By Cllr. Celia Osakwe-Hibbert
Dear Imo Sisters and Brothers in the Diaspora,
After numerous calls of concern from you, I feel impelled to speak today in a language that, in a sense, is Diasporic; that is, bold, frank and urgent. Our State, Imo State has endured relentless security challenges recently that has led to numerous loss of lives and acute vandalisation of both private and public properties. This sadly is against the dark backdrop of CoronaVirus pandemic and #EndSars protests. So firstly I want to sincerely offer my condolences to all the families who lost loved ones both civilians and men in uniforms.
It is a shame that for one reason or the other, uniform men doing their usual jobs are now intimidated and sometimes killed on their duty posts. Several civilians also have lost their lives under various circumstances. These are all our kinsmen and women! Terrible! Imo has experienced spates of burning of Police Stations and killing of officers, burning of Local Government Headquarters. Our prison was broken into with over a thousand inmates released and most recently our Executive Governor’s Home was set ablaze.
We are all aware that various interest groups have decided to settle their scores at the expense of an average Imo citizen. The fear of fear has engulfed our people. Businesses and trades are slow and our nightlife which is one of the major income streams in Imo State is plummeting. For us in the Imo Diaspora Office, attracting both Imo Diaspora investors and Foreign investors is increasingly challenging because most headlines coming out of Imo are rather unpalatable. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced powers now exist and threatens to persist. This is not in the interest of an average Imolite both at home and in Diaspora.
Personally as a fellow Imo Diasporan, I want to encourage us not to be stampeded by rumours, single stories, incitement or nefarious excitements. Our greatest primary task I believe is to curtail the regurgitation of inflammatory voice and video mails on social media platforms.
Let us focus on propagation of peace instead of war. We must channel our anger, passion, dissatisfaction, frustrations toward development and not decimation of Imo State. We must positively support the government whilst preserving our rights of constructive criticisms, peaceful protests and civilised opposition whenever necessary. Luckily these upheavals we face today, are not unsolvable problems if we face them wisely, courageously and devoid of political sentiments.
We can be accomplished in all the parts that are lagging behind in Imo like good roads, jobs, women empowerment, transportation, healthcare, power supply, education, transparency. If we make gains in all of these sectors then we will automatically start to enjoy security. I’m convinced that we cannot achieve anything meaningful with violence, criminal damages, trespass, arson and worst of all killings.
For decades we have been labouring for a better life. Individuals have created unbounded interventions and untiring industries mainly hotels, to provide jobs and entertainment in Imo. So the challenge is not lack of wisdom, industriousness or patriotism by Imolites, the challenge is ailing and failing policies which require updating. There has also been the deliberate lack of support from our Leaders to create that ‘shared prosperity’ environment so that the individual efforts can escalate into community wealth to enrich and elevate the quality of our regional lifestyles.
It is imperative that Government’s imagination, support, indignation and initiatives will determine whether we build a society where progress is the servant of our needs, or a society where old values and new visions are buried under unbridled growth of ironical insubordination. So far being part of this current Government, I’m convinced that the Governor, Sen. Hope Uzodimma is determined to right the wrongs but this can only be achieved through collective struggle.
As a young girl who grew up in Nigeria before moving to England to seek greener pastures a decade ago, I can agree that there was (and there still is) lack of even opportunities across the regions. Although, I urge you instead to agitate for our Eastern leaders to develop Eastern Regions. Most of our Eastern Leaders have homes worth millions overseas, they have investments scattered everywhere.
They have kids who are beautifully educated and can afford 1st class medical intervention when they need it. They have security, water, light, access to jobs. They do not even share with us in the pains of bad roads because they possess private jets or highly suspended vehicles. All these amenities are what you promise us we will have in BIAFRA Land after half of us are dead?
I urge you to note that the better life you promise us is indeed possible and already in place among our elites and leaders, please channel your energy towards making sure that the better life is extended to the average Easterner. Please do not give ultimatums for killing the next Police officer or killing anyone; please give ultimatum for lights, roads, markets, hospitals, schools, jobs to be created and built by our various Eastern Governments.
I stayed 6 hours because of ‘bad road’ travelling from Aba to Owerri when I visited home a few months ago. Whereas when I was in Youth Service in Kebbi State far back as 2008, I spent only about an hour travelling from Birnin Kebbi to Sokoto; just 1hour! Birnin Kebbi to Sokoto is about the same distance as Aba and Owerri.
I had nearly 24 hours of light supply every day in Kebbi. Their markets were neat and well organised. There were jobs too and crime rates were in single digits. Their leaders have average homes, in fact their Governor then will sit outside his home with people passing by and greeting him like a normal citizen. I hope you get my drift.. Remember an average Igbo man is not lazy. All we need is an enabling environment A case study is ‘the outstanding performance of Imo Diasporans’.
In the desire not to show armament superiority but determination to show courage, build bridges and create stability (a difficult balance), the Government is slow to implore arbitrary counter actions. My understanding is that the Government has opted to toe the lines within the confines of a civilised society. Equally, the Governor is taking the difficult path of inventive solutions to ensure that more Imolites are not dedicated to death, but consecrated to life, a better life than we’ve never had in Imo (if I didn’t genuinely believe this, I will resign from this Government).
The Governor has taken full responsibility and is ever prepared to be subjected to fair scrutiny but promises not to be deterred from restoring our lost glory, our hopes, aspirations and our common wealth. The Governor also warns (again) of the consequences of allowing illegitimate acquisitions as this leads to unwarranted influence, dominance and perverted sense of entitlement. He urges that we all as true Imolites, hold our footings deeply rooted in democratic resolutions as this is the only honorable way to achieve our collective goals. “We have the opportunity to judge him based on performance but we also have the opportunity to join him in rebuilding Imo” the Governor requests.
The Governor has unreservedly sympathised with families who have lost loved ones. The Governor has also sympathised with those who have lost livelihoods. The Governor of Imo State, Dist. Senator Hope Uzodimma understands and respects the strength of feeling of Imolites both at home and in Diaspora. Nevertheless, he condemns all acts of killings, violence, criminal damage, trespass and intimidation and asks us to join him in condemning the same. We must never let the weight of the combination of intimidation and fear endanger our liberties, our basic coexistence, our inherent optimism and our faith.
Imo is a great State, it will endure as it has endured, but this time it will also revive and will prosper. I am determined to contribute my quota and I’m sure a lot of Imo Diasporans are too. My brothers and sisters I want to also remind us that Imo is our problem no less than it is the Governor’s and together, we cannot fail. In the pursuit of a better future we must appreciate each and every life.
We must learn to sit on the table of brotherhood; throw blows and disagree but never bathe ourselves in ‘kindred’ blood. That era of blood bath is gone, we are in the 21st century and contrary to the claims of some, there are several ways to make demands that won’t cost us the lives of our people. I have a firm conviction, a conviction rooted in my ‘eastern blood’ that with these brutal wake up calls, we now have no choice but to birth a new Imo everyone will be proud of. We are on course and collectively, with a firm audacity of hope today, we can achieve a better tomorrow.
Stay safe, keep faith and may Chukwu Abiama bless all Imolites.
Cllr. Celia Osakwe-Hibbert is the Special Adviser to the Imo State Governor on Diaspora Affairs.