UZODIMMA AS ANOTHER ASKIA MOHAMMED
Now that the dust of the vexatious 100 days media war is dying down, can we have a clearer picture of the Imo skyline? Now that the flood of abuse, accusations and counter-accusations are in recession, can we see the potholes away from the level surface? Now that heaven has turned its ear away from wishful prayers and protests, will the wisdom that every authority is of God prevail? Democracy dies where opposition crumbles, no doubt, and the Imo opposition is understandably active but it is also very vehement. Pernicious opposition hardly provides solution, for reason is often worn out by attrition. The impervious layer dropped by the heavy smoke of its unrelenting shots at Imo Government House can diminish tour de force. Governor Hope Uzodinma’s early days are overcast by shadows of propaganda and mischievous agenda of the opposition. But there is hope.
His opponents dismissed his case with the wave of the hand till the court of no appeal delivered justice. Then protests. And when protests yielded no dividends, mockery came handy. The prey is too heavy for the kite to take flight, some said, but the kite made it to the iroko. The administration has since come far too strong. The story of Mohammed Abu-Bakr El-Ture, known as Askia Mohammed the Great of the Songhai Empire, readily comes to mind. In Sen. Uzodinma, this great African that lived five centuries ago came alive once more.
Abu-Bakr-Ture succeeded Sunni Ali, whose extensive conquest of Western Sudan brought the major cites of the old Ghana and Mali empire into Songhai. When he died in 1492, he had two princes tipped to succeed him, besides an ambitious Songhai general as well as Askia, who was the chief minister. All the four fought for succession in an epic battle that lasted half a year. Abu-Bakr-Ture emerged victorious but, guess what? The very day he led his victorious cavalry into the capital city of Songhai, the two sisters of the defeated princes shouted “a si kyi a! a si kyi a! (meaning no, no he is not the king).” When he heard this, he burst out laughing and retorted, “well, well, what a noble name! As an emperor, I wish nothing but to be called that name, Askia.” Askia ruled for 35 years and built the greatest empire in West Africa.
Similarly, Uzodinma defeated three formidable opponents to emerge the governor of Imo State but the vociferous opposition who even after 100 days still believes Lazarus will resurrect are playing the sulky Songhai princesses. He has plentily been named in derision ! “Abba Kyari Governor, Abuja Governor, Supreme court Governor” and now, the unrelenting torrents of fake press releases in manner and style of the administration’s spokesperson. Like Askia, the governor has no choice but to absorb with monastic stoicism what the Great Zik of Africa would call “panjandrum,” bearing in mind that the only language which pulls the rug off the feet of any opposition is quality performance.
Askia Mohammed was not a scholar but he surrounded himself with scholars. Under him, the lost glory of the famous Sankore University in Timbuktu was restored, attracting prominent Islamic scholars and architects who helped him build edifices that stand till today as world heritage sites in Mali. He also attracted the attention of historians such as the all-time African history greatest, Leo Africanus, and Ibn Batuta.
Uzodinma, far from being a scholar, has a professor as his deputy, amid an assemblage of an impregnable cabinet capable of driving his vision to reality, and his first steps are encouraging. His appointment of a renowned professor of pharmacognosy to lead his COVID-19 response is apt. He was clairvoyant. Imo has just recorded 26 cases in one day. The challenge is well cut out for Prof. Maurice Iwu with claims to COVID-19 cure. The test of leadership starts as someone rightly said.
According to verifiable accounts, Uzodinma’s predecessor was to renovate the Governor’s Office with N800 million as captured in 2020 budget but he has done the same thing with less than N200 million. He also met internally generated revenue at N600m but moved it to N1.2 billion. Though this feat is in contention between him and his predecessor, Uzodinma has no doubt blocked leakages, chased out the middlemen who appropriated half the revenue while shutting down the age-long burrows and guzzle pipes in the state civil service, retrieving about N2b yearly lost to fraud. While opponents are still unsure what next, the governor has moved swiftly for the amendment of the obnoxious pension act through which retired top political office holders are paid about N1.2 billion annually. This is class suicide, as this would have benefited him upon leaving office. But with the high turnover of political office holders and its accompanying bankruptcy, no leader can afford less.
While Askia Mohammed re-built the cities of Jenne, Goa and Walata and retrieved their fame as trading centres, strategic routes of the Trans-Saharan trade, Uzodinma ascribes great importance to wealth creation through a focused exploitation of the state’s endowment factors as a sure way to unleash productivity and create abundance for the people. Askia had achieved his by subjugating the Berbers, taking away the salt mine of Taghaza, crushing the rebellious, warlike Mossi tribe as well as Tuaregs who constituted an obstruction on the trade routes. The consequence was a boom of trade and industry. Uzodinma, on the other hand, had to drive away the Berbers, the Mossi and the Tuareg of his state, comprising the fat cats with tentacles spread to all pies, milking the state dry.
He drove them from Ada Palm, a major revenue earner and the pride of the East. Ada is back on steam and currently producing 100 metric tonnes a day. At maximum, it can serve the substantial needs of the entire nation at a time when local consumption is partly serviced by West African neighbours. On top of this, he signed the executive order reducing the cost of broadband right of way from N4,500 to N150 a metre, cheaper than in any part of the country. The import of this in creating a huge Internet hub in Imo with youthful and highly socialised manpower cannot be overemphasized.
Feelers suggest that the state capital is a huge construction site, with well-planned erosion control measures. Good enough, he did not abandon any project started by his predecessors; he modified, where necessary, and he is looking ahead without the usual fixation on the past. After all, King Darius of Persia, the greatest of his time, didn’t disfigure the Lydian coinage to steal its originality or destroyed the Sumerian scripts to turn the cuneiform into his invention. An erudite professor of English, Charles Ekwusiagha Nnolim, in the 1997 UNIPORT inaugural lecture, had attributed the backwardness of Africa to the backward fixation of its literature, greatness buried in the womb time, in Timbuktu, in Oyo, Nri and Nok civilisations, while futuristic sciencec fiction has taken the West to the moon, he argued! Good, Hope is forward looking.
•Ngige, a journalist, writes from Abuja