By Obi Nwakanma
I’m not too good with formalities, and so I will keep it simple. No Excellency. No Right-Honorable this and that. No “Onwa” or “Kpakpando” or all those distracting, but meaningless sobriquets that turn ordinary men into clay-footed gods. You have been elected governor, and that in itself is enough honour. It is a singular privilege to be elected to serve, and there is no greater honor, or more point therefore in donning you any further with the garb of Pygmalion that might then result in the Pygmalion effect. You know, like Pygmalion in the play by George Bernard Shaw, who fell in love with one of the statues he had sculpted, and it came alive.
That said, beyond the moral of fables and the things they teach us, I write for more practical and immediate reasons. First, congratulations are in order on being elected governor of Imo. But I hope you have no illusions about the challenges ahead: it is gargantuan. The conditions in which Imo state is currently embroiled, its debt profile, the state of its treasury, and the effects of the massive looting that have taken place from 1983-1999, and from 1999-present is unspeakable. More so, in this outgoing administration of Mr. Ethelbert Anayo Okorocha, who ran Imo like a fiefdom. Imo became a wasteland. As a result of poor planning, poor policy execution, profound conceptual limitations, extreme visionless, and a style of governance that turned the government of Imo state into a vast criminal enterprise, we have seen this state bleed as never before.
The outgoing administration leaves Imo gasping. It will require a less hubristic approach to public administration to revive and reposition Imo state. Of all things, the greatest thing that needs to be healed is the self-confidence of the people which took a walloping under Okorocha. There needs to be faith once more in the possibility of Imo; in its ability to chart a course for progress. It will need a sensitive and humane touch. The era of top-down, jackboot government is over because it is ineffective and primitive. Modern governments are organic systems. They depend on institutions, procedures, record keeping, a properly established, neutral but professional bureaucracy and regulatory capacity.
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The promise of democracy itself is not just that it makes prosperity attainable, but that citizens feel themselves direct participants in the ways that they are governed. That they send representatives who listen to them. Who do not impose their will, or act beyond the legitimate constitutional authority that defines the consent of the governed. Besides, whoever must govern any Igbo state, must take into account the basic cultural psychology of the Igbo: “anaghi achi Igbo achi. Igbo nwere ndi ndu” (no one rules the Igbo, the Igbo have guardians and ministers of the pathways). When they feel themselves to be part of the process, they rise as one to the challenge of social action.
If the Igbo, however, feel alienated, they disengage, and become individual, and ungovernable. They react in cold defiance to authority, and no threat or bribe can turn them. The Igbo are masters of non-violent resistance. But they are also the greatest supporters of any civic cause with which they find common cause and can very easily be mobilized, using their strategic authority systems: the firstborn sons, the age grades, the powerful sorority of the daughters of the land; the clan, village and town councils. And that is what your administration must now do: go directly to the people, rebuild their timeworn system; rebuild their trust, and mobilize them to this phase of “Olu Obodo” – Community action.
I congratulate you for bringing together a high caliber of men and women as your transitional technical committee, ostensibly to help formulate some policy direction and action plan for the takeoff of your administration. It is a good start. But my cursory response is that going forward, you must strive to involve more women, and a broader spectrum of tactical, technical representation in your administration. For instance, I did not see anyone in your technical committee who could have given you precise action plans on a culture policy. As you might know, Culture is not just “Nkwa-umu-Agbogho” or the performance of folk life. It is that and much more: it is museums, it is galleries of art, theatres, film, Music, libraries, the Fine Arts, the architecture of the city, craft life, the archives, and it is the means by which we invite and entertain visitors to the land, and civilize the public mind. Culture is the secret weapon of development. I shall return to this.
I think that irrespective of what your technical committee provides for you, you already have some distinguished templates from which to design your programs. I think you must borrow and hybridize five playbooks – Azikiwe’s “Eastern Nigerian Economic Development and Reconstruction plan, 1954-1964” which was fully implemented by Dr. Okpara, for its visionary impetus, the Ojukwu War Action plan authored by Dr. Pius Okigbo, which turned the East into a vast workshop, the Ukpabi Asika postwar Reconstruction program, with its bold economic and social initiatives, and the Imo state Economic Development plan of the Mbakwe administration. These plans, with a few contemporary tweaks, are still profoundly brilliant, far-reaching and relevant. Whatever you do, you must find a clear-headed, original and strategic thinker as the Secretary to your government and head of your administration.
This position must not be used to settle political debts. This is the thinking room of your administration, and whoever you choose must be broadly read and philosophically trained, highly exposed in political, Economic, and administrative systems with a vast network that is both local and global. He must think systems. He has to be to you, what Professor Enoch Anyanwu was to Sam Mbakwe. Your first and immediate action must be to propose and get your party to push through the Imo State Civil Service Reform Act. You need to rebuild, reposition, reorganize, and re-orient the Imo state civil bureaucracy. Find a means to incentivize and attract the finest people, and recruit the young, and the brightest of our university graduates from home and abroad into junior and middle level administrative and Executive positions, and head hunt for accomplished managers from the private sector to shore up the senior cadre of the civil service.
You must begin the process of grooming this new generation of civil servants for future leadership of the service down the line. Expose them to regular training locally and internationally. Give them incentives that will make corruption pointless. No government can function without a highly trained and motivated bureaucracy. The civil service is the operational arm of government. Everywhere in the world, governments attract the best that a nation can produce to its public service. Commerce and industry absorb the rest. It used to be so, until the military in Nigeria destroyed the service, and Imo particularly used to have one of the finest civil bureaucracies in West Africa. For efficiency, you must run a tight ship; no more than ten or eleven ministries: Education & Culture, Finance and Economic Development, Works & Public Utilities, Transport & Urban Development, Agriculture, the Environment & Rural Development, Trade, Industry & Technology; Health & Human Services, Sports & Youth Development, Labour & Establishment, the Attorney-General & Justice; and Information & Research. Education and culture intersect, because it is through the school system that we transmit cultural literacy: art programs, music programs, drama, the library system; poetry and other forms of Creative Writing. These programs have disappeared from our school system.
Your administration must expand the science and technical programs. Create a Service and Learning curriculum that would expose Imo students to community service initiatives as a necessary part of their public education; youth programs that will be anchored on schools sports programs including – Boxing, Athletics, Soccer, Golf, Tennis, Cricket, Rowing, and so on, many of which are currently not available for our current generation of students; outdoors and survival education, that would include routine youth camps during school years and long vacations; mediated holiday programs that will enrich youth life, and distract them from crime, and delinquency; and create a necessary civic impulsion that is at the core of social growth and development. Youth programming is so underestimated and underfunded that its effects today is reflected in the profound alienation and lack of civic consciousness and engagement among the next generation.
This is dangerous. Besides the economic dimensions of Youth life is one of the most untapped resources of the land for a society with an overwhelming young population. Youth culture drives economic growth! If you want to transform Imo state, rebuild its education and school system, from its early childhood education, to the primary, secondary and Tertiary systems. A massive rebuilding of school infrastructure must commence in partnership with the communities, and with local governments, using the schools development partnership funds – a grant in aid system deployed effectively by Azikiwe’s government in Eastern Nigeria from 1956 that saw massive community investments in education. We must radically restructure our school system to meet with 21st century global realities. A child in Canton New York or Kirksville Missouri, must be able to attend a Nursery, Primary or Secondary school in Mbutu Mbaise or Amaifeke Orlu, and see no difference in terms of infrastructure. Igbo or other Nigerian parents desirous of sending their children to schools in Nigeria must find Imo schools to be world class.
(To be continued)
“PIUS ADESANMI (1972-2019)
In my tribute to Dr. Pius Adesanmi who died 3 weeks ago in the Ethiopian Airline crash, the word, “bisexual” appeared inadvertently. It was an error, in which the original, intended word, “binational” was substituted automatically by spellcheck which I missed entirely. The devil is still in the printers! Readers of the “Orbit” should disregard the word “bisexual” as it appeared in the tribute to my friend in the Orbit. Not that it would diminish Dr. Adesanmi in any way, but there was no intention to suggest his sexual orientation or lack thereof. I regret any confusion, or any impression this may have conveyed about the deceased. My apologies especially to his family, and numerous friends, who may have found the use of this word quite startling. The error is wholly mine, and unintended.”