In the light of the deadly blow which poverty has been dealing on Nigerians of all ages, one would not but commend the Imo State government’s efforts at reviving moribund industries in the state, viable concerns that the first executive and civilian governor of old Imo State, Chief Sam Onunaka Mbakwe, had established.
Just recently, it was reported that Gov. Hope Uzodimma of the state had retrieved the Standard Shoe factory in Owerri from the Asset Management Corporation of Nigeria (AMCON) by paying a debt of N1.6 billion owed by the company. Among the factories that beg for attention are the tiles factory at Nsu, the motorcycle and bicycle assembly plant at Naze and the paper and cardboard packaging industry at Owerre-Ebiri.
Whatever drove the Aluminum Extrusion factory (ALEX) at Inyishi under, as well as the hitherto going concerns such as the Avutu poultry and the Resin Paints factory in Aboh Mbaise, should be something to talk about. These, among others, were the outfits that brought the late Dee Sam Mbakwe to eternal fame.“Weeping” governor Mbakwe, as he was referred to then, proposed at least one factory for each local government in the old Imo comprising Imo, Abia and Ebonyi.
He went ahead to implement quite a good number of them which reportedly took off as turnkey projects on a special arrangement with the companies that owned the expertise in the respective industries.What truncated the smart move of the Obowo-born late governor was the military coup of 1984 which ousted him and other governors from power.
General Ike Nwachukwu (then a brigadier) was brought in as governor of Imo State, signaling the beginning of the demise of some of the industries that had taken off.
Specifically, it was apparent that the administration rewrote the articles of association of the companies and allocated some shares to themselves and their cronies.By the time the people were saying “bye bye” to the military 14 years later, much damage had been done.
The administration of Chief Achike Udenwa which took over in Imo State did so much to salvage the remnants of the state after the military mismanagement of the industries. First, it focused on infrastructure, especially the provision of roads and electricity in the rural areas which were the prerequisites for a smooth rural industrialisation. It attempted to set the path to agrarian revolution when it invited the Songhai Farms into the state and actually gave civil servants the gift of home-grown rice in one of the Christmas periods during the administration. Udenwa handed over to Ikedi Ohakim who spent his turbulent one-term cleaning and grinning before what looked like a quixotic government wrenched the power from him. What followed was a catastrophic movement down the declivity.
The Rochas Okorocha administration played some games with the resin paints and the Avutu poultry. Admittedly, that administration retrieved the resin paints from the clutches of unscrupulous businessmen that laid outrageous claims on the firm in court.
Thereafter, the premises were given to a company that was to produce electricity meters and other electronic appliances. Until today, what marks that company out is its sign board that is wearing out just as the company appears to have done from the Imo soil. A few security men were detailed to man the gate. To keep busy, the security men developed the habit of occasionally stopping vehicles on the spot for “roger”.When that administration re-launched the Avutu poultry with all the noise they made, the game that seemed to have been played was that the bushy premises were cleared and a massive private poultry farmer was asked to move some of his birds into the place.
As soon as the re-launch was over, the private poultry farmer took back his birds and collected a fee for playing his part in the movie-like show. Not one bird came out of the project as meat for befuddled Imo people. As for a very viable company like Adapalm, that same administration played the game that could be entitled the-more-you-look-the-less-you-see, and so the proceeds from Adapalm, for eight years, ended up in private pockets.
As we can see, the present government is not the only one to profess its commitment to mitigating unemployment in the state all this while. What remains to be proved is that it would not end up as lip service as in the past previous administrations, or that no games would be played with Imo funds. The noise of the deceitful and loud-sounding “Jobs, Jobs, Jobs …” slogan of former governor Okorocha in his quest for a second term still reverberates in the ears of Imo people.On hearing about the deal with AMCON over the Standard Shoes factory, a lay man’s arithmetic would sum up the number of very much more viable factories, especially agro-based ones, which would have been churned out using that huge amount that was spent on one shoe factory that has a huge doubt around it, regarding its ability to withstand competition in the present times.
In other words, prudence management is of great essence in the state. World over, experience has shown that the government is a bad manager of businesses in view of the plethora of variables involved with governance. The demons that draw state-owned business concerns backwards are legion. There is nepotism, corruption, cronyism and very little regard for the sustained growth of an establishment being managed by an unsteady and amorphous group called government. Yet, there are the inevitable roles of government in the establishment of industries in states and the country in general. No one can take away the fact that the government lays down the policies, as well as statutes that drive the industries. They also are, in the case of Nigeria, the sole repositories of large funds required for the establishment of industries.
Therefore, it is more suitable for the government to act as catalysts in the business of setting up productivity-oriented businesses and, after the establishment, pass it on to the private sector on some arrangements of either joint ownership or outright sale. That parlance that the government has no business doing business is real.
Imo State’s number one headache is unemployment. The situation is made worse by the rising insecurity that has bedeviled the state in the last three years. Indeed, it’s a cyclic phenomenon, where growing joblessness breeds insecurity and a variety of crimes committed by the young people seeking financial foothold in the community. Then, we witness insecurity, which again results in more joblessness. No one is safe. The poor, from all indications, beg for a measurable share of the wealth of nations. When the rich and aristocratic pay no heed, there is massive revolt, workers’ strikes and street protests. If still not checked, the inevitable is that the rich would be compelled to share poverty with the poor. Regardless, sharing must take place in both ways, by volition or by force. That is why it worries a true Imo blood that the state continues to retain the top spot as Nigeria’s unemployment capital, with 50.64 per cent or 4.93 million in 2020. Nigeria’s overall was 33.3, according to the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS).
Recent statistics show that 23 million Nigerians are unemployed.To solve the unemployment problem, the state must return full circle to the Mbakwe industrialisation template and begin to find a way to implement the one-local-government-one-factory policy. The advantages are many. Apart from stemming the rural to urban migration, it would raise the standard of living of the rural dweller. Seriously, unemployment is the major headache in Imo.
Will massive industrialisation solve it? To a very large extent. What about insecurity? It is much likely that the provision of jobs and the improvement on the purchasing power of the youths in the state would make them think less of the many painful and unfortunate election misconducts and court misjudgments that have defaced the political terrain.
Dr. Odu can be reached through email@example.com