Tuesday, 29 June 2010

Investing and Doing Business in Imo?

Joachim Ezeji
What else could be more damning than the recent report - “Doing business in Nigeria 2010” which was launched last week in Abuja by the World Bank and the International Finance Corporation (IFC)?
An irony that played out within the week was that while the report was being launched in Abuja; an investment forum was also being held in Owerri. Ironically, the Abuja report had ranked Imo and Ogun States as the most difficult states to do business in Nigeria based on four indicators of: Starting a business; dealing with construction permits; registering property and in enforcing contracts etc. Conversely, Jigawa state topped the table on ‘ease of doing business in Nigeria’, with Gombe and Borno following closely.
I do not have the statistics to appropriately discuss issues such as corruption as a basic factor the makes doing business ultra-difficult in Imo State. However, one glaring factor in Imo is the sheer state of poor governance and abysmal management of state resources by those in authority. The result is ill-motivation and dampening of the spirit of all those who become casualties as a result.
A visit to the Imo State secretariat to transact a business or secure any document is pretty a herculean task. Everybody seems annoyed and on a revenge mission. The result is that we have all become aliens in our own state as nothing simply works. There are neither simplified procedures nor clear – cut and transparent pathways to guarantee any sure expectation. In Imo state, everything has become a gamble as hawks have taken over its leadership.
One retired Permanent Secretary, a lady, in one of the top ministries had told me how she was almost beaten up by her commissioner, a man. The commissioner had shouted and called the poor woman names, threatening to slap the hell out of her; simply because the poor woman had insisted on adherence to procedure. But the Commissioner, an Almighty commissioner and appointee of an Almighty Governor Ohakim would have none of that.
When Ikedi Ohakim was foisted on Imo as Governor, the signs of hard and tough things to come were well ominous. It took off with the appointment of Willy Amadi and the subsequent destruction and vandalism of people’s properties in the utter disguise of environmental sanitation.
But one really amazing thing is the enhanced futility and waste that has become the resources so far expended by Ikedi Ohakim, travelling all over the world to look for investors to develop Imo. The Governor has in the past one year alone, had combined visits to the USA and South Africa more than any past Imo Governor, in their entire tenures. A friend had told me that the governor is merely using his position to expand his private business interests.
It is germane to remind Governor Ohakim that there is a lot of work waiting to be done in other areas such as improved electricity, water supply, education, positive investment policy and intensive agriculture; if other Nigerians and even other Imo citizens are to stop seeing Imo as economically backward.

Beyond all the rhetoric, it remains to be seen how determined the Imo State Government is, at providing a conducive environment for investment to thrive, and addressing the infrastructure challenges militating against the sustainable growth of the real sector of the state’s economy beyond all these “New Face of Investment in Africa Summits”. We need to see actions, not hear words on mere plans and intentions; because Imo is in a hurry to develop.
I am doubtful of the capacity of the summit at guiding the future of the state in becoming the Investment Capital of Africa. Till basic things are achieved, all these summits and trips would simply remain self-serving.
While I do not disagree with Mr. Ikedi Ohakim that all the strides of his administration like Clean and Green Initiatives, Operation Festival Security Outfit, Imo Rural Roads Maintenance Agency (IRROMA), are not ends in themselves, but instead means to open up the state to investors and propel the economic development of the state; it is germane to however remind him that these things can never work in isolation of the people. Imo people must be able to trust their governor in order to buy into his programs and move in tandem with them. The new face should become real, not abstract.
For example, despite being an oil producing state with increased revenue from federal sources, much greater than many other states of the Nigerian federation, Imo State is still reeling under common ills such as those of limited electricity and water supplies. Imo State is one state in Nigeria where residents and consumers of electricity i.e. customers of the Power Holding Company of Nigeria (PHCN) still contribute money to either buy new transformers or repair faulty ones. Just like in other places elsewhere, lack of access to modern energy services entails more than our not being able to enjoy some of the comforts of life that are taken for granted in developed countries. In Imo State, it is indeed, one of the greatest impediments to social and economic progress including doing business or residency.Verily, energy poverty stalls progress on Imo development programs including the quest to achieve the United Nations Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). It is a vicious cycle as ensuring sustainable and affordable energy is already beyond the reach of the average poor in Imo.Another case is the issue of water supply in Imo. Just like electricity, Imo households and businesses have to provide their own water supply. The result today is arbitrary sinking and developing of private water wells and boreholes. This no doubt, imposes difficulties or high budgetary costs for businesses. A task that ordinarily should have been provided by the state water corporation is now being informally driven. No big cities or societies ever achieved growth with such arrangements.One friend of mine once described poverty as the non-availability of basic needs of life, and as the inadequacy of the means to satisfy the basic necessities of a healthy living. He went ahead to identify food, housing, clothing, health, education etc as some of those basic necessities. People who are no longer involved in economic activities are also in the poverty bracket. Also people with low educational qualification are likely to be grouped in the poverty bracket. This same friend of mine further argues that poverty exists because there is great inequality in money and opportunities occasioned by social, economic, political and cultural environments. And that poverty is rife in Imo State, despite huge resources via federal allocations, internally generated revenue, ecological funds, informal revenue in form of deductions etc. because amongst other factors that the per capita income is low, greatly because human and land resources of this State have remained under utilized; and that population of Imo State is roughly 4.5 million people hence contributing to the poverty of the people. He was however mute on outright looting of limited state resources by those in government and the near state of anarchy via rising cases of criminality and insecurity.
I had wondered the irony of a damning report coinciding with an important event like the Imo investment forum, both holding back to back in the same week and country. The World Bank/IFC report is timely and should really serve as a mirror for all those currently calling the shot or those with interest and potential to do so in the future. But, whatever, it still behooves the current leadership of Imo State to prove that is not merely playing to the gallery.

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