[By Collins Ughalaa KSC]
Imo State is believed to be a civil service state. What this means is that there are no industries to engender robust economic activities and create job opportunities for the youths in the state. The blame is put at the doorstep of the government. Some go as far as saying that the state governments since 1999 had been negligent on the vexed issue of job creation. This assertion is oftentimes not the case. One governor that stands out in terms of job creation in the state is Dr. Ikedi Ohakim. With all the challenges his government faced, he took practical steps and ensured that the youths had jobs. The Ikedi Ohakim administration is especially noted for its ingenuity in creating the 10,000 Graduate Jobs Scheme. Driven by the Imo Job Centre, the Ikedi Ohakim 10,000 Graduate Jobs Scheme, perhaps the most transparent job creation scheme in the country since 1999, was targeted at meaningfully empowering the youths. The Ohakim government also created about 30,000 non-graduate jobs.
As laudable as the job scheme was, it became an object of dirty politics. Politicians in the state who felt intimidated by that ingenuity mobilized against it. They came up with all kinds of lies and stratagems. They said it was not true, that Ohakim was selling scratch cards. They said it was selective and that it was impossible to create employment at such scale; that the state economy could not carry such load; that the state’s civil service did not have that volume of vacancies. It was all negativity. But imagine N440,000,000 circulating in the state economy on monthly basis within the families of the 10,000 graduates, especially during the global economic meltdown. Imagine the future of the lawyers who were posted to the Judiciary. Imagine the future of the doctors posted to hospitals. The impact would have been massive.
The dirty political players hired the media to mount a campaign of calumny against Ohakim, aimed at shutting down the 10,000 Graduate Job Scheme. In the end they create a media mob against Ohakim and Imo youths who benefited from the scheme. All over the country the 10,000 Graduate Job Scheme dominated the discourse. Some newspapers wrote editorials against it. Some commentators wrote gibberish against it. One Uche Nwaorah, writing on Sahara Reporters, said that Ohakim could keep his job. He went on to accuse Ohakim of defrauding the job applicants. He said: “Perhaps the governor could have been forgiven if he had stopped at all these as one would have seen his many antics as political gimmickry. However, the state government’s recent attempt at obtaining money from the youths of Imo state by promising them ‘jobs for cash’ under the guise of ‘empowering youths and strengthening the public service’ should be condemned. The scheme should be shunned by the youths as the road can only lead to misery. There is no guarantee that after paying N2, 000, they can progress to the next stage of the interview. The capacity of Imo state to create and sustain 10,000 new jobs in this period of economic hardships when other states and private sector establishments are either placing embargo on employment, or are downsizing is also in doubt, considering that its internally generated revenue (IGR) status stills ranks amongst the lowest in Nigeria. This ‘jobs for cash’ scheme is unfair as better qualified candidates who do not have N2,000 to buy the scratch cards will be excluded from the recruitment process, thereby denying the state of their valuable skills and contribution to its socio-economic development”.
We wonder how Ohakim felt when he read those tirades against him. By the way, how did this unscrupulous writer feel when he realized that the 10,000 Graduate Job Scheme was a huge success? But stiff opposition against Ohakim went beyond the 10,000 Graduate Jobs Scheme. The planned refinery in Ohaji-Egbema became another object of bitter politics. Today, Waltersmith has demonstrated that it is possible to build a refinery in Imo State. One hatchet writer had even accused Ohakim of committing fraud with the dredging of Nwaorie River, irrespective of the fact the project belonged to the NDDC. The hatchet writer accused Ohakim of “perpetuating fraud in the award of the N8 billion dredging of Nworie River [sic]”. He claimed that the contract was awarded to Ruodo Nigeria Limited owned by Chief Tony Chukwu and that the contractor had aligned with the Ohakim government to defraud Imo State of colossal sums through inflated contracts. “The Ohakim-Chukwu dubious partnership was said to have started over two years ago and climaxed in the N8 billion Nworie River dredging contract awarded in March, 2009 [sic]”, he wrote.
Politicians did not allow Ohakim’s dream for Imo State come through. They fought against the Oguta Wonder Lake Resort and Conference Centre, Oguta. They kicked against the flyover project, the Imo Freeway and Toll Plaza Project, the new government house project, the transportation policy that birthed the Imo Municipal Transport Service (IMTS) with new taxis and buses. They kicked against the banning of commercial motorcycles in Owerri and the introduction of keke. They kicked against the Clean and Green Initiative, saying that Ohakim was only planting flowers. Some even had the temerity to say the Initiative was a drainpipe. What of ENTRACO and IROMA? They described Ohakim’s legacy projects as elephant projects.
Today, the political actors are on the prowl again in Imo State, shooting down every good intentions of Governor Hope Uzodimma. They have developed strategies to shoot down whatever programme the Governor has for the betterment of the state. Their objective is to pull the Governor down and make the state suffer. The same politicians that crucified Ohakim for banning Okada in Owerri were the same people who praised Fashola for banning commercial motorcycles in some parts of Lagos. Same with Rotimi Amaechi, Peter Obi, etc. More shocking was that the same people who condemned Ohakim for establishing the Imo State Investment Promotion Agency (ISIPA) applauded Anambra State for establishing Anambra State Investment Promotion Agency (ASIPA), years after Ohakim had done that. The same people, mostly youths, who applauded Okorocha for abolishing the novel 10,000 jobs scheme are the same youths crying over unemployment.
Like the rejected stone, the Ikedi Ohakim model reverberates across the country. Few months ago, the Governor of Cross River State, Ben Ayade, announced that he would employ 8,000 youths into the state’s civil service as part of his efforts to empower the youths, even as he further directed the recruitment of 20,000 persons into the state and local government services as a fallout of the #EndSARS protests. Few days ago, the Governor of Oyo State, Seyi Makinde, announced that he would employ 5,000 youths into the state’s civil service. In the same vein, Governor Nyesom Wike of Rivers State on Wednesday announced that his government would employ 5,000 youths into the state’s civil service. Those who criticised similar programme In Imo State a decade ago now applaud other governors for doing same.
Governor Hope Uzodimma has announced an empowerment package for the youths. But political actors are already ganging up against it. They do not want it to succeed, so they label it whatever they like. Their objective is to discourage the youths from participating in the programme so they can have reasons to say that the Governor has failed. They would tell you what they considered were priority projects. They said similar things to Ohakim. In the end, they are detractors, playing politics with everything.
Similarly, we read a news item on Thursday about a group of women purportedly from Umudibia Nekede Autonomous Community in Owerri West LGA, vowing to protest naked if the state government fails to repair the dilapidated Nekede-Ihiagwa Road. What is shocking really is that the threat from these women came barely 24 hours after Governor Hope Uzodimma had said the road contract would be re-awarded to a new contractor. We concede that everyone has the right to protest, but this move from the women is typical of the Imo politics. Driven by partisanship, most Imo politicians do not have the time to look at all the sides of the story. They only want that aspect that pleases them. This trend is not new, and it has been the bane of our development as a people. If these women knew that the Governor had taken steps already towards re-constructing that road, we do not think staging a protest would come to their mind.
In a related development, while we commend the Governor on his well-intended youths empowerment programme, we urge him to engineer more employment opportunities for the youths. The 10,000 Graduate Job Scheme remains a model anyone can look at for the benefit of the people, irrespective of what politicians say.