This is to spur them to invest more and pay their taxes promptly. All these we are looking into now and in no time we shall appropriately capture all of them in our revenue menu.
So, you can see that our road map to the N 5Billion monthly IGR target is clear and reliable also.
Imo is an oil-producing state. How can this status impact on its development under your leadership?
The major way our status can impact on the development of Imo state is by ensuring that the advantages accruing to us from the special commissions for oil producing areas are well utilized to the advantage of the people.
Commissions such as the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) and the Imo State Oil Producing Areas Development Commission (ISOPADEC) apply to us in this respect.
So, I believe the first line of apply should be to make sure that all the development projects coming to Imo state from NDDC are delivered to the last dot on the contract.
This is the only way we can be sure that NDDC projects are executed diligently in the state. As a way to ensure this, I have established an office for project monitoring.
Part of the responsibilities of that office is to ensure that the public is well informed of projects going on in the state. Particulars of such projects will be published for public consumption so that members of the public can monitor progress on the projects.
In ISOPADEC I discovered when I took over that a cabal of Buccaneers was sharing the monthly allocation among themselves.
I took immediate steps and stopped that. Now in the last three months or so that I stopped withdrawals from the ISOPADEC account except for salaries, I have saved over N1 billion for the commission I will soon constitute a new board which will now apply ISOPADEC money for the development the oil producing communities.
But, the stakeholders will determine what projects to do and where. They will also monitor the execution of such projects.
These are ways of ensuring that the state benefits from her oil bearing status for the overall development of the people.
On the ISODADEC looting the government will investigate the buccaneer saga and bring all those involved to book.
How are you addressing the agitations by oil-producing communities for more dividends of democracy?
The first thing I am doing is to change the identity of the oil producing areas in the state. Over time the area has been defined by youth restiveness and agitation.
Most of the agitations derive from the wicked acts of past leaders from the area who hijack the things meant for the development of their people for personal aggrandisement.
As a result the youths are left with no jobs and no means of livelihood. So, we want to change this narrative by first bringing to book those whose self-serving agenda have made the youths destitute in their father’s land flowing with milk and honey.
We will project credible leaders who will commit themselves to the service of the people. This is what the new ISOPADEC board will reflect.
But, even more importantly, we are discussing with the oil companies operating in these areas to mandatorily accommodate the youths from the area in their employment scheme as a matter of corporate social responsibility.
We are also making special provisions for people from the area in our different skills acquisition and empowerment programmes. The target is to change the label of the Youths from the area as agitators to that of gainfully employed peace loving youth.
You said you met a failed civil service, what are you doing to make it effective and efficient?
We have put a number of things in place to revive the civil service for efficiency. We have mapped out a comprehensive training programme that will train virtually all the cadres in the service in different proficiency programmes.
These training programmes are aimed at making the civil servants truly more efficient and vibrant and better equipped to deliver on modern day e-governance, which is the focal point of this administration.
We have also boosted the morale of the service by providing official vehicles for permanent secretaries and bus service for Junior civil servants.
We have equally renovated and re roofed the leaking state secretariat. So, we have done quite a lot to revive the service.
How are you dealing with the challenges posed by ghost workers and ghost pensioners?
I am happy to inform you that we have taken very bold steps to stamp out the cankerworm of ghost workers permanently in the state through the automated e e-payment system we introduced.
Unlike before when workers’ salaries were paid without cross checking that there are no double BVN entries or wrong account numbers, we have taken extra measures to ensure that the payroll is electronically double checked for any fraudulent manipulation.
We now have a data centre which automates all government receipts and payments. The government has stopped all cash transactions, including salary payments. Imo State is now a truly cashless society, at least in the public sector. So, every salary payment is automated.
This way wrong or double BVN entry are electronically detected and eliminated from the payroll. At the end only those with confirmed BVN, tax ID and account numbers are paid electronically to their accounts.
I must add that through this diligent exercise we were able to eliminate almost 3,000 ghost salary and Pension earners in the state, at both state and local government levels We were also able stop the tax deduction fraud in the payroll.
Before now taxes were deducted from workers without evidence of remittances of same to the board of internal revenue.
It may interest you to know that out of a total Imo workforce of about 56,000, only 17, 000 were captured in the pay as you earn (PAYE).
But, we have put an end to all that through digital fiscal management. We have also been able to save about N2 Billion from the digitalization of the payroll of civil servants, public servants and Pensioners as well as unremitted tax deductions.
What is the debt profile of Imo State?
About N125 billion!
What efforts are you making to fight the infrastructure battle in the state?
Right now we have embarked on massive road construction in the state. Our initial concentration is on Owerri urban roads.
More than 20 roads are under construction in Owerri alone as we speak. For many years many Owerri people were living in the fear of floods once the rainy season comes.
The most affected areas were the major streets of Okigwe road, Bank road, Whethedral road, Tetlow road and government House round about area.
So, my first major concern in road construction in Owerri was to do the roads that will stop the floods, the roads that housed the major drainages that control the floods, so as to boost economic activities.
So, we have done Chukwuma Nwoha road, Dick –Tiger road, Relief market road. We also embarked on the dredging of Lake Nwaebere, which actually is a major factor in the flooding of the major roads in Owerri.
Work is almost completed in Relief Market Road, which is in a major economic road, Emmanuel College- Naze Road, MCC Uratta road, Dick Tiger Road, Chukwuma Nwoha road, Mbonu Ojike road, World Bank federal Secretariat Road, Assupta-Ibari Ogwa junction road, Thomas more road, JP Ajelu Road, and may others.
A good number of them have been completed awaiting commissioning. We are working on many other roads in the different zones of the state.
Every road we build is purpose driven, designed to link up the state all around to ensure ease of movement of goods and services and expand infrastructure capacity.
With good roads linking the urban and rural areas and neighbouring states, the enabling environment for the growth of commerce and industry would have been put in place.
We are also taking necessary steps to boost power supply in the state. In the respect, we are looking forward to forging partnerships with power distribution and supply companies to boost electricity supply in the state.
I have restored public water supply in the state capital by rehabilitating the otamiri water scheme which was last serviced in 1996.
So, with good roads, improved electricity supply and availability of public water supply, a truly investment friendly environment is being put in place and you can say that enabling infrastructure for development is being provided.
We just recently signed into law a bill for waste to wealth partnership with the private sector. Many private sector entities are already approaching us with proposals on partnering with us in this regard.
And as I earlier said, just a few days ago, I signed an Executive order drastically reducing the tariff on the right of way (ROW) of telecommunication companies in the state from N4,500 to N145.
With this gesture I am confident that the telecom companies will take advantage of it to make more investments in the state, thereby adding value to our infrastructural needs. So, every step is on the way to improve infrastructural provisions in the state.
What efforts are you also making to ensure security of lives and property?
We have done quite a lot in this area. We recently launched our operation Search and flush (SAF), outfit which guarantees a 24 hour surveillance on all parts of the state by a combined team of security agencies.
To achieve this we provided 100 brand new pick up security vehicles with modern state of the art communication gadgets.
The patrol vehicles have been deployed for use by the combined team of security agencies, the police, the military and civil defense. They patrol the 27 local governments on a 24 hour basis.
We have a toll free call centre that is automatically linked to these patrol vehicles. The number is 112. The public can always use this number to contact any of the patrol vehicles through the toll centre.
Once a crime or suspected crime is reported to the centre it will in turn call a patrol vehicle nearest to the scene and the security agencies will storm the place in seconds.
So, I can tell you that we have good security architecture on ground and it is working.
How are you prosecuting the COVID-19 war in Imo State?
To the glory of God I can say so far so good. We are doing great indeed. We have taken all necessary proactive measures to prevent and contain the spread of the virus in the state.
We have provided 30 well equipped ambulances for the 27 local government areas and three for the state capital.
Now each of these ambulances is connected to the toll free call centre so they can respond promptly to any emergency situation even while on routine surveillance.
We have in place six well equipped isolation and treatment centres. We are on regular relentless public awareness campaigns on safety measures against COVID-19.
I am personally on radio every day, through jingles, to remind our people on the need to take the safety measures seriously.
So, with all these efforts, it is to the glory of God that the seven COVID 19 cases we had have all been discharged. So Imo State is COVID-19 free as we speak.