By Obi Nwakanma
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. (To be continued…)