*A commemorative text from the Inaugural Imo Town Hall Meeting*
I have had to talk at different fora about our fortunes as a people, our economic downturn, our vissionlessness, our planlessness, and I have had cause to analyze, sector by sector, on several occasions, what has befallen us as a people. I have done it so many times that I no longer have to read from any prepared text, because it is an issue that keeps me awake at night.
Looking at our State, Imo, my heart bleeds. But Imo is a microcosm of Nigeria – just a part of the entity named Nigeria. I don’t think that a bad tree can bear a good fruit. If something is wrong at the center, it certainly trickles down. And I think everything is wrong with Nigeria. Why do I say this? This is 2017, and in 2017 Nigerians are told to pray and fast for a better future. That is the only thing we hear from our leaders. We are told to pray and fast that tomorrow will be a better day. But nobody plans about tomorrow.
Every other three to five years, Nigeria moves round a circle. Once the oil prices go up, we go on spending frenzy; everybody is talking about resource control and all of that. But once the oil prices crash, we are told to tighten our belts that better times will come again.
However, the bad news is that things are about to change and change drastically. Since Nigeria became a nation, we have had cause to depend on a single resource – the cash-cow. But we have milked that cow for too long. The tragedy that is waiting to befall us as people is that in the next five years oil will no longer be relevant to anybody. Anybody who plans on oil will prepare to drink it, because nobody will be buying oil anymore. And all over the world progressive people are beginning to plan accordingly.
There is a company called Volvo. Volvo is a Swedish car maker. A couple of months ago they announced that from 2019 they would no longer be producing cars that run on petrol or gas. So, we will not see any Volvo car from 2019 that runs on petrol or gas. All their cars will run on electricity. India has said that by 2030, there will be no longer be the importation of automobiles that run on petrol or gas into their country.
Around the world, all the countries that used to buy our oil are now checking out. America used to be the number one purchaser of oil in Nigeria, but not anymore, because they are strategic in thinking. They looked into the future and found out that in about five years nobody would need oil any longer. So they decided to open up their oil reserves. America is a big oil-producing country, but for many years they refused to use their own oil but preferred to import because their strategic thinking was that time would come when the Middle East would implode, when there would be trouble in Iran, Iraq and the UAE, and they would not be able to buy oil from those countries. So their national security would not be threatened because they would be able to use their reserves. America’s national interest was therefore to keep all their reserves. When they discovered that the resource is vanishing one – it is becoming obsolete – they now decided to open up their reserves. It started with the Obama Administration. And they stopped buying Nigerian oil.
When America stopped buying our oil, the next willing partner was China. We felt, “If the Americans wouldn’t come,the Chinese are here.” The Chinese started buying, and being very sly, they are always looking for cheaper bargain. So when they started buying from Nigeria, they were also approaching other poorer countries. They can go to a country like Sudan and say, “We can build your railway, we can tar your roads, but you are going to sign an agreement for us. We will mine your oil for the next twenty years.” They will go the Equatorial Guinea and do the same thing. So when they got all these countries signing, there was no more need to do anything with a country like Nigeria.
We looked again to India and said, “Yes, India, we can give you oil.” And the Indians said, “Yes, we are interested. But you know this your oil we can get it from other sources. Why can’t we do it this way: Let us pay you now, but when we pay you now we will take it against future supplies, meaning we are going to discount it.” If oil sells for fifty-six dollars per barrel in the international market the Indians will pay you thirty dollars, because they don’t need it now.
The bottom line is that 2017 is almost running out, 2018 is around the corner, and technologies have been combined to put Nigeria in a dire situation. The richest countries in the world are not those that have mineral resources. The richest company in the world today is Apple. The budget of Apple is bigger than that of all the African countries put together. But Apple was founded by somebody who was a school dropout. He developed a passion for something. His passion met creativity.
What we have not done in this part of the world is to allow our passion to meet creativity. We have had leaders who see themselves as contractors, as tax collectors, as taskmasters. We have not had people who have had to dig into their wealth of knowledge, who have had to manage the resources of our people in a transparent manner, in a sustainable manner and in a creative manner. And it is not because our state lacks the resources. It is not because our people do not have what it takes to deliver value. If anybody knows, in short, I know everybody here will agree, Imo is blessed with the most vibrant population you are going to get in the whole of the sub-Saharan Africa. We have some of the best brains anywhere you go. And say I this: Anywhere you go abroad and you see people who are performing as professionals, who are excelling in various vocations, check very well there is an Igbo man there, and if you check his roots, he is probably Imo.
What I am saying is that our destiny is in our hands. It is not all hopelessness. Imo is rich in resources. We have a lot of human and natural resources that can help us reinvent ourselves.
The most prosperous state in Nigeria, Lagos, generates N48 billion every month as IGR. Out of that figure, 60 percent of it is collected from Igbo businesses. Anywhere you look in Imo you see potentials, but potential is useless if you cannot bring it to actualization. So the problem is the leadership gap, because it is not going to be a rocket science for us to develop as a State.
A few months ago I was at the Owerri Timber Market. There, my attention was drawn to a disagreement between some waste management agents and shop owners over the evacuation of sawdust, which the waste managers often clear off and set ablaze. A thing like this still happens in Imo State when the fastest growing economy in the world, which is China, spends twelve billion dollars importing sawdust every year. The particle boards for the production of this podium here come from sawdust. Over seventy percent of hotel furnishings are not with particle boards. Yet we set sawdust ablaze, and it even emits human carcinogen which is a direct cancer-causing agent. An initiative like this alone can create jobs for over fifty thousand Imo residents.
Our idea of urban renewal is to build concrete projectiles, not even to plant trees, which is cheaper and gives good ambience to the city. When accidents occur you can be sure of higher fatality rates.
We all understand what needs to be done. But my message is a message of hope. Even if oil dries up tomorrow, Imo has what it takes to be self-reliant. The real oil is not even crude oil, but palm oil, because it is far more lucrative in the international market than crude oil. With palm oil you run an economy that will not devastate the environment. We are not even talking about cassava. The biggest foreign exchange earner in Brazil apart from their oil is a company that produces ethanol, and ethanol is produced from cassava. We can go on and on. Imo is for us to rebuild and the time is now