DURING the second year of Rochas Okorocha’s first tenure as governor of Imo State, this writer visited Oguta, Imo State, and was shocked to find the town as a poor shadow of its once shining past. In fact, the level of deterioration and neglect, at the period in view, raised questions if what was happening to Oguta was not a deliberate plot in government circles ‘to deal with Oguta’ over the years. Indeed, the way infrastructure, tourism and natural resources were neglected was shocking; the effect on investment and entrepreneurship would not be forgotten for years!
Ihedioha and Okorocha
As repeated visits to the town showed worsening neglect, this writer began to engage indigenes of the town in discussions and debates. Satisfied that the worrisome trend needed to be addressed, this writer opened a Facebook page titled: “Imo State Governor, Oguta Deserves Better”, to add my voice to strident calls for revisiting the case of Oguta, a leading community with robust historical, economic, cultural and social values in the heartland of Nigeria. The focus was to engage public discourse ‘until something happens’. In setting up that social media community, one drew from the reasonable impact recorded with “Kalabari for Rivers Governor 2015” between 2013 and 2015. Though being a non-native may have affected the platform’s fortunes, one’s commitment to helping to change the tide did not abate.
Things went further southward in Oguta! The town was ridiculed with failed road projects (including Ogbuide Road (the main road linking Oguta to the rest of Nigeria), vandalised electric power transformers, total collapse of public power supply for about seven years, complete neglect of Oguta’s tourism potentials and lack of political will to approve and deliver the power turbine that should have been established at the confluence of Orashi River and Ohamiri Lake (Ogbuide Lake). Consequently, this writer, in December 2018, wrote a piece titled: “Oguta Deserves Better! Who’ll Take Responsibility?” That document was sent to some leaders of thought in Oguta with the primary intention of joining swirling talks for Oguta indigenes to do all that is politically and socially expedient to stem the tide of neglect of the town. Though the document did not specifically mention the 2019 governorship election, it was clear to its audience that the election presented Oguta a mega opportunity to ‘make something happen’.
That election has come and gone. There is a change of the party in power at the helm of affairs in Owerri with ebullient support of Oguta! A distinguished former deputy speaker of the House of Representatives and friend of Oguta, Emeka Ihedioha, emerged governor of the state. What more? A distinguished son of Oguta with an enviable resume, Alphonsus Irona, is the incumbent deputy governor.
The initial steps the incumbent governor of the state took – following his inauguration – show clearly that Oguta indigenes and friends of Oguta are right to believe that ‘finally, fresh air is blowing over Oguta’. The governor and his deputy led members of the current Imo State House of Assembly to Oguta for a three-day retreat. During that retreat and afterwards, meaningful steps have been taken to show that infrastructural restoration and development in Oguta and neighbouring communities will be a priority of this administration.
Fortunately, from what one has gathered thus far, as it is happening in Oguta, it also happening in other parts of the state. What are those specific areas that were left to deteriorate in Oguta before Emeka Ihedioha became governor of Imo State? Any suggestion(s) on how to create and sustain positive turn around? Hottest on the tray of expectations in Oguta is the restoration of the public power supply. After seven years of black-out, you can imagine the impact this will have. R
egrettably, there are perhaps a million stories for this state of affairs in Oguta. The new government under Ihedioha is said to be working hard to solve this problem as soon as practicable as this was a major request to every governorship candidate that went to campaign in Oguta during the 2019 electioneering period. The sheer abandonment of a proposed electricity turbine at the confluence of Ohamiri Lake and Orashi River (that would have replicated one of such in Japan) is worrisome. Truth is, that project, if established, will benefit Oguta and many surrounding communities, including boosting entrepreneurship and employment.
Can one talk about Oguta without mentioning the huge tourism potential of Oguta Lake?
Again, the community is counting on the governor to fulfil his campaign promise in this regard.
Also, the neglect of the small ship bearing potential on Oguta’s water resources leaves many questions unanswered. Just imagine the extensive economic and social benefits of linking Oguta with Port Harcourt and Onitsha by ships! It is one sure way of making Imo State an economic bastion. Again, as found in other parts of once Eastern Nigeria, ‘reminders’ of the Nigeria-Biafra Civil War in Oguta have been neglected. For instance, tourists visiting Oguta would like to know how ‘Biafran soldiers’ used the massive water tank at Egwe, a neighbouring town, to hold off Nigerian forces over a long period of time.
Neglect in setting up a proposed Oguta petrochemicals plant several years after the idea was mooted also deserves a review. With the unquantifiable benefits of the proposed plant for Imo State and Nigeria, it is a wonder that such a project can be thrashed! Governor Ihedioha must adopt political sagacity to reach out to the Federal Government to ensure that the proposal takes a huge leap away from the drawing board as it will bring about a horde of positive ripple effects. Imo State has several natural resources other than petrochemical.
Governor Ihedioha’s approach of hitting the tracks running with his 15-point ‘Contract With Imo State’ gives Oguta and the rest of Imo State confidence that the fresh air already blowing in the state will bring about huge developmental changes for posterity. The manner oil and gas companies and other investors in the state have implemented corporate social responsibility donations and other programmes in the state raise so many queries. The stories that are associated with these ‘efforts’ leave much to be desired, leaving one to ask:
who is fooling who?
For instance, is it the oil and gas companies or influential indigenes in the case of Oguta?
It is necessary for the state government to find lasting solutions to this avoidable confusion. The truth must be gleaned from the mirage of stories associated with those donations and programmes. Oguta deserves an ultra-modern market where the current market is situated. Such a market, with 20-24 hours daily electricity supply will boost entrepreneurial activities in the town and add value to Oguta’s tourism capacity, boost internally generated revenue and attract more social activities. Care must be taken, though, to ensure that the ultra-modern market does not end up being the ‘proud possession’ of the rich and mighty in Oguta.
*Recent incidents of violence and intolerance in Oguta Local Government and neighbouring communities is the result of a number of factors – political, social, economic and historic. They are not insurmountable! How the state government and leaders of thought in the affected communities manage them will be a subject of another article, probably in months to come.
*Also, in this writer’s opinion, the Magistrate Court beside the Post Office along Ogbuide Road does not fit the reputation and image of Oguta! The structure of an important arm of governance in Nigeria is a leading town like Oguta and this being the highest law court in the town should be far more impressive. With a better edifice, application of contemporary technology and adequate public power supply and ventilation, the benefits can best be imagined.
To call on Oguta indigenes to support the Ihedioha administration would be trite. From my observation, support for the governor could be likened to the thickness of a solid pillar. Oguta indigenes are also aware that they have key roles to play in helping the Ihedioha administration to succeed, particularly in protecting government and private sector investments in the town. Concern, therefore, is if the Ihedioha administration will deliver its many campaign promises to Oguta and the rest of Imo State. This writer’s honest guess is positive. However, it is up to the administration of Ihedioha-Irona to make this belief count. Why wouldn’t they?