By Collins Opurozor
Four decades of preoccupation with development in Imo State have yielded meager returns. The economy of the state has been stagnating or regressing. Unemployment is widespread, health prospects are getting poorer, infrastructure has broken down, industries are comatose, agriculture remains crude, crime keeps escalating, and education has taken a nosedive. The state occupies top positions in almost all indices of social misery.
The truth is not so much that development has failed in Imo State than that development has not really started. And the trouble with Imo is simply a failure of leadership. That is the only key that can unlock Imo’s potentials; that is a duty we owe ourselves as a people.
Every cycle of electoral ritual throws up a leadership that would in the end further abbreviate the collective aspirations of the people and abort their dreams. The time to break this cycle is certainly now.
It is distressing beyond words, perplexing beyond imagination, to chronicle Imo’s woes amid her enormous potentials. That two in every fifteen Imo women die of cancer every year, that nearly a million young persons, brimming with energy and talents, roam the streets jobless, and that Imo has joined the league of educationally less developed states are all stains on our collective conscience. They are symptomatic of a system that has gone completely dysfunctional.
The present administration in the state – it seems clear to me – does not have even the faintest understanding of what development is all about. The administration seems absorbed by roofing streets, making images and building unusable worship centers through which the administration fleeces the treasury of the state. Beyond rabble rousing, the commitment of the Okorocha administration to Imo’s development remains neither apparent nor real. The confusion of agenda, the improbable strategies and the conflict between the latent and manifest functions of public policies by this administration are the logical outcome of a government that from the word go took state power as means of production, as means for primitive capital accumulation.
Development, in the parlance of Walter Rodney, implies increased skills and capacity, greater freedom, creativity, self-discipline, responsibility and material well-being. We have it on Rodney’s authority that a society develops economically as its members increase jointly their capacity for dealing with the environment. This capacity for dealing with the environment is dependent on the extent to which they understand the laws of nature (science), on the extent to which they put that understanding into practice by devising tools (technology), and on the manner in which work is organized (mode of social production ).
It is in view of this crisis of development that Mr. Okey Ezeh, a consummate entrepreneur and seasoned technocrat, has offered himself, using a comprehensive economic roadmap known as the Imo Marshal Plan (I-MAP), to salvage Imo State. It is testimony to the depth of Mr. Ezeh’s insight about development that the I-MAP underscores the primacy of the organic unity of all sectors of the state in the development enterprise.
The economy of Imo State currently lacks coherence; it is pervasively disarticulated. Every coherent economy possesses sectoral reciprocity and complementarity, or what liberal economists describe as ‘backward and forward linkages’. Innovations in the industrial sector must give impetus to agricultural productivity, and the knowledge produced in the educational sector must be relevant in the labour market.
In establishing education-business partnership framework, the I-MAP intends to address the hydra-headed problem of youth unemployment and unemployability by making skills acquisition part of the school system. Every child would be made to choose three different skills from a wide range of skills at junior secondary school. They would specialize in just one at senior secondary, so that by the time they are leaving school they would have garnered proficiency in it and be issued a Trade Diploma which guarantees them access to soft loan to start up a vocation should the child choose not to continue with tertiary education. With improved pedagogical facilities, well motivated workforce and proper implementation this initiative can raise an army of young entrepreneurs who will be nationally and globally competitive in so many sectors.
The agricultural policy of the I-MAP will create wealth and expand job opportunities by intervening and facilitating job and wealth creation through the entire agricultural value chain. Seed multiplication farms – livestock and fish breeding centers – will be established under Public-Private Partnership to facilitate access to high-yielding, disease-resistant inputs. Thousands of hectares of land will be put under cultivation which will be allotted to young school leavers trained as ‘agripreneurs’. Urban agriculture would be an integral part of this policy to train service providers. An Imo Agro-Investment Promotion Agency shall be established by law, and the state will partner with organizations like the Nigeria Incentive-Based Risk Sharing Model for Agricultural Financing (NIRSAL) to make credit available to farmers.
There shall be an industrial cluster in each of the three senatorial districts of the state, along with an Imo Technology Village to fabricate artifacts and spearhead technological innovations in the South East. Investments will be made in associated infrastructure requisite for industrial development, like security, housing, power and roads.
Note: In other parts of this series, the I-MAP shall be extensively discussed.