By Bayo Bernard
For eight years Owelle Rochas Okorocha ruled Imo state under the slogan ‘Imo Rescue Mission,’ because as he once said, his predecessors left the state in a very bad shape.
So no sooner he was sworn-in than he embarked on massive road construction across the state.
Within this period also, the Iberiberism exponent also allocated billions of naira for construction of government buildings, which in his estimation will add value to the state.
But as he sat in the Senate chamber last week, the former governor must have been disappointed that after spending so much to turn the state around, there’s little to show for his efforts.
This is coming amidst outpour of condemnation by people in and outside the state, that the former helmsman embarked on so many projects, which when probed thoroughly cannot be said to benefit the state, rather they were meant to satisfy his ego.
This assertion can be viewed from the duplication of many projects executed by his predecessors, his critics say.
For example, ex-Governor Okorocha had built a new government house in spite of the fact that his predecessor, Ikedi Ohakim built one.
The one left by Governor Ohakim was left to rot away on the excuse that the state deserved a better government house and offices.
“For many years the Agodi government house built by the defunct Western Government was used by successive administrations in the state.
In any case, Imo state is not richer than Oyo state, so it baffles me that Governor Okorocha decided to spend billions of tax-payers money on bogus projects that now litter the state like failed monuments.
But for many indigenes of the state, the ex-helmsman will be remembered for one thing: turning the state into a huge construction site as soon as he came to office.
On his departure from office on May 29, ex-Governor Okorocha boasted that there is “no more work” for his successor to do” because he has done all that’s needed to be done in terms of bringing development to the state for the period he was the chief executive officer.
He also stated that he left over N42 billion in various government owned accounts, to serve as take off for the new administration.
According to him, N8.1 billion has been set aside for payment of salaries and for capital projects, while N5.2 billion has been earmarked for payment of pension arrears.
He also said N7.6 billion had been set aside for renovation of schools across the state and N21.6 billion for the construction of rural roads.
“My government has kept aside a total of N42.5b for the in-coming government, and for that reason, I will set up a sub-committee to make sure that the projects they are attached to, come to fruition even when I am out of office because government is a continuum,” Okorocha said, charging Governor Ihedioha to shun corruption and “serve our dear state with all your might just as I have.”
Governor Ihedioha has denied these claims as the lie of the devil.
But the incumbent has not denied claims that his predecessor embarked on so many projects in the last eight years.
Meanwhile, government sources informed the magazine last week that proper need assessment was not conducted to ascertain their benefits to the people of the state.
“How much these projects have impacted on the people of the state, considering that the administration received more allocations from the federal government than its predecessors, and what it has to show for it are bogus road projects and tunnels that our people don’t even need at this times,” a senior civil servant who does not want his name mentioned told the magazine last week in Owerri.
No one is as worried as Governor Ihedioha.
The state’s helmsman, told the magazine last week in Owerri, the state’s capital, that his successor left the state worse than he met it.
The governor is even more worried over the level of indebtedness the former helmsman considering that “over N30 billion’ of judgment debt is hanging on the state.
The debt overhang is enough to cripple the state, but “I have been appealing to” those that got the judgments to allow for out of court settlement because the state cannot afford to pay, Ihedioha said.
Some officials from the state’s Ministry of Justice told the magazine that most of the judgments were secured by contractors and others who were shortchanged by the past administration.
“In some instances, swathes of lands were forcefully taken from owners under the guise of using them for public good, but as it turned out, those lands were acquired for family members and cronies.
In other instances, contractors were commissioned to execute projects, along the line the government terminated the contracts and refused to pay for the works already done.
The aggrieved parties took government to court. This is responsible for the billions of naira of judgment debt hanging dangerously on the state,” a ministry of Justice official told the magazine last Friday.
The official added that families of the former governor are the immediate beneficiaries of his government’s deceptive policies.
He explained that massive looting was carried out to “satisfy close family members and cronies of government.”
He may be right.
Among the multi-billion naira properties believed to have been acquired by the ex-governor and his family, during his eight year tenure, are the Royal Spring Hotels and Apartments, Eastern Palm University, Rochas Foundation College and many other choice properties, in Owerri, the state’s capital and across the state.
An estate valuer told the magazine that if the properties are sold the proceeds will be enough to execute many important projects that will benefit the masses.
“The former governor seems to have big appetite for acquiring properties. It would have been better if the state’s resources were not used to acquire the choice properties.
Before he became governor, he was almost down financially, and had sold most of his properties to contest the election.
But as soon as he became governor he started buying back the properties he once sold and even acquired more.
In most cases the properties are built on public and individual land forcefully taken by Governor Okorocha,” one businessman said.
Apart from his immediate families, his cronies also benefitted from the alleged unprecedented massive looting, the state experienced under Okorocha’s watch, close watchers of the state’s politics say.
“The Diaspora Village along Okigwe Road was built on a massive government owned land by a businessman very close to the governor and there are many others yet to be discovered ,” a civil servant in the ministry of land, said last week.
He said the government should immediately take inventory of these properties in order to find out whether they were legitimately acquired by owners, apart from probing the finances of the state under the former administration.
By the time Ihedioha beamed a searchlight on his predecessor, massive corruption would be unraveled from multi-billion naira roads contracts and other public properties executed by the immediate past administration, critic say.
Some of these projects have now been abandoned by contractors handling them while those that have been completed are in state of total disrepair, the magazine’s investigations indicate.
This is despite the ex-governor’s boast that he left a near utopian state for his successor.
But any recent visitor to the state will disagree with the ex-governor.
The Umuchima Town Bridge in Ideato South Local Government which has almost caved in on both sides of the expressway comes to reckoning, his critics told the magazine.
The former governor hails from this local government where he has now built a world class university.
The road leading to Imo State University Teaching Hospital, Owerri-Ibeiri, Orlu Local government, now waterlogged, cutting off users, others say are one of the imprint left by the former strongman.
The Orlu Owerri Road link bridge is also one of the badly executed projects by the former governor.
Not left out is the Orji Flyover that has been marked out for reconstruction.
Months after the completion of the flyover, it has been abandoned by motorists who believed that using the multi-billion naira bridge pose a huge risk to them.
Last week, the President Nigerian Society of Engineers, Engr. Adekunle Mokuolu, told the magazine that the bridge is one of the projects under investigations.
“The government invited us to conduct integrity tests on some projects executed by the previous administration,” he said adding that with the materials used, many of the projects cannot stand the test of time.
Engineers are currently working on the flyover to ascertain whether it is suitable for public use, due to cracks that are now visible all over the less than one kilometer flyover.
“This is the first time I will come across bridges and roads constructed without iron rods.
Rather, the contractors used blocks and gravels, leaving out the most important materials in road construction,” said one of the investigating engineers, employed by the current administration.
Meanwhile, Governor Ihedioha has disclosed that he has no intention of witch-hunting his predecessor, in spite of massive pressure on his government to do so, all he’s interested in, the governor said, is for ex-Governor Okorocha to return all he illegally took from the state.
Sam Onwuemeodo, media aide to the former governor failed to respond to the allegations as calls made to his mobile phone number were not answered.