By Collins Ughalaa
“Behold, I will do a new thing; now it shall spring forth; shall ye not know it? I will even make a way in the wilderness, and rivers in the desert” Isaiah 43:19.
One common theme that dominated the political campaigns in the build-up to the 2019 governorship election in Imo State was the agreement that the state under Owelle Rochas Anayo Okorocha had drifted way too far, and that something must be done urgently to restore Imo.
It was therefore appropriate and realistic that His Excellency Rt. Hon. Emeka Ihedioha campaigned for the governorship with the promise to rebuild Imo. This quickly connected with the masses of the state who had been forced into despondency by that inglorious and shambolic government. Having won the governorship election and assumed office as the Governor of Imo State, Governor Ihedioha is keeping his Rebuild Imo promise religiously.
The Rebuild Imo task is encompassing. From the economy to other facets, the Ihedioha administration is holistically taking up the gauntlet. This means that all hands must be on deck, all ministries, departments, agencies, statutory boards and commissions and staff of the government must be up and doing.
At the interventionist agency, the Imo State Oil Producing Areas Development Commission (ISOPADEC), under the new Managing Director, Engr. Owuoma Anthony Okwuosha, no stone is left unturned in giving new hope to the people of the oil rich and oil producing communities. In doing this, the new Managing Director is demonstrating pragmatism in the management of ISOPADEC. He assures that the Commission would not continue the way it was. Under his administration all things would become new in ISOPADEC.
Engineer Owuoma Anthony Okwuosha, inaugurated by the Governor, Rt. Hon. Emeka Ihedioha, on Tuesday, July 4, 2019, alongside the Chairman of the Board of ISOPADEC, Barr Magnus Obido, and members of the Board of the Commission, is a personification of loyalty, competence, experience and service. He holds the HND in Electronics and Telecommunication from the Akanu Ibiam Polytechnic, Afikpo, Abia State, and a Diploma in Power Cable and Umbilicals from Raychem Munich, Germany. He is a management consultant, majoring in Business Management and Human Capital Development. He is blessed with years of experience in the private sector, having worked for an oil servicing company, Interlinked Technologies PLC, Lagos, as the Business Development Manager. He rose to become the Head of the Engineering Department of the same company. He left in 2009 to venture into private business, majoring in Power Engineering Design, Procurement and Construction.
Since he assumed office as the Managing Director of ISOPADEC he is turning things around, making things anew and creating a new heaven and new earth in the Commission, as it were. He is driving a campaign for a change of attitude and values in the overall operational principles and strategies of the Commission. For him, it is no longer business as usual. And for a fact, Engr. Okwuosha would only do things or run programmes that add value to the people and the Commission, things that practically connect with the people not because of their fine nomenclature or the semantics, but because they practically address the needs of the people.
The Managing Director noted this when he interacted with the leadership of the Imo State Polytechnic on Tuesday, August 27, 2019. He said: “We cannot put our feet down where we cannot create value. We are in a hurry to impact on our people but we want to bank on things that we are sure of. Let us do things that would get our people into productivity.”
The determination to add value to the lives of the people of the oil producing communities of Ohaji/Egbema and Oguta local government areas has been the driving force behind what the Managing Director is doing at ISOPADEC. The challenges faced by the people of the oil producing communities are enormous but only a committed leadership as exemplified by Engr. Okwuosha can create value that would address these challenges.
Previous administrations in ISOPADEC had done a few things, especially what they called youth empowerment, where they assembled some consultants to teach a number of youths certain skills for a number of days. After that they gave some of the youths some money. But for the 12 years of the existence of the Commission this approach had not produced any results. It had neither engaged the youths nor added value to their lives or those of the suffering elderly farmers, including fishermen and women, who suffer untold hardship as a result of the degradation of the environment, and oftentimes outright takeover of their farmlands by the oil companies, and the spoilage of the rivers where the fishermen and women carry out their trade. At best the strategies of the previous administrations in the Commission had only enriched their friends who were the consultants, kept the youths idle and made them restive while spreading poverty and hunger.
To holistically address the challenges, the new management team concluded that they could not continue in the same practice and expect a fantastically different result. They started a new song. The new song was re-echoed by the Managing Director during an interview on Orient 94.5 FM in Owerri on Thursday, September 5, 2019. Responding to a question on what he was doing to reposition the Commission, he said that the new management was focusing on human capital development and changing “the priorities and narratives from the ISOPADEC point of view”. He informed his audience that “The Governor and his Deputy gave us a clear mandate and the free hand to run the affairs of the Commission and impact on the lives of the people. Our blueprint is purely to serve the people and show them how to fish in the true sense of it. We don’t want to spend a lot of money on consultancy fees and train people and they end up doing nothing. We want to engage our people in things that can really create value and economic opportunities that are sustainable. That is just what we are doing – human capital development”.
Engr. Okwuosha had taken the gospel of the new ISOPADEC to a group of academia from the oil producing communities. During a meeting with the members of the Ohaji/Egbema/Oguta LGAs Academia Forum (OEOAF) on Tuesday, August 20, 2019, the Managing Director intimated them of the paradigm shift in the Commission, noting that the Commission was no longer a charity organization. “People come for all kinds of support from the Commission and someone had told me that this place was set up for charity. Maybe that was the thinking of the people about the Commission and this thinking might be the reason that for the past 12 years of the existence of this Commission you cannot see any landmark project in any of the communities, neither can you find anyone who had benefited from any skill acquisition or the so-called empowerment from the Commission that is running his own business today. We will change this thinking because ISOPADEC is not a charity organization. We are here to serve the people and better their condition, but we are not here to do charity work”, he said. He tasked the group to partner the Commission to effectively address the challenges in the area in line with the state government’s policy to develop the oil producing communities.
The new ISOPADEC, under the Managing Director, acts within the ambit of the law. In the last eight years, there were reports that workers of the Commission were sacked, their salaries either slashed or stopped at will. A lot of abnormalities were reported to have taken place, including financial malfeasance. But the Governor, His Excellency Rt. Hon Emeka Ihedioha, says that enough is enough. This resolve led to his empanelling a team of intelligent and eagled eyed people to look into the books of the Commission within the period from 2011 to May 2019. The Panel has been going about its assignment.
Though there have been false reports from those who held the Commission down in the last eight years that Governor Ihedioha set up the Panel to sack the workers, the truth is that the Panel is focusing on finding out what transpired within the period of its mandate and how ISOPADEC funds and other assets were appropriated. Consequently, the Managing Director had reassured the people that neither the Panel nor the management team of the Commission was put in place to sack the workers or even slash their salaries. On Monday, August 26, 2019, while responding to the false reports, Engr. Okwuosha assured that there were no plans to sack the workers. He said that though the state government had the right to audit its staff, staff verification was a normal administrative procedure anywhere in the world.
He said: “Suffice to say, nevertheless, that while the state government has no agenda to sack the workers of ISOPADEC and has not mandated anyone to sack the workers of the Commission, government must continue to do its work without inhibition.
“Staff verification, including verifying the academic qualifications of workers, is an administrative function of government, and it is a continuous process, especially when we had for 8 years a government that was notorious for violating the Rule of Law and Due Process and for employing people without requisite qualifications. We reassert that the ISOPADEC Probe Panel is investigating the activities of the Commission from 2011 to May 2019, including staff recruitment. The intention of the Probe Panel and the request for workers of the Commission to submit the original copies of their certificates is not to sack the workers as the verification exercise is a routine administrative procedure anywhere”.
In the new ISOPADEC, contracts are awarded following due process. For the first time in over eight years, the Commission placed newspaper advertisements inviting qualified contractors to submit tenders for the six projects it is carrying out in the communities. Due process was followed meticulously, and on September 3, 2019, the bids were opened and winners emerged. The contracts have been awarded and the contractors have mobilized to site. In the spirit of the new ISOPADEC, the Tenders Board now meets periodically and the result has been outstanding. The staff of the Commission are pleased with the new turn of events in the Commission. The Commission almost exploded with joy recently as the workers jubilated upon seeing the tenders box, which they said they saw for the first time in over eight years.
The new ISOPADEC has staff that are focused and motivated. They appreciate what the new management team is doing to rebuild the Commission and impact on the lives of the people who have huge expectations from them. With the new management focused on rebuilding the Commission, the challenges inhibiting the smooth running of the Commission are being frontally confronted. With the huge support of the members of the Board of the Commission led by the Chairman, Barr. Magnus Obido, and those of the Governor, Rt. Hon. Emeka Ihedioha, and his Deputy, Rt. Hon. Gerald Irona, the Commission is focused on breaking new frontiers.
Collins Ughalaa could be reached via email: firstname.lastname@example.org, or via telephone: 07066222944.