Mr. Nick Oparandudu, a governorship aspirant under the platform of the All Progressives Grand Alliance, is a former banker with experience spanning over 20 years, he served as Chief Economic Adviser to the current Imo State Government, Commissioner for Planning and Economic Development, Commissioner for Works and Transport, and Commissioner for Internal Resources (IGR) and Pension Matters. In this interview with select journalists in Lagos, he begs Imo people to cry no more, promising to wipe away all their tears when he eventually comes on board in 2019. Peter Uzoho was there Â
Your campaign has been anchored on the message: â€˜Imo Cry No moreâ€™ and â€˜Imo will Rise Againâ€™. Why is Imo down and crying, and what do you intend to do to raise the people and wipe their tears?
Thank you for that question. I think the background to those facts, that’s what I will like to call them, is the rich history of Imo State. If you look at the whole of South-east Nigeria or the former Eastern Region, the area currently called Imo State was like the shining light of that region in terms of the quality of people who came out of these places; in terms of the people’s commitment to education, civilisation and even in terms of their commitment to issues like Christianity and all that. And when you remember that it was an area that produced people like the late KO Mbadiwe, the late Raymond Amanze Njoku, the late Chief Nwoga who was an Eastern Region minister; the late Basil Nnanna Ukaegbu who has the distinction of having started the first privately-owned university in the country, and several others.
The late Professor MC J Echeruo, the late Eze Dennis Nwachukwu-Abbey, these are all very prominent people. You go to the Orlu area you look at the Acholonus, and so on and so forth. You can start counting. You have a situation where even most significant commercial centre in the South-east which was Port Harcourt, you had even Imo indigenes being the Mayor there. So, you can describe this Imo State or Imo State as currently situated as a place that has been recognised as made up of trailblazers, people who set standards for the rest of Igboland.
Regrettably in the past seven years or a little longer than that, we have been bedevilled by what I will call bad governance, particularly the type of which we are witnessing today in the state. The people are so despondent and they are beginning to ask the question: Is the basis for governance or government truly the welfare of the people? Because we have a situation where the civil servants are not being paid as and when due; we have a situation where pensioners are crying; practically every pensioner in Imo State has one or two dud cheques in his hands; cheques that were issued by government; and the old men and women would get to the bank and they are told there’s no money. And whereas as we know, government cheques are supposed to be cash as it were. As a matter of fact, some of us who had the opportunity of maybe working or doing things in a place like the UK, once you are given a municipal cheque or government cheque, it’s as good as cash. You can never have a situation where it comes back, never! But we have a situation in Imo State where old women who have earned their dues are issued dud cheques; they go to bank and they are told there’s no money to pay them.
Then you look at the physical side of the state. There has been significant decay of infrastructure and you try to situate where the state has found itself relative to a state like our neighbouring Anambra State and you see that we are miles apart. You find that everywhere in Anambra State, the nooks and crannies of Anambra State, right from the time of Ngige, through Peter Obi to the current governor Willie Obiano, they have done marvelously in terms of providing perhaps the most extensive network of roads that you can find in any state in the Federal Republic of Nigeria. And sometime when you go to Anambra you will be missing your way because all the roads are tarred. And if you look at the fact that 12 years ago it wasn’t like that in Anambra but they have been able to turn the corner. And today, they are enjoying the dividends of democracy.
When you juxtapose this with the neighbouring Imo State, you are disappointed. Because even in Owerri, which is the capital city, we only have roads in certain areas. Even though the good roads in Owerri, built by Mbakwe, Ndubuisi Kanu and the rest of them, is now being expanded by the governor to what he calls six or eight lanes, in places that do not even require such expansions, all in the name of some bogey urban renewal programme. Meanwhile off those roads, all of them, from Government House Roundabout to Wetheral Road to Port Harcourt Road, wherever you want to go in Owerri you find that the roads are all bad. You go to Aladinma, all the roads are bad; you go to Federal Housing Estate the roads are bad, you go to World Bank the roads are horrible; everywhere. And yet that is supposed to be urban renewal. To me, it’s all about deception. It’s so unfortunate that Imo that has been recognised nationwide as perhaps a citadel of learning for most people, a melting pot of people who embraced civilisation a long time ago would now find themselves in this very sorry state.
Given the mood of despondency across the state, there’s yet an urgent need for a reawakening of the Imo spirit, to let people know that it’s not over, that indeed it could be better and things would definitely get better; that what we are seeing now is, as it were, in my own thinking, a passing phase, and beyond this phase, there will be good times for the people. And these good times will be brought about by serious governance that they truly deserve.
Governor Rochas Okorocha has always claimed that he’s very popular, that the people are behind him and with youth groups declaring support for him. Are you saying all that is not true, that the people are not with him? Again, there was a time he had an altercation with the governor of Anambra State and said Imo has the best infrastructure in the South-east and cited building 27 general hospitals in the state.
Â Well, I don’t think that is true because I was also at some point part of that government. So, I don’t think that is true. You cannot compare Imo with Anambra; it’s like comparing day and night, light and darkness; that comparison is not right. And if you talk of 27 general hospitals where are they? What we have in Imo State, and I want you to go and verify, are 27 uncompleted buildings which the governor has for the past four, five years have been mouthing and saying are general hospitals built for the people. None of those buildings has been completed with the exception of one at Ikeduru on the way to Okigwe. And the second one on the way to Imo Airport which he has now handed over to the Nigerian Navy or Nigerian Airforce, for whatever purpose. So, none of those so-called 27 general hospitals has been completed. So, that claim is hollow, is not factual. You can find out for yourself by visiting the 27 local governments. What you will find is that the outside of these buildings have been painted. But when you go into those buildings, you will find that they have not even been plastered, you find that the conduit and wiring have not been done, the pipes haven’t been laid and so on and so forth. It’s all about deception.
You were at a time part of that government. At what point did things began to go wrong and what was your response to this?
Well, Governor Rochas Okorocha started out well. As you know he’s a populist, so to speak, he knows how to turn some of these things to his own advantage. But truly I must tell you that most of the claims are not what they are. I was part of that government, that’s a fact. I was a commissioner, that’s a fact. The way I look at it is that I went there to give my best to Imo people not really like serving Rochas Okorocha in a personal capacity, that’s mistake people make. Government belongs to all of us.
I understand you are running on the platform of APGA. How strong is APGA compared to other parties in Imo?
APGA is the party to beat today in Imo. That is a fact. APGA has always had a popular appeal at grassroots; but regrettably they have always suffered because each time people finish voting for APGA, what happens to the vote before they are announced normally surprises everybody. I think with the experience of 2011 which will definitely dovetail into 2019, nobody is going to steal APGA votes in Imo State.
What are you going to do differently if elected governor of Imo State?
There are so many things that are wrong in Imo State. First, we must restore the people’s confidence in their government. The people of Imo State are despondent. The school system is not working even though you’d say the number of people in the schools has gone up; the hospitals are not working; there’s single hospital in Imo State that is working to the standard they are used to in other states of the Federal Republic of Nigeria; the civil service in Imo State is comatose. As a matter of fact, there are only two ministries that you can go and see activities, and those are the ministries of Land and Urban Planning, and then Finance. Every other ministries, the civil servants resume about 9 or 10 O’clock in the morning and they leave about 12 noon or 1p.m. to do their school run; and from there they go home.
This is so because the government they have seen since the past seven years has completely usurped the functions of bureaucracy. Government transactions, 90 to 95 per cent of them are done from Government House.
Transactions that ought have been run through the ministries, complying with due process provisions and all of that, are not even brought to the attention of the civil service; so the civil servants are redundant in Imo State. This coupled with the fact that at some point the governor told them they could work for only three days and use two days for farming. I mean this is not a question of saying things that cannot be verified. If you go to the Secretariat in Imo State you will see what I’m talking about. So we need to restore confidence in government, even the civil servants, we need to restore their faith in the bureaucracy. And as you know there is no government that can succeed in the implementation of these programmes if the civil service is not given its rightful place. Unfortunately, this does not happen in the state.
If you talk about the pensioners, that’s a long story. And I’m sure you guys in the media must have heard it severally over the past couple of years the running battle the pensioners have had with the state government. So, I think the important thing is trying to restore confidence in government because government is all about the welfare of the people.
Talking about uncompleted projects don’t you think that could be a factor of funding? Also given the fact that this seem to be a common problem in Nigeria, don’t you think this can also affect your chances of performing if you become the governor?
I don’t think it’s all about funding. I think the problem of Imo State and uncompleted projects has to do with the fact that the civil service, the bureaucracy, has been completely sidelined. And you have a governor that feels that it’s only when it’s done from the Government House that’s when it gets done. And it has nothing to do with funding. Imo State has received in the past seven years well in excess of N800 billion. If you take the states and local governments and you look at costs and other intervention funds that come to government from time to time: the 13 per cent Derivation, the Paris Club. But you don’t find it anywhere. And for goodness sake, if you haven’t completed a building that was meant for a hospital, you truly know, honestly, that it has not been completed, in which case it’s not a hospital, why claim it’s a hospital when you know it’s not a hospital? You might as well leave it at the realm of uncompleted projects or buildings. So, I don’t think it has anything to do with funding. Yes, there could be constraints in funding but what you find in Imo State are not found what you find in other states of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. At least to that level. So the issue for us is all about execution management.
You are in APGA, at a time you were in APC which is currently the ruling party in the state and at the federal level. Are you not worried that APGA may not be able to withstand APC because of the incumbency factor?
Well, it’s all about one’s philosophy of your politics. Even when PDP was the party at the centre, had all the resources, had all the control of the apparatus of state, I still joined APGA as a party because it’s all about what you understand about politics and what role you want to play in politics. I believe that APGA represents the interest largely of the South East and its people. And I also believe that even if you gave me the opportunity to remain in APC I probably won’t have been comfortable. So, that is the fact about it. In the course of the introduction it was mentioned: we got into APC because incidentally our principal was in APC or moved into APC midway into the time we were in government. In the final analysis, one is out of APC for obvious reasons: because I believe that APGA still represents the best opportunity that we have in that part of the country to actually deliver effective governance. And you don’t need to look too far. The example of Anambra State is there for everybody to see. So, if Anambra has been able to do it, it has done so marvelously well under APGA, then it might well make sense for others in that region to begin to benchmark themselves against Anambra and see how far they can go in that direction.
What is your position on the current power struggle between the governor and some members of power bloc for control of the state?
They are APC groups; it has nothing to do with me. I have parted the company of APC and my friends over there. It’s an internal crisis within the party. So, let them fight for the soul of their party. And when they are through with that fight then they can come into the general election. So, it has nothing to do with me.
How strong are you in APGA?
There’s no politician you will ask how strong he is that won’t answer in the affirmative. The only thing I can say is that when I was in APGA in 2011, in my ward, in my local government, APGA won the elections, and I wouldn’t say it was something that was attributed to me solely, we have other political personalities from the area. And up till now, I think APGA is still very strong.
What is your agenda for Imo people?
Well, let me perhaps take you through a journey because I think it’s important for people to understand the rationale behind my determination to run for office. You see, I do so because Imo State has significant challenges today. The biggest challenge we face in Imo State is that the teeming youths who are unemployed.As you know, the percentage of unemployment among that cadre of the population in many states is about 58, almost 60 per cent. Imo State is even worse. We have a situation where you have hundreds of thousands of youths coming out of schools who don’t have jobs. So, the first challenge that we face in Imo State is the challenge of doing something about creating jobs, and at the moment I will tell you what I think we can do in these areas.
The second area is that we have huge, huge challenge with respect to the structure of the Imo economy. Having worked as the Chief Economic Adviser to the Imo State Government, I do know that that economy is almost 90 per cent dependent on government, so to speak. To the extent that anytime the governor travels, the whole state looks as if it has come to a standstill. So, there is obvious and immediate need to diversify the Imo economy, away from undue and excessive reliance on government activities, to one that is reasonably representative of private sector interest.
We have a challenge of revenue generation. In spite of all the potentials that we have as a state, I say this because I have also worked for eight, nine months as commissioner overseeing revenue generation in the state. We have significant challenges. A state as endowed as Imo, the possibilities and potentials are huge but we are still struggling as we speak to do between N400 million and N500 million internal revenue. But I will say also that when I ran that ministry, for the first time in the history of Imo State, and this is verifiable, we were able to do as high as N750, N800 million monthly within the last three months of my stay in that portfolio. There’s an NGO called Budget IT which documented all these. And it was under my watch in Imo State that the state recorded its highest revenue generation since its creation in 1976.
We also have a challenge in Imo State about pensioners. A lot of our pensioners have arrears of gratuities. It’s a huge challenge in Imo State. The educational system or sector is comatose; the standards there are not the best; the infrastructure and the people are not the best; the healthcare system is almost nonexistent; there’s no general hospital you will go to in Imo State and see that it is functioning. We are relying primarily on private clinics and hospitals for medicare. So, these are challenges and they are several. In terms of the provision of infrastructure, we have a situation whereby the civil service has been sidelined. We also have a challenge in making sure that we return the implementation of government transaction activities back to the civil service where it belongs.
It’s purely and essentially to confront these challenges that I’m offering myself for service. Having worked in government for three years plus, I do know that there’s significant space to change the trajectory of Imo State; we can deal with all these challenges. It’s all about being focused, having the right team in place. I believe that whatever we have in Imo State today does not represent the best we can offer in terms of the people that are available.
Imo State is essentially a civil service state. How do you intend to raise IGR in such a state?
I do not agree that Imo State is a civil service state in that sense; it’s largely public sector-driven economy. But there’s so much you can do to enhance revenues. It’s a professional thing; I’m a chartered accountant by profession.
But even Okorocha also promised to raise IGR in the state. In fact, most governors when they come in make similar promises, but later they begin to give excuses why they cannot meet targets
Well, I’m not Okorocha and I’m not the other governors. What you need to be apprised of or be aware of is that under my watch, I met the revenues of Imo State at N350 million or less a month , and by the time I was leaving after eight months, it was already N750 million; there was even a month we did N820 million. And I do know that Imo State where I have worked and where come from, has the capacity and potentials to generate nothing less than N2 billion monthly. And my commitment, my contract with Imo people is to make sure that revenue gets to N2 billion in a space of eighteen months; and I can tell you that it is doable. And with other investments in the area of industrialisation, agricultural production etc, you will find that the state’s economy will begin to change in terms of its structure.
There is this belief that no aspirant makes it or succeeds without the support of godfathers who are seen more or less as the kingmakers. Who is or are your godfathers?
Well, I believe the godfathers have their roles to play. But I think my own godfather will be Imo people. My desire is to change this whole thing about who wants to be governor into a contest of ideas. Let us go out there to the people; let the person who has the most formidable, people-oriented practical and effective idea get the nod of the people. The godfathers will be influential in their own way. And I believe also at the end of the day, if the godfathers find that there is candidate who understands the challenges and who is sufficiently knowledgeable in dealing with those challenges, I think they won’t have any choice but to support such a person to mount the saddle of governance.
We were told that the current government runs a free education system and some kids pay some money at the end of the month. Is that something you will be looking at?
Definitely, it is a policy that ought to be continued. But, by the way, you should also know that across the country, primary education is free. That is a fact. So anybody making a claim that he is making primary education free is playing to the gallery, as primary education ought to be free. So what has happened is that the governor or government of Imo State says it is free up to university level. But I do know that even those in the universities who are supposed to be enjoying free education have significant challenges. You can’t say a student is enjoying free education at the university and he is only confined in Imo State University and one or two other universities in the state. If free education is free, it should be free to those citizens of the state who desire to acquire education at that level. And when it is free, it should be seen as such. I remembered the day when I was in my house, a young man came and was telling me he could not even finish his education in Imo State University. I said why. He said he was asked to pay almost a hundred and thirty something thousand Naira. So what is free about that in a situation when you are paying such fees? So we need to really understand it for what it is. I think it is better for one to say look, you pay bursaries to students, for instance, even if it is twenty, thirty or fifty thousand naira and forget this whole talk about free education which you know at the end of the day you are not actually providing. And when you look at the whole thing it begins to look deceitful. So, I would rather run a system where government would rather provide and work with the universities to make sure that the fees are reasonable and to a large extent affordable. Subsidise the operations of the universities to the extent that they can sustain such fee levels. But not claimed that you are giving free education and you turn around and have students paying almost 135,000 to 150,000 Naira to get into the university and to continue with that across the line.
What is your agenda on Agriculture?
I will talk about the agricultural sector in relation to what we want to do to creating jobs. Now, worldwide and all over the place, we know that there are two key ways, aside from jobs generated by the government, there are two ways to create jobs in significant number. One is through agriculture and the other one is through massive industralisation. And we intend to pursue these two concurrently in Imo State. As a matter of fact, I have said it when I declared in Imo that any aspirant who lacks the capacity to create a minimum of 200,000 jobs in 36 months, that is three years, in Imo State, has no business aspiring. And we are going to do it. Because in the Agricultural sector, we have identified 10 primary agro-commodity lines that we are going to ensure that we have maximum value addition across those lines with the requisite processing capacity to ensure that demand for those products are sustainable and in the process. My target is that we are going to create jobs. And my target is that we are going to create a minimum of 20 thousand jobs in each of these agro-commodities. And it is possible. I heard somebody saying that they have over 80,000 rice farms in Kebbi State. But they have less than 2,000 to 3,000 several years ago. Because the government policy has encouraged a lot of people to go into farming. And why is it so in that place? Because they brought in companies and they are there in Kebbi processing rice. And they are now partnering with government to have agro-allied schemes focused on those farmers, providing them very good seedlings or improved varieties of seedlings. A guaranteed off-take, because the problem with creating jobs through agriculture starts when a farmer finishes coming up with his produce and nobody takes it off him. But we are going to do it with the private sector. Part of the plan is that Imo State Government under a PPP model would have some investments in key industries but as a minority stakeholder. We are not going to get into a situation where we have 50 something per cent or above of those enterprises; you are only going to create significant corporate governance challenges within those places. When you do so, the politicians will remember that the government owns over 51 per cent and they would want to be chairman of the board or they want to be given one entitlement or the other. But we are just going to have, it may be 15 or 20 per cent, equity in those key industries. And the objective is to have those key industries become the recipients of these agricultural produce. Because, I am one of those people who believe that the West or Europe haven’t been fair to us because if you look at all the aid agencies and what they do. Â What they do is to give us handouts. They haven’t really helped us to create jobs within Africa. I would rather you gave us money, facilities and financial support to develop the extractive industries so that you can process those things here. You take cocoa and take it to Switzerland, you create jobs for those people who are producing chocolate. Meanwhile, you are taking raw cocoa from Ondo, from Akure, to the West. Why can’t you support the local industries to process these items or commodities here? So, can you imagine the number of jobs we would have created ? That is exactly what we are going to be doing in Imo State. Ten identified agro- commodities lines. We are going to have massive investment in those industries. Like I said before, the government is going to take a minority stake as there is every reason why we are not going to take a majority stake. We can’t be in government as government is not a good manager of business. And then just not too long ago, if you remember, the Federal Executive Council approved the accretion of 650m dollars to the sovereign welfare. It was in the papers. Meanwhile that was dividend coming from the LNG, 2017 dividend. And why was LNG able to pay such? They were able to pay the dividend because Nigerian Government own not more than 49 per cent; the operational control and management of LNG is in the hands of Shell and all those oil majors who form the management board. If the reverse were to be the case and we have the majority, LNG would have become redundant a long time ago. So what am I saying here? We are going to have some investments in these places. For instance, if we are providing land for such a venture that land should be recognised as part of our equity. If you are providing a bit of guarantee for the off take, those should be recognised as our equity as a government. But not more than say 50-20 per cent, so that you are driving the economy in the direction that you want. The direction that will eventually enable you to create jobs for the people. Like I said, out of these 10 agro commodities lines, we are going to create a minimum of 200,000 jobs. And what does it take. One, you must have the off Â capacity created through investment or encouraging the private sector to set up the factories that will take up the agro commodities. And we have so many of them, cassava, rice, palm oil. We have cashew and so many things we can do in Imo State.
Then the second area is in the area of industrialisation. Part of my plan is to create three industrial parks in Imo State. One in Orlu, one in Owerri and one in Okigwe. The one in Owerri will be located towards Ngor-Opkalar where we have a whole lot of land. We are going to build a brand new industrial city there capable of accommodating in the final analysis nothing less than 500 farms. We are going to build a similar facility in Orlu focused on the oil belt of the state, Ohaji-Egbema, Ugwuta. That will be capable of hosting between 2,500 factories at that particular industrial city. And we are also going to do something of that nature in Okigwe. And you know Okigwe has one of the best deposits of clay that you can find anywhere in Nigeria and in commercial quantity. And I was told that the reserve is capable of going up to 60 years. Wayback in 1979,80,81, Mbakwe saw those potentials and invested money in a company called Nsu Tiles.The ceramics factory in Okigwe way back. Unfortunately, Â all these were allowed to die. I was even shocked when I was a Commissioner in Imo State, we went to Nsu Tiles, you won’t believe it, we saw two giant generators of over 1000kva each brought in by Mbakwe way back in 1980-81 for the factory. The villagers are still protecting them up till this time. So why can’t we have that place as the industrial belt where you can harness those materials. There is so much in terms of what we can do with the extractive industry. There are so many things you can do with crude oil and gas. Imo is a gas state. And as you know there are so much you can get from gas, from crude oil. And from the agricultural sector, there’s so much we can do. But the key is that we must encourage the local processing of practically everything that we have in Imo State. And once we are able to do that we create more jobs. The agricultural sector is no rocket science; we are going to create nothing less than 200,000 jobs in three years. It will happen before every Nigerian. We are going to strengthen the Ministry of Agriculture as we found out that the way the state of things in most agencies and parastatals, the agri-extention services within the Ministry of Agriculture is almost non-existent. We are going to make sure that the agric extension department which should be supporting the farmers wherever they are is revamped, the right people brought in and trained so that they can support the industrial agricultural programme. These things are worth doing. It is about vision and understanding what the issues are and being able to execute. Again, somebody could say all these things and not being able to executive them. Fortunately, it is an area I understand very well, execution management. And we can do all of these to put our people back to jobs.
What about the Orlu angle?
Then the Orlu angle: the industrial park we’re going to build in Orlu is going to be around the oil and gas belt. We have crude oil in Ohaji-Egbema Ugwuta axis. And we are going to do an industrial park focused on that industry. Because, there are so much petro chemicals. You can get all sorts of gas, even the oxygen used in hospitals and other places. We need to encourage that. I believe that successive governments both at the state and federal levels have really not addressed the challenges of industrialising Nigeria. And meanwhile, I give this example all the time. Anytime I talk about this I am always excited. Meanwhile some of us when we went to school there is a book I ways mention all the time. When we were in school we read a book called Economics of West Africa by OA Lawal; chapter seven of that book tells you the factors that affect the location of an industry. It tells you nearness to market, nearness to raw materials, nearness to electricity, nearness to water etc. These are there. What it tells you is that once you have an environment that has taken care of all these things, the investors, the industrialists would come. And you don’t need to go too far away. In this Nigeria, people recognised these principles and used it to good effect. Michael Okpara recognised these principles and that led to the creation of the Emene Industrial area in Enugu. The late Chief Obafemi Awolowo understood it so well and that led to the establishment of Ikeja Industrial Estate, Ilupeju Industrial Estate, etc. Even in the North, especially Kaduna. What we all know is that once you create an environment for the industrialist to come in, and he knows that he is not going to spend money building his own roads, he is not going to spend money doing his own water system; he is not going to spend money doing his old waste disposal and bringing generators, he will come. Because there is no industrialist that will see a location where he has all these and goes to a location where you find all these facilities that will not come to invest his own resources setting up a business. And I tell you, Nigeria must take the example of Ethiopia. Ethiopia is the most rapid in terms of industrialisation in the whole of Africa, if you go there today, they have the Hawassa Industrial Park. They have done the first one, the second and third one. All over Ethiopia they are setting up industrial parks.
If you go to a country like Turkey, the backbone of their industrialisation is their industrial parks. They have the highest industrial parks per kilometre anywhere in the world. You go to South Korea, the same thing. What this tells you is that once you provide for the industrial sector to come and set up factories, they will do it. Because if you are an industrialist today and I tell you to come to my village where you do not have access to road, where you have to dig your own borehole, where there is no power, you have to bring your 1000kva generator. And you have an alternative where all these things are provided, where would you go to? These are the things and you wonder why it is so.
The plan of action I have for Imo State is what I call the Igbo tri-city industrial programme. We have to set up these three industrial cities in these three locations: Owerri, Orlu and Okigwe. We have to do it. Unfortunately, what our governors are looking for are those projects where people will be looking on the road and see that they have set up hospitals and all that. But the real investment in industrial sector is creating the enabling environment to encourage factories to be set up.
What is your agenda for security in the state?
We have a programme on security. You can do anything you want to do; you can have the brightest ideas and best of dreams and lofty ones, but if you do not have security, everything will take flight. I recognised that clearly. There has to be protection or security for life and properties. We have a plan where we are going to practically wire the entire state. And the technology is not expensive. We already have identified where from a particular mast you can see with clarity what somebody doing three kilometres away. And by the time we mount 1,000 masts or even 500 masts across the state, we would have covered the entire Imo. And we are going to do it under the PPP arrangement with the telecom companies as masts providers. And we’re going to do it such that the masts will be paid for by the revenues coming from other sources. So these things are doable. We are going address the security challenge. If you look at my blueprint, we are going to have Imo State Security Trust Fund. The security trust fund will be modeled after what Lagos has done because there is no point reinventing the wheel. Making sure that the security trust fund is insulated from government interference. If you look at the Lagos State Security Trust Fund, it is essentially public sector driven. And we must replicate it in Imo State.
If you become a governor on the platform of APGA, a minority party, how can you actualise these bold visions without the support of the federal government?
You do not need the support of anybody. I just told you a while ago that Imo State has had about 800 billion naira resources coming from the centre. With that amount you can do so much. And what I am saying is about a vision that is implementable with or without Abuja at the centre. We don’t need Abuja to live our lives in Imo. With the little resources we are getting from the centre can do a lot. But my point is that most of the people in government haven’t done enough with what they are receiving. That is the paradigm we want to change.
What about health?
Well, the things that determine the quality of medicare are essentially three factors. One, the people, how qualified are the medical personnel? Two, the diagnostics backbone, do you have the labs whose results would always be reliable such that the medical personnel can rely on them to diagnose and prescribe drugs for treatment. Thirdly, the physical infrastructure. I have a novel plan that would use volunteer services to support Imo healthcare delivery. We are going to repackage the medical mission programme so that it becomes a proper volunteer service to help with the medical team. And I have even discussed with doctors in the United States of America to come here; I already know what is to be done to provide accommodation for them. And we are going to have a minimum of 100 medical personnel coming into Imo State every month. From gynecologists, to surgeons, to radiographers, nurses, pharmacists coming into Imo State on a monthly basis to support the local healthcare delivery system. And by the time we do this, within two years, Imo State will become the destination for quality medicare. We can do it and we make sure we have the diagnostics capacity. As it is important we have the labs. Often time people die here because the results from the labs are not reliable. Oftentimes you finished going through medicare treatment here but when you go abroad, the results from the lab is different from what you have here. We must be sure of what we have as it is only when you are sure of what the illness is that you will be in a position to prescribe the right treatment.
We are going to invest in infrastructures. Curiously when we were in government, I was one of the people that opposed the 27 medical hospital projects. As it didn’t make sense to me that you are going to build 27 general hospitals. My own idea is that let’s pump these resources into the already existing hospitals we have, build capacity, with this money. We can provide walls, beds and hire people, pay the nurses better, improve or upgrade the diagnostics capacity of the hospitals. We would have achieved a lot more rather than have a situation where for five years we invested so much money in setting up uncompleted buildings. What have you achieved? Nothing! So the goal of providing quality medicare which should be the objective of the healthcare delivery system hasn’t been achieved in Imo State.
So for me the focus initially will be existing general hospitals and we know where they are. How do we upgrade their facilities? That is the immediate responsible of the government? How do we support their works with personnel, what are we doing about the drugs making sure we have the required quality? Before we start talking about 27 general hospitals,
the idea should be on health centre in every ward. Let’s even have the existing health centres functioning in Imo State. I am a realist. I don’t believe you start building new ones when the ones you have are not functioning well. Let’s provide infrastructure for the existing ones and let them be functioning. If the healthcare centre very close to my village is working, people from my village would go there. And there are so many of those health centres already established. Let us make these health centres work first. And I am certain that if we grade the physical infrastructure there, provide beds etc. we would find out that it is a lot better than what we presently have now. Mind you, I have also a scheme that would be introduced and people will ask where the money is coming from. We are going to be having free health insurance for every child in primary and secondary school in Imo State, who is an Imo indigene. And this will be applicable to everyone above 65 years old.
Those are the things, I believe we can achieve all these. I am not somebody that build castle in the air. I believe that you have to start from the basics. If the existing hospitals in Imo State are functioning and functioning well, you would have probably addressed most of the healthcare needs of the people. When you would have done so, you would now be talking about issues of access. Access to healthcare, you will be saying okay we have these numbers of health centres, can we put more in place so that people can get to those locations very quickly and not traverse long distances. Those are subsequent issues. But the immediate challenge is to upgrade, improve the quality of medicare by equipping, rehabilitating and making sure that existing healthcare centres and hospitals are delivering on their mandates.
Still on security, what measures are you going to put in place to protect lives and property?
Like I said, we are going to wire the whole Imo State. We are going to have vigilante service. Let me tell you, every crime is local. A criminal is unlikely to operate effectively unless he has the support of some local criminals. That is why before they even carry out any operation, they will identify with some locals who would support them. So every crime is local. And we are going to have vigilante services. They currently exist but we are going to reinforce and make sure those vigilante services are more effective. Every community, every Eze in Imo State must have responsibility for security in his own community. If you come to my community now, the Eze and the local people know all the criminals, because the criminals don’t operate from the moon. As they are growing up, people know them, they point at them. So, I’m sure when you have a properly managed effective vigilante system at that level supporting the conventional security agencies like the police, SSS we would have a very better Imo State. The technology is not expensive.
What are your programmes for the entertainment industry?
If you look at my blueprint, the objective is to turn Imo State into the entertainment capital of Nigeria, not even the South-east, as we have everything going for us. If you go to Owerri, it has the highest numbers of hotels after Abuja and Lagos. As I speak today, we have at least 50 hotels under construction in the state of various sizes. If you go to what we call the New Owerri, you will see at least 30 hotels under construction. Because, Imo people, particularly Owerri people, are very hospitable, very friendly people. That is always being a natural attraction for people. For instance, people come to Owerri every Thursday, Friday to Sunday for relaxation. We do not want such weekend basis again. We can truly turn Imo to a destination of tourism as well as the entertainment capital of Nigeria. And the plans are very simple. One, it is my plan that we focus on business tourism as well as family tourism. You must have focus on your mind when you are implementing a project like this. What is your focus? I have revealed the spectrum of opportunities and I believe we should focus on business tourism and well as family tourism. What do we do? We need a world class convention centre in Owerri that can seat 3,000, maybe 5,000 people. Luckily there are already high profile hotels in Owerri.
And what we need to do today is to engage them at the highest possible. And there are so many hotels around Owerri. What you now need to do is have proper implementation of hotel standard. We have a situation hotels are being built without recourse to standards. Whereas in other places by the time you are building, say a two star hotel etc, people already have an idea what facility should be there. Because their prescription even of minute details as to the size of their toilets. And we will through the Imo State tourism office which has to be revamped so that we will have strong hotel standards department. That would make sure the hotel conforms to these standards. As a matter of fact, only those hotels that conform to the standard that we will bring into this tourism plan; so it also becomes an incentive for them. And of course it is not rocket science. South Africa has done it, even Namibia, and others. We can always learn from them or bring people there to deliver that kind of service.
Beyond that we also need to do something about family tourism. When you want to make a location for family tourism, the most important people in that arrangement are the kids. When you go into America and you are around Florida, your kids will be telling where to go, like Disney, for instance. You must look at these needs that drive family tourism and they are mostly the needs of children. We must provide a world class zoo in Owerri. Unfortunately, the Nekede Zoo that we had has been taken over by the current governor and shared as plots of land to his people. But not to worry as I know that with the equivalent of two million dollars, you can set up a world class zoo in Imo State. It is lot of money but it is something you can do with the private sector. As my little knowledge tells me there are so much you can do with the private sector. It just like providing incentives. There are a lot of companies in South Africa, Kenya, Namibia, etc., what they do is wildlife management either in operation or consultant. They set up zoos or biological gardens and run them, that is their business. We can encourage these companies to come to Imo State and set up; when you do so the next thing is hotels. Thank God we have a lot.