The story of Late Chief Samuel Onunaka Mbakwe, PhD, the first Civilian Governor of old Imo State has always been told in the positive considering his level of administrative acumen and developmental strides.
Chief Mbakwe, a lawyer was elected Governor of the old Imo State under the platform of the defunct Nigeria Peoples Party (NPP) will continue to reverberate in the minds of the people for his acclaimed monumental achievements as the number one citizen of the state.
Hitherto, Chief Mbakwe is referenced as the best Governor ever to rule a state as populated as old Imo.
He did not only establish heavy infrastructural development across the major cities that made up the then Imo State, but he constructed the best roads in the state.
Dee Sam as he was popularly called realized that economic development is influenced by infrastructure and he keyed into it with high level of dedication and panache.
The Avutu Obowo born first Governor of the state built Industries across the entire state (comprising Abia, Imo and now Ebonyi State).
He established Imo State University with a multi campus structure at Etiti and Aba, using the premises of Madonna High School Etiti and Ngwa High School as take off campuses.
Going through a story written by Onyebuchi Ememanka Esq, one would stop at nothing but to reason why and how the man could achieve all the milestones during his tenure unlike what is obtainable nowadays.
Yes Chief Mbakwe did well in the areas of infrastructure, road construction and social amenities, but he had heavy flaws on the payment of Teachers salaries.
It is on the record that the former first Governor of the state owed teachers for several months with or without thinking how they were coping.
This behavior of his made passers bye to ask if Chief Mbakwe understood the Biblical proverb that a worker deserve his wage? This is a strong question most teachers who worked during his tenure should answer.
It is on the record that after a body uniting teachers protested against the non payment of their salaries, Dee Sam concluding that the protest was an affront “sacked” the teachers and directed that advertisement should be made to recruit new teachers to replace the “sacked” ones.
Dee Sam had problems with tolerance, but we understood that due to his burning desire to develop his state, he saw every opposing voice against his administration as a building that should be demolished.
Aside his lack of tolerance, the administration of Chief Mbakwe depended heavily on borrowed loans, which up till today may not have been paid by the governments of Imo, Abia and Ebonyi states respectively.
Without sounding ridiculous and disparaging to the revered person of Dee Sam of the blessed memory, he did well but he treated Teachers with levity and disdain by not paying them their salaries for months and never cared for their plight.
He had the penchant for gigantic infrastructure, heavy investments in roads, industries and educational facilities, but all these were funded with external loans he borrowed on behalf of the state government while teachers were wallowing in abject poverty and penury. Please, forgive me if am wrong!
A nagging question begging for answer is whether Dee Sam Mbakwe treated people with high level of respect as a Governor.
But as it is in the behaviour of an average “big man” to be arrogant and rude to his subordinates, this guilt cannot be expunged from the characters of our most performed Governor in the state, Dee Sam.
In trying to ascertain whether he was firm and respectful to people that came across him as Governor owing to his high heaven spirit to garnish Imo with the best equipment of classic touch, the writer rammed into an 82 years old pensioner who was a secondary school teacher under the former Governor. He has this to say:
“Chief Sam Mbakwe was a good man, an administrator but he was hyper aggressive. He had no respect for anyone. In fact, he once told a Professor who was a Rector of a Polytechnic in the state (names withheld) to drop all his professorial titles in his office before coming to see him in his office. He told him that as the Governor of the state, he had the power to control his movements on daily basis since he was appointed by government. He said all these without given the man an opportunity to talk, and still directed that the man should be sacked immediately. The Rector only got the news of his sack while on his way to his office after his discussion with Dee Sam”
Chief Mbakwe was a no nonsense man who wouldn’t tolerant any bad press against him or his government as tolerated today by leaders.
He had once said in vernacular that, “Mbakwe ga achi Imo, obu nne gi ka obu nna gi ga achi?” Meaning, if Mbakwe did not govern Imo, could it be your mother or father would rule?
This is indeed very boisterous, repugnant and act of pomposity that is most common among wealthy men.
But in all these, Chief Mbakwe knew were he was going to, why he was made Governor and what he wanted for the people who elected him in that capacity.
One thing is remarkable that Chief Mbakwe never borrowed loan for selfish reasons, he never thought of converting government money or property to personal use, he was indeed urbane and typical example of what a Governor should be, but today, Governors borrow loans and build houses on behalf of the state and subsequently convert them to personal use.
In his quest to take Imo to its eldorado, he cried severally not for his non ill-performance, but for the emancipation of the state.
No doubt, Dee Sam ended up achieving his desires for the state. This gave rise to his christening as the weeping Governor.
In one of his trips, Chief Mbakwe visited the former President Shehu Shagari in Lagos, when it was the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) to seek for additional funds since what was available for him was barely enough to run a smooth government and provide amenities for the people of the state.
But when it was obvious that the central government under Shagari was not ready to assist, he was reportedly broke down in tears.
This did not happen once or twice, but whenever he made attempt to draw the attention of the central government to the plight of his state for more funds.
When these funds were not forthcoming from Lagos, he decided to borrow externally and heavily. The funds he borrowed were judiciously channeled primarily into road construction across the state.
He sought for the services of notable construction companies like MCC into the state for roads construction and he committed himself to ensuring that quality roads were built.
Regrettably, by the time Mbakwe left office in 1983, Imo State was plunged into heavy debt.
This is true and verifiable, but though the people were satisfied and happy with him for channelling those borrowed funds into the development of the state.
When Imo State was split into the old Abia and Imo States, these new states, naturally inherited these debts.
Their monthly statutory allocations were charged with deductions to service these loans, but information has it that the States are still battling to pay up the debt incurred during Chief Mbakwe as Governor.
In 2002, a former Governor of new Imo State was said to have told journalists in Lagos that a major challenge facing the economy of his state then was the heavy deductions from the state’s allocation for the servicing of the loans taken by Mbakwe’s government.
He also made it clear that no one would blame Mbakwe then because that was the only option he had to fund economic development and growth having belonged to a minority party.
Yes Chief Mbakwe performed creditably well as Governor of old Imo State, but he was not entirely a saint.
Ikenna ONUOHA is a Media and Public Relations Consultant. He is the State Publicity Secretary, Imo Concerned Citizens (ICC).