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Imo: Can Uzodinma’s ‘shared prosperity’ allay economic fears

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Governor Hope Uzodinma’s promise of ‘shared prosperity’ has revived the controversy over management of state resources which shaped the campaign for 2019 Governorship Election in Imo State. Associate Editor, Sam Egburonu, reports that Imo stakeholders, across party lines, are today eager to have a governor that will restore hope for economic recovery of both the state and the people, even as they wonder if Uzodinma has what it takes to fulfill this dream.

One of the major campaign issues that took the front burner in Imo State during last year’s governorship election was the ability of the next governor of the Southeast state to allay the fears of citizens over uncertain economic security. This was because critics of the then outgoing governor, Owelle Rochas Okorocha, had accused him and his All Progressives Congress (APC) state government of adopting what they described as “unconventional methods” of administering the state’s economy.

This attack was renewed when Rt. Hon. Emeka Ihedioha of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) took over the governance of the state. As soon as he took over, he lamented that Okorocha left behind, what he described differently as a ‘begging economy’ and “bitter legacies.”

Okorocha had accused Ihedioha’s government of launching a destruction campaign against his (Okorocha) legacies. Reacting, Ihedioha, through his Chief of Staff, Chris Okewulonu, said he discovered that Okorocha left “bitter legacies that the people of the state would not want to be associated with.”

He promised that he would follow due process in addressing what he said were the “problems created by Okorocha as regards any form of mismanagement of the state resources.”

He also alleged that “by Okorocha’s policies and programmes, the people of the state were further impoverished in eight years.”

But Okorocha had consistently denied mismanaging the state resources even as he accused his critics of ‘misunderstanding’ his ‘good intentions.’

For example, while inaugurating 11 new Permanent Secretaries, including a new Accountant-General and Permanent Secretary, Donald Igbo and the new Head of Service, Mrs. Ngozi Eluma, shortly before handing over power to Ihedioha last year, Okorocha had said, “I gave this state my best. I will do all I can to support the incoming government. Imo State Government has kept aside a total of N42.5b for the incoming government, and for that reason, I will set up a sub-committee to make sure that the projects they are attached to, come to fruition even when I am out of office.”

His assertions notwithstanding, many observers of Imo State politics in the last nine years have expressed fear of uncertain economic future, pointing out that the people will suffer unless the new government takes fresh and bold initiatives anchored on transparency and interest of the majority poor.

Debate over Uzodinma’s shared prosperity

Given the people’s quest for a new approach in the management of the state’s resources, stakeholders have taken special interest in Governor Hope Uzodinma’s promise to offer the people what he described as “shared prosperity.”

The governor had, in his maiden broadcast as the state Chief Executive on January 2O, 2O20, expounded what he described as his “vision for a new Imo State where equality and the rule of law shall reign supreme.”

Explaining, he said, “about a year ago, precisely on January 11, 2019, I unveiled a manifesto of my developmental ambitions for our dear Imo State to a gathering of eminent persons. Addressing that audience, I told them that the occasion marked the beginning of a new partnership between key stakeholders and a governorship candidate. Indeed, it was the first occasion of its kind in which the governorship candidate of a political party involved real stakeholders of Imo State in sharing a common vision of where we stand in the geo-political map of our nation and where we ought to be.

“My good people of Imo State; my vision of a ‘New Imo State’ is predicated on freedom, security, and shared prosperity, welded into good governance.

“Our New Imo State will restore financial discipline, entrench due process and conduct government business in the most transparent fashion. The New Imo State incorporates a new development trajectory that will harness the critical role of Local Government Councils in downstream value chain creation.

“Our New Imo State will enshrine a new culture of shared prosperity in which the common wealth of the people is made available for the good of all. Above all, it is a new Imo State that will ensure good governance, prosperity, rule of law and equity.”

Since that declaration, they have been varied responses. Dr. Udodirim Chukwuemeka, a tutor, told The Nation that “the phrase, ‘shared prosperity’ will entice an average Imolite at a time like this when many of us feel that the past administration of Owelle Okorocha employed an unconventional system that created few billionaires at the expense of the majority poor. So, Uzodinma’s slogan is a smart concept likely to win large followership because it leaves the right cord in the subconscious of the hungry poor. All that remains is the assurance that Governor Uzodinma will do as he promised. It is not enough to make beautiful promises; in the last nine years, we have heard similar enticing slogans that ended up as mere illusions.”

Nkemdirim Ekeoma, a politician, however said “Uzodinma has, through his utterances and actions, even before he emerged as governor, shown that he has something new to offer. It is up to Ndi-Imo to support him and encourage him to do the right thing. Recall that in the course of the governorship campaigns, he led the others and did not leave anyone in doubt as to what his economic direction would be.

“For example, he told Ndi-Imo during the campaign that if elected, his government would embark on recovery of the state assets, reconstruction and rehabilitation of moribund critical infrastructures, to boost the State’s economy.”

Ekeoma added: “His 5-point blueprint said so much about economic revival. So, if today he is talking about shared prosperity, I have no reason to doubt his willingness to work towards the realization of that objective.”

As part of his campaign promises, Uzodinma had said after presenting his manifesto that: “The manifesto highlights my 5 point blueprint agenda for economic survival in our dear state. Under my leadership as Governor, our administration shall be purpose driven and anchored on the following 3 Rs  Recovery, Reconstruction and Rehabilitation.

“In practical terms therefore, the trajectory of development in the New Imo State of our vision is anchored on a “3-R” super structure of Rehabilitation, Reconstruction and Recovery of key economic and political institutions that all of us will be proud of.”

He also said: “On the economy, our focus in the New Imo State shall be job creation and massive economic growth. To this end we shall ensure:

Mainstream Macro-Economic Programme which will involve a “3-R” Algorithm, recovery of damaged economic structures, reconstruction of core infrastructure, and rehabilitation of component micro-economic institutions – Micro-Small-Medium-Enterprises (MSMEs) via Public Private Partnership (PPP).

Rapid economic Diversification through “Backward Integration,” involving a synergy of Rural-Urban development paradigm; A shift from core public sector driven economy to a Public-Private Partnership (PPP) driven one.

Encourage private sector-driven knowledge based enterprise system. Provide enabling environment and selective policy intervention to bolster sustainable Medium Small Micro Enterprises (MSMEs).

Encourage Diaspora Rural Economic Partnership – Local Government Rural Malls, and Small-Scale Industries – agriculture, and Farm Settlements via Farmers’ Multi-Purpose Cooperative Societies, etc.

Stimulate downstream Value Chain through intervention and support to MSMEs, and thus generate employment opportunities at Local Government levels.

Ensure that De Sam Mbakwe’s International Cargo Airport receives Urgent Federal Government support, and provisions to qualify for IATA approval – for Air Safety and increased Traffic flow.

Establishment of Graduate Entrepreneurship Scheme to equip graduates with requisite set of skills for self-employment in the evolving Fourth Industrial Revolution. About 750 graduates shall benefit from the initial phase of the GES Programme. Government shall provide necessary guarantees for Start-ups through the facilities of State Development Finance and Investment Corporation (DFIC).

Establishment of State Economic Development And Rehabilitation Council (SEDARC) -to provide remedial framework and templates to redress the chronic fiscal and infrastructural deficits militating against State economic development. SEDARC shall address key economic challenges of the State- Abandoned Roads in Owerri, Orlu and Okigwe Metropolis, the Collapsing bridges, the abandoned Otamiri Water scheme, etc. shall receive the immediate attention of SEDARC.

In addition, SEDARC shall fully identify, locate and recover all missing Public Assets, as well as coordinate a forensic investigation into the State Finances and determine the veracity of  the huge public Debts estimated at over N200 billion, as well  establish the Net-worth/Balance Sheet of the State Government as at January 13, 2020.

SEDARC shall also recover all illegally acquired Private Lands, estates by Government or its agents and return them to their rightful owners.

SEDARC shall abolish all forms of unconscionable “Imperial,” Taxes, levies, and fees other than that established by law which its applications shall not impoverish the citizens. The State BIR shall in liaison with SEDARC develop a new Imo Internal Revenue Menu that maximizes IGR Per Capita Contribution to the State GDP.

Ministry of Finance Incorporated (MOFI) shall be re-activated and in liaison with the State Development Finance and Investment Corporation (DFIC) engage in active trading in Nigeria’s Capital and Money Markets and by so doing build-up formidable portfolio of Financial Assets to support Government’s Treasury Services, etc.”

The way forward

Beyond promises and politics, some concerned observers have advised Uzodinma to borrow World Bank’s model of shared prosperity if he hopes to realise his tall dream. Ekeoma, a political scientist, said, “There is nothing confusing about how to achieve shared prosperity.”

Recently, when the World Bank ranked Nigeria third on world poverty index, it said the country is one of the top five countries that have the largest number of poor people.

The World Bank President, Jim Yong Kim, said then that “these five countries are home to 760 million of the world’s poor.”

Explaining how such extreme poverty could be achieved, Kim said “Countries need to complement efforts to enhance growth with policies that allocate more resources to the extreme poor. These resources can be distributed through the growth process itself, by promoting more inclusive growth, or through government programs, such as conditional and direct cash transfers.

“It is imperative not just to lift people out of extreme poverty; it is also important to make sure that, in the long run, they do not get stuck just above the extreme poverty line due to a lack of opportunities that might impede progress toward better livelihoods.”

Senior Vice President and Chief Economist at the World Bank, Kaushik Basu, also explained that “Tackling poverty requires understanding where the greatest number of poor live, while at the same time also concentrating on where hardship is most pervasive.”

It seems this is the actual challenge Uzodinma and his team would have to resolve Imo. sources the Nation newspaper.

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