That Imo State is in dire of need of rescue is not in contention. Last week, this column established that the major setback to the development of the state since its creation in 1976, but especially since 1999, has been incompetent, visionless leadership and the domination of its politics by people of questionable character and competence, people with no track record of achievement, people without verifiable means of livelihood and whose daily survival now depends entirely on how close they are to the magnetic field of political power.
As the 2019 elections draw close, the state, overdue for a turnaround, is in desperate search of a turnaround manager, someone with track record, competence and character who will set it on the path of sustainable, inclusive and diversified development.
So far, over 30 aspirants have indicated interest to be governor of Imo State in 2019. As it often happens, the pretenders shall in time be separated from the serious contenders. But even now, a few of the aspirants are already showing a lot of promise. One such aspirant is Chidi Okoro, a University of Nigeria, Nsukka-trained pharmacist who holds MBA from University of Lagos and Executive Masters Degree in Positive Leadership and Strategy from IE Business School, Madrid, Spain.
Okoro, a successful private sector business manager, has had outstanding experience spanning various industry sectors such as consumer, pharmaceutical, healthcare and telecom. He has held senior management positions in Promasidor, MTN, Reckitt Benckiser and Emzor Pharmaceutical and has served as managing director/CEO, GlaxoSmithKline Nigeria, managing director of Africa Region for Suntory, and most recently, managing director/CEO, UAC Foods Limited. He is the founder of Southern Business Academy, a not-for-profit platform through which he has contributed to social change in Nigeria.
The first thing that strikes you about this man of excellence is his passion for a greater Imo. It is this passion that led him, alongside a group called Imo Arise Network, to embark on an extensive research on Imo State with the aim of ascertaining the crux of the developmental problems facing the state. That extensive research has yielded huge dividend as Okoro reels out statistics on Imo with military precision – in a country where dearth of data adversely affects development planning.
“Unemployment/underemployment is at 34 percent. Youth unemployment is 58 percent. Every year we churn out about 50,000 people ready to work, only about 15,000 get jobs, so you have 35,000 overhang, meaning that in another 10 years you will probably have 500,000 people in the job market. At the moment we do have about 300,000 people seeking jobs in Imo State,” Okoro tells me in an interview in Lagos.
“There are less than 1,000 doctors in Imo State. Doctor/patient ratio is about 1:6,000, whereas World Health Organisation (WHO) recommends one doctor to 600 patients. So, we already have a big problem. Imo has 100 registered pharmacy outlets and about 4,000 patent medicine outlets. So, the state is way underserved when you look at the population of 5.4 million,” he says.
“Imo IGR today is about N6 billion per annum, so we make roughly N500 million every month. Imo is transforming from a civil service, agro state to a commercial state with many hotels; it can transform to become hospitality, entertainment and conferencing state to unlock value. The challenge Imo has is productivity, people have no jobs. Average salary across the hotels is way below N20,000 per head, so with that consumption is very low,” he adds.
Okoro tells me Imo State has a landmass of about 5,000 sq. km, with 400 clusters and about 13 exits and entrances. He says Imo has five higher institutions, literacy rate in the state is 89 percent, the state has 97 percent school enrolment, which drops to about 93 percent as it progresses to secondary education, and every year about 100,000 Imo children register for UTME, and 140,000 register for WAEC.
So, this man clearly understands the state he wants to govern and what the key issues are. Armed with this information, he is also clear about what he wants to do in the areas of healthcare, education, security, agriculture, employment creation, provision of nonexistent public utilities, unfinished and abandoned projects littering the entire state, how he would settle the backlog of debts owed by the state, how to raise Internally Generated Revenue without inflicting more suffering on an already-impoverished Imo citizenry, how to engender rural development by making the local governments functional again, among others.
He promises to drive healthcare access from about 24 percent now to about 50 percent over a period of 24 months. He says he will “deliver targeted free education where necessary, but more about affordable quality education will be the strategy”, adding, “Our desire is to achieve 100 percent education enrolment and get Imo back to number one position in WAEC pass rate within 36 months.”
He mentions that Imo State’s current debt is roughly N80 billion, which, he believes, is not unsustainable and some of them can be restructured in such a way that the backlog can be paid. “If we do that, we motivate the staff to go back to work, contractors get back on site and start paying people, and the economy begins to thrive again,” he adds.
When he formally declared his intention to vie for the governorship ticket of the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) on April 3, the author of ‘Another Perspective: Challenging Dominant Logic’ said he is in the race “because of our pensioners, our civil servants who are owed several months of salaries, our traders whose shops have been demolished”.
“Through my five years research, I identified Imo problems and solutions. A governor of Imo State has about a thousand positions to fill. I will use that opportunity to create 500,000 jobs in four years,” he said.
“My government will be gender sensitive. Within nine months in office, we will train our women to become powerful entrepreneurs. Education is our industry, we have to revamp it and make sure it takes its rightful place. We will recruit 1,900 teachers so as to correct the shortfall in the number of teachers we have in Imo State,” he said.
Okoro never stops emphasising that he possesses a superior blueprint, “an alternative reality that is well-informed, fact-driven, fact-based, something that will transform the lives of the people of Imo State”, “deliver dividends of democracy and deliver sustainable development in a better structured way”.
While keeping faith in the ability of his party, APGA, to follow the path of equity, justice and fairness and pick “a superior candidate that can lead them to victory”, Okoro is not losing sight of the fact that in a democracy, true power lies with the people.
“I don’t think there is a structure better than the people of Imo State, the people who every day struggle to make ends meet, who haven’t been paid salary for some months, who are being paid 40-50 percent of their salaries; people who can’t have access to healthcare, whose children’s education is not preparing them for the future,” he says. “They would be happy to build and facilitate a structure for me when the right time comes.”
And, importantly, he is clear about what distinguishes him from other aspirants. He mentions track record, competence, and character. He speaks about his experience, which goes beyond Imo State or Nigeria. He speaks about his ability to execute the plan, ability to prioritise and prioritise effectively, and he speaks about a firm blueprint “that will lift Imo State from where it is today and prepare it for a great future”.
In the interest of a greater Imo, one can only wish him best of luck.