Last week, I was preparing for a trip to Owerri and asked my ward in the University, if he needed me to bring him anything. He asked for garri. I wondered: garri? He responded that the commodity is expensive in Owerri. When I needed to buy toothpaste, the price was 50% higher compared to what obtains in Lagos.
Even table water that sells for N50 in Lagos is sold for N100. The cheapest meal that you can eat from a buka is N250. With the ban on keke and okada, the Imo capital has, indeed, become a city for the aristocrats.
However, the problem is that this city and indeed the state produce nothing. From table water, soap, toilet roll, toothpaste, sandals to ordinary garri; the city produces nothing. There is a total absence of small, medium and large producers of anything in Imo state. This should be a source of worry to every son and daughter of Imo.
In the 70s, Owerri used to be a large scale producer of garri, especially the white drinkable variety. Not anymore. In the past, indigenous entrepreneurs have tried to lay an industrial foundation, with such industries as: Alex, Rokana, Fedinand’s rubber, pads and palm oil mill, Niproc etc. These have become moribund.
The economy of Imo state is now driven by civil service, government spending, educational institutions, diaspora spending and 419. There are no genuine activities in the domestic real sector. The implication is the high incidence of unemployment. There is no wonder that criminality occupies some idle hands and the rich can no longer sleep well.
The irony is that palatial homes are built in the villages but the owners cannot enjoy them in peace. These houses in most instances become abode of rats and lizards because the owners hardly visit home, but when they do, prefer to stay in hotels. This can explain why there is a thriving hotel industry in Owerri.
Experts have projected that by the year 3030, the population density in Imo State would be explosive, yet we are no planning today on optimal land utilization. This is worrying. I had written a proposal to Gov Rochas Okorocha in 2012 on an industrialization model, but did not receive acknowledgment.
I had proposed the establishment of Industrial Parks to encourage production. These parks would help overcome the problem of land acquisition, infrastructure and security for budding entrepreneurs, especially those in the small and medium scale. It is not yet late. The Leaders of Imo State must realize that the time to start is now.
We must begin to address our minds to producing what we consume, in the first instance and further to create employment opportunities. Our present living in epicurean aristocracy will not help the next generation.
Simon Osigwe is a Financial Analyst based in Lagos