By Agunwa Emeka Nzeribe
I am constrained to comment on the skirmishes going on in Imo State Oil Producing Areas Development Commission (ISOPADEC) in other not to be misconstrued. The more I want to keep my mouth shut, the more I am morally burdened. I will be brief in this piece which may not go down well with majority of my brothers and sisters especially those from oil region of the state. Do I write to be liked or praised? Not at all. I write to put the records straight and reawaken the consciousness of those who wish to read in between lines. I will never be a praise singer or join a misinformed crowd.
Upon assumption of office by Senator Hope Uzodinma as Executive Governor of Imo State, you will recall that in his first broadcast to the people of the state, he promised to continue from were his immediate predecessor, Rt. Hon. Emeka Ihedioha stopped. As a responsive head of the government, and knowing that government is a continum, Senator Uzodinma who inherited assets and liabilities of the state did not disband any panel of enquiry, both judicial and administrative set up by the immediate past government in the state. In the foregoing, as a governor with vast legislative background and who knows the importance of good governance, he decided to act based on preliminary and final reports from various committees set up by Rt. Hon. Emeka Ihedioha led administration. Was there no administrative panel of enquiry set up by Rt. Hon. Emeka Ihedioha on ISOPADEC? What were it’s findings?
Imo State Oil Producing Areas Development Commission (ISOPADEC) is a creation of the state government for the sole purpose of prudent management of 13% Oil Derivation Fund accruing to the state from federation account. The Commission came into being on the 28 of May 2007 when the then Executive Governor of Imo State, Dr. Achike Udenwa signed the Act into law after a deligent legislative work pioneered by Rt. Hon. Goodluck Nanah Opiah, member representing Ohaji/Egbema State Constituency in the then Imo State House of Assembly. We still have the records of those who supported this noble course championed by Rt. Hon. Goodluck Nanah Opiah with Hon. Ethelbert Nnanna (Watchout) as a co-sponsor and records of those who were against its establishment.
Anyone going through the contents of the Act establishing ISOPADEC will be properly informed whether the commission since its inception has lived to its billing or not. Senator Uzodinma will not be fair to himself and people of oil region of the state if he fails to look into the problems and prospects of the commission. To make the commission meet the yearnings of greater people of the region, a holistic approach devoid of sentiments should be taken. The name of the commission without consultation implies that it is an agency of the government solely created to develop a specific area by cushioning the effects of oil exploration and exploitation in oil producing communities of the state. The fund or funds for which this agency is expected to use to achieve this aim according to the enabling law is 40% of 13% of the derivatives from the federation account to the state. ISOPADEC has been in existence for 13 years. Have we had any audited report of the commission since its inception to know how much that came into it and if the funds were actually used to better the lots of the region? Has the commission performed creditably since its inception? Or, is it a baby NDDC which has been a mockery and shadow of itself?
If we fail to make judicious use of these scarce resources, what would be our gain in the near future especially now that crude oil and usage of its subsidiaries is going into extinction? If we fail to develop our area with our collective God given wealth, we will live to regret as no body will ever do it for us. Posterity will not be fair to us if we fail to maximise our collective potentials through proper utilisation of our funds. I wholeheartedly support rejiging of the commission as a way of bringing dividends to our people. Only change is constant. When things are not going as planned, we have no other choice than to make a change through the drawing board. As an interested person, it will gladden my heart to witness rapid development of the oil region in my life time. I wouldn’t want to go
into details in order not to be seen as probing the commission, but, you will agree with me that almost all past administrators of the commission didn’t make proper use of funds released to them. For instance, under the watch of Owelle Rochas Okorocha as Governor, ISOPADEC built a secretariat in Owerri with an estimation in hundreds of millions in naira. At the inception of the project, I wrote against it for the singular reason that it is a waste of scarce resources meant for development of a particular region. I opined that instead of building a magnificent 4storey building in Owerri, that a storey building will be enough while rest of the fund be used to replicate such building within Ohaji/Egbema and Oguta LGA’s as a way of bringing home development to our people. Worse still, the true essence of the commission is to develop the oil region and the best form of development is empowerment the local content. The then management of ISOPADEC under Owelle Rochas Okorocha administration didn’t take this into consideration as the building of the multi million naira ISOPADEC secretariat, though not advertised, was awarded to a contractor from Ideato. I asked the then management of ISOPADEC the rationale behind the award of such contract to an (outsider) as if we don’t have a qualified Indigenous contractor who could handle the project. You can guess their answer to this question. Still, we had leaders from the oil rich region in Okorocha’s administration, then.
It is also on record that under the watch of Owelle Rochas Okorocha, oil producing areas of the state were in total darkness for 8 years while millions of naira are appropriated and purportedly released to EEDC for light that we NEVER used on monthly basis. Who are those responsible for total darkness in our region during the administration of Owelle Rochas Okorocha? Did the then management of ISOPADEC release those funds for power supply to our region without the consent of workers, staff of the ISOPADEC (not civil servants as they don’t see themselves as one)? Who and who have been responsible for misappropriation and diversion of funds meant for the development of our region all these years? Shall we continue to play lip service while our region lives in penury? I am glad that I always speak out when things are going wrong. I equally spoke out when over N2billion was appropriated for building of a Marine University at Osemoto in Oguta LGA. Noting that it was going to be a wild chase, I called on the management of ISOPADEC not to embark on such wishful venture. I sent a memo to the then Gov. Okorocha expressing my dissatisfaction over the ill conceived project. I later published my memo to the Governor in this regard on some Owerri based tabloids. I was called names. I was ostracised in a government that I helped to it’s making for speaking out the truth. Glory be to God that I have been vindicated while those who aided the gross embezzlement and misappropriation of our common patrimony are yet to at least, apologise to us by refunding all they looted from us. The people of our region will ever remain grateful to Dr. Ikedi Ohakim administration as the commission under his watch built roads, school buildings, reticulation of water and electricity, and other developmental projects during the days of Late SNA Uzor, the Nze Obi of Egbema as Chairman of the commission. Probably, the commission was able to perform optimally as we had the number 3 citizen of the state in the person of Rt. Hon. Goodluck Nanah Opiah. Does it mean that if we don’t have a proactive person within the corridors of power, the commission won’t live up to our expectations? Now that Rt. Hon. Goodluck Nanah Opiah is once more within the corridors of power, hopefully, HOPE will meet to our yearnings.
Truly, (we) are praise singers. Why are praise singers in majority in this clime? ‘We’ praise someone who steals and gives us a token from what he stole from us, but vilifys someone who is diligently seeking for our progress. What an irony? It is high time we have a RETHINK and identify our true enemies. I refuse to be used against myself. As long as I live, I shall always be myself and no other, just me. The day I start to keep quite while my people are defrauded, that day, I will forever keep quite. This is our chance to right the wrongs. It is our common inheritance and we should guide it jealously.
Senator Hope Uzodinma before he assumed office as executive governor is one of the few cheerful givers in the state. This is a known fact. He is not too materialistic going by his antecedents, and informed his opinion on rejigging both the workers and pensioners scheme must be to our best interest. Albert Einstein succinctly put, and I quote, “if at first, an idea is not absurd, there is no hope for it”. I was one of the early admirers of Owelle Rochas Okorocha same way I was the first open critic of his administration when he started derailing especially by trying to turn Imo into fiefdom. Senator Uzodinma has repeatedly told us that percentage of the funds meant for ISOPADEC are safe and all will be released to the commission immediately the cleansing in the commission is over. I implore our people to give him that benefit of doubt. I, Agunwa Emeka Nzeribe will be the first to raise alarm if Senator Uzodinma fails to remit saved ISOPADEC funds to the commission in full as he promised. I will be the first to objectively criticise this government if they goes astray.
Particularly to my brothers and sisters working in ISOPADEC, I plead with you to bear with the present administration. I don’t think that Senator Uzodinma hates ISOPADEC workforce. It is my thinking that he is trying to nip to the bud the remote cause or causes of underdevelopment in our region. As a young student, I called late Dee Sam Mbakwe unprintable names for his inability to pay my father his 18 months salaries as a teacher. I knew how hard it was then to pay for my school and boarding fees at St. Peter Claver Seminary Okpala. That action of Dr. Sam Mbakwe in owing teachers salaries in the state was unpopular, but you will agree with me that Dee Sam is still adjudged the best governor that has ever ruled Imo State.
I feel the plight of true workers of ISOPADEC. It is not easy for one to survive without money. But, I am glad that no true son or daughter of Ohaji/Egbema and Oguta LGA’s will die of hunger or hardship. We have a natural fall back as blessed farmers. We are productive in nature with lands flowing with milk and honey. We shall never lack. If Imo teachers didn’t die of hunger during Dee Sam Mbakwe led administration, my people won’t die of hunger today. In no distant time, I am very optimistic that our governor will pay in full what legitimately belongs to each worker in form of wages and salaries. Let us hold our governor by his words and give him a benefit of doubt. I believe that he meant well for us with unmaterialistic leaders from our region sitting around him. The present setting of ISOPADEC is a sad development that must be arrested by a proactive governor. Let us give Senator Hope Uzodinma a chance to right the wrongs in the commission.
Emeka Nzeribe, AgunwaOguta