•Okorocha’s former ally on why Imo must rise again
Some three, four years ago, Mr Nick Oparandudu, a banker-turned-politician, was not only an ally of the now embattled Governor Rochas Okorocha of Imo but also a confidant and trusted member of the governor’s cabinet where he served as a commissioner and later as chief economic adviser on revenue generation. While their sweet political romance lasted Oparandudu was a credible voice of the administration, articulating its economic direction and development objectives. To underline their closeness, when the governor who was elected into office on the platform of the All Progressives Grand Alliance, APGA, decided to seek greener political pastures by joining the All Progressives Congress, APC, Oparandudu and the rest of his loyalists went with him.
Indeed, between June 2011 and September 2014 he had at different times served in various capacities as the Chief Economic Adviser to the state government IMSG, Commissioner for Planning and Economic Development, Commissioner for Works and Transport and Commissioner for Internal Resources, IGR and Pension Matters
But that romance later turned sour and things fell apart between them. Today not only has Oparandudu left the APC and returned to APGA, he has also picked the gauntlet to seek the mandate of Imo people to enable him wipe their tears as their governor. In fact, his campaign slogan says it all: “Imo Cry No More”” and “Imo Will Rise Again”. During an encounter with Saturday Vanguard, he had lamented that it was inconceivable that Imo State that has a rich history as the shining light of the whole of South East Nigeria or the former Eastern Region in terms of the quality of people it has always boasted of and in terms of the people’s commitment to education, civilisation and Christianity has today been turned into an object of ridicule through the poor governance of the current occupant of Government House in the state. He did not stop there.
“And when you remember that it was an area that produced people like the late KO Mbadiwe, the late Raymond Amanze Njoku, the late Chief Nwoga who was an Eastern Region minister; the late Basil Nnanna Ukaegbu who has the distinction of having started the first privately-owned university in the country, the late Professor MC J Echeruo, the late Eze Dennis Nwachukwu-Abbe and several others you will weep. These are all very prominent people you can describe as trailblazers, people who set standards for the rest of Igboland. *Mr. Nick Oparandudu
“Regrettably in the past seven years or a little longer than that, we have been bedevilled by what I will call bad governance, particularly the type of which we are witnessing today in the state. The people are so despondent and they are beginning to ask the question: Is the basis for governance or government truly the welfare of the people? Because we have a situation where the civil servants are not being paid as and when due; we have a situation where pensioners are crying; practically every pensioner in I mo State has one or two dud cheques in his hands; cheques that were issued by government; and the old men and women would get to the bank and they are told there’s no money. And whereas as we know, government cheques are supposed to be cash as it were.
“As a matter of fact, some of us who had the opportunity of maybe working or doing things in a place like the UK, …once you are given a municipal cheque or government cheque, it’s as good as cash. You can never have a situation where it comes back, never! But we have a situation in Imo State where old women who have earned their dues are issued dud cheques; they go to bank and they are told there’s no money to pay them.
“Then you look at the physical side of the state. There has been significant decay of infrastructure and you try to situate where the state has found itself relative to a state like our neighbouring Anambra State and you see that we are miles apart. You find that everywhere in Anambra State, the nooks and crannies of Anambra State, right from the time of Ngige, through Peter Obi to the current governor Willy Obiano, they have done marvelously in terms of providing perhaps the most extensive network of roads that you can find in any state in the Federal Republic of Nigeria. And sometime when you go to Anambra you will be missing your way because all the roads are tarred. And if you look at the fact that 12 years ago it wasn’t like that in Anambra…..but they have been able to turn the corner. And today, they are enjoying the dividends of democracy.
“When you juxtapose this with the neighbouring Imo State, you are disappointed. Because even in Owerri, which is the capital city, we only have roads in certain areas. Even though the good roads in Owerri, built by Mbakwe, Ndubuisi Kanu and the rest of them, are now being expanded by the governor to what he calls six or eight lanes, in places that do not even requires such expansions, all in the name of some bogey urban renewal programme… Meanwhile off those roads, all of them, from Government House Roundabout to Wetheral Road to Port Harcourt Road,wherever you want to go in Owerri you find that the roads are all bad. You go to Aladinma, all the roads are bad; you go to Federal Housing Estate the roads are bad, you go to World Bank the roads are horrible; everywhere. And yet that is supposed to be urban renewal… To me, it’s all about deception. It’s so unfortunate that Imo that has been recognised nationwide as perhaps a citadel of learning for most people, a melting pot of people who embraced civilisation a long time ago would now find themselves in this very sorry state…
.” He said it was the prevailing mood of despondency across the state that informed his decision to offer himself to serve as the governor of the state. According to him: “There’s yet an urgent need for a reawakening of the Imo spirit, to let people know that it’s not over, that indeed it could be better and things would definitely get better; that what we are seeing now is, as it were, in my own thinking, a passing phase, and beyond this phase, there will be good times for the people… And these good times will be brought about by serious governance that they truly deserve”.
27 General Hospitals or uncompleted buildings?
But reminded that Governor Okorocha has always boasted of his popularity in the state and that during an altercation with Anambra State governor, Willy Obiano, he had said Imo has the best infrastructure in the South East, including the 27 general hospitals in the state he claimed to have built, Nick had responded thus: “Well, I don’t think that is true. I was also at some point part of that government. You cannot compare Imo with Anambra; it’s like comparing day and night, light and darkness; that comparison is not right. And if you talk of 27 general hospitals where are they?
‘“What we have in Imo State, and I want you to go and verify, are 27 uncompleted buildings which the governor has for the past four, five years have been mouthing and saying are General Hospitals built for the people… None of those buildings has been completed with the exception of one at Ikeduru on the way to Okigwe. And the second one on the way to Imo Airport which he has now handed over to the Nigerian Navy or Nigerian Airforce, for whatever purpose.
“So, none of those so-called 27 general hospitals has been completed. So, that claim is hollow, is not factual. You can find out for yourself by visiting the 27 local governments. What you will find is that the outside of these buildings have been painted …. But when you go into those buildings, you will find that they have not even been plastered, you find that the conduit and wiring have not been done, the pipes haven’t been laid and so on and so forth… It’s all about deception”.
Civil service sidelined, governance paralysed
Prompted to tell what he was going to do differently to rescue Imo people if elected governor, he said: “There are so many things that are wrong in Imo State. First, we must restore the people’s confidence in their government. The people of Imo State are despondent. The school system is not working even though you’d say the number of people in the schools has gone up; the hospitals are not working; there’s no single hospital in Imo State that is working to the standard they are used to in other states of the Federal Republic of Nigeria; the civil service in Imo State is comatose.
“As a matter of fact, there are only two ministries that you can go and see activities, and those are the ministries of land and urban planning, and then finance. In other ministries, the civil servants resume about 9 or 10 O’clock in the morning and they leave about 12 noon or 1pm to do their school run; and from there they go home.
This is so because the government they have seen since the past seven years has completely usurped the functions of bureaucracy. Government transactions, 90 to 95 percent of them are done from Government House.
“Transactions that ought have been run through the ministries, complying with due process provisions and all of that, are not even brought to the attention of the civil service; so the civil servants are redundant in Imo State. This coupled with the fact that at some point the governor told them they could work for only three days and use two days for farming. I mean this is not a question of saying things that cannot be verified. If you go to the Secretariat in Imo State you will see what I’m talking about. So we need to restore…even the civil servants, we need to restore their faith in the bureaucracy… And as you know there is no government that can succeed in the implementation of its programmes if the civil service is not given its rightful place”.
Tackling the challenges of governance
On how he intends to tackle the challenges of governance if elected Governor of Imo State, Oparandudu informed thus: “Well, let me perhaps take you through a journey because I think it’s important for people to understand the rationale behind my determination to run for office. You see, I do so because Imo State has significant challenges today. The biggest challenge we face in Imo State is that the teeming youths who are unemployed. …. As you know, the percentage of unemployment among that cadre of the population in many states is about 58, almost 60 percent. Imo State is even worse. We have a situation where you have hundreds of thousands of youths coming out of schools who don’t have jobs…. So, the first challenge that we face in Imo State is the challenge of doing something about creating jobs, and at the moment I will tell you what I think we can do in these areas.
“The second area is that we have huge, huge challenge with respect to the structure of the Imo economy. Having worked as the chief economic adviser to the Imo State government, I do know that that economy is almost 90 per cent dependent on government, so to speak. To the extent that anytime the governor travels, the whole state looks as if it has come to a standstill. So, there is obvious and immediate need to diversify the Imo economy, away from undue and excessive reliance on government activities, to one that is reasonably representative of private sector interest.
We have a challenge of revenue generation. In spite of all the potentials that we have as a state … I say this because I have also worked for eight, nine months as line commissioner overseeing revenue generation in the state. We have significant challenges. A state as endowed as Imo, the possibilities and potentials ….. we are still struggling as we speak to do between N400 million and N500 million internal revenue…. But I will say also that when I ran that ministry, for the first time in the history of Imo State, and this is verifiable, we were able to do as high as N750, N800 million monthly within the last three months of my stay in that portfolio. There’s an NGO called Budget IT or something….. And it was under my watch in Imo State that the state recorded its highest revenue generation since its creation in 1976″.
Free education policy a fraud
He also described a fraud the governor’s free education policy. According to him: “You should… know that across the country, primary education is free. That is a fact. So anybody making a claim that he is making primary education free is playing to the gallery…as primary education ought to be free. So what has happened is that the governor or government of Imo state says it is free up to university level. But I do know that even those in the universities who are supposed to be enjoying free education have significant challenges. You can’t say a student is enjoying free education at the university and he is only confined in Imo state university and one or two other universities in the state.
“If education is free, it should be free to those citizens of the state who desire to acquire education at that level. And when it is free, it should be seen as such. I remember the day when I was in my house , a young man came and was telling me he could not even finish his education in Imo State University. I said why. He said he was asked to pay almost a hundred and thirty something thousand naira. So what is free about that in a situation when you are paying such fees? So we need to really understand it for what it is.
“I think it is better for one to say look, you pay bursaries to students, for instance, even if it is twenty, thirty or fifty thousand naira and forget this whole talk about free education which you know at the end of the day you are not actually providing. And when you look at the whole thing it begins to look deceitful. So I would rather run a system where government would rather provide and work with the universities to make sure that the fees are reasonable and to a large extent affordable. Subsidise the operations of the universities to the extent that they can sustain such fee levels. But not claimed that you are giving free education and you turn around and have students paying almost N135,000 to 150,000 naira to get into the university and to continue with that across the line”.
Massive investment in Agric and industrialisation for job creation
Nick also informed that as part of his job creation plans, his government will invest massively in agricultural development. He said: “I will talk about the Agricultural sector in relation to what we want to do to- creating jobs. Now, worldwide and all over the place, we know that there are two key ways to create jobs in significant number. One is through agriculture and the other one is through massive industralisation . And we intend to pursue these two concurrently in Imo state . As a matter of fact I have said it when I declared in Imo that any aspirant who lacks the capacity to create a minimum of 200,000 jobs in 36 months, that is three years, in Imo state, has no business aspiring . And we are going to do it. Because in the Agricultural sector , we have identified 10 primary agro-commodity lines that we are going to ensure that we have maximum value addition across those lines with the requisite processing capacity to ensure that demand for those products are sustainable and in the process.
“My target is that we are going to create jobs. We are going to create a minimum of 20 thousand jobs in each of these agro-commodities. And it is possible. I heard somebody saying that they have over 80,000 rice farms in Kebbi State. But they have less than 2000 to 3000 several years ago. Because the government policy has encouraged a lot of people to go into farming . And why is it so in that place? Because they brought in companies and they are there in Kebbi processing rice. And they have now partnering with government to have agro-allied schemes focused on those farmers, providing them very good seedlings or improved varieties of seedlings. A guaranteed off-take, because the problem with creating jobs through agriculture starts when a farmer finishes coming up with his produce and nobody takes it off him.
“But we are going to do it with the private sector. Part of the plan is that Imo State government under a PPP model would have some investments in key industries but as a minority stakeholder. We are not going to get into a situation where we have fifty something per cent or above of those enterprises; you are only going to create significant corporate governance challenges within those places. When you do so, the politicians will remember that the government owns over 51% and they would want to be chairman of the board or they want to be given one entitlement or the other. But we are just going to have , it may be 15 or 20%, equity in those key industries. And the objective is to have those key industries become the recipients of these agricultural produce.
“We are going to have massive investment in those industries. Like I said before, the government is going to take a minority stake as there are every reason why we are not going to take a majority stake. We can’t be in government as government is not a good manager of business. And then just not too long ago, …three weeks ago, if you remember, the federal executive council approved the accrusion of 650m dollars to the sovereign welfare. It was in the papers. Meanwhile that was dividend coming from the LNG , 2017 dividend. And why was LNG able to pay such? They were able to pay the dividend because Nigeria government own not more than 49% ; the operational control and management of LNG is in the hands of Shell and all those oil majors who form the management board. If the reverse were to be the case and we have the majority, LNG would have become redundant a long time ago.
“So what am I saying here? We are going to have some investments in these places. For instance, if we are providing land for such a venture that land should be recognised as part of our equity. If you are providing a bit of guarantee for the off take, those should be recognised as our equity as a government. But not more than say 50-20%, so that you are driving the economy in the direction that you want. The direction that will eventually enable you to create jobs for the people . Like I said, out of these ten agro commodities lines, we are going to create a minimum of 200,000 jobs. And what does it take . One , you must have the off take capacity created through investment or encouraging the private sector to set up the factories that will take up the agro commodities. And we have so many of them, cassava, rice, palm oil . We have cashew and so many things we can do in Imo state.
Then the second area is in the area of industrialisation. Part of my plan is to create three industrial parks in Imo State. One in Orlu, one in Owerri and one in Okigwe. The one in Owerri will be located towards Ngor-Opkalar where we have a whole lot of land. We are going to build a brand new industrial city there capable of accommodating in the final analysis nothing less than 500 farms. We are going to build a similar facility in Orlu focused on the oil belt of the state, Ohaji-Egbema, Oguta. That will be capable of hosting between 2500 factories at that particular industrial city. And we are also going to do something of that nature in Okigwe. And you know Okigwe has one of the best deposits of clay that you can find anywhere in Nigeria and in commercial quantity. And I was told that the reserve is capable of going up to 60 years. Culled from The Vanguard NGR