On February 3, 1976 under Lt. Col. John Atom Kpera as Governor, the defunct East Central State was divided into Anambra and Imo States. While Anambra later got split into two, namely Enugu and the current Anambra, Imo also produced Abia State. As at the time of the division, the foundations for socio-economic development seemed to be more robust in the parts that became Imo than the parts that became Anambra.
In terms of urbanization, Oguta in Imo State earlier got urbanized even when Nnewi in Anambra was still a complete rural area. But today, Oguta is rural while Nnewi is urban. Orlu also became cosmopolitan when Awka was simply an enclave for traditional blacksmiths.
In 1954 alone, the Eastern Regional Administration earned about forty-eight billion pounds from the export of palm produce obtained principally from the areas that became Old Imo State. The establishment of Adapalm in Ohaji and vast cashew plantations in Okigwe by Dr. M.I. Okpara further defined the areas that became Old Imo State as relatively more economically viable. What capped the economic prosperity of the areas was the fact that Aba was as well the commercial hub of the defunct East Central State.
Furthermore, all the parts of the defunct East Central State that have crude oil, notably Ukwa East, Ukwa West, Ugwunabo, Oguta and Ohaji-Egbema fell under Old Imo State. Ohaji alone possesses over 40% of the total deposits of natural gas in Nigeria. The purest deposits of white clay for ceramics in Africa are in Okigwe as well as the vastest deposits of granites in Nigeria are also there.
Therefore, all the indices of development initially favoured Old Imo State over and above Old Anambra.
However, four decades later Enugu and Anambra (Old Anambra State) have outpaced Abia and Imo (Old Imo State) in all the indicators of development and collective well-being. Unemployment rate in Enugu today stands at 42% and Anambra 39. However, Imo has unemployment rate of 87% while Abia 81%. IGR profiles of Enugu and Anambra stand at N1.4b and N1.2b respectively while Imo and Abia only pocket N453m and N920m respectively. These discrepancies are also palpable in the rates of infant and maternal mortality and infrastructure, education.
It is therefore pertinent for us to ponder aloud and decipher what Enugu and Anambra are doing differently from Imo and Abia. When Britain overtook the rest of Europe in development, foremost economist, Adam Smith, launched his inquiry into the sources and causes of “Wealth of Nations”. When Africa lagged behind other continents in development, Walter Rodney came up with an inquiry into “How Europe Underdeveloped Africa”. Today, our task is to understand how and why Imo and Abia have failed in the enterprise of development. To begin with, what is development?
Development, in the parlance of Walter Rodney, implies increased skills and capacity, greater freedom, creativity, self-discipline, responsibility and material well-being. We have it on Rodney’s authority that a society develops economically as its members increase jointly their capacity for dealing with the environment. This capacity for dealing with the environment is dependent on the extent to which they understand the laws of nature (science), on the extent to which they put that understanding into practice by devising and using tools (technology), and on the manner in which work is organized (mode of social production ).
Some persons are of the view that Enugu and Anambra have shored up to the idea of using technocrats as governors. But this view is not correct. The current Governor of Enugu State is not a technocrat yet he is delivering value. Strictly speaking, what Enugu and Anambra have done which Imo and Abia have not done is the culture of governing the people directly through their traditional and cultural institutions peopled with men of integrity instead of through some alien and amorphous structures of avaricious politicians.
The greatest discovery of the two progressive states is the unparalleled efficacy of the often neglected institutions, especially the Town Union. A study of the security accomplishments of Enugu would readily reveal that far from relying on the ostensibly defective security architecture of Nigeria, the State Government invests in and relies more on the Neighborhood Watch, which is run by the Town Unions. And because security is invariably a local affair, the Town Unions have the knowledge and reach and have the patriotism and integrity to raise men of sound character who fish out criminal from their communities and hand over to the law enforcement agents.
In Anambra, the AVG which is run by the various Town Unions does a similar thing and has been a total success in terms of security of lives and property.
The provision of basic amenities is carried out in Enugu by the Town Unions using grants from the Government. In Uzo-Uwani LGA, for instance, you find functional health centers built at rates which would have been almost impossible if not done through the Town Union.
Anambra also shows the light in this regard. Just a budget of N10m to each Town Union was able to address the paucity of basic amenities throughout the length and breadth of the State.
The reason is simple: the leadership of the Town Union is non-salaried, non-remunerating and always chosen based on credibility and integrity. They are ever conscious of the responsibility bestowed upon them by the extent of the popular trust that leads to their selection. Therefore, Town Union leaders are the only the only people that can task themselves and give up personal comfort for the sake of their people. Again, being the closest administrative organ to the people at the grassroots, they understand best the plight of the people and the panacea thereof.
It is not surprising that the Government of the outgoing Governor of Imo State, Chief Rochas Okorocha, has been generally regarded as a complete failure. Recall that when Anambra was busy partnering with the Town Unions to accelerate development, Chief Okorocha was at war with the leadership of Imo Town Unions which he even sought to dissolve and replace with something unthinkable. The experience is also the same in Abia State.
In conclusion, in order to correct the development lag in Abia and Imo, there must be a real and sustainable engagement with the Town Unions by the Governments so as to connect with the people, address basic needs and restore integrity to governance.
By Prof Okey Ndibe