Least corrupt state: Yet another milestone for Imo State

It is a wonderful feeling pervading the length and breadth of Imo state currently. It is as if the people of the state are getting a double treat this Christmas season. The cheery news is the announcement recently that Imo State is the least corrupt state in the country.
The affirmation is coming from no less a quarter than the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) working in partnership with the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) and UK AID.
Imolites are much justified to feel a sense of pride and esteem considering their recent past that was marked by mockery and widespread odium.
That the state has leapfrogged from being among the most corrupt and derided to being the beacon of good governance and respectability in just about six months may seem surprising to outsiders but close watchers of the Governor Emeka Ihedioha administration will nod their head in agreement that this can only be the logical conclusion to Governor Ihedioha’s avowed resolve to run Imo as a model state.
Governor Ihedioha was ab initio, clear-headed about his vision and mission for Imo State. In his inaugural address, he stated it most unambiguously that he would run the state by global best practices and standards.
“The engine of good governance must always be lubricated with the oils of due process, rule of law and fiscal discipline. We will abide by that philosophy.”
Elucidating this point, Governor Ihedioha stated further: “We will enthrone appropriate due process mechanism as a cardinal administrative tool of our government in order to achieve value for money and ensure fairness, transparency and competitiveness in the running of government business. To this end, we shall revive and revitalize the bureau of public procurement (BPP) in the state and strengthen enabling laws on the subject.”
True to his word, one of his first policy decisions upon assuming office was to resuscitate the moribund Bureau of Public Procurement and Price Intelligence (BPPPRI). And among the first appointments was Chief Pascal Egwim, a former Shell procurement executive and one of the patriarchs of Nigeria’s procurement family as director-general of the Bureau.
Just as no major contract or procurement matter of the state is done outside the State’s Executive Council, no such fiscal document is approved without the express input of Imo State BPPPRI.
In fact this bureau has become the nemesis of heads of Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) of the state. A council memo requiring substantial expenditure is not ready and will not get approval unless BPPPRI raises a ‘certificate of no objection.’ In like manner, a copy of the state’s procurement law has been circulate to all Executive Council members while BPPPRI has been carrying out cabinet-wide training to underscore the importance of this singular issue to the Ihedioha administration.
Other factors that have earned Imo State the coveted prize include expedited introduction and adoption of the Treasury Single Account revenue collection platform. This was done through the instrumentality of Executive Order 005.
Before May 29, Imo State government under Governor Rochas Okorochas’ watch had no less than 250 bank accounts. MDAs and in many cases, individuals ran revenue accounts on behalf of the state government. This of course turned the state’s treasury into a free-for- all bazaar where everyone had unfettered access.
With TSA today, all state’s revenues are collected through one source and the wanton pillage of Okorocha era has been reduced to the barest minimum.
The immediate and palpable result of introducing the TSA is the sharp rise in the internally generated revenue of Imo State. While the state reported N253m collection in June (Okorocha’s template), the inflow has continued to rise to N342m in July, N535m in August, N785m in September, N877m in October and N946 by end of November. Imo State today is pushing for the two billion naira monthly IGR mark; seeking to be among the top IGR earning states in Nigeria.
Another remarkable move by Governor Ihedioha and his team in such short period of time which must have impacted on the state’s corruption index is the reform of the pension scheme of Imo State. By October 17, barely five months after the inception of this administration, Imo’s rotten pension system had been reformed and fully digitized.
Payment commenced again after over four years of no payment of pension by the previous government. According to the National Union of Pensioners, Imo State chapter was among the leading debtor state in Nigeria with about 12 years of unpaid gratuities and six years of unpaid pension amounting to about N80 billion unpaid backlog. Imo pension was a system that was deliberately muddled by corruption and in turn was corrupted via deliberate muddle up.
The story is different today. The system has been vastly cleaned through careful verification, biometric capture of over 24000 pensioners. The pension system has been fully digitized with all verified pensioners receiving monthly payment alerts on their phones through an e-payment system.
Ghost pensioners have been exorcised, fiddling officials have been eliminated from the system and today, Imo State has among the best pension schemes in Nigeria. Consequently, Imo Pension Commission has been set up with a mandate to migrate to the contributory pension scheme in the near future.
It is also noteworthy that in the first few weeks of his administration, Governor Ihedioha appointed his commissioner of Justice and Attorney General; long before other cabinet members were considered. His explanation was that it is obtuse to run a state without a chief law officer. It is also important to note that the governor appointed a Senior Advocate of Nigeria and one of the best legal minds in the land.
Ihedioha’s mantra at every turn is rule of law and due process. No critical council decision is taken without recourse to the Honorable Attorney-General; indeed, most times, he has the last say.
This is how the governor encapsulated his vision of institutionalized good governance during his inauguration. I quote: “Without checks and balances and the dedication of the legislative arm of government to its oversight functions, the tendency of the executive arm or even the judiciary to derail is high. As an accomplished lawmaker, my abiding faith is in the mutual respect and cooperation of the three arms of government will define the relationship of my administration with the state legislature.
“Likewise, we shall respect the financial autonomy of the judiciary by implementing the provisions of the 1999 Constitution as it is at the heart of judicial independence.”
Indeed, numerous reasons abound why Imo has been adjudged the least corrupt state in the land as surveyed by the NBS between May 29th and November 2019. Eleven laws have been passed in Imo during this period, probably the highest in Nigeria; the Local Government Authorities enjoy ample financial autonomy as they embark on projects that engender healthy competition and peer benchmarking.
Finally, just as the Imo Executive Council has not missed a sitting since the inception of the Ihedioha administration, so has the governor not missed a chance to reiterate at every sitting, his commitment to run Imo State properly deploying the best governance precepts.
It is no wonder that all the multilateral agencies in the UN system (e.g. UNICEF, WHO, even World Bank and USAID) that fled the state during the immediate past administration have returned under an atmosphere of transparency and openness. Imo is keyed to the Open Government Forum, open budgeting and prompt release of counterpart funds for social intervention projects.
From the forgoing it must be said that the National Bureau of Statistics is not in error in naming Imo the least corrupt state in Nigeria today; the facts of the matter are indeed self-evident.
In summary, Governor Emeka Ihedioha, his Deputy, Engr Gerald Irona and the entire team are at once elated and inspired by this recognition from no less a body than the much respected NBS. This rating is a charge to do more.
Steve Osuji is Special Adviser, Media to the governor of Imo State

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