I landed in Owerri last Tuesday aboard a United Nigeria Airlines flight for the Biennial National Convention of the Nigerian Guild of Editors (NGE) which brought more than 400 editors into the heart of the southeast region. The next 48 hours afforded me the opportunity to mingle and observe life in the city. A lot had been said, with negative imputations, about Imo state. So, I decided to see things for myself against what I observed last November when the NGE first converged on the city for its annual conference.
As I walked out into the street, the first sight that greeted me was that of a young lady. She gave her name as Chiaka. I saw her alight from a shuttle bus beaming with smiles like she won a bet. I beckoned on her. She was hesitant. I persisted. She stopped and I walked up to her asking why she was so exuberant. She said: “Oga, it is Hope o!” I asked to know what Hope had done to make her so happy. She showed me a box of a brand new laptop she was carrying and said, “I just went and collected my laptop. Hope is sharing laptops to youths”, she said showing off her HP laptop and literally dancing away. That was when I noticed that the white t-shirt she wore had ‘3R Skill-Up Imo’. She also told me that she had been trained and there are a lot she could do with the laptop. I wished her luck and moved on to catch a bus to Dikenafai.
Before that, however, I had to visit a very popular ‘joint’ at NIPOST in New Owerri to grab something to eat. Against expectation, I saw a crowd waiting to be served their orders. It was an impressive sight because I did not see such a number of people there during my last visit in November 2022. The numbers were all I needed to be assured that Owerri has bounced back. I joined the wait and got my order of palatable ofe eju (snail soup, literally). The aroma was irresistible and it hit my taste buds like nothing has ever done. The soup was a combination of snails, dried fish, stock fish, and animal interiors properly cooked with garden egg leaves. And, it went down very well with pounded yam. Done with the meal, it was time to proceed to Dikenafai.
As we drove To Okwelle, I pulled out my phone to do a video of the road. The Taxi driver noticed my excitement and asked if I have not used the road since it was rebuilt. He then said to me, “Oga, Hope is doing well o”. I challenged him to educate my ignorance and he said “I wish you could go around Imo state to see what Hope has done with our roads. Go round and see”. I made to argue that with him but then, I noticed that the tone of his voice was changing as he said “Oga, it is like you are one of those who stay in Lagos and say Hope is not doing anything in Imo. You people should come home more often to see things for yourselves and stop listening to failed politicians”. Well, it was wise to shut up because I was talking with a resident of the state, not a visitor like me. I returned to Owerri and continued mingling in an Owerri that is working very hard to reclaim its tag as the cleanest city in Nigeria.
These encounters happened between Tuesday and Wednesday last week. Then, on Thursday, Hope Uzodimma, the Imo state governor addressed the Guild and said: “Apart from the prompt payment of salaries and pensions, my administration has religiously pursued our prosperity agenda encapsulated in Reconstruction, Rehabilitation, and Recovery. After your annual conference last year, our dear former president, His Excellency, Muhammadu Buhari, was here to commission our flagship dual carriageways that connect the state capital to the major cities of Orlu and Okigwe. We have also completed the MCC-Uratta-Toronto road while the Owerri–Mbaise–Obowo-Umuahia road and Orlu–Mgbee–Akokwa-Uga road are nearing completion. These are among the more than 100 standard roads built by this administration within a space of 40 months. This is in addition to equally significant progress recorded in various other sectors like education, health, industry, youth empowerment and social services, which my administration identified as priorities.
“In this respect, I will not fail to use an auspicious occasion such as this to inform you that Imo state is the first and only state to have fully embraced the age of digital economy by establishing the Ministry of Digital Economy and e-government. Through this ministry, we have commenced a Skill-up Imo project that targets to train 100,000 Imo youths in different digital skills every year. The first set of 5000 youths trained in this programme, graduated last month and are now working in different High tech companies or have set up their own shops, through our assistance. The next batch of 15000 is expected to graduate in a few weeks’ time.”
Prior to these, a labour leader in Imo had appraised the governor’s relationship with workers in the state and gave him the pass mark. According to the labour leader, Gov. Uzodimma had purged the civil service payroll system of all forms of salaries and pensions irregularities and corruption through the full automation of the system; ensured prompt payment of salaries and pensions to verified workers and pensioners; provided buses for free transportation of workers; embarked on massive renovation of the state secretariat complex including the electrification of the entire secretariat; and ended the over 10 years promotion jinx in the state civil service.
Gov. Uzodimma also approved 65 years and 40 years of service for retirement for teachers in Imo state; approved one percent check-off dues to Nigeria Union of Pensioners (NUP); ensured payment of gratuities to pensioners; provided official vehicles to permanent secretaries in various ministries in Imo State; approved the payment of salary for workers/ pensioners whose biometrics had not been captured and verified; appointed a Special Adviser on Labour Matters as a way of creating faster channel of communication between workers and the government as well as consistently paid 13th month to workers among other actions that have worked together to ensure industrial harmony under his watch. I am told that it is the first time any administration in Imo would pay the 13th month.
The fact is this: Hope Uzodimma has been able to lift Imo state. He is changing the face of Imo in such a manner that another four years on the driver’s seat will bring about a different kind of song. With his performance thus far, he has been able to silence the opposition making it practically non-existent. This also makes November a fait accompli for him. The vibes from the streets are positive for him.