By Bro. Mike
Chief Samuel Onunaka Mbakwe, the Avutu, Obowo-born Second Republic lawyer-governor of the Old Imo state ruled between 01 October, 1979 and 31 December, 1983. On 31 December, 1983, the military cabal, some of who included Major-Gen Sani Abacha and Major-Gen Muhammadu Buhari, overthrew the civilian government of Alhaji Shehu Usman Aliyu Shagari, a former teacher from Sokoto state and a great statesman, who was the President then.
Within the four years Dee Sam served as the governor of Imo state, he left many legacies that people of Imo and Abia states and, indeed, other Nigerians still refer to till this day. Dr Sam Mbakwe was a grassroots leader and a man of his people! Dee Sam had touched all parts of Imo state then without exception in developmental sphere. Nearly every town in the Imo state benefitted, in one way or the other, during his four-year reign. He had touched the lives of his people that he can not be forgotten in a hurry. Yes; the ‘weeping’ governor of Imo state will never be forgotten by those who witnessed his reign.
The roads he built in Umuahia, now the Abia state capital city, are still there for everyone to see! They are still without pot-holes – the way the construction firm built them then. Before his regime, Arochukwu had no piped water. Yes. There was no potable water in Arochukwu – an ancient Igbo town that is always forgotten and neglected in the scheme of things in Nigeria. But Chief Sam Onunaka Mbakwe said no to that and went ahead to build a N22m Arochukwu Water Scheme for the people. N22m was a huge amount of money then.
That water scheme that provided water for the people of Arochukwu then is now moribund and does not exist again. The military destroyed it and the ensuing civilian governments that followed failed to do anything about it till today.
But of all the Dee Sam Mbakwe’s legacy-projects, the most outstanding and the number one was on environmental sanitation! Here, Chief Mbakwe had shown the class of positive thinkers he belonged! He had out-shined all other governors then. Dee Sam had done what no other governor had done in Nigeria hitherto in his bid to ensure the protection and promotion of public health in his state then through effective cleanliness of the environment of his state; he never politicised environmental sanitation the way the present governors do with crassness.
Before the Second Republic politics was repressed by the military regrettably, Imo state then was adjudged the cleanest state in the Federal Republic of Nigeria. That had attracted the attention of other state governors in Nigeria then, some of who had travelled to Imo state to learn the ‘magic’ Dee Sam had used in making his state to become the cleanest in the whole of Nigeria then and Umuahia, the cleanest town in the country then. It was a nicety to behold.
How did Dee Sam achieve that feat? It was simple. As a leader who wanted the best for his people, Chief Samuel Onunaka Mbakwe never pretended who knew everything. No; he never did so. Rather, he had realised he needed to seek the services of experts on the area of environmental sanitation. So, he went for them. First, he searched for the experts, and when he assembled them at the Imo Concord Hotel in Owerri, the public health superintendents as they were called then, he sought for their opinion on how best to keep Imo state clean and which would be sustainable.
The public health superintendents told him, during the meeting, what to do in that regard – set up an agency on sanitation, let it operate at five zones/ offices at Aba, Owerri, Umuahia, Okigwe and Orlu; appoint a technical partner, and appoint a seasoned sanitarian to man the agency, and fund it. That was all that was needed. As a most competent, caring and listening governor, Dee Sam did just that.
So, he went ahead to establish the Imo State Environmental Sanitation Agency, ISESA, which operated at the above zones of the state then. Qualified professional sanitarians were appointed to head the offices at the zones while a seasoned professional sanitarian-man, Osita Nwosu from Arondizuogu, was appointed the general manager while SULO, a German technical partner, was appointed to handle the technical aspect of the job. With the above structure in place, the stage was set to keep Imo state clean and, really, that dream was achieved within a short period of time.
So, Imo state became clean to the health benefits of the people; the state had become the cleanest in the whole of Nigeria by the end of 1983! As Imo state became the cleanest in Nigeria, Umuahia town became the cleanest among all other towns in Nigeria too! It was not a mean feat achieved by the Mbakwe Administration then. It wasn’t, really. It was a deliberate action taken by Chief Mbakwe to protect the health of his people aimed at giving them the best in administration.
Each time I travel to Owerri these days and visit Umuahia and see the heaps of refuse that scatter everywhere in these towns, I feel bad and think I should tell death to bring Chief Sam Onunaka Mbakwe to life again so that he continues to rule Imo state so that Owerri will continue to be as clean as it was then just as Umuahia, the current capital city of Abia state, will become the cleanest township in Nigeria again as it was between 1980 and 1983.
Really, leadership nicety in Nigeria has continued to go down and nose-dive steadily to the extent that Nigerians today no longer know that it is the responsibility of their political leaders in government to provide them with potable water, good and motor-able roads, keep their environment clean in the interest of their health, and pay workers salaries, pensioners and gratuities regularly. All these are lacking under today’s ‘leaders’ who do next to nothing to care for those they lead; they are only after their pockets, and go ahead to return the people’s commonwealth to those who had put them in offices while the people continue to suffer and die of penury, want and diseases filthy environments bring to them.
Yes; there were leaders in those days. Dee Sam Mbakwe was one of them. His legacy in the area of environmental sanitation testifies to this to this day.