Presidential visits, especially state visits, are one of the highest expressions of friendship and cooperation. Ideally, it entails reciprocal relationships. It has a great deal of political significance. For the august visitor, it’s a time not to lose moment in perspective. It serves as an opportune moment to either confirm perceptions or correct wrong notions. For the host state, a presidential visit is more than an expression of friendship.
Good leaders seize the advantage of the president’s visit to achieve a larger end, an opportunity to showcase what the leader has accomplished within a particular timeframe. The reciprocal relationship involves using the rare occasion to attract federal presence. That’s why great leaders use great power for great purposes. That’s exactly what Gov Hope Uzodinma of Imo state used President Buhari’s visit to the state, last Thursday. Contrary to some insinuations that the presidential visit wasn’t going to happen, the governor was able to pull it off . More than that, the galaxy of personalities who graced the occasion surprised even the president, and he acknowledged that much.
The coterie of personalities included retired top military officers such as Gen. Ike Nwachukwu, Gen. Azubuike Ihejirika, Commodore Ebitu Ukiwe, Gen. Ogbonna. Royal father, Obi of Onitsha, Afred Nnaemeka Achebe, political leaders in the zone as well as Dep. govs of Abia, Anambra, Enugu states, as well as church leaders and businesspeople, were all present. At such auspicious occasion, it was important that the host governor to explain what informed his choice of projects to be commissioned by the president. According to Uzodinma, the projects were “economically strategic”.
He said on assumption of office, he discovered to his “horror” that the infrastructure base of the state had totally collapsed, and almost all the road network broken down”. Floods and gullies have sacked many communities and submerged property. If in doubt about the havoc done by bad roads and flooding in the state, ask 70-year old Mrs. Adaugo Awaziem, from Ihiagwa, a community close to the state capital. For almost 20 years, she had never known what it meant to walk on a good road because of deplorable state of the Naze/Ihiagwa/Nekede/Obinze link road that connects her community. This is a strategic road that leads to two federal institutions of higher learning- the Federal University of Technology, Owerri (FUTO), and Federal Polytechnic, Owerri.
Lives of the residents in this area, students and staff were in danger. But not anymore. It was one of the roads rehabilitated by the state government and commissioned by President Buhari. On sighting Gov Uzodinma, Mrs Adaugo broke down in tears. It was hot tears of joy that welled in her eyes. It flowed down her face as she struggled to get close to the governor. She couldn’t imagine life could get better on that stretch of pathetic road. Overwhelmed, she cried out. She told the governor, “if this is the only road your administration is able to fix, God will bless you”. The feeling was the same for all who use that road. They wished presidential visits will be a regular occurrence. The Naze/Ihiagwa/Nekede/Obinze link road was one of the 46 solid road projects said it has successfully done in the last 15 months.
President Buhari acknowledged the quality of the projects and enthused, “I have seen enough that justifies the integrity of the governor on road infrastructure”. This was contrary to what the purveyors of misinformation said on the president’s closing remarks, which President’s Media Adviser, Femi Adesina, said was “contorted and twisted” out of context. Elated by the President’s commendation, Gov Uzodinma explained that his decision to focus on road infrastructure was to “permanently solve the perennial flooding in some parts of the state, especially the state capital, Owerri.
One of the projects commissioned by the President to address this problem is the Balloon driven tunnel at the base of Dick Tiger road. The tunnel measures 2.45km in length, 1.8 metre in diameter and between 0.9 and 11.5m in depth. But Imo state needs more of such projects. It’s heartening that the governor is embarking on other Balloon tunnels from Akwakuma/Egbeada/Alvan Ikoku axis. This should go hand-in-hand with massive urban renewal, which the state capital badly needs at this time of rainy season. One is not unaware of the criticism trailing the commissioning of the state new Executive Chambers by the President, in the governor said would make the formulation of policy and decision-making easier. It is better to take the governor at his words.
Beyond infrastructure, it’s important that Gov Uzodinma took the opportunity of the presidential visit to reassure the people, of his commitment to peace in the state, which he described as “irrevocable”. Inclusive government that will accommodate diverse interests is one of the ways to regain the confidence of the people. Governance as a human enterprise, requires competent hands, irrespective of party affiliations. Undoubtedly, insecurity remains a major problem in the state, exacerbated by the activities of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) and the opposition in the state. According to data from Nnewi Chamber of Commerce, Industry, Mines and Agriculture (NACCIMA), the economy of the South East zone lost over N50bn in four weeks alone due to the sit-at-home, orchestrated by IPOB. President Buhari is not the loser; it’s the people of South East and the economy. There’s need to rethink the sit-at-home protest. It’s hurting the ordinary people.
The enterprising spirit of Ndigbo which president Buhari acknowledged during the stakeholders’ meeting at the Banquet Hall of the Government House, is one endurable takeaway of his visit. It was an admission of the indomitable spirit of the people, and a repudiation of his earlier “the “dot in the circle” description of the Igbo in the Nigerian project. That’s why it makes sense when the president said, matter- of-factly, that “it’s unthinkable” of Ndigbo to leave Nigeria. That’s the window to look at his visit to Imo state, and draw lessons from.
The President General of Ohanaeze Ndigbo, Prof George Obiozor, in his speech, captured the essence of President’s visit. He described it as “more than a “political significance” that has thrown more light into the cloudiness and doubts surrounding the perception of the relationship between the government and Ndigbo”. His call for the federal government to release Igbo youths detained by various security agencies across the country, resonated well with the South East leaders present.
It should be heeded as a way to heal the wounds. Taken together, the President’s visit to Imo state should be seen as a huge success if the president makes amend in the cries of marginalisation of Ndigbo in his government. Buhari’s presence in Owerri, was an assurance of optimism that Igbo have a big stake in the country, no just in the commanding heights of trade and commerce.