By Obi Nwakanma
I’m not too good with formalities, and so I will keep it simple. No Excellency. No Right-Honorable this and that. No “Onwa” or “Kpakpando” or all those distracting, but meaningless sobriquets that turn ordinary men into clay-footed gods. You have been elected governor, and that in itself is enough honour. It is a singular privilege to be elected to serve, and there is no greater honor, or more point therefore in donning you any further with the garb of Pygmalion that might then result in the Pygmalion effect. You know, like Pygmalion in the play by George Bernard Shaw, who fell in love with one of the statues he had sculpted, and it came alive.
That said, beyond the moral of fables and the things they teach us, I write for more practical and immediate reasons. First, congratulations are in order on being elected governor of Imo. But I hope you have no illusions about the challenges ahead: it is gargantuan. The conditions in which Imo state is currently embroiled, its debt profile, the state of its treasury, and the effects of the massive looting that have taken place from 1983-1999, and from 1999-present is unspeakable. More so, in this outgoing administration of Mr. Ethelbert Anayo Okorocha, who ran Imo like a fiefdom. Imo became a wasteland. As a result of poor planning, poor policy execution, profound conceptual limitations, extreme visionless, and a style of governance that turned the government of Imo state into a vast criminal enterprise, we have seen this state bleed as never before.
The outgoing administration leaves Imo gasping. It will require a less hubristic approach to public administration to revive and reposition Imo state. Of all things, the greatest thing that needs to be healed is the self-confidence of the people which took a walloping under Okorocha. There needs to be faith once more in the possibility of Imo; in its ability to chart a course for progress. It will need a sensitive and humane touch. The era of top-down, jackboot government is over because it is ineffective and primitive. Modern governments are organic systems. They depend on institutions, procedures, record keeping, a properly established, neutral but professional bureaucracy and regulatory capacity.
The promise of democracy itself is not just that it makes prosperity attainable, but that citizens feel themselves direct participants in the ways that they are governed. That they send representatives who listen to them. Who do not impose their will, or act beyond the legitimate constitutional authority that defines the consent of the governed. Besides, whoever must govern any Igbo state, must take into account the basic cultural psychology of the Igbo: “anaghi achi Igbo achi. Igbo nwere ndi ndu” (no one rules the Igbo, the Igbo have guardians and ministers of the pathways). When they feel themselves to be part of the process, they rise as one to the challenge of social action. If the Igbo, however, feel alienated, they disengage, and become individual, and ungovernable. They react in cold defiance to authority, and no threat or bribe can turn them. The Igbo are masters of non-violent resistance. But they are also the greatest supporters of any civic cause with which they find common cause and can very easily be mobilized, using their strategic authority systems: the firstborn sons, the age grades, the powerful sorority of the daughters of the land; the clan, village and town councils. And that is what your administration must now do: go directly to the people, rebuild their timeworn system; rebuild their trust, and mobilize them to this phase of “Olu Obodo” – Community action.
I congratulate you for bringing together a high caliber of men and women as your transitional technical committee, ostensibly to help formulate some policy direction and action plan for the takeoff of your administration. It is a good start. But my cursory response is that going forward, you must strive to involve more women, and a broader spectrum of tactical, technical representation in your administration. For instance, I did not see anyone in your technical committee who could have given you precise action plans on a culture policy. As you might know, Culture is not just “Nkwa-umu-Agbogho” or the performance of folk life. It is that and much more: it is museums, it is galleries of art, theatres, film, Music, libraries, the Fine Arts, the architecture of the city, craft life, the archives, and it is the means by which we invite and entertain visitors to the land, and civilize the public mind. Culture is the secret weapon of development. I shall return to this.
I think that irrespective of what your technical committee provides for you, you already have some distinguished templates from which to design your programs. I think you must borrow and hybridize five playbooks –Azikiwe’s “Eastern Nigerian Economic Development and Reconstruction plan, 1954-1964” which was fully implemented by Dr. Okpara, for its visionary impetus, the Ojukwu War Action plan authored by Dr. Pius Okigbo, which turned the East into a vast workshop, the Ukpabi Asika post-war Reconstruction program, with its bold economic and social initiatives, and the Imo state Economic Development plan of the Mbakwe administration. These plans, with a few contemporary tweaks, are still profoundly brilliant, far-reaching and relevant. Whatever you do, you must find a clear-headed, original and strategic thinker as the Secretary to your government and head of your administration.
This position must not be used to settle political debts. This is the thinking room of your administration, and whoever you choose must be broadly read and philosophically trained, highly exposed in political, Economic, and administrative systems with a vast network that is both local and global. He must think systems. He has to be to you, what Professor Enoch Anyanwu was to Sam Mbakwe. Your first and immediate action must be to propose and get your party to push through the Imo State Civil Service Reform Act. You need to rebuild, reposition, reorganize, and re-orient the Imo state civil bureaucracy. Find a means to incentivize and attract the finest people, and recruit the young, and the brightest of our university graduates from home and abroad into junior and middle level administrative and Executive positions, and head hunt for accomplished managers from the private sector to shore up the senior cadre of the civil service.
You must begin the process of grooming this new generation of civil servants for future leadership of the service down the line. Expose them to regular training locally and internationally. Give them incentives that will make corruption pointless. No government can function without a highly trained and motivated bureaucracy. The civil service is the operational arm of government. Everywhere in the world, governments attract the best that a nation can produce to its public service. Commerce and industry absorb the rest. It used to be so, until the military in Nigeria destroyed the service, and Imo particularly used to have one of the finest civil bureaucracies in West Africa. For efficiency, you must run a tight ship; no more than ten or eleven ministries: Education & Culture, Finance and Economic Development, Works & Public Utilities, Transport & Urban Development, Agriculture, the Environment & Rural Development, Trade, Industry & Technology; Health & Human Services, Sports & Youth Development, Labour & Establishment, the Attorney-General & Justice; and Information & Research. Education and culture intersect, because it is through the school system that we transmit cultural literacy: art programs, music programs, drama, the library system; poetry and other forms of Creative Writing. These programs have disappeared from our school system.
Your administration must expand the science and technical programs. Create a Service and Learning curriculum that would expose Imo students to community service initiatives as a necessary part of their public education; youth programs that will be anchored on schools sports programs including – Boxing, Athletics, Soccer, Golf, Tennis, Cricket, Rowing, and so on, many of which are currently not available for our current generation of students; outdoors and survival education, that would include routine youth camps during school years and long vacations; mediated holiday programs that will enrich youth life, and distract them from crime, and delinquency; and create a necessary civic impulsion that is at the core of social growth and development. Youth programming is so underestimated and underfunded that its effects today is reflected in the profound alienation and lack of civic consciousness and engagement among the next generation.
This is dangerous.Besides the economic dimensions of Youth life is one of the most untapped resources of the land for a society with an overwhelming young population. Youth culture drives economic growth! If you want to transform Imo state, rebuild its education and school system, from its early childhood education, to the primary, secondary and Tertiary systems. A massive rebuilding of school infrastructure must commence in partnership with the communities, and with local governments, using the schools development partnership funds – a grant in aid system deployed effectively by Azikiwe’s government in Eastern Nigeria from 1956 that saw massive community investments in education. We must radically restructure our school system to meet with 21st century global realities. A child in Canton New York or Kirksville Missouri, must be able to attend a Nursery, Primary or Secondary school in Mbutu Mbaise or Amaifeke Orlu, and see no difference in terms of infrastructure. Igbo or other Nigerian parents desirous of sending their children to schools in Nigeria must find Imo schools to be world class.
Currently, Imo is losing out in potential foreign exchange earning to places like Abuja, Lagos, and even Ghana, where the Igbo diaspora sometimes send their children for school and for cultural immersion. Imo could provide world class facilities that could attract and absorb these students and capture the market for education in Africa. We must compete with the
world, not just with Nigeria.
Dr. Sam Mbakwe used to say, “Education is Imo’s number one industry.” It used to be that the best buildings in every town in our land were the public school yards. Today, public school compounds are ghettoes. Dear Emeka, if you wish to leave a lasting legacy, change the face of Imo’s public schools radically. If I were you, I would quickly whip a bill through the State Assembly to create Six Zonal School Districts, representing two in each of the three Senatorial Districts of Imo, for ease of school administration and strategic education development.
Each District, headed administratively by an appointed director, should have an elected School Board that will raise money, plan, build, and develop curriculum according to a state guideline, enforced by the office of the Chief Inspector of Education in the districts. School Administration will be regulated and quality control and assessment of teachers and school administration by the office of the district’s Chief Superintendent of Schools. A Facilities’ Directorate under the Schools Management Board should be established for each District in conjunction with local governments for the upkeep, regular maintenance and upgrade of grounds, facilities and equipment for educational services all over Imo state. We must embark on teacher retraining programs, and adopt the Finnish model of teacher education and certification that makes teacher selection highly competitive.
The Imo Teachers Program (ITP), must be the first in Nigeria to accord the same professional status that puts the training and remuneration of teachers at par with Doctors in order to attract the highest quality of manpower to the profession as it used to be. You must go into immediate discussion with the Teachers Union to ease out deadwood, establish the Teachers Benefit and Pensions Fund, a partner Pension scheme that will be contributory to assure teachers of continued high quality life after retirement. This must be made possible by an independent pension scheme, to be funded partly by the Imo Education and Research Trust Fund, which your administration must establish quickly by legislation, and partly by a dedicated part of the local property tax. You must restore the status of teachers as leaders of their communities and role models. Imo’s greatest resource is not its oil or gas or its land: it is its highly trained human resources. Much of these are underutilized.
A central goal of your administration must be to begin a work program, starting with a three-step initiative: retrain, equip, and redeploy. You must begin the Imo state Credit Program to guarantee small credit loans and equipment financing for young entrepreneurs who wish to invest in Imo, or expand beyond Imo but with their operational head offices in Imo. You could, through your ministry of Trade & Technology begin the Business partnership matching grant, which should be able to encourage young startups to form partnerships and build long term collaborative relationships in order to be eligible to receive state, non-taxable business development take off grants.
Your administration must quickly start the Imo State Community Enterprise Stabilization Fund to provide seed capital for specifically young businesses willing to invest and grow rural community economies- bakeries, small machine tools workshops, Fabrication Workshops, small Blacksmith Forges, small packaging and delivery services, etc. To achieve this, you must create a very strategic Division under the Imo Ministry of Trade, Industry and Technology, called the Division for “Small Business Administration” which should develop funding and Inspection models for such businesses funded by state grants.
In partnership with the Ministry of Economic Development, and the Ministry of Labour in your administration, the Ministry of Trade, Industry & Technology should also start the “Imo Works” program. It should, in partnership with Local governments and Town Unions, and the federal agencies – the Industrial Training Fund (ITF) and the National Directorate of Employment (NDE), build a network of modern and highly equipped Community Workshops, recruit Field Training staff in small business management, Carpentry, metallurgy, auto body works, auto services, complex modern welding techniques, 3-D design and simulation, etc. to retrain Imo graduates who wish to engage and open their own businesses in these areas.
Perhaps the more strategic initiative by your administration could also be to take the long needed steps to improve and develop the service economy/sector in Imo state. You must whip through the Imo Assembly the Imo Professional Services Regulation ordinances. This is urgent. Imo state has a great number of highly trained professionals who could provide much needed service delivery and stimulate the economy, and supply services to the whole of West Africa, and indeed the world in a growing, interconnected global economy. But the service sector in the East is highly underdeveloped and needs urgent stimulation. The environment must be carefully established. For instance, very often, work that requires professional services in the East are circumvented. Thus Engineering Services, Legal services, Architectural Services, Advertising and marketing services, Surveying, and such works that require professional services do not go to professionals. The results are often dismal, and that is aside from causing a great unemployment of our young trained professionals. It also drives value away from the East. Your administration must find the measure to change this.
I suggest that one of your first actions in government must be to have a broad meeting with the leaders of all the Professional bodies in Imo state, from the Medical Association to the Council of Engineers, Architects, NBA, etc., to find the means to close this fundamental gap in the service sector, and leveraging that, provide the kind of support that will stimulate professional practice in Imo particularly, and thus the revival of the crucial middle class that should reflate social and economic life in Imo and widen your tax base. You can even aim at creating a niche service sector.
To give an example, the small state of Connecticut is the insurance hub of the United States.
Connecticut’s economy depends in great extent to the insurance industry which is concentrated there. Imo could very easily be the hub of the Maritime industry in West Africa, down to Walvis Bay and the Cape of Good Hope, from Port Services, Warehousing, Maritime Law services, Maritime insurance, Logistics, etc. We have the leading department of Maritime Technology in Nigeria at FUTO. We have the manpower. It needs support and rearticulation.
But to absorb the large labour force will need a very bold program: think public work. I think the lynchpin program of your administration must be anchored on three bold projects: the tri-city initiative that will design, build and develop two new cities – the city of Okigwe and the city of Orlu into modern metropolises, linked to the capital city, Owerri, by a metro system, as an integrated development project. These projects alone, properly done can bring about N300 billion of private funds into Imo. For the Okigwe city design, I recommend the model of Peterborough, New Hampshire or Quebec, Canada. I also suggest that your administration quickly enter into a joint development partnership with the Abia State government to join Uturu into this productive twin-city conurbation.
The Imo Modern Metro system, a light rail link that will loop around Imo, connecting the three major city epicenters, and provide 24/7 movement that will ignite economic and social activity in Imo. This should be another signal project whose economic implications should be vast and spectacular. Do not go to China. Make it a direct work project. We have the local Engineers, Architects, Surveyors, Technologists, designers, and artisans to pull this off.
Igbo labourers laid the Rail lines from the North to the East during the colonial period. Nothing stops them from building their own local metro system today. You can go into negotiations with the old ANAMCO in Enugu and Innosson Motors in Nnewi to build the initial metro train coaches and Engine heads that will run on a dedicated electric line powered by the abundant but unused Imo gas reserves. You must then, through the Ministry of Works and Transport, establish and equip the Imo Central Workshop and Works yard – a vast endeavor equipped with next generation power tools that can design, fabricate, repair, and produce any machinery or spares to be run by the ministry of works as it used to be.
This Works yard should in due course have a division under it that should be capable of designing, producing, repairing and refurbishing luxury train coaches, spares, and rail stock in Owerri, Imo state, to service the Imo Metrolink, and in due course, supplying a possible Eastrail Services that should link all the major cities of the East from Port-Harcourt up to Asaba, looping through the port city of Warri, to Onitsha, with key Union stations in Asaba, Onitsha, Awka, Oji River, Enugu, Abakiliki, Afikpo, Ovim, Okigwe, Umuahia, Aba, Owerrinta, Owerri, Orlu, Mgbidi and Ihiala to a regional metro system. It should in due course connect with the Uyo and Calabar Federal Rail links, to create an Eastern network and exchange – built on the Federal, Regional and Municipal lines.
For this aspect, you must lead the initiative for a joint Eastern Economic council to prepare grounds for the Economic integration of the East.
This initiative must be accorded the greatest urgency, and must constitute the first directive you give to your secretary of government, to prepare an exploratory contact and a memorandum of action. You want to create jobs? Circumvent Abuja, and help integrate the Eastern market. It is potentially, a $15 trillion market, fully ignited. It has potentially, the largest organic middle class in all of Africa
Dear Emeka: in two previous open letters published here in the “Orbit,” I tried to suggest, and cast into some perspective, possible areas of strategic policy that you might consider to stir Imo again into economic and social well-being. I already articulated two broad objectives.
The third of what must constitute your signal objective should be to rebuild Imo’s natural ecology as both an economic and environmental imperative. To that end, your government must very quickly initiate the Imo Ecological rehabilitation program that will establish public land trusts and forest reserves, rebuild the rain forest ecosystem, and dredge the local rivers- the Nworie, Otammiri, Njaba, Orashi and Imo, and the stream channels that crisscross Imo, and strategically repopulate them with fish and other marine life using contemporary Environmental Engineering. Ecology is the wealth of the future, and the disappearance of the rain forest umbrella that once covered Imo especially is a disaster that must be averted or remediated.
Besides, it is a project that could provide jobs for trained environmentalists, engineers, biologists, Agriculturalists, Forest Rangers, Wildlife and Fisheries scientists, Marine scientists, and so on, and also stimulate eco- tourism/recreation, and river transportation. Imo’s five river sources are a wasting asset! Just as an example, the Imo government, say in joint action with Ezinihitte Mbaise and Ngor Okpala local governments could create a long beach from Ife to Okpala/Owerrinta for beach goers/tourists around the vast, and properly dredged banks of the Imo River. This long beach project may not only serve for receation, but may become the basis for a natural habitat protected zone for what I propose to be the Okpala/Owerrinta satellite city and industrial zone, that would build warehouses, turnkey property for investors, and an in-land port that should utilize the old trade river pathway to Igwenga, Asa, Opobo, and the Atlantic Beach front extending to the old Oron ports in Akwa-Ibom. This should be a partnership between Imo, Abia, Rivers and Akwa-Ibom who would benefit tremendously from the in-land movement of people and goods, and the tax benefits from re-opening this old trade route for a 21st century economy. Its economic impact alone will be humongous. This project is capable of employing at least 100,000 people.
There are many such sites in Imo to create beaches for recreation and tourism. You must work with the incoming state Assembly to start the Natural Resources Development Trust Fund which will buy private/communal land, and preserve ancient sacred groves, and put them in perpetual trust for the public as land reserves. You must create the Imo state Forestry and Wildlife Services to rebuild strategic forest reserves, repopulate them with game, and stem the loss of the rare species of tropical trees from which we not only once harvested timber but which also absorbed greenhouse gas. For years, governments in Imo state have neglected this area of public investment, concentrating only on Palm plantations.
And still speaking about tourism, no one yet has been able to systematically calculate the amount of foreign exchange Imo loses (as do many other Igbo States) because it has failed to attract, engage, and sustain the interest of the young Igbo diaspora. The younger generation of the Igbo living across the world is a wasting asset.
Today, properly arranged, the new generation Igbo in the Diaspora can have breakfast in their country homes anywhere in Igbo land, enter the plane in Owerri or Enugu or Port Harcourt or Asaba, and have dinner in New York. It requires organization, the right infrastructure, and the right professional capacity and orientation to attract them. Without the appropriate environment – natural and built – there can be no tourism. There can be no visitors if an environment is not welcoming. If there is no sense of security. If people see gun-toting policemen and soldiers daily on the streets, stopping and harassing passengers, and generally giving the sense of insecurity. If potential tourists do not sense a culture of well-being in the environment, they will have no incentive to come and spend their money.
Tourism as it is currently understood in Nigeria and Imo in particular is primitive and limited. A bold, integrated policy, that must include local communities preserving their shrines, sacred groves, heritage sites, festivals, etc; that would re-orient the general populace to create a polite and welcoming culture is necessary to attract paying visitors to Imo. Again, a great source of tourism and investment to Igboland, and particularly to Imo, is the generation of young Igbo in the Diaspora who can potentially bring about $10 billion in annual tourism revenue to Imo, if the environment is properly created.
Contemporary travel technology makes this increasingly possible. However, these Igbo do not come home. They’d rather go to Paris, or London, or Bogota, or Cape Town, and increasingly to Accra or Nairobi. If they come to Nigeria at all, they’d stop briefly in Lagos or Abuja, and turn back. They have no connections with the East except ancestral connections that are hardly nurtured, and which might just fade in one generation.
Nothing draws them. Once we die, our children bury us, turn away, and never return. What dies with us is not only the memory of the land, but the disappearance of an entire generation and culture, as well as the regenerative transgenerational energy that comes with the replacement of human stock. The quantum of transferable revenue thus possible by the large population of Igbo resident abroad, who could come spend their money or invest is lost to the Igbo and to Nigeria, in large part because we neglect the fundamental means of seeking, partnering, engaging, orienting and connecting with this generation of diasporic youth. Emeka, you have the opportunity of crafting a far-reaching policy that will attract these young folk increasingly to the East, especially, to Imo State, through special programs some of which I do not necessarily need to elaborate in this letter. You must develop the “Eje-Alo” program whose aim will be close to the “rights of return.” We must look at what the Jews, the Irish, and even the Sicilians have done in that regard in terms of reconnecting their Diaspora to their ancestral heritages and homelands. It will not happen with mere preachment. The aim would be to connect with, and INCLUDE this young generation of alienated Igbo in the diaspora, and encourage them to travel, vacation, work, and invest at home. This cannot be achieved by any other means except by closing the gaps of underdeveloped or even nonexistent cultural and metropolitan infrastructure. Owerri must be turned into a memorable and inviting city- the Paris of the tropics with a new downtown and business district redevelopment initiative that will invest massive funds in space transformation. The greening of Owerri is imperative. The Owerri business district must be redesigned and redeveloped. Aside from the need for well-built offices and business-use property, development of Lofts and apartments for young, middle class and professional city cats that will animate the city, and shopping areas, pubs, bookshops, and galleries, and such things that make up self-respecting cities, you must oversee the building of the Owerri City Repertory Theatre, the Owerri Metropolitan Gallery of Art (OMEGA), the Mbonu Ojike Performing Arts Center modelled after the Kennedy Center in Washington DC or the Lincoln Center in New York, or the MUSON center in Lagos; the Owerri city Philharmonic Hall, and the Owerri City Library with its Igbo Archive. The development of three huge urban epicenters in Imo – Owerri, Orlu, Okigwe, will draw Igbo resources into Imo State, and bring a good number of Igbo entrepreneurs home, and thus raise the tax base of the State.
The Tri-city Commission must be constituted to carter to these developments as an integrated project. Among the key drivers of these developments must be the Imo State University system, which must be reorganized. The Imo state University was originally modelled after the SUNY the State University of New York system from the hints I got from Dr. Rose Mezu, former commissioner in the Mbakwe administration, and wife of Dr. Sabastian Okechukwu Mezu, one of its original designers in 1979/80. Today, we should create a hybrid of SUNY and the University of California system at Berkley, Los Angeles, Davis, and CalTech – as models. To that end, you must have properly chartered by the Imo State House of Assembly, the Imo State University at Owerri, the Imo state University at Orlu, the Imo State University of Okigwe, and the Imo State Technological University at Mbaise. The four Universities making up the Imo state university system must be governed individually, and overseen by their own Board of Trustees, and academic leadership under a president, as was the case with the founding President of the original Imo State University, Professor MJC Echeruo, until that title was changed by General Ike Nwachukwu. The Four universities should then be regulated under the Imo State Universities Com- mission, under a Chancellor, and strive to establish its own independent traditions and curriculum, and development goals, outside of the strait jacket of the Nigerian Universities Commission. And to these ends, the Imo State University at Orlu could evolve from the campus of the yet to be commissioned Eastern Palm University, built with state funds at Ogboko. Two spanking new campuses should be commissioned and developed for the Imo State University at Okigwe, and the Imo Technological University at Mbaise.
Obi Nwakanma is a Veteran Journalist.
This article was originally published in the orbit colum of the Vanguard Newspaper