Imo State is said to be the fifth richest State in Nigeria, blessed with abundant mineral and natural resources; blessed with favourable physical environment and human resources. Since the creation of the State in 1976, successive administrations have undertaken various developmental planners, policies and projects, either aiming at reviving or restructuring the economy to generate revenues for the state and also create employment opportunities for the teaming population of the unemployed. Most of these stood and produced the desired results during the eras of their initiators and immediate successors and later either become quasi-effective or moribund.
These administrations failed due to certain obvious factors such as State taxation laws and policies, the educational system it operates, enabling environments for entrepreneurs and foreign investors to come (such as good road networking, adequate security, stable light, other means of transportation that facilitate freights conveyance, strategized markets and centres, development of rural areas and decongestion of the congested capital city, giving way to emergence of new enterprising cities that can stand in lieu of the foremost ones). These conditions attract both foreign and local investors in the State.
There is also the problem of discontinuity principle in the State leadership system. Most economic projects established in the State are either abandoned or discontinued immediately the initiator looses power to an incoming leader. This is done either through under-funding and total neglect of the projects or poor administrations. As Bola Akinterinwa (2004) asserted, “In Nigeria, one major problem that has been militating against cohesive natural development is policy inconsistency. Every successive government has a development agenda that takes a little or no account of what had been done before it. Norbert N. Ile (1999) in managerial parlance termed this inconsistency-policy principle in the Nigeria polity-Bureaucratic Discontinuities, that is, “the tendency not to see anything good in one’s predecessor or to sweep away all the predecessor’s programmes, repudiate his debts while pouncing on his assets.”
Another problem with reviving and restoring Imo economy is for the State affluent, industrialists and comprador bourgeoisies to rethink and start investing in their fatherland, Imo. In most booming economic and commerce centres round the 36 states if the Federation and capital, one finds between 15-25% investors coming from Imo State. These are numerous in cities like Kano, Aba, Onitsha, Ikeja, Alaba, Awka, Asaba, Benin, Port Harcourt, etc. These investments create heavy economic booms in the States where they are located, and also create adequate employments for citizens and residents of the areas.
The implication of the above is industrialisation. According to Okoroji U Stanley (2018), “industrialisation, is the condition marked by increase in the importance of industry to an economy, which shows transition from agrarian society model to industrial society.” This industrial society implies the provision of technologies of mass production, and the domination and distribution of such products to targeted market and dispersion points or sources.
Industrialising Imo State is a possible impossibility. Imo State is blessed with abundant natural resources, and has a number of mineral-based raw materials for industries. Some of them include: Crude oil, lead, zinc, white clay, fine sand, limestone and natural gas in commercial quantities. The products of these industries vary in accordance with their major activities. Thus, existing factories and crafts industries in Imo State can be classified as: Agricultural industries, building and construction industries, manufacturing industries, mining and quarrying industries, water, gas and electricity industries, food, drink and services, etc.
In the past, before the 2011 onward industrial erosion in the State, from the archives of Imo State Ministry of Commerce and Industry, there were about 11,607 industrial and business establishments in Imo State. Out of these, about 9,274 are in the services/business class, while about 1,858 are in the manufacturing sector, and 416 are in building and construction, 53 in agricultural activity, while three establishments each are in mining and quarrying as well as in water, gas and electricity.
Consequently, there are: Major state-owned industries in Imo, which included:
a. Standard Shoes Company, Owerri, which produced different types of footwear.
b. Clay Products, Ezinachi-Okigwe, which produced burnt bricks for all kinds of buildings.
c. Sack Hercules, Owerri, which assembled motor-cycles and bicycles.
d. Nsu Tile Factory, Ehime-Mbano.
e. Imo Health Foods Limited, Ubakalo.
f. Adapalm Nigeria Limited,Ohaji-Egbema, a palm oil processing plant.
g. Imo Modern Poultry Limited, Avutu-Obowo.
h. Modern Produce Inspection Laboratory, Owerri.
i. Oguta Motels Limited, Oguta.
Before 2011, almost all of these industries were highly operational, but today some of them are still in operation though at much below world-class performance. There are some of these industries under partnership, which included or still includes-
a. Fuason Industries, Owerri, which produces galvanized iron sheets.
b. Afrik Enterprises, Awo-Omama, a pharmaceutical company.
c. Imo Concord Hotel, Owerri.
There are also some industries that had been partially privatized, which include:
a. Card Packaged Industry, Orlu.
b. Resin Paints Limited, Aboh Mbaise.
c. Aluminium Extrusion Industry, Inyisi.
These industries, besides the Oil minerals, are the major economic sources and employers of labour in the State, and their products further supports the rise of entrepreneurial development and therein encourages the growth of small and medium scale enterprises (SME) in the State. To this effect, entrepreneurship supports continuity of large scale enterprises as most of their products are used by SMEs and other allied factories, etc.
At present, Imo has become synonymous with moribund industries in the actual sense. Sighting a magnificent industrial building with all equipment intact, over-grown by thick bushes has become the true state of most of the industries earlier mentioned. A pathological insight in the fallen nature of industrialisation in Imo State, and consequently the permanence of outrageous unemployment in the State and high rate of crimes, would reveal that this industrialisation in the State encounter socio-political and environmental problems. Some of them are:
a. Heavy taxation (especially during Governors Udenwa and Okorocha’s administrations).
b. Lack of energy sources, precisely electricity.
c. Poor road network and lack of access roads from industrial areas.
d. Patronage and government policies.
e. Politics, which is more lucrative than industrialisation.
f. Criminals and kidnappers.
To revive Imo State economy certain steps must be taken. First, the State Government must take cognisance of the problems above. This will help investors aid the government in ending unemployment, by generating employment that takes care of the greater percentage of the unemployed populace in the State.
The State government has to embark on regenerating these industries and rebranding them. For instance, during the Ohakim’s New Face of Imo Philosophy, some government owned industries like Adapalm were rebranded with strategies, investments and experiences, and there was concrete boom in the state economy from that dimension. It created some employment opportunities.
More so, the Imo State House of Assembly should make laws drawing a clear cut-line between business and politics, as well as check long-term investments in the
State. This will help the Ministry of Commerce and Industry to make evidential
yield and thus an advanced industrialisation in Imo State. Taxation laws that affect and scare investors in the State should be revisited so as to attract new investors, encourage existing ones, and revive fading ones.
One consistent problem with reviving and sustaining Imo State economy is that subsequent administrations (Military and Civilian) in Imo State, after Governor Mbakwe, have no real interest in industrialising Imo State or keeping vitally functional the existing economic sources. Governor Okorocha’s efforts to revive State owned industries in the State have only been recorded in the media in few cases like the Avutu Poultry and Standard Shoe Industry Owerri. No one has been able to pin down if it is sabotage or the problem of Imo, making the Rescue Mission build on so many uncompleted and un-commissioned new projects while the old ones decays further.
To ensure the complete functioning of these industries and revival of the State’s economy, it is not enough to concession them, and even the concession is not the best solution. As the major problems with the government owned industries as said above, are- Poor funding, discontinuity principles, poor management and corrupt practices of the administrators, low patronage, etc.
Today, almost all the State owned Industries are now in private hands. Imo newspaper, one of the great achievements of Gov. Sam Mbakwe, who Governor Okorocha claims to emulate and intends to supersede, is almost in comatose. The structures of these establishments are rotting away, for lack of maintenance and upgrading of equipment to digital standards and contemporary technologies.
More so, the educational system in the State has to be re-patterned towards entrepreneurship, basic amenities like good link-road networks, adequate security, stable light, specialised markets, etc, must be looked upon. The citizens and residents in the State have to imbibe the culture of patronising our locally made products, as this patronage enhances demand; the high demand compels higher productivity, which in turn maximises profits and encourages investors.
Also, the State House Committees on Basic Amenities, Transportation, Commerce and Industry, etc, must endeavour to checkmate good conducts, taxations and continuity principles on these industries and economic resources of the State, to avoid negligence, under-funding, poor supervision that gives way to corruption and mismanagement of the establishments.
In addition to these, a wide-range network of Imo industrialists in Nigeria and abroad has to be arranged and make a platform of chat, between the relevant bodies in the State government and these citizens (and their foreign allies that could be drawn), to see how they can push down some of their investments to the State, given the provisions of the conditions above. In doing so, investors in the educational sector, medical sector, entertainment sector, security sector, large scale raw materials manufacturers, etc, would flood the State and revive its dwindling economy.
The vision of reviving Imo economy thus requires a long-term planning of the Executive Arm of Government in the State, which involves harnessing the various dimensions of the Ministries of Transport, Commerce and Industry and Education, in order to produce accommodative schemes for entrepreneurial growth in the State. This will solve the problem of unemployment, boom productions, sales and internally generated revenue and thus place Imo on the part of advanced growth.