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Uzodinma’s Magical Reality and “Systemic Corruption”

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By Steve Osuji 

Incredulity Of The Norm: Imo State is fast becoming a zombie country of sort. People seem to move about trance-like; acute poverty and deprivation is etched on faces on the streets and among the officials of State, lies, deception, fabulism and indeed magical realism are fast being raised to high art of statecraft.

Imo is in a state of classic Magical Realism: what was our norm has become so incredulous before our eyes that people seem not to know the difference anymore.

The recent statement by the Imo governor, Chief Hope Uzodinma has further reinforced  this state of a fantasy  and surrealism.

In his Independence Day broadcast, the governor had been reported to have blamed his immediate predecessor of instituting systemic corruption in the State:

“Coming into office barely nine months ago, we encountered a microcosm of systemic corruption and disruption in public service. We met monumental payroll fraud in the system; we met a disoriented and disarticulated civil service and a very sorry state of infrastructural provisions,” says Uzodinma. 

Putting the governor’s speech in context,  let’s note that we sympathise with the speechwriters who had to struggle so hard, as it is apparent in the entire broadcast,  to find meaning, rhyme and reason to the current government. One can feel the pains and struggle pock-marking every line.

Having said that, the point of this article is simple: to set the records straight and remind much-traumatised Imolites that some of us still remember and that unlike the government, we all have not completely lost touch with reality.

Here are a few incontrovertible facts about Governor Emeka Ihedioha administration (May 29, 2019 to January  14, 2020). As a close participation in this  administration from day one, one can boldly make the following assertions:

▪︎microcosm of systemic corruption: it is not clear if the writers of this speech are quite clear-headed about the message they sought to purveyor here, but since they specifically mentioned “monumental payroll fraud in the system” we shall take off from there.

▪︎civil service salaries and emoluments as at 29 May, 2019: the Ihedioha administration met a salary system that was in utter disarray (not unlike everything else at that time).

The out-gone governor, Owelle Rochas Okorocha left a baleful legacy in the civil service pay system. By the time he left office, most workers no longer knew the exact figures to expect each month nor how many months of arrears they were owed. For many years, Governor Okorocha paid any percentage of workers salaries he fancied each month. If he paid 90% this month, it could be 75% next month.

Thus was the situation Ihedioha met. He promised to correct this. He stated ab initio that salaries must be 100% or nothing. This was rectified immediately and for the seven months the Ihedioha administration lasted, he paid 100% each month and he paid on time most of the period. 

As at the time his mandate was purloined on January 14, he didn’t owe one penny of salaries. In fact workers got some booty in December 2019, both in cash and kind. This fact is easily verifiable.

▪︎Return of pension scam in Imo: talking about systemic fraud, Imo pension had long been the locus of fraud and corruption especially during the Okorocha years. Pension payment was quarantined in Governor Okorocha’s office and it was turned into a fraudulent honey pot by his family and associates. For 8 years, the entire system was badly damaged and by the time the Ihedioha administration assumed office, there was neither pension nor system. Tthere was no pension database; many pensioners could  no longer track their status as payment was done haphazardly for many years.

Again, as he promised in his electioneering campaign to the seniors, Ihedioha immediately set up a pension review committee. The system was comprehensively reviewed, revamped and digitized. For the first time in Imo State, electronic payment of pensioners began in October 2019.

Imo was hailed by the National Pension Commission as having among the best digital pension platforms in the country. Plans were already afoot to migrate to the Contributory Pension system (CPS).

Even if we allowed for a small margin of error in Ihedioha’s new pension regime, it would be such insignificant error that could have been quietly corrected.

But now, the entire pension system has been upended once again by this administration so that it may be turned into a vicious cash cow by rapaine government officials.

▪︎Show us the payroll thieves: the Uzodinma administration has defaulted recklessly and indeed, fraudulently in paying pensioners and civil servants under the guise of cleansing the pay system but nothing is farther from the truth. In fact this is lie from the pot of hell!

 On the contrary, the system is being corrupted and made vulnerable for officials to poke their dirty fingers in it.

If for nine months Governor Uzodinma is truly pursuing pay roll thieves, how come nobody has been sacked or prosecuted?

▪︎”Corrosive corruption in all facets…”: these are the exact words of the governor in his speech, but one makes bold to say that this is an apt description of this government, it seems a perfect self-assessment for the following reasons:

▪︎ Where is Imo LGA funds for 9 months? All is mum on Imo LGA allocation since January. Allocations have been coming monthly, yet salaries are being owed in every sector and hardly any projects are going on.

▪︎All the LGA projects by Ihedioha abandoned: Governor Ihedioha was applying LG funds for construction of modern, purpose-built Headquarters building in each LGA. A couple of these buildings had been completed while most were nearing completion… in just 7 months! They have long been abandoned by Gov. Uzodinma. This is a self-evident fact!

▪︎26 mini stadia springing up simultaneously: mini stadia were springing up in almost all the 27 LGAs and work had gone far in most of them… in just 7 months! They have all been abandoned. This is a self-evident fact!

▪︎Dan Anyiam, Grasshoppers stadia and practice pitch: these premier sports facilities were being given a massive overhaul to FIFA standards. Ihedioha’s idea was for Imo State  to be able to begin to host international tournaments once again with attendant economic benefits to Imo.

▪︎Hosting the next National Sports Festival: Imo had already won the hosting right for the festival after Edo 2020. All the investment in sports facilities upgrade was geared towards that objective. A State sports festival had already been held to shortlist athletes. The 26 mini stadia project apart from galvanizing the economy of the LGs, was to provide outlet and vent for our youths in the hinterland who had no place to go and explore there God given talents… all these happened in just 7 month. They are all abandoned! This is a self-evident fact!

▪︎Technical and Vocational Education Training schools (TVET): Four technical and vocational education institutions were already procured and work was going on on what was t be a revolutionary turn in Imo State education annals. These  state of the art technical institutions would have been ready by now. They were to change the face of education in Imo and beyond… in just 7 months. They have been abandoned by bu the Uzodinma administration. This is a self-evident fact!

▪︎ The road projects farce: about 24 major road projects had been properly procured by the Ihedioha administration. Mobilization fees had been paid, the contractors had mobilised to site, reputable engineering firms were carefully selected, including about four top Chinese firms. Today, most of those roads which ought to have been completed by now have been abandoned and genuine contractors have moved on. 

A few road projects which are still ongoing for the simple reason that they are too strategic to be abandoned are being done so very shoddily by people who look like bricklayers. All these in just 7 months. This fact is self-evident!

▪︎In just 7 months, the entire members of the UN SYSTEM which comprise the World Bank, UNESCO, UNICEF, WHO, as well as such other multilateral agencies like, USAID, DFID, UKIP, Open Society, Canadian aid agency,  Japanese aid agency, to name a few which made a rousing return to Imo after fleeing the Rochas gale may have all hightailed once again. These bodies can only thrive under an atmosphere of transparency, accountability, rule of law and open governance. In 7 months they returned. Where are they now? This fact too is self-evident.

▪︎Over 100 major projects running simultaneously: a simple tab of all the projects mentioned above will be far over 100. The process of procuring a major project is quite daunting and to get over 100 projects going on in the State at the same time …in just 7 months is truly a mark of excellence in  leadership. Most of these have been abandoned by this government. These facts are self-evident! … Meaning that they can be checked out by anyone reading this. Go to any LGA office for instance, and see for yourself if the modern story building office has not remained as Ihedioha left it. 

▪︎Now let’s talk about UNSYSTEMIC corruption: talk about unsystemic and raging corruption going on in broad daylight today under the Uzodinma administration. Again, where is LGA federal allocation of the past 9 months?! Salaries and pensions are hardly being paid, hardly any worthy project is on-going yet monthly federal allocations are received at both the State and LGA levels, not to talk of IGR of over N1 billion per month.

FINALLY, this intervention becomes necessary to debunk the notion that corruption was rife during the Ihedioha administration. Though we know  that Imolites know the difference, this is to give them a further opportunity to properly review the two periods and assess both leaders.

Having participated in the Ihedioha administration, what is happening today can best be described as

 MAGICAL REALISM.

Steve Osuji

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