Anambra State’s Commissioner of Commerce, Industries and Wealth Creation, Uchenna Charles Okafor, was a two-term chairman of the transition committee of Oyi Local Government Council. A political scientist and a grassroots politician who has proved demonstrable competence in the several political appointments he has held, Okafor in this interview with POLYCARP ONWUBIKO, discloses how the state government is passionate about creating industrial clusters in various parts of Anambra State. He offers a peak into the state’s 50 years development plan, how Chinese investors are keen to be part of Anambra’s industrialisation plans due to long association with people from the south-east geo-political zone who have been trading with them for decades. Excerpts:
AS a former local government council chairman caretaker committee, how did the position affect your present position in terms of management of human and material resources?
Actually, every office has a totally different procedure but the experience I had from the local government system I don’t think the difference is much. In the local government system, you are the chairman and chief accounting officer of the local government, where you have the head of local government administration, and other staffers of the local government system called public servants. But right here, you have the permanent secretary and other staff called civil servants. So the difference is not much. With the experience I had in the local government system, I think I was able to adapt so easily here and you can see as long as you are polite and you don’t allow the pressure of work to affect your behaviour or the way you attend to people, things will be easier. So I try as much as I can to be very civil, so I don’t see much difference.
What are the challenges of being a commissioner in the civil service?
I try to key into the normal bureaucratic arrangement whereby the civil servants will always stick to the nitty-gritty of bureaucracy. Politicians in some ways normally weigh in political influence but since we know the implication, given the fact that His Excellency, Governor Willie Obiano is a governor that believes in the rule of law, so we do everything within our reach to see that we live and limit ourselves to the principles and tenets of our office.
Christmas is approaching. There is always severe traffic congestion at Eke Awka Market along Zik’s Avenue, near the round-about down to the banks. Petty traders even push their wares near the road saying that they pay Awka youths for that, thus compounding the traffic snarls.
How would you tackle the menace?
Awka youths do not have the legitimacy to collect money from petty traders and order them to spread their wares and goods on the road. The market leaders have been briefed by the state government to get them to know that there is a law banning street trading, so whatever transactions going on in the streets is actually illegal. It does not have any legitimate approval, so the market leaders have been briefed to take measures to decongest the environment surrounding the markets.
So we believe that there will be free flow of traffic during the Yule tide.
Inside Eke Awka Market, ample space was created for the off-loading of goods from vehicles but now the space has been occupied by petty traders, alleging that they paid fees to the authority of the market. Consequently, vehicles find it a herculean task to drive in and out.
Are you aware of the messy situation and what are you intending to do to restore the space for vehicles?
I have heard about the situation and I have proposed to visit Eke-Awka very soon. I will go there and see things for myself and ascertain what the problems are, profer a solution and implement it.
Since your ministry is involved in revenue generation, how do you intend to grapple with the reported shortage of staff, taking into consideration, the urban and semi-urban towns to be covered? Is there a proposal in the 2020 Budget for recruitment of staff?
As a ministry, we cannot recruit staff since recruitment of staff is within the authority of the Civil Service Commission. Since my ministry is working closely with the Internal Revenue Service in terms of revenue collections, they are doing a lot and His Excellency has just approved the recruitment of about 200 staff and those people will cover every MDA’s in the state including my ministry. In other words, there is a synergy between my ministry and the Internal Revenue Service to cover all the areas for the generation of revenues.
Trade Fair is always held at Dr. Alex Ekwueme Park, which has been taken as a temporary Trade Fair arena. The Leadership of Anambra State Chambers of Commerce had hinted that they are financially handicapped to shoulder the burden of building modern Trade Fair Complex, having secured land.
Does the state government intend to help giving the fact that it is a venture with huge financial implication?
Actually, we are working towards that. Our duty is to improve on what we met on ground, add value to the system and expand the frontiers of trade and commerce in Anambra State. So we will. In November, or late October, you travelled to China. What was the intent of the visit; was it a private visit or for the attraction of Foreign Direct Investment [FDI for the state? Can you give a peep into the outcome of your visit in terms of massive industrialisation of the state?
I actually went to China to solicit for investments and investors for Anambra State. My major interest was to know if I can improve the area of industrialisation. After travelling to China, my idea and ideology of the entire thing changed.
What I learnt was that we are needed is power, at least 15 to 17 hours uninterrupted power supply on daily basis. We are proposing to build industrial clusters whereby government will carve out restricted areas fully owned by government with all the basic infrastructural facilities and amenities.
We already have security in Anambra State. America and Europe took technology to China in search of manpower because of cheap labour. But after a decade, Chinese learnt the technology and today, they have the manpower and the technology.
But there are many issues because of the tariff America under Donald Trump placed on Chinese goods. So they want an avenue where they can relocate those companies to Africa to do the same thing and then export it to Nigeria at a lower tariff; and Nigeria is their preferred destination; while south-east within Nigeria is a better option for them.
You know what? A greater percentage of the customers they are dealing with are from this geo-political zone. Most of the guys living in China that have now inter-married are from this geo-political zone.
They are more familiar with us and with the orientation, so they prefer here. So if we can improve on power, with well built industrial clusters, they are willing to come. So their willingness is there but the facilities have to be on ground. Industrial clusters could be any place in the state as long as the basic amenities and facilities are there.
In industrial areas like Nkpor, Ogidi, Ogbunike, Oba, Agu-Awka, etc. the major problem is lack of access roads. People are of the view that if top priority is accorded to road reconstruction in these commercial areas, there will be a quantum leap on internally generated revenue as businesses will grow rapidly.
What is your take on this?
What determines what every government will do is the availability of resources. It is the magnitude of resources that is made available that determines the extent of the infrastructures that will be put in place.
So every government given adequate resources can do the entire roads in those areas which you mentioned. But because the public fund is limited, the problems are tackled according to priority. Priority takes into consideration the economic value of the roads that would be reconstructed. Yes, the state government is aware that Nkpor and adjoining communities are densely populated areas and need good access roads. The governor is already doing a lot of road rehabilitation there but with the expected quantum leap in revenue generation, more roads will be reconstructed in those commercially oriented areas which will enhance revenue generation.
His Excellency, Governor Willie Obiano has constituted a committee for a 50-year master plan for the state, some people see it as extensive instead of say, 20-year range to make it appreciable and sustainable.
Can you weigh in on the issue?
All the civilised nations of the world had a development plan. There is need to have a structure whereby whatever you need will be inculcated into a master plan. So as your capacity can endure, you gradually attend to all those things.
But when you do things haphazardly whereby this governor comes and concentrate on one project and another comes and abandon the projects and start another one, it would not augur well for the incremental development of the state; but the earlier you have a development plan, the better.
The only thing that is constant is change. Therefore, if you have a development plan for 50 years, then after 10 years, the new generation might feel that for instance, the kind of railway we proposed is no longer in vogue, then it stands to reason that everything is subject to change to align with the global standard. But there must be a plan, a guideline and therefore a propensity for adjustment is not out of place.
In the United States, it is a sustaining and standing policy that political actors and political parties in government can change. But the American foreign policy remains constant. The most important thing for us is to have the vision to make things better and develop the state.
Change of political actors should not be a problem because we believe that the intentions are the same. All the intentions are supposed to be geared towards developing the society, developing Anambra State, improving the social status of the citizens.
So whoever comes to develop Anambra State, improve on the social status of the citizens, and has a different idea or divergent view of the 50 years development plan, can equally do some adjustment so far it is to the overall interest of Anambra State.