• Wednesday, July 24, 2024
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Businesses should take advantage of the conducive environment we are creating in Imo – Ihedioha

Emeka Ihedioha

Governor Emeka Ihedioha, a former deputy speaker of the House of Representatives, who was a guest at the BusinessDay’s 10th anniversary edition of the CEO Forum, held in Lagos recently. In a special one-on-one interview, anchored by Frank Aigbogun, publisher/CEO, BusinessDay Media Ltd, Ihedioha told the august gathering the story of his re-engineering work in Imo State. ZEBULON AGOMUO, who was at the event, presents the excerpts:

How has been the transition from the legislative work to executive role you play now? You were a deputy speaker, House of Representatives; how are you now able to transit from legislative role to executive role?

The difference is that as the presiding officer at the National Assembly, I was basically managing human beings- my colleagues. But as governor, it is about management of the resources of the sate as well as human beings.It is fairly more complex.

This time, you take responsibility for every kobo spent. It is important for you to know what is coming in and what is going out. And if you don’t cross the ‘t’s and dot the ‘i’s there’s a problem. That for me is the fundamental in terms of input and outcome.In Imo, what are we doing; our task is not very simple because we have to rebuild institution of governance as opposed to when you are starting afresh. We appreciate the challenges;so, we are rebuilding confidence in the system – institutionally, infrastructural and economically. What we met was a bit mind-boggling, but we are prepared and determined to make the difference; and, I am certain, we are taking a lead in that regard. We are rebuilding confidence because before we came in, people had lost confidence in governance and it was difficult to believe government in what it can do. Today, we are restoring that confidence. We now pay workers their salaries as basic as it is. The legislative arm of government, the judicial arm and the executive are now working together because the constitution defines us as three arms government.It didn’t say which is superior to the other. This is because each of the arms has some distinct roles that cannot be handled by any other. We are establishing respect for the rule of law. When we came in, for instance, the Bureau for Public Enterprises (BPE) was moribund; we have repositioned it. There is now due process and transparency in our procurement process and in doing government business.There is also accountability. The local governments are functioning well today. We are also restoring dignity in the education system in the state. Imo State used to have the highest literate rate in the country. The standard of education in Imo fell before we came in. We have set up Judicial Commission of Inquiry to see how we can reorder and restore confidence in our educational system.Today, pensioners are getting their pensions which was not the case before we come in. Workers now get the full percentage of their salaries which was not the case before we came in.We are bringing confidence back to the system. We presented our 2020 Budget a few days ago; what we found out about that budget was that it was a budget based on reality. About 50 percent of the budget is going into capital expenditure as opposed to what it used to be. What it means is that we will be deploying a lot of resources into infrastructure development; particularly roads. Without good road you can move goods and services about. We are focusing on that; because it is very important for business to come in. Without good roads you can’t attract investment into the state.

 

In the last five months or so, the government in Imo State has made significant progress in dealing with the issue of safety and security. It was a major area of concern for business people; whether they be those who resided in Imo or those who went in to transact business and went back to their base. What is the situation today and how did you bring about that magnitude of improvement?

When I came in, the first thing I did was to identify a young man who has been rendering security services in the state, I invited him. I know he has the capacity to generate confidence among the security agencies in the state. So, he helped us to ensure they (all the security agencies) work together to flush out the bad elements.They identify their hiding places and flush them out. The agencies are also given incentives so that they can get their job done. We provide equipment-vehicles and others so that they can move without any hitch. Once people see that you don’t compromise the integrity of the system, they will cooperate with you. The right personnel number one; two is confidence in the system and three is encouragement of the agencies. We are sensitising the populace; we rub minds with the security architecture; and again, because the local government system is functioning properly, it makes it easier. We are taking it to the communities, back to the traditional rulers to take responsibility for the security in their area. We put everyone at alert by taking security to the people and everybody is becoming more security-conscious than ever. They are now able to help fish out bad elements in their midst. We realise that security of lives and property, and the welfare of the people are very, very necessary in governance.

One of the major concerns that investors and business people have is around the very aggressive way that state governments and indeed, local governments pursue business for one manner of tax or the other. In your quest to increase internally generated revenue, how do you balance that vis-a-vis the concerns that business people have in identifying areas of multiple taxation and going ahead to eliminating them?

When we came in, we agreed there’s the need to improve the ease of doing business and we introduced single treasury account so that we can centralise government revenue reasonably in the accounting system that is going on. We have made it illegitimate for you to just collect revenue unauthorised. We have announced it and now people know that they can only pay through A,B or C and anyone that is not authorised by government is closed. So, whatever we do, we communicate to the people. We have engaged in significant public enlightenment, and people are buying into our programme. That’s why I talked about confidence in governance that is being restored. Sensitising the public does not come easily; it does not come cheap; it is a matter of trust. Thank God, we are getting there.Imo is making some progress. In the past few years Imo was all about negatives; it was about funny tales. Our priority is to fix infrastructure.Gradually, we are getting our values right.There’s some sense of honesty; a lot of seriousness in the system. We’ve set a desk on ease of doing business and that monitors what we do. We have set up, for instance, a project-monitoring unit across board. So, all the activities of government are being monitored. We don’t just give you a task and let you float; we also set a benchmark for your actions; your activities and ensure that the outcomes meet up with our inputs. We are gradually getting there. It is still work in progress. Imo is not yet a finished product; but the good thing is that you hear about Imo in the positives; you hear about the governor and governance in the positives, and you hear about the people in the positives. We want to make Imo Statemuch more welcoming and a friendly environment. We are the fifth (5th) highest GDP in the country. And the one that also counts is the IGR (Internally Generated Revenue); it counts without putting undue pressure on people and we are believing that businesses will take advantage of the conducive environment that we are creating.

How do governors create the much needed collaboration among states; and how do you ensure that states do not have to wait for the Federal Government to do what they have to do. For instance, the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway has been under construction since I came to Lagos almost 30 years ago. I said to myself, the governments of Lagos, Oyo and Ogun, what are they waiting for? Why would they not build another road and toll it to enable people go safely? How do you hope to collaborate with other states in your region to do such projects that would help your states flourish rather than wait for Federal Government?

 

I am happy you are talking about this. I think the Federal Government should review its policy on tolling. I have mentioned it and I hope they are taking it very seriously. You talked about the traffic on Lagos-Ibadan Expressway, we have similar traffic on Owerri-Onitsha Road; we have the same quantity of traffic on Owerri-Aba Road, and all the roads mentioned are federal roads. We are not seeing Federal Government on Owerri-Umuahia Road which connects Imo and Abia capitals; we are not seeing Federal Government on Owerri-Okigwe Road which links us to Enugu State. We are not seeing Federal Government on Owerri-Aba Road. Two weeks ago, government of Imo State took definite steps to award contract to revitalise these roads because it is our people that ply on these roads; but it is not as if we have a wonderful economy; but we have to move because I have a responsibility to the people of the state and my mandate is to provide leadership. My people will not be interested in excuses. Again, I have begun to engage my colleague governors, but it is take a little while. But it is important that the Federal Government should appreciate that Nigerians ply the roads, these roads need to be fixed. As I have always said, what make up the Federal Government are the component units, the local governments, the states. So, if the states are not in order, you can’t have a peaceful centre. So, we should be encouraged at the level of states, while we also do their beat. If the policies are such that government will encourage tolling and give criteria for such tolling, it will make things a lot easier. But if we will be sitting down and things drag for such long while; I don’t think I am very much aware today, what the government tolling policy is. I have tried to find out and I am told to hold on.