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Sam Mbakwe And Imo Leadership Challenge

There is a growing suspicion among the citizenry of Imo State that the State is probably afflicted with the leadership equivalent of autoimmune disease, which attacks the tissues it is meant to protect. The exception is the first elected leader of the State, Dr Samuel Onunaka Mbakwe (1979 – 1983), whose successors have left Imo worse off instead of taking it back to the lofty heights it attained under him. Could it be that Mbakwe’s transformational leadership attributes, including wisdom, dynamism, and the ability to inspire have proven inimitable to his successors? 

Nearly four decades after the Mbakwe-led administration, which included the current Abia State, the genuine the landmarks in the State are still those associated with it; little else in the landscape defines such an industrious, resilient, and patriotic population. For example, Imo State University was established by that administration, the iconic Concord Hotel too, ditto Imo Glass Industry, Standard Shoe Industry, Imo Modern Poultry, Avutu, Nsu Ceramic Industry, and the Imo Airport now the ‘Sam Mbakwe International Cargo Airport’ among others. Nearly all the projects are now moribund, no thanks to the troubadours that had taken the State down the road to perdition.

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Such was Mbakwe’s ability to inspire and galvanize, that he once mobilized most of the followers to the site of the airport project to work gracias, manually and patriotically, towards itsrealization, which then seemed like climbing Mount Everest. That singular act exemplified deference to the social contract between the leader and the followers. It is notable also that the above projects were accomplished within four years.

Theoretically, successive leaders had sought to benchmark Mbakwe, but without success. It appears to be mere academic posturing and delusions of grandeur, as verifiable indices do not imply any causal relationship between the late statesman’s leadership acumen and that of the wannabes. Based on the gut-wrenching impoverishment of the citizenry over the years, such leaders could even be accused of hurtful dereliction of duty.

Chief Achike Udenwa took over Douglas House in1999, after a protracted military rule that should have allowed civilians enough time for sober reflection. Not one to rock the boat, he saw no evil and did no evil, yet all that is left in his report card is the New Imo Secretariat, and Imo State University Teaching Hospital. How come the landmarks associated with Udenwa are so scanty after eight years in office, and how does his stewardship compare to Mbakwe’s four years?  Chief Ikedi Ohakim came in 2007. Granted, he respected established norms of administration and relied more on institutions than cronies. But apart from the laudable Clean and Green programme, and the Jobs Centre that became a mirage, what else is Ohakim’s four years tenure remembered for? Yet Mbakwe who spent about the same length of time in office is virtually awaiting beatification.

When in 2011 Rochas Okorocha came into Douglas House, he dealt harshly with ‘my people, my people’.  Mbakwe he was not! In fact, he had a confessed disdain for due process and the rule of law. But in terms of the number of projects conceived to die prematurely, Okorocha was incomparable. The former governor is now a Senator of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.

After eight years, Okorocha was succeeded by Rt. Hon. EmekaIhedioha- the last person Okorocha would have wished such grace upon. The former lawmaker desired to be loved like Mbakwe; therefore he appeared to take governance seriously. Ihedioha did his best to ensure that the system yielded positive social outcomes, although even the legendary Lee Kuan Yew could not have transformed Singapore in seven months. When Senator Hope Uzodinma took over the helm of affairs in January 2020, some were excited while others were gobsmacked and utterly bewildered. Apparently, for Onwa Oyoko, 12 years as a senator had felt like mere foreplay that did not assuage his craving for executive powers in Imo State. Thus, he fought like a wounded lion to satisfy the craving and won. Now he is also said to be incarnate of Mbakwe, and that is fair enough! Imo people would be willing to propitiate any gods that they might have profaned or otherwise offended if that would enable Uzodinma to take them higher than Mbakwe did.

Fortunately, a few low-hanging fruits are available to help him deliver sustainable growth and ‘shared prosperity’ – his catchphrase. First, though, his administration should be open, engaging, and willing to return power to the people without expecting the same timid admiration that heralded Okorocha’s early days. It is not every relationship that is built on ‘love at first sight’, especially when that sort had once ended in tears. What is important is earning people’s trust and empowering them to earn their crust. Mbakwe once organized fundraising to help develop the State, and the followers donated generously because they trusted him. Endless verification exercises or search for ghost workers are now seen as vilification and an archaic ploy to deny workers their due. Okorocha had abused such tricks, and the people are no longer amused. Therefore, Uzodinma would go far in the direction of Mbakwe if he places the people first; nothing more would do his profile a greater favour. It is too early and distractive for the administration to be dealing with protests over its acts of omission or commission even if those are ‘politically motivated’.

It is gratifying to hear that Governor Uzodinma, while in charge of some senate committees saved the federal government about N130 billion cumulatively. Surely, Imo could do with the same penchant for saving, but while paying 95 aides, asides from other humongous overheads? Profligacy and saving are two parallel lines, and conspicuous prebendalism could lead to an own goal. If, as reported, some of his aides are quarrelling over some juicy, overlapping territories, then he should feel concerned.

If Uzodinma were to be incarnate of Mbakwe, he would approach governance with thoughtfulness and proper planning, and the followers would key in. He would pursue effective urban renewal that delivers durable roads- not the sort of death traps that people used to place curses upon. He would transform Owerri, modernize its sewage and drainage systems, and explore the potential for renewable energy to return the Capital to a 24-hour status. He could borrow a leaf from Ohakim’s ‘Clean and Green’ programme to deliver recreational parks and green areas, and also get to grips with the traffic challenges in the capital, not forgetting rural development etc.  These would require funds, thus making a case for harnessing the potential of technology to block revenue leakage and enhance internally generated revenue as Edo State seems to have done. If Governor Uzodinma ends up restoring the dignity of Imo State, the search for Mbakwe’s successor should have a satisfactory denouement.


Dr. Ekwebelam



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