Chief of Medicine and Chairman, Department of Medicine, Banner Delweb Medical Center in Sun City West Arizona, Boris Emeka Oji, in this interview expresses support for Abia State Governor, Alex Otti’s newly inaugurated Abia Global Economic Advisory Council, and speaks about how he, the Abia intelligentsia and members of the Zenith Environmental and Social Protection Network, an alumni association non-governmental organisations of Abia State University can add value to the deliberations of the Council. Nduka Nwosu brings the excerpts:
What is your take on Governor Alex Otti’s recently launched Abia Global Economic Advisory Council (AGEAC)?
I think AGEAC as a roadmap is the boldest initiative since the creation of Abia State. If the concept of a seaport is actualised with the support of the federal government, it will be the greatest game changer in the economic development of the state. Otti’s administration is redefining statecraft, different from what Abia did in the past. The government is working and thinking outside the box. The citizens of the state for the first time in 25 years finally feel they are part of the country and have hope for the proverbial dividends of democracy. Normally the few people that had previously cornered the commonwealth of Abia State will not be happy. That is expected. From all verifiable indices, Dr. Alex Otti is doing exceptionally well for the state; he should stay focused and keep seeking divine guidance while incorporating in his policy implementation docket the recommendations of AGEAC. These efforts will start paying significant returns sooner than later. Private Nigerians will realise that the ease of doing business in Abia is better than that of Lagos State.
The truth be told: the huge internally generated revenue (IGR) that Lagos has is principally on the back of the investment of easterners as most foreign industries are exiting the former capital and Nigeria’s seat of business and commerce. With the plan Otti has proposed, the only competitive advantage Lagos still has is the seaport. With the approval of states delving into railways, Abia can easily become the hub of business activities again. Once the companies in the country start coming down to Abia for investment, foreign direct investors, and the multinational companies already in the country will be willing to do business in the state. In Abia there are exceptionally low hanging fruits that I will throw out there.
What are these low hanging fruits?
We have the skill set to take over the large garment factories of the world from Bangladesh and China, especially with the devaluation of the naira. Such products as Polo, Hines, Michael Koss can conveniently be produced in substantial numbers as export items. The garment industry in Bangladesh and Indonesia produces clothes for all the major brands worldwide and we already have the skill set of tailors in Aba that can outbid the Bangladesh companies by inviting these clothing giants to visit Aba and give us a trial. These are huge industrial tailoring facilities; again, naira gives us an advantage here. The next low hanging fruit is the Customer Services Call Centres business. These call centres that are all over the world are currently domiciled in India. If you call Exxon Mobil to make a complaint, it is likely the person that will answer you is in India because Exxon has a contract with the Indian company to answer their customer calls as a switchboard. So many companies all over the world currently do this with India as a leader in the business. These call centres are easy to set up; with the current valuation of the naira, we can get into competitive bidding and outbid Indian companies. We can take a sizable chunk of it from India today, that we speak good English already is an advantage. Once the softwares are available in the country the companies can set off immediately. Once you get one USA Company and it does well with this new deal, the rest will be history.
Medical Transcribing Companies?
Transcribing companies yes, will be in Aba and will be transcribing for hospitals in the USA and the UK; that is exactly what it means. Anyone in medicine knows what transcription means; it is a software which saves the doctor the trouble of writing notes while attending to his patient. The transcriber who is in Nigeria with his software does the job as the doctor is speaking; instead of the doctor writing notes, the trained transcriber in Aba will be writing the notes on the chart so that the doctor or doctors can focus on their patients. It is a huge industry dominated by Indians but easy to set up.
Given the activities of Zespronet in the past with Abia and Imo State universities, and your unique exposure in the medical field, what will be your contribution to AGEAC
In elevating health related issues?
First is the creation of an enabling environment that will allow professionally qualified Abians and non-Abians that are physicians in the Diaspora to safely invest in healthcare in Abia.
The watch words should be transparency, due process, and government’s ability to provide the needed land or property with certificates of occupancy for physician investors coming home to establish model and globally acceptable medical centres.
We should bear in mind that modern healthcare is expensive, but the government can encourage those willing to build world class hospitals in Aba, Umuahia, and Ohafia, by ensuring that land is available or subsidised for them with a certificate of occupancy.
If there are medical machines like CT scans and MRIs being brought in, the government must have in place standard modus operandi in facilitating their clearance. For emphasis, the clearance of CT scans and MRIs and other expensive medical equipment, there should be a well-known standard modus operandi put in place by government to assist the Diaspora physicians in their clearance.
For primary and teaching hospitals to have appropriate modern equipment made available to them, the following approaches should be considered. You do not need to build new hospitals; rather the ones on the ground should be equipped and expanded as first class globally acceptable hospitals.
Each local government will need at least a hospital and a Centre of Excellence hospital easily accessible by everyone in the locality; it must have resources needed to stabilise everyone from trauma to neurological emergencies with the teaching hospitals acting as the tertiary centres. They should be able to treat trauma and accident cases such that a patient that comes in confused as an accident victim should be stabilised and then shipped within 30 minutes to a nearby Centre of Excellence hospital in the local government where CT scans or MR can be done to determine what level of care is needed to stabilise the patient and treat as needed The local hospital will have ambulances between them and the Centre of Excellence which should have capacity for an air ambulance or other expedited evacuation methods.
Continuous medical education is the key for professionalism in medicine; the government should encourage Abia citizens like me and other physicians in the Diaspora to see how they can arrange for resident physicians to rotate among themselves in offering services to the people with these centres of excellence and the teaching hospitals to also teach our local doctors the standard of care in various disciplines
The government must encourage Diaspora physicians in various fields of medicine to accept dedicated rotations a few weeks per year, or quarterly in these hospitals to train our local doctors on standards of care.
Diaspora physicians should be encouraged to arrange continuous medical education with emphasis on Advance Cardiovascular life support training, continuously all the year round while government pays for some of these training programmes.
How will the Otti administration benefit from Zespronet‘s renewable energy programmes?
Abia needs a massive investment in renewable energy especially solar energy which is easy, scalable, and affordable while for the industrial sector, gas can act as an alternative energy source from the gas fields in the Ukwa axis and Rivers State with pipelines that should run directly to the new Abia Industrial Park and Aba.
Just these four areas, which I have significant interest in and experience, have the potential of producing a positive tsunami effect in the development of Abia State now and in the future.
You may ask why am I sharing these ideas about now? It is because I can finally see the light in the tunnel now. The challenges have been power, security and an enabling environment which seems to have finally taken a positive step in the right direction per Governor Otti’s policy direction.
Why are you restating that wealthy Abians should be involved in the sustainability of quality education and academic development?
Public education is the key; all hands need to be on the deck to make it the premier source of education rather than an inferior source of education, where children of the poor educate their wards, and the private schools are for the rich. No, the reverse should be the case; public education should be such that it is well funded and standardised that sponsors for both the rich and poor should access it as the number one option for their wards.
The education system in the country is ill-positioned for the challenges of the 21st century while private education is out of the reach of most Nigerians, thus creating two parallel societies we may live to regret.
All the powerful public schools -Harvard, Columbia, Oxford, etc, depend a lot on endowment funds donated by their alumni associations, and families to make up for the difference government and tuition provide for them. This model also needs to be adopted and encouraged by the government.
Beyond being your alma mater, why the emphasis on Abia State University?
The goal is to make it not just the Centre of Excellence as its name suggests but the most desirable university in Nigeria
To achieve the goals elucidated in its establishment by the founding fathers, you need a trainable and supporting work force
One of the easiest things to do in the university is to ensure that every Nigerian irrespective of their state of origin or even non-Nigerians can feel that they will achieve all their professional potential in Abia State University
I am also happy that the administration of Otti has moved positively in this regard. That other states are applying statism in the recruitment of academic staff, is not an excuse for Abia state to do it if we must reposition the state to be the premier destination both for business and education
A university whose criteria for advances in professional development is anchored on statism rather than productive and academic excellence, is only courting mediocrity for its growth.
Can you give a brief on ZESPRONET its activities till date and how you can add value to Otti’s administration?
Environmental protection is the job of all. The south-east and Abia State are prone to serious erosion that the standard building code in the state should take this into consideration before approving a building plan for anyone: a housing estate needs proper drainage; existing ones need proper channels to the drainage system and all roads need proper drainage systems. Tree and shrub planting have been shown as the ultimate solution to prevent us from getting to the stage where erosion takes over communities and destroys land and property. For places like Isukwuato and Ndi Egoro that already have disaster zones and status attached to them, multilateral agencies should be brought in to design well accepted structural intervention programmes that will also involve relocation of indigenous communities where the need arises.
During a 2015 alumni reunion, members agreed to form a non-governmental-organisation to address such issues as climate change, environmental cleanliness, and protection, as well as seek ways of being useful to each other. ZESPRONET believes a people and their way of doing things gain value when the mind is positively skewed in doing the right thing. The organisation’s mandate is to deliver the best to the people because by so doing, society gets better.
The idea is to protect the environment through constant sensitisation programmes involving the public and government on issues of global warming especially in the eastern states of Nigeria with the devastating effects of gully erosion as well as interface with them and the international community to bring global best practices to bear and not just ameliorate but reverse the trend.
The most impactful achievement of ZESPRONET till date is the building of a postgraduate hostel for the alma mater which started as Imo State University and later grew to Abia State University with the carving out of a new state. We completed the N80 million, 44-bed post-graduate hostel with each room being en-suite and with tv and game rooms which were handed over to the Abia State University, Uturu, with no strings attached. While receiving an honorary doctorate degree from ABSU in 2019, I hinted that my colleagues and I were going to deliver a hostel to the university in less than 15 months. In November 2021 we made good our promise. We delivered the most ultramodern hostel in the school. We believe both ABSU and other universities and the state governments can learn from this model and utilise it for what it is worth.
The ABSU Alumni North America Chapter of which I am the coordinator, has just completed its N42 million project: ‘Operation Light Up ABSU.’ It provided solar lights throughout the campus and solar panels for the e-library with acknowledgement from the registrar Dr. Acho Elendu, on behalf of the Vice Chancellor, Governing Council, Management, Senate, staff, and students
How were you able to supply books to help build the medical library?
I have since 2011 supplied books and medical journals worth over $50,000 to the ABSU Medical Library. On an annual basis, I supply books worth over $5000. At the height of the COVID 19 pandemic, ZESPRONET was able to conduct a sensitisation outreach imploring citizens to observe the strict rules of hygiene with a six-week radio campaign in the five Eastern states. ZESPRONET went out of its way asking citizens to be civil, shun violence, avoid corruption, and protect the environment.
What are the other issues you introduced to impact on the grassroots in Abia and the other eastern states?