STATE OF IMO STATE

ADDRESS BY HIS EXCELLENCY, CHIEF ACHIKE UDENWA, EXECUTIVE GOVERNOR OF IMO STATE AT A TOWN HOUSE PARLEY ORGANISED BY THE CENTRE FOR LEADERSHIP AND POLICY STUDIES IN OWERRI, MONDAY MARCH 18 2002.

 

Protocols:
 
 I stand before you this morning with a great sense of responsibility and admiration for this novel and highly imaginative gatherings. This event in itself is great history for our state, our generation and our nation. I am truly delighted by this landmark opportunity to address the cream of Imo people on the state of our dear State through this medium.
 

As a private secret initiative, the idea of a Town House Parley is both inspiring and constructive. I salute the vision and creative energy of the Centre for Leadership and Policy studies for coming up with this worthy project. Such constructive engagement of the government and the governed will greatly boost the health of our nascent democracy.  It is only through such direct, frank and purposeful interactions that we can hope to sincerely close the ever-present information gap between the government and the people. It is my prayer that the organizers will sustain this project as a remarkable contribution to the sustenance of democracy in the country.
 

My most distinguished audience, the story of Imo State is like the story of the fullness of life; with the full compliment of the vicissitudes that make life a remarkable journey. Imo has been a remarkable enterprise since its creation in 1976.  Before decree 12 of 1976 that created Imo out of the old East Central State, Igbos with their intimidating population, were forced into one state under the old twelve (12) State structures created in 1967 by the Gowon Administration. At the point of the creation of the twelve (12) States, the old Eastern region was on the verge of a civil war with the rest of Nigeria having been so brutalized through different massacres in different parts of the country. The creation of 12 states by Gowon in 1967 was therefore seen as a master strategy to weaken the base of Igbos against the impending war. That exercise automatically turned Igbos into minorities in a region they were hitherto in the majority. It was against this background that the clamour for the creation of more states out of the old East Central State heightened after the civil war. When therefore in 1976, Murtala Mohammed split East Central State into Imo and Anambra, the joy of the Igbos knew no bounds.

 It was in that high spirit that the then Commander Ndubuisi Kanu arrived Owerri, the new State Capital of Imo, on March 15, 1976 to begin the Herculean task of forming a government and erecting the necessary apparatus of statehood.  The young commander did not fail his people. He took up the gauntlet and made a mark that history has refused to wash away. Within record time he laid the necessary foundations for statehood and produced a master plan for the development of the capital territory. Within just one year, (1976 - 1977) Ndubuisi Kanu virtually transformed Imo State. Link roads, with good drainages were constructed within Owerri metropolis and that instantly gave Owerri the befitting status of a State Capital. Kanu created 21 Local Government Areas in the State and founded the Imo Broadcasting Service (IBS), which went on air on the first Christmas day Imo celebrated as a State (December 23, 1976).  By the time Kanu left in 1977 it could be rightly said that he had left a solid foundation for the growth of the young State.

 Before 1979, when democracy was restored in the country, Imo had two more Military Governors, namely Commodore Adekunle Lawal (1977 - 1978) and Col. Sunday Adenihun (1978 - 1979). Under Lawal, the Standard Shoe Factory Owerri and Oguta Motel came on stream. Within the same period too, the College of Technology Nekede (Now Federal Polytechnic Nekede) commenced operations. The high point of Adenihun's era was the establishment of Imo Newspapers, which hit the news stands in 1978.
 In a way the first three years of the life of Imo State under the tutelage of three military governments can be described as the planning and planting season. It was an era that required a great dose of pragmatic sagacity to appraise the needs of the hour, plan well within available resources and plant well for the future. And in fairness, the gardeners that ploughed the land gave a good account of themselves. If these men are to be seen as the founding fathers of Imo State, then I can tell you with the benefit of hindsight that they thought well and laid a good foundation for subsequent administration to build on.
 

It was with this solid base that Imo was ushered into her first democratic governance under Chief Sam Mbakwe (1979-83) with basic infrastructure in place the Mbakwe administration concentrated on building and expanding an industrial base for Imo State. Driven by this vision, Mbakwe established Progress Bank (now distressed) and the Concorde Hotel, Owerri. He took bold steps to initiate the building of Aluminum Extrusion Industry Inyishi, Resin and Paint Industry, Aboh Mbaise, Cardboard Packaging Industry, Orlu, Imo Flour Mills Ltd., Aluminum Product Naze and the Imo Modern Poultry Avutu. It is also to Mbakwe's credit that he founded the Imo State University in 1983 and established the Imo Television Authority (ITV).  It is pertinent to state here that Mbakwe's genuine desire to industrialize Imo State forced him into heavy borrowing to finance these projects.

 Unfortunately for the Mbakwe administration its second mandate for another four-year tenure was truncated by a military coup in 1983. That marked the return of military regime in Imo State, which cut short Mbakwe's industrialization dream and left Imo with a heavy debt profile. Perhaps Mbakwe would have redeemed this debt if he had been allowed to nurture his industrial projects to profitable fruition. It is sad to note that the succeeding military governments did not share in Mbakwe's industrialization dream. Not surprising therefore, by acts of both omission and commission they dug early graves for these upcoming industries.
 

Between January 1984, when the first military regime succeeded the Mbakwe administration to December 1991, when a short-lived civilian regime surfaced, Imo again came under the rulership of four military governments. The roll call began with then Brigadier Ike Nwachukwu (1984-1985), Navy Captain Allison Madueke (1985-1986), Commander Amadi Ikwechegh (1986-1990) to Commander Anthony Oguguo, (1990-1991). Between 1991 to 1993, Chief Evan Enwerem held sway as the second civilian Governor of Imo State.  But his was a civilian government of military extraction. Within his reign, the Federal Government was under the control of the military. In strict terms, therefore, there was no real intervening civilian government before the military returned fully again on August 1993. Thereafter, Navy Captain J.N.J. Aneke (1993-1996) and Col. Tanko Zubairu (1996-1999) ruled as the last two military governments before the advent of the present democratic dispensation on May 1999.

 For ease of reference, I will prefer to classify the twelve administrations that have ruled Imo since creation in 1976 under the four broad headings viz: The early years (1976-1983), the Mbakwe years (1979-1983), the long military years (1984-1999) and the Udenwa years (1999 to date). I will proceed from here and without any fear of contradiction, properly situate each of these four segments as follows:
 

The early years (1976-79) will, for the purposes of this interaction be otherwise referred to as the age of reason where rationale planning was needed to lay a solid foundation. The Mbakwe years (1979-1983) will be referred to as the age of reason where rationale planning was needed to lay a solid foundation, consolidation and expansion, where foresight was needed to build on a good foundation. The long military years (1984-1999) will be seen as the dark ages where the significant gains of the first two eras took a big dip into the dark alleys of oblivion and focuslessness. The Udenwa years will be seen as the age of great renaissance and the return to purposeful forward movement. Let me now explain.

As we have already seen, the early years witnessed the successful foundation for the structures of statehood. Infrastructural facilities such as roads, capital territory development programmes, housing, hospitals, local government creation, establishment of radio and television houses, etc, were provided. In other words, the full apparatus of statehood were planted.
 

The Mbakwe years consolidated on these gains and whereupon it sought to develop an industrial base for Imo State. This was in addition to the existing commercial and industrial centers of Aba and Umuahia, which were part of then Imo State. What Mbakwe did therefore was to attempt to expand and consolidate on the foundation of the founding fathers of the State.  On the other hand, during the long military years the momentum built from the early years to the Mbakwe years waned significantly. Mbakwe's industrial expansion dream suffered near irreversible decay. No effort was made to push ahead with the industrialization zeal that marked the Mbakwe era. Indeed on the contrary, and to the chagrin of many, these industries that Mbakwe tried to establish with foreign loans guaranteed by the federal government were allowed to rot. In fact, and even more surprisingly, some of them were auctioned away within the period in question. From available history, the only eventful things that happened during this time were the merger of Imo Television Authority with the Imo Broadcasting Service to form Imo Broadcasting Corporation (IBC), the reduction of Ministries from 17 to 9, the introduction of Survival Levy and Imo Formula, the laying of foundation of Imo Airport, built by the people, the inauguration of Imo Transport Corporation and that of the State Technical Committee of Privatization and Commercialization (TCPC).

Other high points of the era include the re-establishment of the Local Government Service Commission, Imo State Environmental Protection Agency and the relocation of Imo State University from Uturu to Owerri. This era also commissioned commercial flight to Imo Airport. In more concrete terms, it was also within this era that the FSP International School was built and work on a new General Hospital at Umuguma began.
 

I make bold to say that this particular era will be remembered more for the complete collapse of social infrastructure in the State and the untimely death of State-owned industries, some of which were prodigally auctioned away like unwanted irritants. Concorde Hotel, for instance, came to such a sorry pass that only rats and cockroaches were the visible clients of a five star hotel that was hitherto the pearl of the east. Adapalm, Standard Shoe Industry, Avutu Modern Poultry and a host of other industries simply decayed beyond recognition. Roads, hospitals and schools dilapidated to agonizing proportions. Amaraku Power Station and the Resin Paint Industry were outrightly sold to the utter dismay of Imo people. Imo Broadcasting Corporation and Imo Newspapers became ghosts of their old selves. Workers were abandoned and left to wallow in the excruciating pangs of huge salary arrears.
Indeed, for all practical purposes, the Imo Project witnessed its worst vicissitude under this era. Yes, Imo was thrown into the dark ages by the long years of military rule. Little wonder then that it was fashionable to cling to HOPE, that age long philosophical dictum that pontificates on better days ahead. Imo was then known as the Land of Hope!  And why not, that appeared to be the only thing left of the Imo project. I will dare say that our peoples' hopes have not been misplaced.

 Today, with the return to democracy and the advent of my administration I can say it loud and clear that Imo is on the march again. Under my administration, we are witnessing a great renaissance, a silent but sure-footed revolution, that is rapidly transforming Imo State and restoring its lost glory, every minute, every hour and everyday!

When I took over the mantle of leadership as Governor, I outlined my mission and focus clearly and unequivocally to wit: "To rehabilitate our infrastructure, provide basic amenities, ensure social justice and create job opportunities through reactivation of our ailing industries and encouragement of private sector investment". I feel very confident to report to this august gathering that I have kept this promise with religious zeal.

I can tell you with every sense of fulfillment that in less than three years in Office I have constructed sixty-one (61) roads across the State (some of them are on-going). Out of these over fifteen (15) are in Owerri metropolis, Nine (9) in Orlu Urban and ten (10) in Okigwe Urban. The rest are inter-city roads. My administration has executed over 79 water projects in different communities in the State.  We have distributed over 97 transformers to different communities. Six (6) 7.5 KVA NEPA Injection Sub-stations have been installed at Onitsha Road Industrial Layout, Nwaorieubi, Okigwe, Orlu and Urualla. We have equally provided electricity to over thirty (30) communities. We have also recorded giant strides in the health sector. We have renovated the Aboh Mbaise, Okigwe and Orlu General Hospitals, completed and commissioned the Imo Public Health Laboratory, supplied basic Hospital equipment to all the General Hospitals and established seven functional Community Mental Health Clinics. More achievements have been recorded in this sector.

Education has also profited from our redemption agenda. We have employed 320 new teachers to handle core subject areas, increased subvention to our tertiary institutions, settled arrears of salaries owed teachers and Lecturers at Alvan Ikoku College of Education, donated 1418 Seater buses to each of our three tertiary institutions, introduced free bus service for our students and commissioned 101 computers and 26,487 textbooks for distribution to students, and many more. Given our commitment to the improvement of the quality of education in the State, it did not come as a surprise that our students won the National Junior Engineers/Scientists and technologists (JCTS) competition in Mathematics nor is it a surprise that our own Imo State University is now ranked the best State University  by the Nigerian University Commission (NUC).

My administration has also revamped IBC and Statesman. We have installed a 30 kilo Watts Transmitters at IBC. Today IBC can be received even in Lagos. Before now, IBC was hardly audible within Owerri metropolis.
We have equally made a mark in the Housing sector. So far we have completed 50 housing units at the Redemption Housing Estate at Avu. A low density Housing estate is on-going at Area H Housing Estate . Perhaps our most outstanding achievement in this area is the soon to be completed new Secretariat for workers. The imposing new Secretariat Complex across the road from here, is the pride of my administration. I am happy to note that what successive administrations could not do in Imo's 26 years of existence is being accomplished by my administration in less than 3 years in office.

Distinguished ladies and gentlemen, it will take us the whole day if I am to list all the achievements of my administration within so short a time. But suffice it to say that we also reactivated some of our dead industries. Concorde Hotel where we are seated today is an eloquent testimony in this regard. As you all will readily recall, this hotel was clinically dead when I took over as Governor. But as you can see today, we have resurrected it from death. Once more Concorde Hotel is the best Five Star Hotel East of the Niger. Adapalm has also been revived; Avutu Modern Poultry and Standard Shoe Industry will soon follow.

I take special delight in announcing that my administration has recorded one of its greatest achievements in the area of worker's welfare. When I took over governance, workers were owed over N800m arrears, including pensions. Within my first six months in office, I cleared these staggering salary arrears. I did so as a priority. I firmly believe that we should not toy with the welfare of our workers. Ever since, I have maintained an enviable record of prompt payment of salaries and pensions as and when due. Even with the recent drop in National revenue, which has adversely affected the fortunes of many States, including Imo, I will say that we are not doing badly in respect of payment of salaries. It is also this firm commitment to workers welfare that informed my decision recently to lift embargo on promotions in the public service.

In the light of the foregoing, which is only a short list of the dividends of democracy in the State, you will agree that it is no exaggeration to say that the Udenwa years truly represent the renaissance era for our dear State. As you can see, things are really shaping up in our State. The new Owerri Capital Territory is witnessing the greatest development boom since Imo's creation in 1976. New structures are springing up everyday and sooner than later, we shall see the New Owerri of our founding fathers dream.
To a large extent, it is not just New Owerri that is witnessing this great transformation; the entire Imo and Owerri metropolis are all involved.  Today we have over seven new banks that have opened branches in the State. Other new firms are also springing up here and there. The result is that Imo Economy is more active than it was three years ago. Slowly but surely, Owerri is turning into a big busy city, with all the indices of a vibrant economy.

I must say, however, that even with these manifest achievements, we must do more to truly transform Imo to a private sector driven economy. In my well-considered view, a private sector economic base for Imo State remains the only way forward for our State. The era of public sector motivated economic development is now cold history. The evidence on the ground suggests that States and nations that hope to survive must allow the well-oiled private sector industrial machines to illuminate the paths for development to flourish.

It is with this in mind that my administration has aggressively pursued a private sector driven development for the State. In this respect I have made meaningful trips abroad in search of technical partners that can invest in the energy and other vital sectors of the economy. Some of our negotiations have reached advanced stages and the results will become manifest in no distant time.
Fully aware of the critical role of communication in economic development, I did not spare any efforts in ensuring that Imo telephone lines were digitalized. I am very happy to note that today those efforts, which I commenced right from my Governor-elect days, have finally paid off and Imo lines are now digitalized. With the arrival of the Global Systems Mobile (GSM) to Imo, courtesy of MTN, Imo can be said to have all it takes today, communication wise, for any business of national and international proportions.

Distinguished ladies and gentlemen, my administration is mindful of the role the State can play to facilitate the enthronement of a private sector driven economy. In this respect, we are intensifying efforts at providing the needed facilities at New Owerri Industrial Layout to make it attractive to investors. The Okigwe Regional Cattle market will soon be completed. Only recently, we awarded contract for the construction of the Orlu Regional Market. These projects when completed will boost Private Sector initiative in commerce and industry.

As part of our efforts at providing the enabling environment for private sector investment in the State, we have continued to encourage the use of Imo Airport by commercial airlines. We are not relenting in pressing for the airport to be put to use as an international cargo airport, which was what it was designed for. We have also convened two economic summits of major stakeholders in Imo State to fashion out ways of accomplishing accelerated industrialization of the State. The outcome of these Summits has proved to be veritable inputs in the formulation of pragmatic policies that can facilitate this goal.

My respected Imo people, these efforts are even more necessary in our case because Imo is a public sector dominated economy and can only move forward through a rapid and massive involvement of the private sector. As I explained to Imo Leaders of Thought recently, Imo has about the highest number of public servants in the country. Consequently, our wage bill is alarmingly high. Conversely, our income profile is disappointingly unimpressive, relative to our expenditure exposure. For instance, while we earn a monthly average of about N700m, we spend about the same amount on salaries and wages. Thereafter, we are left with little or nothing for capital development. Imo has about the highest number of teachers in the federation and consequently subvents secondary education alone to the tune of about N220m a month. This is about the highest in the country. We also carry the highest pension bill in the country. Imo spends about N170m a month on pensions alone. Besides, Imo is groaning under a debt burden of about N10b incurred essentially by the Mbakwe administration for his industrialization drive. Because government is a continuous process, successive governments have continued to service the debt. This further depletes the State's lean resources thus leaving her with little or nothing for capital development.

The full implication of this incredible but true picture is what Imo needs to expand her Internal Revenue menu, if she hopes to stand on her feet. My candid position is that the only way out is through the involvement of the private sector. An industrialized Imo State will be certain to generate enough internal revenue to meet her development needs and contain her skilled manpower unemployment problem.

Let me therefore enjoin this august gathering to join the State government in this crusade. We must see it as a sacred and urgent duty to persuade our sons and daughters with successful businesses outside the State to appreciate the time tested saying that East and West, home is the best. They should be made to see reasons in having a branch of their businesses in Imo. That way they will be contributing to the actualization of the Imo dream.

Distinguished ladies and gentlemen, in our case we are fortunate because we are blessed with abundant human and material resources; all we need is a clear vision, a resolute synergy and the sheer will to take our destiny in our hands. If we are minded to remember at all times that Imo is bigger than our individual ambitions then we will appreciate the need to join hands to build Imo first so that all other things shall follow.

 
I thank you most sincerely for your attention. I thank the organizers of this forum again for their penetrating foresight in putting it together. It is my hope that the interaction that will follow will be as rewarding as we expect.
 
Thank you and God bless.
 
 
 

CHIEF ACHIKE UDENWA (ONWA)
Executive Governor of Imo State
March 18,2002