Deconstructing The Mbakwe Years As Governor Of The Old Imo State

By Ikenga Chronicles September 11, 2017

Deconstructing The Mbakwe Years As Governor Of The Old Imo State

— Onyebuchi Ememanka

The Late Chief Samuel Onunaka Mbakwe PhD, the urbane lawyer who was elected Governor of the old Imo State under the banner of the defunct Nigeria Peoples Party (NPP) remains a reference point for positive development.

Till date, Mbakwe is regarded as the best Governor ever to come out from these parts as he embarked on heavy infrastructural development across the major cities that made up the then Imo State.

Mbakwe understood clearly then that economic development is driven by infrastructure and he pursued its development with an unapologetic mindset. He set up Industries across the entire state and founded the then Imo State University with a multi-campus structure at Etiti and Aba, using the premises of Madonna High School Etiti and Ngwa High School as take-off campuses.

But…

Two other things defined Mbakwe’s administration which are mostly not discussed.

First, Mbakwe’s administration borrowed heavily. Most of the heavy investments in roads, industries and educational facilities were funded with external loans.

Known then as the weeping Governor, Mbakwe always went to the then President Shehu Shagari in Lagos, the then Federal Capital to seek for additional funds since what the state got then was barely enough to run a smooth government and provide amenities for the people of the state. Mbakwe reportedly broke down in tears whenever he made a case for more money for the state.

When these funds were not forthcoming from Lagos, he decided to borrow externally and heavily. The funds from these loans were channeled majorly into road construction across the state. Mbakwe brought in construction firms like MCC into the state for roads construction and he committed himself to ensuring that quality roads were built.

By the time Mbakwe left office in December 1983, Imo State was neck deep in debt. This is true. But the people were satisfied somehow because he left a sterling record of achievements in physical development.

When Imo State was split into the old Abia and Imo States, these new states, naturally inherited these debts. Their monthly statutory allocations were charged with deductions to service these loans.

This trend continued even when a part of the old Imo State was carved and formed a part of Ebonyi State. Till date, these three states are still repaying the loans Mbakwe borrowed.

In September 2002, then Imo State Governor, Achike Udenwa told journalists in Lagos that a major challenge facing the economy of his state then was the heavy deductions from the state’s allocation for the servicing of the loans taken by Mbakwe’s government. He also made it clear that no one would blame Mbakwe then because that was the only option he had to fund economic development and growth.

Dr. S Okechukwu Mezu, a staunch Mbakwe supporter and Chairman of Golden Guinea Breweries Umuahia in 1979, in an article written in 2013, agreed that Mbakwe resorted to extensive external borrowings to fund the development of infrastructure across the state.

The truth is that most people who today applaud the giant strides of the Mbakwe administration are innocently ignorant of this fact. Indeed, many believe that Mbakwe performed magic in Imo State. Maybe he did, because he ensured that these borrowed funds were strictly applied for the use for which they were taken.

Ironically, even those who know this fact today want present governments to do some economic abracadabra to fund development.

Secondly, the government of Mbakwe was notorious for owing teachers. This is a historical fact. Primary and secondary school teachers were owed several months of salary arrears during Mbakwe’s administration. Feel free to confirm this fact from anyone who was either a teacher then or whose parents or relations were teachers. My parents were teachers then. While my late mum was in the primary school system, my late dad was a secondary school teacher and things were rough then as they complained to the high heavens then how Mbakwe didn’t care about their welfare. I don’t know if this situation affected other civil servants then but as for teachers, they didn’t find it funny throughout the years Mbakwe governed the old Imo State. I challenge anyone to controvert this fact.

The truth is that Mbakwe was obsessed with roads construction and industrial development. What I don’t understand is why teachers are always chosen to bear this burden by successive governments. I will do further research on this.

Then, Mbakwe was severely criticized for hating teachers and the opposition National Party of Nigeria and their 1983 Governorship candidate, Late Chief Collins Obi, the Ochiagha Dikenafai, feasted on it and made it one of their major campaign issues in the 1983 elections. Those who were around during the campaigns of 1983 will remember the popular song by the NPN then…COLLINS OBI, OZOIGBONDU, COLLINS OBI, ILAFERELA!
But Mbakwe was sincere and passionate about the development of the state. For him, every other thing was secondary, including payment of salaries.
Mbakwe didn’t find the 1983 elections funny at all. It was a tough battle. He was severely opposed. Then he used to tell his traducers…MA MBAKWE ACHIGI, OWU NNE GI GA ACHI?
In the elections, despite all the noise and and huge federal support, Mbakwe roundly defeated Collins Obi.

Today, no one remembers that salaries were owed during the time of Mbakwe. Of course those salary arrears were later paid but the roads he built helped jumpstart our economy then.

Is this an attempt at justifying owing workers? Of course not. A worker fully deserves his pay. His survival depends on it but in the business of statecraft, some hard decisions are inevitable. That’s the sad reality.

Today, no one remembers that Mbakwe ran a government built on loans because the loans were necessary demands then. The government had no other choice then, and of course the funds were properly applied.

Today, those loans are still being repaid by the governments of Imo, Abia and Ebonyi States.

In the quest for genuine development, something must give. You cannot have it all, especially when resources aren’t available to go round.

In today’s Nigeria, it is almost impossible for any government to effectively operate, build roads, hospitals, fund education and other social services, then pay salaries as at when due without some resort to borrowing. The money is simply not there because over the years, most states including the Federal Government have survived mainly on free oil money. No one cared about looking inwards to develop local productive capacity. We abandoned everything and lived a fake life of spending free money.
Even a state like Lagos which is clearly the most stable economically today survives mainly on taxes which flow from their huge population and their pre-eminent position as the epicenter of economic activities in Nigeria.

Don’t be deceived. Anyone who tells you that he has any magic wand to mint money to fund development here is just playing politics and nothing more. Until we re-jig our local economy, boost local economic development, invest heavily on infrastructure, boost internal revenue and properly manage what is available, “nothing de happen”. Even at that, turning around an economy that has survived over five decades on free oil money into a productive one takes time. It cannot happen overnight. Anyone who tells you that it can be done by speaking long grammar is an economic comedian. Trust me.

Borrowing is essentially not a bad idea. In financing of major projects, two sources of funding have always existed–equity contribution and debt financing.
What is important is how the funds are channeled when they are eventually secured.

So, I just laugh when some politicians and their followers applaud the achievements of Mbakwe and yet, they vehemently oppose the moves of the present administration in the state to source loans to fund infrastructural development. It is more so when one of them built his last gubernatorial campaign on the sourcing of loans to build Aba, yet today, he is building his 2019 campaign on castigating the plans of government to secure a loan to fix major infrastructure in the state.

Politics is intriguing.

May the soul of Dee Sam continue to Rest In Peace.

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