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A letter to Emeka Ihedioha (4)

Obi Nwakanma

Dear Emeka, the Imo State University system with its four independent universities running full courses can be self-sustaining, and will have more than enough subscription. Imo students and parents have always looked for the best in their quest for education. A well-built university system can attract a vast number of young Imo, at home and abroad, to seek first rate tertiary education in Imo state. In fact, if well positioned, and with the right infrastructure, Imo state could become the hub, or the go-to place for education on the African continent. Since education has long been Imo’s first industry, it must leverage its advantage, and secure its place as that place where students from anywhere in the world can get proper higher education, under a properly organized higher education system.

A Directorate of Higher Education must, including the Directorate for Secondary Education, Directorate for Primary and Early Childhood Education, Directorate for Science and Technical Education, the Directorate for Cultural and Civic Education, the Directorate for Facilities, New Technologies, and Systems Administration, the Directorate for Curriculum and Instructional Technology Development, and the Directorate for School Safety and Inspections, provide the larger policy governance and backbone of the new Imo Ministry of Education under your government. In other words, you must reorganize the Ministry of Education under these seven directorates and expand their missions. Education and Health must be your biggest ministries, and they require innovative thinkers as leaders. Your commissioners for Education or Health need not be doctors or Educators, they must be bold thinkers who know how to recruit, lead, and leverage innovative visions for these human services areas in the 21st century.

A well-established Directorate of Higher Education will midwife and partner with the leadership of the Imo state University system to deliver the best higher education system, the best research universities, the best funding capacities, and a sustainable vision of the university long after you are gone, but which shall be your eternal legacy. Imo state does not need free higher education. No place in the world is university education free. Not even in the most advanced industrial nations. Higher Education is often supplemented and subvented by public taxation, and or Student fees, otherwise universities will not have the kind of resources they need to thrive.

The state of course must endeavor to lessen the burden on both students and parents, and help students live well as young adults as they attend universities in Imo state. That is why I propose that you push through your party in the Imo State House of Assembly, a bill to re-establish and reposition the Imo state Students Loans Board. And Parents and Students should be able to secure loans that may bond them to Imo for a number of years until they pay off their loans. That loan must be managed under the Students Loans Trust to be raised through the Education and Research Trust Tax.  The flagship university in the Imo state university system at Owerri, must be replanned, redesigned and rebuilt, so that its campus, as does the campus of any university worth its name, would be one of the great public attractions in the city of Owerri. It must sit magnificently, with memorable architecture on the Aladinma Hills.

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Anyone who visits it must want to go to school there. It must integrate space to create the university gardens, the Lake Nwaebere Arboretum, student housing, the Observatory, the University Bookshop, The Zik Auditorium,  The Echeruo Library, the Ben Enwonwu Gallery, the C. Odumegwu-Ojukwu Igbo Studies Center, The Eni Njoku center, the Blyden Institute of African and South Atlantic Studies, the University Theatre,  Cricket pavilions, Athletic fields, the university golf course, the University Walk that allows for a walkable university through long ivy clustered archways, and a bicycle track,  a tower clock that can be visible from the city center, a Quadrangle were students can mingle, arresting faculty buildings, the Convocation Arcade, and a decent, well-provisioned, and architecturally memorable faculty and staff club. The current Imo state university is not a university, speaking entirely about its campus space. It is sham. A university is a carefully constructed and programmed space with symbolic architecture.

A university campus is part of the cultural artefact of the city in which it resides. You must help Imo state university in Owerri, as the Flagship University of the Imo University system become such an attractive place. You must help it recruit and secure world class faculty that is 25% international, 25% national diversity, 25% other Igbo and 35% Imo state born faculty and staff, to achieve a great, productive diversity that would give the university an international, diverse and welcoming feel. This will be beneficial, both economically and socially to the city of Owerri and to Imo state in general. I propose that your administration set from the Research fund, a partnership fund with the Imo state University, FUTO, and the Polytechnic at Nekede to begin the Owerri Research Park at Nekede; the Okigwe research park at the boundaries between Uturu and Okigwe, and a research park by the Okpala/Owerinta industrial and satellite down, as well as the Orlu research park built at land by the Orashi River in Awo-Omama. These research parks must be established to expand the mission and model of the Biafran RAP programs, with the aim of conducting cutting edge research, innovation, start-ups and commercialization from Pharmaceuticals to Medical research, war systems research, nanotechnology, simulation, energy, Engineering systems, biological systems, materials, to food and Agricultural systems. There is a vast reserve of human talent to make this possible, and they need to be engaged, or they’ll become increasingly like the idle hands in the devils workshop. Educating the citizen without engaging them is as dangerous as leaving them uneducated and ignorant.

The unemployment numbers among Imo graduates of Higher Education and Secondary Schools is high, unsustainable and dangerous. Aside from the fact that we waste high level skills, and burn through generations of potential tax payers and civic actors, the unemployment situation poses a dangerous security problem. You would need to design a bold work program for long term, short term, and part time work to absorb and mobilize the excess labour force. An important aspect of any plan to create employment must be to revisit the rural development masterplan of the Mbakwe administration. I’m sure, somewhere in the Imo state government archives must be a profile of the plans to build 21 industrial plants in all the then 21 local governments of the former Imo state.

I will start by repurposing this industrial plan. Mbakwe understood that for Imo to take off and sustain an industrial base and attract investments, a rural development masterplan was necessary, and thus his administration began the five zonal water projects, the Imo Rural Electrification Project, and the Waste Management project. Some of the industrial investments which the Ike Nwachukwu military administration termed “White Elephant projects” the moment the soldiers arrived. I think you must revisit the Imo Rural Electrification project. Today Imo state can very easily establish five gas-powered power stations – the Owerri power project, the Orlu power project, the Okigwe power project, the Mbaise-Obowo power project, the Egbema-Oguta Power project under a proposed Imo Electricity Corporation to be installed and run by indigenous Engineers.

The Imo Electricity Corporation must also consider investing in large solar farms in these areas as supplementary power platforms. The old five zonal water projects should also be repurposed along these lines. As part of the rural development masterplan, a network of interconnecting rural roads should be constructed in partnership with the Local governments. Ancillary to all these must be an environmentally sustainable Waste Management program. A trip around Imo indicates a terrible level of pollution from industrial and domestic waste, including the terrible presence of plastics, where once we used organic materials. Imo needs a waste collection system, and a disposal and recycling process under a waste management initiative that would build landfills, and organic treatment plants. A well-organized Waste Management program alone can give employment to over 100,000 people.  And from where shall the money come, given the parlous state of the state’s treasury? First, it is imperative to recover Imo state’s stolen resources from the cohort of looters. But the higher, more realistic imperative is tax, tax, and tax. A reorganized Treasury and Revenue Board, with a highly trained and motivated staff, using the most contemporary, sophisticated models that capture mostly digital money transactions will raise Imo state’s tax revenue.

The state must recalibrate its property tax system. Street parking must be taxed, and therefore the state and city must create street parking lots and a timed digital payment system for parking on well-marked city street parking spaces. Given the number of vehicles that are in Imo, and that come in during festivities, the graduated car tax must be another source. Imo should devise a digital decal system for cars. There are other tax loopholes that can be closed. But above all, it is only true, that the more people are employed, the higher a state’s revenue or tax base. It is through local and state taxes, that states create the basis for their development, not through “Foreign donors” or “Foreign investments.” You must therefore create conditions that would expand cottage to complex levels of industrial investments in, especially the rural economies of Imo state.

There lies the future. You will arrive the Imo State Governor’s lodge with a massive reserve of public goodwill, and the prayers of those who have faith in a beneficent God to guide you. The rest will be up to you, governor. But it is already tick-tock, tick-tock! You have very little time to prove yourself.

(Concluded)

 

 

 

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