The Director General of Imo State Investment Promotion Agency, (ISIPA) Dr. Jude Nzeako, reckons that the investment profile of the state will not wither because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Nzeako says that the agency will in the next few years alter its revenue generating capacity towards enhancing the economic and investment status of Imo. He spoke to KODILINYE OBIAGWU in Owerri. Excerpts:
WHAT are the immediate challenges that confront you in the ISIPA?
The challenges are there for the simple reason that Imo State Investment Promotion Agency, (ISIPA), an establishment that was set up ten years ago, to drive investment into Imo, organize the economic sector, monitor investment, collect investment, and assist the government promote investment, unfortunately, has been moribund all this while. Right now, the incumbent governor, Hope Uzodinma, the man that is interested in putting in life back to bodies that are dead, decided to really activate the agency. The governor has made the state mantra based on shared prosperity and you can’t bring about shared prosperity if the economy is not doing well or without investments in the state. So he deemed it fit to reactivate the agency and look at ways to reengineer the economic sector, bring in investors, whether local or international so that we can see a change in Imo State. And that in itself offers another set of challenges; there are a lot of things that are not on the ground that should have been there. The infrastructure is lacking. Here I mean adequate power supply and good roads, the few things an investor will be looking for. Also there is the challenge of the ease of doing business. If you are an investor coming to Imo, you ought to be worried if you are uncertain how easy it will be for you to register your business, get regular power, land or accommodation, and other things. This is part of the challenges we face at the moment and we are determined to ensure that when investorscome, they will have it easy setting up.
What specific skills and knowledge are you bringing as the proper person to deliver on these challenges and complete the restoration of ISIPA?
It is not a job that requires just one skill or a string of academic qualifications. I am coming from the diaspora and I have been exposed to an environment that understands what it means to invest. On this job, one must have acquired experience in management, technical knowledge on business related issues. And then you must have a human face to bring people together to inspire confidence and motivate people to put in their money, because you said so. That’s the plan for ISIPA.
There are things one would need to consider, before investing in a place. There has to be a trust. The investor should be able to trust you who is trying to project the state. I know that I possess that because I have been exposed to the most conceivable environment that promotes investment. I have also the most conceivable experience that promotes investment, I have international clients with impressive portfolios that I advise over the years on investment options when investing abroad. And with that knowledge, I think I am grounded to prepare this state so that we can usher in the right investors. ISIPA has to be a success story.
Knowing that providing roads and power are not your primary concern, how are yougoing to contend with the challenge and convince this government to rehabilitate ailing infrastructure?
I can state categorically that this present state administration, is ready for business. I am confident that the infrastructure and enabling environment will be there for investors to come in. I can guarantee that in the next 24 months, this government will shock people in the manner it will take care of the road network across the state. Power supply will be enhanced; there will be a total overhaul of the state, and funding won’t be a problem. This office is putting together a database of projects we are going to embark on in the next 24 months andthe funds to do those projects are available.
When people out there talk of local and foreign investments, what do you think they are looking at?
I take it that they are looking at the well being of the people. They are looking at the ability of the ordinary person to able to travel from one destination to the other, get a job, affordable medical treatment, get proper housing when they need it. These things are by-products of investments. Investments will provide jobs, power, good roads, the things that make life worth living. This is what I consider as investment in an ordinary sense.
Why are you so confident that the government has funds for projects despite events that question that?
The problem Imo has had over the years has nothing to do with money. Funds for projects had never been an issue with the present or past governments. The issue all along is with management of resources and prioritizing of projects. If you have scarce resources, you have to be able to manage and prioritize them. Previous governments got it wrong here and that is why we are where we are. So, the funds to execute the projects is not income that will come from Imo or Abuja. This is foreign income that we will have access to, irrespective of the money Imo earns.
The problem associated with payment of salaries and pensions is not because there is no money; it has to do with management. If past governments have had ghost workers and dead people claiming salaries from the graves, with people living in the diaspora getting salaries without working for the state, then something is wrong. Governor Uzodinma believes in due process, and he is trying to do things right. If you are a pensioner and you demand to be paid, you must certify that you are entitled to that pension. The same goes for all employees in the state. Those who misunderstand this approach are talking in the media hinting at the fallacy that Imo hasn’t got money. The governor is simply restructuring things so that we can start growing.
He wants to do things right. The government is doing extremely well because it is attacking the fundamentals and if we get the fundamentals right, then taking off will not be difficult. There are a lot of distractions and people are playing politics. If the governor is distracted, then progress becomes even slower. The opposition should play objective politics because anything to the contrary means development suffers.
Are the funds from abroad loans or grants?
They are grants. We want to use our expertise to creat an instrument that will enable usexecute projects in Imo. It is a grant because it is not going to be repaid; it is just an instrument.
Can you be more specific on how you will make power readily available to investors in Imo?
Power is in the Exclusive List so we are not really interested in what goes on the national grid. There is captive energy that every state can put together. Rural industrial sectors, industrial clusters are all over. At this point, the plan is to build captive power hubs in each location to ensure that every cluster has power. If it is in a local government we can build power clusters there. A lot of ground will have to be covered yet on this before Imo can start to experience full power supply.
Are you factoring the COVID-19 pandemic in your immediate plans seeing how it is limiting options in different areas worldwide?
Despite its negative impact on economies, COVID-19 has also left some positive impact. A lot of people have benefited from COVID-19, and many others are yet benefiting, especially those who are prepared. It has no doubt affected Imo positively and negatively, depending on one’s stand point. It is debatable how COVID-19, has dealt with people residing in the rural areas, these are people who always relied on palliatives from urban areas. Those handouts increased during this period. It for those living in urban areas, whosebusinesses have suffered setbacks. The truth is COVID-19 opened our eyes, new chapters, hopes, ideas, for people willing to capitalize on new opportunities. For these people, COVID-19 would be a good thing. So if we assess what has happened, the trick would be to look outside the box and look for where there is a need for people with financial capacity and capability. COVID-19 has rearranged the global economy and of course new leaders will emerge, new opportunities will surface. In Imo, COVID-19 has redirected attention and a lot of people are going into farming. It is important as people begin to think about how to take care of ourselves rather than relying on handouts. We can farm, we can cultivate the things we want to eat. COVID-19 has given us an excuse to think outside the box.
One fallout from COVID-19 is the renewed dependence on the internet. Does Imo have the infrastructure to support investors whose business will be built around the internet?
The internet presence is in Imo, so that is sorted out for investors. The important thing COVID-19 has taught us is that e-learning is now a way of life and the world has truly become a global place. It is part of the infrastructure we are looking at so that the citizens of Imo can hook up globally through the internet. And this government is also promising that within a short space of time, Imo indigenes will be enjoying free internet connections. It is still under wraps, but the government has it all sorted out. In a post COVID-19 era, we will be in a better position to deploy this option.
How will you run ISIPA as a business concern and increase its revenue generating capacity?
ISIPA was designed to function as a limited liability company; a trading arm of the government. ISIPA is empowered to buy and sell and engage in businesses within the confines of the law. It is about creating revenue sources, not collection of revenues. We are here to re-engineer some dead revenue sources, find ways to recreate them and generate more revenue. Currently, we are about to launch Imo State Yellow Pages, a compendium of businesses in Imo. This compendium will improve communication among all businesses in the state and also open up international channels. It will be a source of credible information and part of our way to ease the process of doing business in Imo.
What are you promising the people of Imo with ISIPA?
During my tenure, we at ISIPA are going to create opportunities for all businesses in Imo to engage in international business, export of goods and services. In one or two years in office, graduates from Imo should be able to goonline and earn money without stepping out of Imo. We will be able to make the economic sector a functional center, so that when people will know how to access any sector of the economy, formal or informal. There will funds to do any project that we have to do, so that we build on the infrastructure that we need to sustain the economy. Our empowerment program will let youths key into opportunities. I am asking for patience with this government, because some of us are here because we care for the state and we want to do our best to ensure Imo gets better.