As Ihedioha tackles the challenge of “rebuilding Imo”

Ihedioha raises panel to probe Okorocha

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Brave words, openness and optimism suffused the inaugural address of Imo State Governor Emeka Ihedioha. The former high-ranking legislator also came in on the wings of tremendous goodwill. How soon and how much that goodwill subsists and will carry him depends on what he does in the early days, as citizens count down to the end of the first month of Ihedioha in Douglas House, Owerri.

The Imo State governor confirmed to Imo citizens that their state is broken, “and the climb out of the depths of despair will be steep, arduous and tortuous”. He then declared famously, “There is nothing wrong with Imo which cannot be cured by all that is right in Imo.”

Ihedioha defined a mission to “rebuild, reposition and transform Imo into a modern ecosystem”. His ambitious scope of work encompasses education, agriculture, industry, tourism, and culture. Other areas are sports, entertainment, human capital development, science and technology and exploration of natural resources.

Ihedioha’s opening address incorporated his manifesto and reads like the Goodness Script that would change Imo State. As all change managers know, however, each declaration of intent must have strong backing of execution capacity and capability. It must also contend with resistance to change by sundry stakeholders, including the eventual beneficiaries.

A commendable first step is the determination to incorporate the Sustainable Development Goals of the United Nations as a framework for development in Imo State. Many advantages should attend the adoption of the SDGs, including global benchmarking, assistance and partnerships with international development agencies. The state should quickly work out the framework and implementation modalities.

Another positive is the prioritisation of “good governance, democracy and the rule of law” with the promise of civil service reforms, due process and compliance with laws. The Ihedioha government intends to establish an Imo Bureau of Public Procurement, grant financial autonomy to the judiciary and work harmoniously with the legislature. Imo State, under Ihedioha also plans to domesticate the Administration of Criminal Justice Act. The state would also develop its version of the Child Rights Act.

Ihedioha’s plans for human capital development and youth should make a significant difference. Healthcare is free to pregnant women, under-5s and persons above 70 years. There will also be a health insurance scheme.

Technical education gets a deserved nod with the commitment to revive the four technical colleges in Owerri, Ahiara, Orlu and Okigwe. It is a good start so long as it includes an ICT component and would lead to increased numbers of such schools all over the state. The proposed Imo Job Register would be a good step towards gathering data on employment (or unemployment) status of Imo citizens.

Unfortunately, there was no clear path to job creation except the mention of partnerships with the private sector. Governments in Nigeria and Africa would still play vital roles in development economics as not only enablers but also as a stimulator.

The sporting academies for football and other sports are welcome ideas. The ecosystem around games is vast and takes in entertainment, physical development, and recreation. Sporting academies and the associated plan of reviving Inter-School competitions should ensure gainful engagement of the young of Imo State.

The governor and his team need to review the plans. Ihedioha speaks of dualising the four entry routes into Owerri, the state capital. Most citizens who heard him assume that he meant the expansion of the roads as they all are dual carriage already. There is also the matter of how much of the highways the state would expand. Approaches or the entire stretch?

The proposals on various areas of economic activity are inchoate. Ihedioha declared, for instance, “We shall by Executive Order, and where necessary by Legislation, make it mandatory that all those doing business in our State, and especially with the State Government, must employ qualified Imo citizens and establish functional offices in the State.”

While an Imo First in Employment scheme has a ring of populism, the real challenge before Imo State is getting firms that would establish large ventures that generate employment. First things first. Provide an enabling environment for job creation.

The programme on cooperatives fascinates for the possibilities. “Every community will be encouraged to set up functional cooperative societies which the State will support with agricultural loans, improved seedlings, and other support services”, Ihedioha declared. So, too, the proposed Imo State Education Trust Fund. What model will it follow? Will it be a backhanded route to imposing additional taxes and levies on citizens supposedly in support of a good cause? Is there enough capacity?

Ihedioha only needs proper implementation of the plans he has outlined as well as the application of rigour to dimensioning the broad strokes. Imo State bears the burden of hope for its citizens and their cousins across the South East. Get on with the colossal task already!

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