For the first time in the nearly seven years of the Rochas Okorocha administration in Imo State, the state’s economy is under close scrutiny by stakeholders, writes Amby Uneze
Leaders of thoughts in Imo State especially, those from the academia, captains of industry, business moguls and other professionals alike in different fields of human endeavour are worried about the dwindling economy of the state. To this extent, they decided to gather and pull their resources together with the sole intention of improving human capacity development, wealth creation and poverty alleviation in the state as a continuation of the call for Imo renaissance.
Although it took the dexterity of this group to confront Governor Rochas Okorocha on the state of the economy, daring the consequences, it is believed that Okorocha may not be happy after all, because some of the hidden issues he had kept out of the public view over the years have been revealed. Reason is that a former Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Prof. Maurice Iwu, led the Imo Economic Development Initiative (IEDI), which took the bull by the horn to reveal these anomalies that had bedevilled the state for the past seven years, or so.
The roll call of the elites include businessman, Chief Emmanuel Iwuanyanwu; chairman of MTN Nigeria, Dr. Paschal Dozie; CEO Zinox Technologies, Chief Leo-Stan Ekeh; former INEC chairman, Prof. Maurice Iwu; chairman of National Population Commission, Chief Eze Duruiheoma; former minister for commerce and industry, Engr. Charles Ugwu; former president of the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Nigeria (ICAN), Major-Gen. Sebastine Owuama; member representing Owerri zone in the senate, Senator Samuel Anyanwu and his predecessor, Senator Chris Anyanwu and Hon. Thankgod Ezeani.
Other members are former Vice Chancellor of FUTO, Prof. Jude Njoku; former Vice Chancellor of Michael Okpara University of Agriculture, Umudike, Prof. Placid Njoku; Professor of Marine Biology at the University of Lagos, Obinna Chukwu; Chief Jerry Chukwueke, Chief Ambrose Ejiogu and Dr. Vin Udokwu among many others.
While the group’s interest was to look for a possible way to rescue the state from further enslavement as a result of huge domestic debt profile, poor ease of doing business, low level of state government participation in federal government intervention funding mechanisms, especially in agriculture, health, and small and medium enterprises activities, as well as other indexes, it is shocking to the people of Imo that the state government has put the state into a huge debt profile of N93.27 billion as at December 31, 2016, against the figure of N26 billion in 2011, when the present government came on board. This figure is contained in the document released by the Debt Management office (DMO).
The team also revealed that Imo State has a poor position in the ease of doing business as it ranks 34th out of 36 states in the country, confirming a THISDAY report during the mid-term assessment of the state government early last year.
In a meeting held with the governor and his cabinet at the Government House, Owerri on January 5, the Imo Economic Development Initiative (IEDI) led by Prof. Iwu, told the governor the hidden truth about the real economic situation of the state which of course had remained ‘a no-go-area’ as far as the present administration was concerned.
But unknown to this group, the areas they have revealed remained sacrosanct to the governor and so nobody should dare raise such matters with him, as he was ready to severe any previous relationship that had existed in the past, if any.
However, the team started by informing the governor of its mission and what IEDI stood to achieve for the overall development and progress of the state.
“We thank your Excellency for this opportunity and the keen interest you have shown in the activities of the IEDI. This initiative started from informal discussions among Imolites resident in Lagos. They later extended that discussion to include those of us living in Abuja and Owerri.
“We seek primarily to contribute to the development of Imo State through private sector funding and leveraging on available federal and state governments resources. Our membership is made up of key stakeholders in Imo State, including captains of industry, members of the academia, technocrats, retired senior military and security personnel as well as other professionals of Imo State origin”, he said.
According to the group, “we are concerned about the current state of the economy of the state, as underlined by certain facts and figures available to us and from our observations, on sustainability index, a review of the states’ sustainability index which profiles the viability and sustainability of states indicates that Imo ranked 22 in the country, a marked decline from the 17th position it occupied on the same index three years ago.
“We are concerned about the poor contribution of our legacy industries to job creation efforts, despite considerable government investment in these industries. These legacy industries include Adapalm, Standard Shoe, Cardboard and Packaging, and Resin and Paint industry.
“On external funds, we are also concerned about the obvious low activity level of international multilateral funding and donor agencies assisted projects in the state. In the past, funds from these organizations had gone a long way in assisting the delivery of government projects.
“On government financial obligations, IEDI is concerned about the economic stagnation in the state. We believe this is as a result of poor money circulation within the lower strata of the society. We suggest that government should ensure that salaries are paid as and when due to minimise the hardship in the state”, the group stated.
The group expressed dissatisfaction with government attitude to accessing federal government intervention funds as low level of participations especially in agriculture, health and SMEs activities affected the state badly.
As a prelude to the meeting with the governor, the group had previously commissioned her corporate office in Owerri. At that event, Iwu had disclosed that its target was to accomplish the goals of stirring the socio-economic affairs of the state aright with a deliberate, well-thought out plan of strategies such as agriculture, urban renewal of the state’s three major cities, rural vitalisation (revival), health, energy, education and security.
According to him, “Imo sons and daughters have excelled in many fields of human endeavour but there appears to be no nexus between the acclaimed individual educational and business accomplishments and our ability to develop our state or produce an effective and responsive governance structure. The challenge facing us now is the development of Imo economy to reduce poverty and unemployment, create wealth and improve the internally generated revenue of the state”.
In his speech, Chief Leo-Stan Ekeh said he was of the belief that Rome was not built in a day. “It’s never too late to start. God has a purpose for creating us as indigenes of Imo State. We have wasted so many years and we’re still wasting. But we have the capacity to correct it. Our young people should not lose hope”.
He said the reason some well-known businessmen do not invest in Imo was the fear of losing their investment to lack of patronage. “You don’t invest in a place where the people are so poor that they can’t patronise you. The business is bound to collapse. So, while we think of building people and creating wealth, let us also think of building a government”.
Chief Iwuanyanwu described the occasion as a happy moment of his life and a turning point in the lives of the people of Imo State, adding: “Very often, I’ve not been very happy with the alarming unemployment rate in Imo State and South-east and in Nigeria at large. The level of unemployment here is enough to cause a revolution. That is why I have questioned the education system we run in this country. The graduates are unemployable and that is not good”.
Iwuanyanwu, who described the initiative as a workable one because of the individuals behind it, told the IEDI members that they would focus on three major assignments, which would be how to alleviate the poverty in the state by getting graduates from the state employed; increasing the number of Igbos in Nigerian billionaire bracket and creating cottage industries in communities in the state.
He also told them to explore federal institutions like the Central Bank, which has a lot of financial windows to assist people.
“Recently, Iwuanyanwu Foundation partnered the CBN to train our unemployed youths to get jobs. In that programme, the CBN lamented that the South-east governors did not have interest in accessing the funds to help their unemployed youths. You must have to improve on that”.
Senator Chris Anyanwu, in her speech, commended the initiative and regretted that a state that produces such calibre of individuals has regressed overtime. While advising that the group should not be part of those that started and ceased to exist after some time, she said it borders on high level of “irresponsibility to have people like you and me come from here and watch things degenerate to this level”.
As if the ‘cat had been let out of the bag’ making the world to note that Okorocha had not lived up to billings, his chief press secretary, Sam Onwuemeodo, in reaction to the group’s document to the governor, expressed disappointment that the document found its way to the public domain.
“Before the meeting proper, the governor had directed that all those coming for the meeting from the government’s side should drop their phones with the protocol personnel at the entrance of the meeting venue. The essence was to ensure that whatever that was discussed at the meeting didn’t go out for public consumption since the Prof. Iwu group had described the meeting as private, and the governor too, didn’t want any development that could jeopardise the progress of the meeting. The governor, he further maintained, made sure that the document which Prof. Iwu read didn’t get into the hands of any of the government representatives.
“On the debt issue, the governor said his administration did not owe any bank anywhere in the country or outside. The N93 billion was an accumulated debts right from the creation of the state in 1976. And remarked that he had managed the debt profile of the state as governor and that was the reason some states with high IGR and allocations owe N241 billion, N155 billion, N140 billion, N311 billion, N157 billion and N142 billion respectively as shown in the record of Debt Management office as at December 2016. He regretted that the Prof. Iwu group only picked Anambra State in comparison with Imo, leaving many other states owing between N100 billion to N241 billion.
“On the poverty level in the state, the governor brought out United Nation’s Poverty index of the states to show that the poverty rate in Imo was 57 per cent in 2011 but has come down to 19 per cent with only Lagos, Osun, Anambra and Ekiti being better than Imo in the index, while Imo and Edo having 19 per cent each are better than the rest of the states with poverty rates of 21 per cent to 91per cent.”
Those present at the meeting included founder of ABC Transport Company Plc, Mr. Frank Nneji; former governorship candidate of the PDP in 2007 before he was dropped by the Supreme Court, Charles Ugwu; another governorship aspirant, Chief Jerry Chukwueke; a former Chairman of Aboh Mbaise Local Government, Chief Charles Onwunali, and Chief CY Amako.
Others were Deputy Governor, Eze Madumere; Secretary to the State Government, Sir George Eche; Chief of Staff, Ugwumba Uche Nwosu; the Principal Secretary, Dr. Pascal Obi; the Head of Service, Sir Callistus Ekenze; and a few other principal officers of the government.