By their nature, presidential visits are disruptive. They entail that the instrument of state temporarily relocates to an area outside the seat of power. They require a heap of human, machine, and logistic assets to pull off. Thus, Heads-of-State embark on domestic trips (in particular) only for the most strategic reasons. And when they visit, history is made.
On Thursday 9 September, 2021, the President and Commander-in-Chief of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, Muhammadu Buhari, paid a historic working visit to Imo. By this visit, Imo became the 6th state nationwide, and the 1st in the South East, to enjoy this honour since 2019.
During the visit, the President inaugurated some key projects of the Uzodinma adminstration. Useful as this may be, he did not fly-in to Imo just to cut ribbons. In March 2021, he conducted a virtual inauguration of two roads built by the same Uzodimma administration. He could have done so again.
Some say the highlight of his visit was the meeting with Igbo leaders at the banquet hall of the Imo Government House. Great, but this too could have held virtually.
Fact is, while Buhari visited Imo, ECOWAS Heads of Government were meeting to discuss the coup in Guinea. His presence was needed at this important summit, but he delegated participation to the Vice President.
Buhari chose Imo State over ECOWAS.
His presence in Imo conveyed more than his words could. And Buhari doesn’t waste words. When he speaks, analysts examine his utterance like uncooked beans in a tray.
Before inaugurating the road projects on Thursday, the President announced that he was impressed by the achievement of Governor Hope Uzodimma and praised the Governor for sharing in his vision for infrastructure.
But upon his return to Abuja, the President reflected on his visit to Imo and the warm reception he received, then issued the following statement:
I thank the Government and people of Imo State for the very warm reception accorded me during my visit yesterday. It was a pleasure to visit Imo State and to be hosted by Governor Hope Uzodimma.
I was pleased to see and commission his impactful infrastructure projects, and to note that he is giving infrastructure the same kind of priority that we are giving it at the Federal level.
I firmly believe that when you get infrastructure right, Nigerians will mind their own businesses. And the Igbos will especially benefit from this ongoing infrastructure revolution, because, as a group, they are truly the most enterprising.
There is no town you will visit in Nigeria without seeing the Igbos being in-charge of economic activities. The evidence is there for everyone to see, that Igbos are in charge of Nigeria’s economy.
It is therefore unthinkable for me that any Igbo man would consider himself not to be a part of Nigeria.
Let me again say that I was very pleased with what I saw in Imo State, and I would like to assure that I will support Imo State and the entire region within the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
The Federal Government will complete all ongoing key projects in the South East, including the 2nd Niger Bridge, and other major highways, as well as the railway lines and routes linking the region with other parts of the country.
From this statement we see that:
1) after rubbing minds with Igbo stakeholders in Owerri, the President has refined his rhetoric on separatism. Compared to previous utterances which heated the polity, this new tone, if matched with action, will temper these agitations which have rocked the peace of the Southeast in recent times.
2) the visit has frustrated the notion that the President harbours a bias against Ndigbo. Instead it showcased the President’s appreciation of the immense contribution of Ndigbo to the economy and stability of the country.
3) there is political will to complete all key Federal projects in the Southeast including the crucial 2nd Niger bridge.
4) Imo State is now after the President’s heart and he will do everything within the Constitution to help the State.
This is why the President’s visit matters. This is the outcome of having an empathetic listener, in the person of Hope Uzodimma, as Governor.
Sadly, we operate in an age where good news isn’t news, where virtue doesn’t trend. Where, in the name of opposition, some elements will take a shovel and dig night and day to bury this truth.
The visit is a success. Enemies of the state are red in the face and out of comeback. They can’t understand why good things should happen in Imo despite their relentless assault on the government and masses of Imo.
So they turn to the President’s wind-blown trousers at the airport.
They want to sell it as a wardrobe malfunction. They want the world to fix its gaze on the hem of the President’s trousers while security returns to Imo, while infrastructure expands, while floods disappear, while Governor Hope Uzodimma takes Imo mainstream.
They want you to look at wind-blown pants while investors storm Imo, while jobs pour in, while Federal programmes are attracted to the masses.
They want you to look at wind-blown pants while they feast on the spoils of their profligate 7months excursion in Government House.
But we will keep our gaze on what matters: how to consolidate the gains of this historic visit.
By Collins Ughalaa KSC, Convener, GLOBAL ASSOCIATION OF CONCERNED IMO YOUTHS (GACIY).
September 11, 2021.