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Chukwueke: To Tackle Poverty, Imo Must Key into the Agric Revolution

 Chief Jerry Chukwueke

Chairman/CEO of Germaine Group and economy expert, Chief Jerry Chukwueke, spoke with Amby Uneze on ways to fight alarming poverty and unemployment in Imo State through embrace of the agricultural revolution and other vital strategies

Gov Okorocha on Poverty
In the last one year, we have worked hard to mobilise our people. Imo people have been largely interested in is the state of the economy and the fiscal crisis we face. I’m gladdened by the fact that the Governor of our state, Chief Rochas Okorocha, has finally admitted that Imo state is ridden with poverty now.

I wish he had admitted a year ago when I started pointing this out. However, it is never too late. The more important question is what do we do about this crisis we face in the one year left for him in the government house? What do we do in the interest of Imo people? That the governor has admitted that poverty is an existential threat to Imo people. And understandably so, there is over 70 per cent unemployment in Imo. Youth unemployment is over 90 per cent. Imo is 98.5 per cent dependent on allocation. Allocation has gone down by 40 per cent within the last one year and going down even further. So we are running a budget where IGR is only 1.5 per cent of the budget.
The governor should channel our scarce resources into investments that will create economic opportunities for Imolites instead of perpetuating a dependency syndrome which is both dehumanising and alien to Igbo culture.

Attracting New Businesses
The governor has not leveraged on hydro-carbon deposits in the state. He has not keyed into the agricultural revolution and opportunities at the centre or the revolutionised housing scheme with the Nigerian Mortgage financing company and opportunities presented to Nigerians, not even into the privatised power. In the area of quality education, the educational system in the state has collapsed despite the gimmick of free education.

Imo has no industries when we have better opportunities in agriculture, for instance, Nigeria is now a major exporter of cassava chips and Imo is a major producer of cassava and corn which we are not able to process, not even yam chips and floor because there is no enabling environment for industries to thrive. We are not even leveraging on palm produce and all the residual values like soap factory, etc, and this must change to ensure development.

Establishment of Industries
I am not talking about government-owned industries; I am talking about joint ventures where government can partner private investors. The new automotive policy in Nigeria offers opportunities for job creation. It is a fact that many of our training institutions are not focusing in the direction of the jobs that are available in the local economy. We are not even part of the Nigerian gas master plan, where our youths can be trained in pipeline welding and related fields.

Moving Forward
Important stakeholders in the state are happy that our governor has owned up to what we have been pointing out for over a year, and as chairman of PDP, Contact and Mobilisation Committee we are here to support him to start fighting poverty and to give our people a chance to start to earn a living before it is too late. And indeed we are available to partner him in what Imo people can have in terms of opportunities to help create jobs and empowerment.

We believe that our governor should turn the Concorde and Oguta hotels to training ground for the hospitality industry. He should build it into the curriculum of the Imo State University. If you look at the jobs in the local economy in Nigeria, the number one is hospitality. Nigeria is deep in hotels and entertainment business but lack huge expertise in catering, customer service, chef business, bar service, hotel management. So all the major hotels, leisure and the entertainment companies are bringing experts from abroad, where Nigerians can easily find jobs.

The governor has the opportunity to turn the hotel into a training ground for hospitality business, so we can begin to take our young people who have studied Sociology, Mass Communication, and in other disciplines that have no immediate place for employment to give them six months to one year training in hospitality business so that they can become immediately employable and at the same time make the Concorde and Oguta hotels self-reliant and profitable.

It requires only a small investment. Hospitality business is one opportunity where we can create immediate jobs and economic empowerment for the people of Imo state. Our governor needs to move immediately to regain certification for Imo State University and the Polytechnics in this state. He wouldn’t require much of investment. It is about facility and global level and quality of staff. It requires support programmes, libraries, ICT; what he must focus on is to bring Imo State University and Polytechnics within the top ten as it were because Imo and investors need skilled and employable staff for businesses to come to Imo.

New investments cannot come when Imo and its universities and other tertiary institutions have no certification. The governor should immediately key into the agricultural revolution. It has worked for Kebbi State that has less than 10 per cent of unemployment because they focused on rice production. They were able to get Bank of Industry (BoI) matching funds. Their government approached commercial banks and got counterpart funding on CBN-backed single digit loans. Imo can focus on corn and cassava and yam chips. Nigeria is the largest exporter of cassava chips to the world; we earned over $350 million last year and not a kobo came to Imo state.
Steps to Take

All that our governor needs to do is to immediately stop all further road projects and all of these centres he has been building and focus on job creation and key into the agricultural revolution. We will only require matching funds to attract enough funds; we invest in high-yield fertiliser, invest in commercial agricultural equipment such as tractors etc, and establish a reasonable buy-back for farmers.

Our governor should look at the opportunity of the new Nigerian Auto industry programme. If you go all over Nigeria, there are all brands of automobiles but nobody has the proper expertise to service and maintain them and yet Toyota, Kia, Nissan, Ford, BMW, Mercedes, etc, all of these multi-nationals are keen to establish training centres in conjunction with joint venture partners to train local people, not only in servicing and maintenance but to prepare a spill over workforce for local assembly and manufacture.

Government policy has mandated all automobile companies to have assembly plants in Nigeria. All it requires now is an institution such as Imo State University to immediately set up an automotive engineering department and government can invest in it and train globalised staff in air-condition engineering, engine-overhaul, transmission, brake systems etc and we have created plenty of jobs.
Look at the opportunity in the Nigerian gas master plan. There are several companies right now sourcing for gas to feed power plants and Imo has gas in abundance. All we need to do is to establish within our University facilities for our young people to be trained in pipeline welding in order to leverage on the opportunities in the Nigerian gas master plan.

Imo’s future does not lie in legislative appropriation; it lies in private sector driven managerial expertise and political sagacity in terms of wealth creation, economic empowerment and job creation. That is the future of Imo, and our governor still has the opportunity within the one year he has to spend in office to begin now to fight this monster of poverty. That is why we welcome his admission and we want to partner him in the interest of our people to fight poverty.

It is also fair to say that Governor Okorocha has tried to open some roads in the state. Yes, roads are good but the challenge remains that he is not going to finish them because the allocation has gone down very drastically and his IGR generation is very low because of lack new investment. That does not address the immediate threat. The immediate threat is unemployment and poverty and we must all fight these together for development to occur in Imo.


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