For unknown reasons, I haven’t taken a good trip to the gigantic Imo State House of Assembly complex, since I left the office of the Chief Press Secretary to the Speaker eight years ago.
The few times I had cause to be at the premises from June 2011 till date saw me within the periphery since I had no business having a feel of the core, which involves the offices of the honourable members, chambers for plenary sessions and staff offices.
Thursday, July 13th, 2019 ,offered another opportunity to have feed my eyes on the once magnificent building the first civilian governor of Imo State, Sam Onunaka Mbakwe bequeathed the old Imo State.
It was the inauguration of the 9th House And courtesy of few of the lawmakers who took oath of office to make laws for the State in the next four years, I was among the thousands of guests found at the Assembly complex.
The visit offered more opportunities to confirm earlier alarms raised by my reporters who always reported the sorry state of the structure.
Initially, I overlooked their observations as sheer Journalistic adventure to always chunk out stories from any “Konja” moves.
But my recent visit proved them right to reveal that disaster is hanging in the air concerning the Imo State House of Assembly building.
As a familiar face in the complex armed with the route to get to the chamber for the inauguration exercise, my visit to the complex was shortlived when I noticed that the building is time bomb waiting to explode, no thanks to the caving pillars and walls, I had to quickly race out from the complex and call the attention of those I knew who were on ground to also vamoose immediately to avoid unwanted scene.
My fear was fuelled by the quantum of people who would put more pressure on the already caving structure.
First signal that the complex needs structural reinforcement commenced when I passed through one of the unofficial routes onto the chamber. I noticed that the pillars had serious cracks that pose danger to the entire complex. The tear was a dangerous sign that it might cave any moment if experiences related to collapsed buildings are recounted.
I managed to keep off my worried eyes from it but couldn’t hesitate to notice more massive cracked walls on the main step leading to the Gallery section of the chamber.
The extent of damage on the cracked walls tells a better story of the dilapidated structure.
Further discoveries showed that the complex is on the brinks of collapse should no rescue comes any moment from now. My fear is vindicated by Mondays assessment of the complex by the new speaker, Chiji Collins. Though, Collins may have been part of the legislature for the past four years, but the suspension handed to him may have made the bulky Isiala Mbano two –time lawmaker a fringe player in the activities of the past House.
More disturbing on the pitiable state of the House of Assembly complex are the caving POPs on the lobby of the two different ends surrounding the chamber. A closer look showed that both the POPs on the lobby of the Majority Leader’s office and that of the Speaker are in terrible condition.
After exchanging pleasantries and throwing banters with friends, I quickly made a detour and raced down to take my leave out of the complex to avoid getting trapped in the complex should the unimaginable happen. I am not a prophet of doom but the number of persons who thronged the complex for the inauguration had capacity to put the structure under pressure for unfortunate outcome.
I recall that the maintenance of the Assembly complex has been a recurring decimal without a concrete solution by succeeding administrations.
During our days in the complex 2007-2011, a contractor was handed the project because for years after the Mbakwe time, no major maintenance work was done. During that period, it had enormous leaking roof that send flood on the last floor whenever it rained.
Based on technical inputs from engineers consulted for repairs, the then Speaker, Goodluck Nanah Opiah, Speaker discovered the need to have another mini complex to take the pressure off the major complex.
Opiah also discovered that when the complex was built by the Mbakwe administration, it was meant for a lesser House members, staff and visitors. But overtime, the number of members, workers, visitors and activities increased to pave way for another complex.
I am aware that a contract for another complex was immediately awarded courtesy of Opiah facilitated by Ohakim and job commenced. Former governor, Ikedi Ohakim who presided affairs of the state did the ground breaking ceremony in an elaborate ceremony the Assembly family appreciated.
The contractor had gone about 25% of the job before the Okorocha government came in 2011 and stopped the project.
Instead of continuing with the new mini complex meant to accommodate only the lawmakers offices and new chamber, the building materials kept for the project site were vandalized and carted away by the Okorocha lackeys who were brought in for maintenance.
One disturbing aspect of the Okorocha era was that the House vacated the complex for a complete renovation and rehabilitation of failed complex.
For over two years, the lawmakers and workers of the State Assembly moved to nearby Ojukwu Center to allow the Okorocha government undertake comprehensive repair of the building. It was discovered that the left over nine inches heavy duty blocks meant for the new building the Ohakim government mobilized contractor brought for the ground floor formation were used by the Okorocha contractors to start block work on the already weak building.
No sooner than the House members returned to the Assembly complex from Heroes Square location than fresh and more devastating cracks reappeared on strategic points and pillars of the building.
It was gathered that instead of fortifying the weakened pillars and fading structure, more pressure was added to the building by the Okorocha contractors who added more office rooms. It was not surprising that enormous cracks have further opened up at different corners of the building signaling danger and imminent collapse.
With the new Speaker appreciating that disaster is imminent, the State government is expected to wake up now and act accordingly. A new complex to reduce the pressure is long overdue. The manner the shaky fly over at Amakohia/ Akwakuma and Orji has been closed down to avoid casualties should be extended to the House of Assembly.
A stitch in time saves nine.