Changing the Imo Story, Laying a New Foundation

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Beyond the Michael Okpara and Samuel Mbakwe magical eras of the past, Eastern Nigeria’s heartland, now Imo State, remains the black sheep of the South-East geo-political zone. But the first 100 days of Governor Emeka Ihedioha signals an important footing that promises to change the Imo story for good, writes Adedayo Adejobi

Deeply aware that there was little time for frivolous activity, preceding and following their swearing-in, Governor Emeka Ihedioha and his deputy, Engr. Gerald Irona swung into action by constituting a high-powered Transition Technical Committee (TTC) comprising distinguished Imo sons and daughters from both within the state and the diaspora. This was to harness the state’s huge human and economic resources to set a clear path in its rebuilding process.

A review of the work accomplished by the TTC resulted in the Imo State Development Agenda, eventually known as Imo Growth and Strategic Development Plan (G-SDP). The Plan involves a two-stage development horizon of a 5-year Economic Blueprint. Significantly, this crucial work came at no cost. It was simply driven by goodwill inspired by a very appreciative Governor Ihedioha.

The development plan include the delivery of 381km rural access road projects, restoration of an improved Owerri Master-plan, restoration of water supply in Owerri metropolis, roll-out of a State health insurance scheme as well as the reactivation of four technical education institutions in the state. Others include an economic growth and strategic development initiatives along 5 sub-themes of; Human Capital Development, Agriculture and Food Security, Infrastructure, Industrialization and Job Creation as well as Security and Environment.

With the full knowledge that good governance pivots on building institutional frame work, the Governor Ihedioha-led administration set up a structure for transparency and accountability in the governance process. Accordingly, they have signed into law, Executive Order 005, known as Treasury Single Account (TSA) Order to consolidate all government revenues under one account. They also adopted other measures designed to plug leakages and increase Internally Generated Revenues (IGR) in the state coffers.

Knowing it was impossible to achieve the right growth as a state without a sustainable internal revenue generating system the administration took steps to reform the state Internal Revenue Service. From August 2019 all cash tax payments were banned and the government mandated the use of the PayDirect platform with a single source sweeping of revenue. This has started addressing the issue of multiple accounts and leakages, and the state IGR has grown from an all-time low of about N300m in July to N600m in August.
It’s worth recalling that Imo State has less than 5% of the working population of over 2 million paying taxes and this was clearly not an acceptable position. The new administration met an arbitrary tax collection system leading to leakages, fraud and all sorts of irregularities.

The new regime has commissioned a Central Billing System which will drive the use of technology in tax collection and started a tax payer enumeration exercise with the attendant benefit of identifying the tax payers and ensuring they pay the right amount of tax to the right source.

A transformation of the revenue service is in place, built on the pillars of People Processes and Technology to ensure that the needs of the populace are served in the most efficient and professional manner, by operationalizing the autonomy of the Imo Internal Revenue Service in line with global standards. The administration has also listened to Imolites issues on multiple taxation and commenced a tax harmonization exercise in a bid to eliminate multiple taxation and streamline taxes in a manner that will only focus on the most relevant taxes to be paid.

Due to these strategic and fiscal responsibility moves, Imo State has gained positive image and is now on track to join the Open Governance Partnership league. It also now qualifies for performance-based grants of the World Bank as well as other multilateral development institutions. The administration is also currently developing the Imo Growth and Economic Development Fund, touted to be conceptually unique in Nigeria and would serve as an investment catalyst for the Imo State economy.
Under about 12 more clearly defined, segmented arenas, the Ihedioha administration has moved to hone policy and streamline execution. Some of these include:

Reinventing the State Civil Service
The weakness of the State Civil Service due to high nepotism, lack of motivation, delayed salaries and under-payments by, sometimes, as much as 30 percent of salaries due was an issue to be dealt with decisively. Consequently the regime empaneled a review committee to look into cases of improper or irregular appointments, promotions and other related matters.
The Committee has turned in its report and, subsequently, approval for the restoration of payment of 100 percent salaries to all workers in the State was given. It also recalled all unjustly suspended Directors, reversed some undeserved promotions and sponsored officers to capacity building programmes. Similarly, Local Government workers have been paid the backlog of salaries owed them by the last administration.

Infrastructure Renewal
The new administration inherited considerable collapsed infrastructures. Except those built by the Federal Government that are useable, the roads built by the state are in a very bad shape, despite the billions of Naira purportedly spent on road construction by the immediate past administration.

Today, the expanded State Executive Council has approved the award of contracts for the reconstruction of 14 critical roads across the State to bring relief to the suffering people. These include: Naze-Federal Polytechnic Road-Ihiagwa-Obinze road; Ahiara Junction-Okpala Road; Aba Branch-Ahiara Junction road and the Imo Stare Teaching Hospital Road. Others include, the Umuowa-Old Orlu Road; MCC-Toronto Road; Mgbidi–Oguta road; Ogwoghoranya-Avutu with spur at Avutu Poultry FarmRoad andthe Douglas–Emmanuel College-NazeJunction road.

Further accommodated under this phase of reconstruction are: the Assumpta-PortHarcourt Road; OkigweOkpara Road-Police Station Road; Control Post-World Bank–Umuguma Road; Okigwe Road-IMSU-Bishop Court Roundabout Road and the Concorde Boulevard Ring Road-Zuma–PH Road.

Just last week, at Onuimo, Isu and Mbaitoli Local Government Areas, the new regime flagged-off one of the most ambitious rural road construction projects in the country. Valued at N13.5 billion the World Bank assisted Rural Access and Mobility Project (RAMP), involves over 70 rural road networks with a cumulative distance of 381 kilometers across most of the 27 Local Government Areas of the state. The Ihedioha regime actually met the project just on the drawing board and immediately harnessed the necessary resources to pay the counterpart funding.

Security
Security in Imo State has been a big challenge since the new regime assumed office. Several meetings with Security Chiefs in the state on how to resolve extant challenges led to the launching of Operation Iron Gate, as a strategic measure to combat crimes and criminalities as well as rid the State of all undesirable elements. It has taken practical and sustained steps to get the state’s health care delivery system working again. The administration has re-launched the stalled Health Insurance Scheme to connect effectively into the already existing federal government insurance scheme. The state has also committed 1% of its Consolidated Revenue to this scheme and is confident that, soon, a good percentage of its populace would have registered and started benefiting from the scheme.

It’s no secret that meaningful industrialization cannot take place where there is poor power supply. Power supply in the state, over the years, has been limited by generation shortfalls as well as transmission and distribution deficiencies. Other hindrances include – the absence of modern electricity management systems and the non-exploitation of green technology in the energy mix.

As a result, the government has set up the Imo State Power and Rural Electrification Agency (I-POREA) to evolve strategies to remove barriers to adequate exploitation of our power generation potentials. It has also empowered I-POREA to take advantage of the State’s natural gas and alternative energy resources to bridge the gap in access to electricity in the state and have also made remarkable progress towards the restoration of electricity supply to some areas of the State where they were nonexistent in the last seven to eight years. This include, the replacement of 79 failed transformers across the State, completion of electricity supply to Inyishi Aluminum Extrusion Company and its environs as well as the Oguta 33kv line electricity project.

It could be recalled that for several years, the Otamiri Water Supply was not functional and our people in the state capital and contiguous areas suffered untold hardships. The administration provided what was required to get it working again. Specifically, water started running again in Imo on 24th July, 2019 after almost seven(7) years of dry pipes. In the same vein, work is ongoing to rectify cases of burst pipes across the major roads. Similarly, on assumption of office, it was discovered that there was no functional fire-fighting equipment in the state. The regime took prompt and practical steps. Today, it has successfully repaired four firefighting trucks to restore the operations of Imo emergency and firefighting services.

The administration is also tackling the housing deficit in the state by taking concrete steps towards re-positioning Imo State Housing Corporation and entering into partnership with primary mortgage institutions such as Federal Mortgage Bank, the Family Homes Funds and other reputable private sector investors, towards providing 5000 affordable homes by the year 2023. It has initiated a Social Housing Initiative designed to create about 15,000 jobs in the next four years.
The new regime has carried out the renovation of the Odenigbo lodge which presently serves as the offices of the Governor and Deputy Governor and commenced the renovation of Commissioners’ quarters and quarters of security chiefs. We have also completed comprehensive enumeration of all public buildings in the state capital for accountability purposes.

Reviving Agriculture and Enhancing Food Value Chain
To fully exploit the state’s agricultural potentials as well as generate employment, it recently launched the Agricultural Roadmap which represents a comprehensive framework for self-sufficiency in food production, both for domestic consumption and for exports purposes. By its strategic location at the heartland of the South East and Imo’s endowment with the only international cargo airport in the region, the regime is confident that with the right investments, the state would harvest monumental benefits in this sector.

The first batch of 500 youths selected from all the 27 LGAs in Imo State will be sent to a modern farm at Nasarawa State, in a few weeks, under the Imo Youths in Agribusiness Programme (IYAP). Here, they would learn the best practices in tropical agriculture, after which they will be supported to start their own businesses in Imo State.
The administration has also commenced the establishment of a Rice Seed Farm Cluster on the Imo River Basin at Amumara – Ezinihitte Mbaise LGA. This programme will clearly make Imo State self-sufficient in the production of improved variety of rice seeds with a view to strengthening our rice value chain. Experts in rice breeding, production and processing from the Africa Rice Centre at IITA Ibadan will be training our groups of rural young farmers to grow and process improved rice seeds.

The Ihedioha regime has also commenced the introduction of light mechanization to farmers in areas where full tractorization may not be possible. This is intended to reduce the drudgery of farming and make it more efficient and attractive for the youths. Experts in power tillers, threshers etc. have been invited from the National Centre for Agricultural Mechanization (NCAM), Ilorin, to commence the pilot scheme.

Specialists in light irrigation and water management have also been invited and the government has released funds for equipment to pilot the teaching of youths on how to make use of the state’s perennial water sources for an all-year-round production of crops.
The process for the rejuvenation of Imo ADP has commenced and plans are underway to train staff and reintegrate them back to intervention programmes that have suffered severe setbacks in the past as a prelude to granting access to reputable, time-tested investors. It is noteworthy that, the Avutu Poultry Farm has been cleared for a full restoration to a world-class standard. Similarly, Adapalm is being cleared through the relevant Committee and we would soon commence operations. The challenge of pending legal issues is being attended in order to clear the way for full optimization of its potentials.
Imo State is set to host the only Agribusiness Park in Nigeria at Ngor-Okpala. This comprises an agribusiness academy, and a smart agribusiness centre, thus positioning the facility for revenue generation and job creation. In a few weeks’ time, data capture of affected Imolites in the upcoming agriculture revolution program targeting 400,000 participants between the ages of 15-64 would begin.

Sports Facilities
Aware that Imo State used to be the fishing ground for sporting talents, disgorging many celebrated sports stars. But in the last few years, even the state’s Heartland Football Club and the Grasshoppers Handball Club have performed abysmally due to complete neglect.
The Dan Anyiam Stadium was completely broken down to the extent that NFF barred it from hosting matches and Imo football team. The Heartland Football Club was nearly relegated from the Premiership as a result. Happily, the prompt intervention of government just before its inauguration halted the slide. Re-grassing of the Dan Anyiam Stadium, installation of new flood lights, replacement of the seats and construction of Olympic standard tartan tracks have gotten underway. The Grasshoppers Stadium is beginning to wear a new look. Furthermore, local councils have joined the talent mining program of the state government through construction of sporting facilities in their respective local government areas.

Investment and Strategic Reforms
Imo State for years has been the ugly bride in the area of Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) in the country which Nno amount of moulding of statues could reverse or attract the needed investment in the state. But with new integrity the enabling environment environment for both domestic and foreign investments is being reinvented. Accordingly, the government has designed a framework for implementing the necessary reforms to improve its place on the World Bank Ease of Doing Business ranking, which has taken a battering in the last eight years.

In a few weeks’ time, Imo State would be inaugurating the Imo State Enabling Business Environment Council – ISEBEC. The Council, would draw up, implement and oversee an agenda for business process reforms. The government has commenced initial engagement with development partners like the World Bank and DFID, to provide technical assistance to the Secretariat and related MDAs to implement the reforms. The government is reworking the Tax Billing System (TBS), to stem the debate over multiple taxations and to restore transparency and accountability in our tax collection regime. The government has signaled that in the coming days Imo people will know exactly what taxes are due to them and how and where to pay such taxes.

The government has revamped the Imo State government Bureau of Public Procurement and Price Intelligence and appointed a Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Procurement and Supply as its Director-General. Thus far, the BPPPI has dusted and resurrected the State Public Procurement Law No.12 of 2010, which was kept moribund since its enactment. Similarly, we recently embarked on investment and trade promotion visits to the United Kingdom, Germany and others, where we interacted with prospective investors, development partners and donor agencies.

Pension Reform
The Ihedioha regime inherited over six years of pension arrears and discovered baffling discrepancies in the total number of pensioners in both the State and the 27 Local Governments. Consequently, it is carrying out a comprehensive audit of the pension administration system in the state with a view to ascertaining the actual number of pensioners and ending the perennial cycle of verifications that has plagued the process. In a short while, the exercise will be concluded and all the troubles hitherto experienced by Imo’s senior citizens, would be a thing of the past.

Sanitation
In the last eight years, Owerri capital city witnessed a gross deterioration of its standards of beauty and sanitation. It could rightly be said that no State capital in the federation at any moment in history suffered a conscious infrastructural dilapidation and decay like Owerri. Every visitor that visited Owerri had alluded to this fact. But the current administration has changed all that. It embarked on the removal of mountains of refuse dumps that littered the state capital and followed immediately with the de-silting of blocked drainages to ensure a permanent solution to the issue of flooding in the capital city.
It has also revived the monthly state-wide clean-up exercises and have set up a high-powered committee to work with ENTRACO, the Imo State sanitation agency. Only last week the Nigerian Association of Town Planners gave Owerri the 2019 Green Cities Promotion Award.

Autonomy of LGAs
The new administration has fully restored the autonomy of the Local government as enshrined in the Nigerian constitution. The Interim Management Committee for the Local Government as resolved by the 8th Assembly, is a stop-gap measure to hold the forte as we work towards free, fair and credible local government elections.

Technical & Vocational Education and Creating ICT Hub
Assuring that Imo children obtain quality and affordable education is a priority of our administration. Preparatory to the resumption of our schools in the new session, the government hosted a well-attended Education Stakeholders’ Summit in which it felt the pulse of the administrators, operators, practitioners and students alike. We are geared to this time, making our systems work.

In Ihedioha’s inaugural address, he promised to resuscitate technical and vocational education in the State. Clearly, the imperative of creating a pool of highly skilled youths that would be the pride of the State in the coming years, cannot be over-stressed. Consequently, on June 2nd, 2019, it inaugurated a Task-force on Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) under my office. It has been charged with the mandate to deliver tangible outcomes on the transformation of TVET within 180 Days.

The resuscitation of TVET being a priority of the Rebuild Imo Project is anchored on the government’s firm belief that the acquisition of critical technical and vocational skills by majority of youths has the capacity to stimulate sustainable industrial development, job and wealth creation and ultimately rapid improvement in the socio-economic life of Imo people. Security of lives and property will also be assured when its youths are off the streets because they are gainfully engaged.

Very recently, the government flagged-off the rebuilding and equipping of four technical colleges in the State namely; Government Technical College Owerri, Ahiara Technical College, Government Technical College Okporo, Orlu and Government Technical College Osu. Our target is that by 2020 it should have hit 60 percent mark of post-Basic students as enrolees in the TVET system.

Similarly, the government recognizes the place of Information & Communication Technology- ICT, as the bridge to the future. Consequently, again just last week we signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with a major technology incubation company in the United States to harness the budding technology potentials of our youths and it is also in contact with Google Inc. on how it can invest in the capacity of our young ones.
The launch of the first phase of the Chief Leo Stan Ekeh Entrepreneurship Support programme for Imo State indigenes is accomplished. In this first phase 1,300 people will be given interest-free loans. The main interest free loan for bigger businesses and school fees on the N1.5 Billion support shall commence on Oct, 2019. The objective is to encourage Imo people engaged in genuine businesses and to empower the people.

Culture and Tourism
The administration has successfully and speedily revived the abandoned Ahiajoku Lecture Series. It has, indeed, been elevated to an Institute with the appointment of a Director-General to take charge of its affairs. By doing this, Ahiajoku has become a first rate cultural and intellectual resource centre on Igbo culture and civilisation like the Goethe Institute in Germany and the Italian cultural institute.
The lingering crisis between the indigenes of Nekede and the State government over the alleged misuse of the land designated for the zoological garden has been resolved and the zoo has been re-positioned to ultimately become a tourist destination.

Strengthening Separation of Powers
A cordial relationship with the legislature is evident. On assumption of office, a retreat with the members of the State Assembly was hosted and led to fruitful outcome such that a total of 8 Bills (3 in the 8th Assembly and 5 in the 9th Assembly) were signed into law in the period from May 29th to date.
Some of these include: Imo State Public Procurement (Amendment) law (2) Imo State Local Government Administration (Amendment) Law, (3) Imo State Universal Basic Education Board (Amendment) Law; (4) Imo State Power & Rural Electrification Law , (5) Imo State Electoral (Amendment) Law, (6) Imo State Market Development Authority Law, (7) Imo State Facility Management Agency Law and Imo State Sports Commission (Establishment Law). Moving forward, we are working on domesticating the Administration of Justice Act as well as the Child Rights Act, respectively.

Similarly, the government recognizes the independence of the Judiciary and are supporting the establishment of a multi-door court house to create alternative windows for dispute resolution. Only a few days ago, the government inaugurated the reconstituted Imo State Judicial Service Commission made up eminent jurists, renowned legal practitioners and reputable Imo citizens. All emoluments and other entitlements of the Judiciary are released as and at the when due.

Accountability Previous Administration
It is important to recall that we took over the reins of government without even a single handover note. Handover notes, traditionally, is the least responsibility an outgoing administration owes an incoming one. Usually it presents a clear picture of the status of government funds, assets, liabilities, pending judicial matters and even policies to enhance continuity. But unfortunately, this was not done.

Upon inception the new government discovered that the inability to provide the necessary documentation was due to a total abuse and neglect of laid down procedures of good governance. Most shocking were the litany of “garnishee absolute orders” amounting to over N30 billion in addition to six years of unpaid pension as well as salary arrears. Projects were poorly conceived, shabbily executed or hastily abandoned. We have even found some of them very hazardous to human safety.

With a wage bill at an average of N2.5b per month, almost N1b monthly pension bill and in an atmosphere of very low IGR, very little is left for development. This is compounded by the almost N1b statutory deduction on our FAAC, majorly for the repayment of the N26.8b bailout funds, given to the last administration by the FG. But we shall not despair.

As a government that espouses the Rule of Law, the Ihedioha regime set up two judicial panels of Inquiry, namely: the Judicial Panel of Inquiry into Land Allocation from 2005 to 2019 and the Judicial Panel of Inquiry into Award of Contracts from 2005 to 2019. It also set up an Inquiry into the Management of Local Government Finances from 2011 to 2019. These panels are made up of very credible Imo citizens with impeccable track records and we are certain they will give Imolites justice.
Assessing the new Ihedioha regime from what it has accomplished in a 100 day simply confirms that story of Ndi Imo is indeed changing for good.