[By Collins Ughalaa KSC]
The realities in Imo tend to compel us to do certain things if we must have the State of our dreams. One of the things to do is to understand that between 2011 and 2019 a lot of water went under the bridge. Another one is to understand the urgent need to right the wrongs. The other thing to do is to understand that we should not overtly or covertly give fillip to brigandage. Yet another thing to do is to appreciate the need to stand by our heroes and not stand by the villains. No leader should be allowed to keep his loot. No one who blatantly abused his office, using public funds and other resources, to build a university and convert same to himself, all in the name of a certain Public Private Partnership (PPP), should be allowed a field day. We should not roll out the drums and celebrate the same man we should rather be questioning. In the best interest of the State, we should ensure that we do not allow our emotions run amok and get the better hold of us when dealing with issues bothering on corruption, abuse of office and outright criminality.
On Wednesday, December 2, 2020, we posited that the move by the State Government to revoke illegally acquired lands in the state is rather a great service to, and fulfilment of the aspirations of, the people of the State. We frowned at the fact that lands hitherto belonging to the State Government and individuals were callously acquired by top officials of the Okorocha government. If we continue to turn a blind eye to these serious breaches and outright criminality, we would wake up one day to the realization that the entire State now belongs to just one person. We are not averse to individuals acquiring wealth. We are unapologetically averse to abuse of office and criminal acquisition of public property.
There are people who believe that if the recovery going on in the State is what Governor Hope Uzodimma can do for the first four years of his administration, they will be happy with him. Governance is not about building infrastructures alone. It is about solving problems as well. The eroding of our collective values, the invasion of our common patrimony by those we entrusted with power is alarming. We cannot move forward meaningfully by ignoring those problems and refusing to fix things up. This is why we are happy with the news that the State Government has made moves to recover the Eastern Palm University (EPU). Before the recent move, the new Interim Management Committee of the Imo Transport Company (ITC) on Thursday, December 3, made moves to recover the vehicular assets of the company, which were allegedly converted by a former Commissioner of the Okorocha administration to start his own private transport company. Vehicles recovered during the operation included: Toyota Sienna ABC 170 XB (031), Toyota Sienna AFK 10 ZY (022), Toyota Hiace CHR 99 XB (054), Toyota Hiace ABJ 580 XP (052), Toyota Sienna UMG 798 XA (034), Toyota Coaster 865 XA (061), Toyota Sienna NKR 641 XA (033) and Toyota Hiace EKE 451 XA (053). This recovery followed earlier recovery of two coaster buses belonging to ITC at Benin City, Edo State, where they were abandoned.
The recovery of vehicles allegedly belonging to the ITC in keeping with the recovery and revitalization of all moribund State assets of the State Government is no doubt an eloquent testimony to the selfless commitment of the Governor in cleansing the Augean stable. ITC saw its glorious days during the administration of former Governor Ikedi Ohakim who positioned the transport company to compete favourably with the giants in the transport sector. ITC became a choice transport company to many, with routes to Ghana at a time. ITC had brand new luxurious and mini buses, with terminals in many cities, especially Lagos and Abuja. Ohakim also established the Imo Mass Transit Service (IMTS), with air-conditioned buses and taxis, to take care of the local transportation needs. All of these assets vanished once Okorocha assumed office. The worrisome disappearance of the vehicles belonging to ITC and IMTS, and trucks, and other equipment procured for the Imo Roads Management Agency (IROMA) and the Imo State Environmental Transformation Commission (ENTRACO) is a dent on the Okorocha administration.
Like the mindless acquisition of land, the appropriation of the Eastern Palm University by an individual is an eyesore and a recipe for anarchy. The Eastern Palm University is noted among the wonders of the Okorocha era. During his first term of office, Okorocha mooted the idea of relocating the Imo State University (IMSU), Owerri, to Ogboko. The proposal met a brick-wall as Imo people kicked against it. Unmoved by the criticism, the Okorocha government continued with acquiring land through a mindless revocation order by Uche Nwosu who was the Commissioner for Lands and Urban Development, and Okorocha’s son-in-law, for the purpose of relocating the Imo State University to Ogboko. The establishment of the University was captured on page 12 of the 2013 budget of the State Government, wherein it was identified as the Imo European University. Imo people were, however, shocked to learn of a change of name to the Eastern Palm University. On April 13, 2016, the National Universities Commission (NUC), via its letter to the Imo State Government, said it approved Eastern Palm University. The NUC said the Eastern Palm University was the second state-owned university in Imo State and 42nd state university in Nigeria.
Prior to this, the State Assembly had through its Law No. 20 of 2012 established the Imo European University as an investment of the State Government. This law, for obvious reasons, was repealed in 2016 and a new Law No. 13 made, which changed the name of the University to the Eastern Palm University. Furthermore, by the Imo State Law No. 7 of 2018 the Visitor of the EPU was changed from the “Governor of Imo State” to Rochas Okorocha or any representative to be appointed by his Rochas Foundation. Finally, another law, the Imo State Law No. 3 of 2019, just before Okorocha left office, gifted him and the Rochas Foundation the University by awarding 90% stake to them. Beyond manipulating the State Assembly to make fraudulent provisions in the laws that established the University, a certain Memorandum of Understanding was said to have been signed between Rochas Okorocha in his individual capacity, Rochas Okorocha as a Foundation and Rochas Okorocha as a Governor, wherein the stakes were distributed, including the management of the University. Nothing betrays the fraudulent handling of the University more than the fact that between 2012 when the idea of the University was born and 2019 when it was finally executed, the State Assembly had made four laws for just one University.
Pained by the manipulation of the House and the gluttonous acquisition of the EPU, the Orluzurumee Youth Association in August 2020 instituted a legal action at the Imo State High Court “to recover, reclaim and restore the Eastern Palm University from the corrupt and cruel stranglehold of Rochas Okorocha to the people of Imo State”. During its press conference on August 22, 2020, the youth body noted: “What we seek, in essence, is a declaration of court that the Eastern Palm University, which was built with state resources and all instruments of state power, is indeed a property of Imo people; and the management, control and running be accordingly vested, whole and entire, with the Government of Imo State on behalf of the people of Imo State. We seek, more fundamentally, an order of the court nullifying the fraudulent Section 3 (3), (4) and (5) of the Imo State Law No. 3 of 2019, which are unconstitutional, immoral and wrongful, to the extent that they confer benefits and privileges on Rochas Okorocha as a person, his Rochas Foundation, his cronies and his proxies in the ownership of Eastern Palm University. This infamous and anti-people law was hurriedly cobbled together and nocturnally consented to by Rochas Okorocha in total abnegation and violation of his Oath of Office as Governor of Imo State.”
In the face of what seems to be a criminal manipulation of the State Assembly and abuse of office, should Governor Hope Uzodimma play politics and pretend nothing had happened? Elders don’t sit at home and watch the she-goat deliver in the tethers. Something has to be done. We should not be quick to input politics in every government action. Sad as it may be, that some students are already enrolled at EPU and taking lectures is not enough reason to allow the criminal conversion of State investment to go just like that. Universities are citadels of learning, where the students are not only trained in academics but in morals also. On this plank, the students ought to be angry that the University where they are being trained has a faulty foundation as it is the proceeds of a criminal manipulation of the State Assembly and conversion of State investment. While we encourage our people to invest at home, we cannot be party to converting State investments in the guise of investing at home.
Furthermore, we consider Okorocha’s recent admission during the matriculation ceremony of the University recently that his Rochas Foundation College owns 90% share of the Eastern Palm University and that the State Government has the option of selling its 10% share to the Foundation as shameless, irresponsible and outright attempt to flex muscle with the State Government. We also note that Okorocha’s revelation that the University was not established to make profit but to provide education for children from less privileged homes as playing to the gallery.
We call on the Imo State House of Assembly to rise to the occasion and bite the bullet, by repealing all the repugnant laws that ceded the Eastern Palm University to Okorocha and his Rochas Foundation, particularly the Imo State Law no. 20 of 2012, the Imo State Law no. 13 of 2016, the Imo State Law no. 7 of 2018 and the Imo State Law no. 3 of 2019. Repealing these laws and returning the ownership and management of the Eastern Palm University to the State and the people may be the greatest acts of redemption ever by the State Assembly.
The House should unite in doing this without considering political affiliations or personal benefits. The time to act is now.