By Pat Utomi
Within the last years, I have been home in Ibusa or somewhere in Delta State every other week.
One remarkable lesson from meeting our people in the comfort zones of their lives is discovering how a once proud people struggle with the trauma that current circumstance has wrought on their dignity.
Sadly, our once proud people who responded to a changing world by embracing Western education have lost much to economic decline and have become beggarly. Olisa Agbakoba teased me about this after the burial of his erstwhile mother-in-law in Delta State. He noted the palpable poverty in the state as seen in the burial as opportunity for a decent meal and to get something off the bereaved. This should force anybody with compassion in their soul to seek ways of helping Deltans restore their stolen dignity.
Interestingly, my life’s work has been around how people regain their dignity. From my undergraduate days at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, where the motto was: “To Restore the Dignity of Man”, my battles have been around how to build ladders that can help people climb out of wells of deprivation. I have done so as an academic, researching these matters from Latin America to Asia and across Africa, alongside the World’s most acknowledged Development Economists including Jeffrey Sachs and Paul Collier.
I have also pursued my passions on elevating man’s search for better life as a Manager and Entrepreneur in the private sector. By educating young men and women in how to build businesses and setting up several enterprises myself, I have dirtied my hands in the wash basins of job creation and wealth build up.
At the level of civil society, my track record in fighting for the disadvantaged has earned me a Lifetime Achievement Award from several Media and Groups during the last thirty years. From work in the early days of Transparency International to the founding of the Concerned Professionals and my founding of the Centre for Values in Leadership, I have strained and drained myself to see the liberation of man in society. One can add to these, effort to provide support and access to development sources for every Delta State Government that has been so disposed.
The bottom line from these experiences is that it is better to teach a man to fish rather than to give him fish. The damage to the dignity of Deltans by the politics of hand-outs means rethinking how we reorient our people for their personal progress.
My idea for renewing Delta draws from experiences in Colombia, India, and Botswana with an understanding of peculiar Delta circumstances.
I call the Delta Arise strategy “Earn-Learn-Leverage”. The idea is to move Delta state to a full employment economy in a short period while leveraging learning systems to make Delta fit-for-purpose as the 4th Industrial revolution arrives.
It should begin with an agency that is concessional to a body of experts, to remove it from partisan bickering and sharing of the loot by the boys.
Gains from renegotiating gravy train loans with Banks, plugging leaks and external transformation grants will go to the agency to massively recruit Deltans and deploy them to work in cleaning up the environment, managing traffic flows, rural earth road paths, etc while an Infrastructure Task Force looks to foreign private Capital for massive infrastructure transformation that should open up the economy through industrial policy that support value chains of some factor endowments of the state.
The people recruited by this agency, as Lagos state did with LASTMA will have income oxygen and lighten up the environment. But they will be required to spend 3 hours of their working day in training, learning new skills because they need to transit these jobs in 3 years into better paid ones.
Next week I will draw from the examples of Colombia. South Korea, India and Botswana to show how a full court press strategy can make Delta look like a miracle in three years.