The frequent collapse of public buildings such as classroom blocks, roads and other infrastructure constructed by Governor Rochas Okorocha of Imo State as well the crass abandonment of signature projects embarked upon by his government has given the people of Imo State more room for concern, more so now that he began the journey into his second term. Damian Duruiheoma captured some of them in this report.
When Governor Rochas Okorocha took the mantle of leadership in Imo State four years ago, he was immediately confronted with the enormity of work to be done. This was because Imo was in dire need of infrastructure. Youths were yearning for an escape from idleness and the political class was singing in discordant tunes to the detriment of the state. As a man believed to have come with a mission (Rescue Mission) then, Okorocha looked unfazed by the challenges he faced and the hurdles he needed to surmount to take Imo to a greater height. He immediately embarked on series of projects both needed and irrelevant ones and between late 2011 and early 2013, Imo State had become a construction site as all contractors relocated to the state to do contracts. This development attracted lots of praise to the governor, who even went ahead to win his second term election last April based on the projects.
However, going by the projects undertaken in the state recently, Okorocha seemed not to know where he was heading and the level he wanted to place Imo on the rungs of development. He seemed not be so conscious of what history would say about him by the time he left office and so he came up with what many in the state would call “substandard or china
projects”. Whether they would stand the test of time or not seemed not to be his concern.
While some commend the governor for aggressively aspiring to change the infrastructural outlook of the state, others accuse him of recklessly engaging in construction works without clear design or planning; taking on so much at the same time without showing any certain plan for completion, a development that had led to a collapse of dozens of public buildings, road projects and others constructed by the Okorocha administration.
This was manifested in most projects and programmes conceived and
implemented by the Rescue Mission administration which had either collapsed as a result of their substandard nature or abandoned by the government as result of lack of clear cut ideas on what to do with them. Just recently, no fewer than 200 pupils and about 15 teachers of the Uzii Primary School, along Mbaise Road, Owerri, the Imo State capital, escaped death by the whiskers when a twin-storey classroom building collapsed.
According to findings, the twin-storey building is one of the 305 class room buildings being constructed by Governor Rochas Okorocha in the 305 wards in the state and was under use for learning by the pupils and their teachers.
The UNION gathered that the roof of the building was blown off by rain storm as it fell within the compound when the pupils were about leaving the school premises around 3 pm.
The incident, according to reports, threw the entire community into panic, as parents stormed the school in search of their wards. This came as the newly renovated Dan Anyiam Stadium also caved in to the wind storm.
Before the collapse of the school building in Owerri, a multi-million naira Imo Film Academy, constructed along Egbu Road Owerri, at the premises of the Imo State College
of Advanced Professional Studies, ICAPS, collapsed barely one week after it was commissioned by the governor, thereby fuelling speculations that the building was one of the governor’s many substandard projects in the state.
Though, the state commissioner for Information, Engr. Chidi Ibe explained that the building collapsed by accident and not as a result substandard material. This came less than four months after a new security gate being constructed behind the main entrance gate to the Government House collapsed.
It would be recalled that a similar incident had happened last year at the Imo State University (IMSU), Owerri when a storey building lecture hall and office complex being constructed in the university campus collapsed.
According to eye-witness account, the building, which was built by the
state government, had been completed and roofed, but caved out from its base after the Plaster of Paris (POP) ceilings were put in place by the contracting firm. It was gathered that crack signs and sound awoke the sense of the students, who were taking shelter by the building. They were said to have hurriedly ran out of the vicinity; and just in a jiffy, the building caved out.
Also, a hotel in Okigwe, Prince Hotel, being constructed by the state government had collapsed in 2013, heralding the collapse of other public buildings and projects.
In relocating Imo State University, the governor, in record time erected what he called the Imo European University in his country home, Ogboko in Ideato South council area of Imo State. But the massive structures had been abandoned despite the governor promising that academic exercise would commence there by the
At Osemoto in Oguta council area, Okorocha commenced what is now known as the Marine University, Oguta. The said University was initiated in 2013 to, perhaps, sway political support in favour of the governor’s party during the period of the PDP-APC face off in Oguta, for the rerun of the Oguta House of Assembly seat. There was a ground breaking ceremony of the University in 2013 but till date the, the institution exists only in the media.
During the early days of the Okorocha administration, government also initiated the City Gate project which intended to build massive gates at the entrance of every major road or street within the state capital. This, government had perceived as a quality response to the crime situation in the state and an effective way of fighting crime. At some point, it seemed a success, but suddenly, following the alleged indebtedness of the state to contractors executing the projects, the projects were abandoned en masse leaving the state capital littered with uncompleted city gates, some of which had been knocked down by some angry neighbourhood in the capital city while the others were taken over as residence by vagabonds and street urchins. The city gates till date remain abandoned, dotting the state capital like relics of a cannibalised building construction.
On road projects which many of the governor’s supporters had tagged road or infrastructural revolution two years ago, rather than be happy with what Governor Okorocha had given them so far, most people of the state complained openly in anguish on a daily basis over very poor state of roads in the state.
In the state capital, Owerri and Orlu town, one of the major causes of traffic gridlock is bad road caused either by poor construction work or abandonment. Investigations reveal that there has never been any single three kilometre road completed bythe administration of Governor Okorocha without several ditches and gullies that leave people’s vehicles in very regrettable shape. This is as poor construction work done on most of the roads has led to erosion sweeping away some communities who now wonder when the government would start work on the abandoned roads to ameliorate their sufferings.
In some cases, roads such as that leading to the Federal Secretariat, Owerri, have been closed on motorists because plying through them means incurring worse punishment.
Obviously, one of the governor’s heart rending legacies reflected vividly around Works Layout, Owerri and IMSU back gate towards MCC road where the hitherto planned dualisation effort by the state government had since reduced these areas to an erosion-prone area.
Works Layout is the worst hit as government has since abandoned the said dualisation after initially grading some parts of the road exposing them to the rains which in turn have burrowed wide gullies along Works Layout, which were not there before 2011.
Also of note is the state of dilapidation of the Umuowa-Orlu old road which the government already scraped parts of it in preparation for dualisation, sadly, the road has since been left in a state of disrepair.
Also left in pathetic conditions are such roads as the new Sam Mbakwe Road in Owerri, the dualisation of Owerri-Orlu Road, Amaraku-Anara Road, Emmanuel College-Aba Road and the five kilometre Okwu Uratta-CPM road (Aladinma North Extension) among others. This road was abandoned since 2011 after less than one kilometre of the road was tarred. Community sources indicate that the road was merely tarred to a point near the property of Professor Tony Anwukah, the Secretary to the Government of Imo State; and the contracting firm thereafter gradually demobilized without anybodyequipment from the site. This is also the situation in most community roads where one or two kilometres were tarred while the greater parts of the roads were abandoned in very pathetic states.
According to a student resident within the Okwu-Uratta area behind Imo State University, the people of the community had since resorted to self-help, contributing money among themselves annually before every rainy season to pave the road and forestall further degradation by the rains.
Furthermore, the introduction of roundabouts in some parts of the state has not improved traffic situation as potholes and near lethal ditches occupying the circumference of the round-abouts make it difficult for ease of traffic. Now, the length and breadth of the state are replete with uncompleted roundabouts. From the Emmanuel College/Whetheral roundabout in the city centre through the Nwaorieubi roundabout in Mbaitoli council area; the Afor Umuaka roundabout; Amaraku roundabout; Anara roundabout; Eke Okigwe roundabout to the Orie Akokwa roundabout in Ideato North Council Area, none has been completed as potholes and ditches continue to deepen around these structures.
Speaking with The UNION, Chima Uzor-Opara, a public affairs analyst who was one of the fans of Governor Rochas Okorocha berated “I fell in love with Owelle Okorocha when he directed that every road in the communities be opened for construction and later announced his government’s policy on free education up to tertiary institution level. I had told people who were accusing him of not releasing money into the state’s economy that it is better for him to use the money to construct roads and enhance our education than sharing the money among politicians.
“But little did I know that we are in for more suffering. No money is being given to anyone; including those who had worked for the government with their personal money, and to cap it all very substandard road projects were being done. I vigorously campaigned against Okorcha’s return as the governor, but somehow, he is now our governor for another term and I think our problem will surely double”.
At New Owerri where the governor started the construction of the 27-storey Akachi Tower near Ahiajioku Conference Centre, the project had since 2013 been abandoned. The abandonment of the building did not come without a prize.
It was revealed that the main cause of the abandonment was because the Bill of Quantity for the contract was written in Korean Language which made it impossible for the engineers in the State Ministry of Works to decipher.
It was learnt that the project worth $52million had been abandoned after N1billion had been paid to the contracting firm, Hanjin Nigeria Limited and that the Korean partpartners of the company had since been deported because they came to the country with a visiting visa instead of work permit.
Some insider sources told The UNION that a soil test carried out by experts revealed that the land where the tower was being built could only support a 5-storey building as against the proposed 27-storeys.
An indication that the project would be abandoned came when the labourers were pulling up concrete, sand and water from the ground floor using jute ropes, through a manual pulley system in a high-rise building with no crane.
Additionally, in the build up to the last general elections, one of the governor’s most parroted achievements was the revival of the Imo Modern Poultry, Avutu in Obowo council area of the state, where he boasted that thousands of chickens, eggs and chicks were then available for those who needed them. He made public show of the poultry resuscitation and said henceforth thousands of workers which the poultry employed when established by the legendary Sam Mbakwe were then back to work. But, a visit to the poultry revealed that the place was now a grave yard of sort without any chicken and staff, even as grasses had taken over all nooks and crannies of the premises. This is equally the same with Ada Palm and Concorde Hotel where hundreds of staff were sacked in order to give room for the “investors” to recoup the money they paid to the governor.