23rd July 2024
Columns Eastern News Politics Viewpoint



By Sir Roy Iwuala

Whenever the issues relating to the Imo State Oil Producing Areas Development Commission (ISOPADEC) flashed through my mind, what I always remember vividly is the ancient Greek folktale about a farmer who had a goose that laid one golden egg on daily basis. One day, the said farmer thought that if he killed the goose, he could get all the golden eggs inside. The story concluded that by killing the goose, he lost everything.

The foregoing story goes a long way to show how the former governor, Senator Rochas Okorocha, behaved like the farmer in the said ancient Greek folktale. Given the circumstances of ISOPADEC during the administration of former governor Okorocha, one would not be mistaken to describe the Commission as paralyzed or in comatose. Without mincing words, reports indicate that the former governor misappropriated the funds of the Commission as well as used it as an instrument to divide and polarize the people of the oil rich communities. Sadly, majority of the communities were shut out from electricity supply for about eight years, just like the Ideato nation. Lamenting the deplorable condition of things in the oil rich communities for eight years, a socio-cultural organization known as “Ogbako Ohaji” under the leadership of Chief Goddy Obodo decried the absence of portable water in Ohaji/Egbema and Oguta Local Government Areas (LGAs) when the group paid courtesy visit to the new Managing Director of ISOPADEC, Engr Anthony Owuoma Okwuosha. Indeed, the needs of the people were neglected.

However, it is my sincere belief that ISOPADEC was established to be a golden goose for the people of the oil producing communities of Ohaji/Egbema and Oguta LGAs of Imo State. The Commission, no doubt was expected to provide steady and much needed empowerment for the people. Also, it should offer vast job opportunities. In addition, with its regular allocation from the federation account, it should address infrastructural development, and the like. How these gains or dividends are maximized for common good remains a cause for worry and concern, and which calls for vexed questions. Nevertheless, the so-called dividends are sheer paltry gestures from the federal government that drills for oil worth trillions of Naira from this oil rich area.

In spite of the foregoing, the governor, Rt Hon Emeka Ihedioha, wouldn’t want to do anything that could kill the golden goose of the oil producing communities of Imo State. In fact, in the spirit of saving this golden goose, the governor constituted an investigative panel to look into the management of ISOPADEC (for the period, May 29, 2011 to May 29, 2019) following the hue and cry about the mismanagement of the Commission’s fortunes by the immediate past administration. The probe panel has Chief Romanus Ezeogu as Chairman.

Regrettably, for about five months now, the report of the said probe panel has not been made public, not to talk of being implemented. The question arises as to whether or not the probe panel’s report has been submitted. Also, the worry, which needs to be addressed by the governor is the one demanding when the report should be expected to be made public. In any case, it is questionable whether this delay is a good way of addressing the peculiar problems of ISOPADEC. Methinks that this time lag does not bode well for the Commission’s future, particularly where it has given room for widespread rumours, gossips, restiveness and agitations of all kinds.

Another reason for the restiveness in and around ISOPADEC was based on the hearsay that the Managing Director of the Commission, Engr Anthony Owuoma Okwuosha and the Commission’s Board Chairman, Barr Magnus Obido had instituted an internal staff audit in order to determine the staff strength, and thus checkmate the ghost workers. The said staff audit was reported to have reviewed staff attendance record and other related issues in the liaison offices at Ohaji/Egbema and Oguta LGAs as well as the headquarters at Owerri for the period, July 2019 to September 2019.

Surprisingly, so much fears and furore have been expressed by the staff of the Commission over the alleged audit exercise, which some of them perceive as a witch-hunting ploy. The misgivings may have prompted the publication in the Nigerian Horn and Community Watchdog of Thursday, 7th November 2019, which showed that the leadership of the “Ohaji/Egbema and Oguta Patriotic Youths Forum” urged Engr Okwuosha “to do all they can to cleanse the Commission, and to revert it to the ideals of its establishment twelve years ago.”

It was even reported that the leaders of the Labour Union and the Welfare Union in the Commission are doing so much to placate the Management not to implement the recommendations of the said internal staff audit report panel. To worsen the matter, the Management of ISOPADEC has said nothing on whether or not it instituted such a secret internal staff audit.

It is pertinent to state that the Management of ISOPADEC should take a very cautious approach in dealing with the said internal staff audit report. In essence, we are in a democracy where an investigative panel (by whatever tag) should put its report in the public domain in order not to put idol in the minds of people.

Without mincing words, if the Commission has not truly conducted internal staff audit, it is very urgent and necessary that it should be done. Frankly, there are glaring cases of ghost workers in the Commission. The leader of the said Patriotic Youths Forum, Dr Kelechi Eze, pointed out that the said internal staff audit report, which they saw proved that 180 out of the 320 employees of the Commission were ghost workers. To buttress this case, I was reliably informed that there is a certain young man (names withheld) who is still in the payroll of the Commission, but had since traveled abroad in search of greener pastures. For Christ sake, it is not fair, not right, and not just to waste scarce fund on ghost workers when there are teeming jobless youths from the same area who can fill such vacancies and who are ready to work. Indeed, people who are not available to work should not be available for pay. Such people should be flushed like the toilet.

At this point, I must give kudos to the Managing Director of ISOPADEC for making great strides to address the needs of the people as well as commencing worthy projects for the development of the oil rich communities. For examples, the empowerment through cassava buyout scheme, reviving of the moribund Oguta Wonder Lake project, construction of Olympic size swimming pool, restoring electricity to the oil rich area, building classroom blocks/hospitals/markets, road construction, bursary and general training, to mention few, are signs of good beginning for the golden goose to lay golden eggs.

In conclusion, there is need for the probe panel report and the internal staff audit report to be released and for action to be taken following the respective recommendations. The interest groups and persons in the Commission trying to stifle the release and implementation of the probe panel report and the internal staff audit report need to know that the era of business as usual has gone. Now, the bull must be taken by the horn. This is the only way in which the worries, questions, and whatnot about ISOPADEC will be assuaged. And, by this, the Commission will be in a better position to play its role as the golden goose that lays golden eggs.

It is evident that I didn’t go out of my way to write this piece. I had resolved for quite a long time not to be a party to the sing-song against the PDP-led government. In fact, Imo State suffered a mind boggling damage when we were too slow, and so to say, afraid to exhibit our discontent and frustrations arising from former governor Okorocha’s inability to get its priorities right. However, I was propelled into writing on this topical issue by a self-induced commitment and not necessarily to play to the gallery for pecuniary advantage. This decision was based on the conviction that Roy wouldn’t want to be caught on the raw since as a raw writer with raw talent, Roy really wants to hide that skill of writing in the raw. And Cyprian Ekwensi aptly captured my disposition when he asserted that, “No one ever writes well without an inner compulsion.” Also, Amos Alcott added that, “One must be a wise reader in order to quote wisely and well.”

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