A few days ago I approached an outstanding, meritorious, respected and ebullient Royal father in Imo State, for insights into the mind set of the Imo State Government in its proposals to facilitate the establishment of Cottage industries in each autonomous community of the state.
The number of autonomous communities in the state is about 700 and growing.
A successful implementation of such an industrial design within the limits of law and propriety shall without doubt create ripples of economic growth throughout the state and help to alleviate youth restiveness and promote growth.
Some say that the creation of autonomous communities is a cash and carry business in the State and the anxiety to maintain and sustain the existence of autonomy by old and new Communities has become a subject of exploitation inherent in this present policy design.
Indeed many traditional rulers are selfishly engrossed with their roles in the alien and systemic model of oppression of the people who are more inclined towards Town Unionism rather than the sustenance of old ways of life that are of blurred relevance in the scheme of things.
The State House of Assembly is not left out in this exploitation of the people’s mindset.
There are pending autonomous communities about to be created with indeterminate boundaries, cloudy and distorted histories to pave way for their facilitating credentials.
This unchecked proliferation of autonomous Communities with the attendant creation of the Ezeship stools has slowly degraded the Igbo egalitarian polity and its enchanting libertarianism to an exploitative feudalism, in which a new rogue chieftaincy has found a new vision and expression.
This particular traditional Ruler I met is old school and erudite in customary and traditional oratory. He is an embodiment of traditional piety, values with understandable vigour.
He was clearly a versatile and well educated man with grave concerns to the growing frustrations and anger against the Okorocha led Imo State Government that seemly appears to be disconnected with the people and the economic reality on ground.
Said he: “When the Imo state Government informed the body of traditional rulers of its plan to establish cottage industries in each autonomous community in the state through a partnership with the taxable adults in each community who are to pay N3000 each, we were distraught and felt convinced that the policy was not viable , sustainable and in clear breaches of known laws, public ethics, and appropriate standards. We all wrote back to him and all the Highnesses signed, urging him to go and collect the taxes by himself because as traditional rulers, we are not partisan and must not be seen to engage in businesses, and shady deals with the government. He was irresponsive to our position for quite some time until recently when he sent a directive to the effect that autonomous communities that fail to remit N6 Million to the state would be scrapped. It became clear to us then that the entire exercise was a scam, but what can we do?”
Indeed, it is a verified fact that the Imo State Government under the incumbent State Governor, Chief Anayo Okorocha, instituted a policy directive to the Autonomous Communities strangely, through their Traditional rulers, directing them to raise N6M for the development of Cottage Industries in their locale under a Counterpart funding arrangement which will ensure that each autonomous community receives N4m from the State Government.
There is a threat that accompanies this policy directive. Any town or autonomous community that defaults will be abolished and merged with other existing communities that have complied.
This has sent jitters through the spines of Autonomous Communities afraid to lose their autonomy and being placed in subservient positions.
It was an act of extortion meant to promote compliance to an outgoing government that has little time left to supervise its vision. Perhaps this was meant to be a parting mischief of the political jingle and bell ringing of “Industry! Industry!! Factory!!! Factory!!, Employment Employment!” Are these the factories he was talking about!?
This initiative of the Government has not gone down well with the people and no community has complied with this directive, although some traditional rulers who are hopeful, of future diversion of the funds collected through public harassment, threats, and intimidation, upon the exit of this government are doing all that is necessary to justify the collections.
But a source appears to confirm that the funds are not meant for any industrial development but for use in the upcoming 2019 elections and to meet the selfish interests of some politicians in connivance with some traditional rulers who have been promised a cut.
Many of the traditional rulers it must be mentioned, are least enthusiastic of the project but are forced to act under coercion and threats.
They point to the fact that the a Government that owes huge sums to banks, which failed to meet with its World Bank counterpart funding obligations which has led to their relocations from the state cannot meet with the obligations, of helping to finance industrial developments of such design and commitment. Or be trusted.
Where will Imo State get the N4m it has promised to each of the Communities when it is late in its payments to Banks for huge debt logs, in the backdrop of backlogs of pension arrears and unpaid salaries of its Bureaucracy?
There are numerous cases of abandoned and uncompleted projects littering the state, in the backdrop of ethical issues, lack of due process and corruption compounding the state administration.
Let me not fail to stress here that the purpose of establishing industries is to create not just economic growth but profit for the shareholders. It is difficult to see these Cottage industries making profits in the face of the absence of infrastructural facilities on ground , power, sources of raw materials and human resources.
The proposal by the Imo state government in my view is fraudulent and demonstrates a rogue appetite to exploit the people by this ominous and systemic grande extortion and state larceny.
It should be noted that there are no enabling law creating these Cottage Industries or feasibility studies on ground that has dealt with the core issues of shareholding, management and establishment of these industries. There are no written Memoranda or cross references indicating that it has researched viability.
Who would manage the Industries and how would the personnel of these industries be sourced and remunerated? Where are the markets for the products of these industries and how would they handle inter Community competitiveness? How would the profit and losses be shared? Would traditional rulers be on Board of these enterprises to influence decisions on behalf of shareholders?
Beyond the absences of institutional registration and feasibility studies for these enterprises, are the total consideration, of the appreciation of manpower availability to run them.
The Igbo have a saying that an animal that is collectively owned by a community often starves to death. This is truer of the state proposal oiled by unfettered greed. Such enterprises would be ruined by acrimony, deceit, dishonesty, indecision, rancor, zoning, inter clan feuds and high handedness.
Further , lies the fact that it is illegal for the Government, a Business, or a community to raise funds from the Public unless through the Stock exchange and established channels for funding Business enterprises. No government in Nigeria is allowed to raise money by levies on the public for the purpose of Business enterprise without recourse to the Stock exchange. Businesses are not promoted by extortion or intimidation or threat.
The Imo State government cannot force people to participate in a Business by threats. It is criminal and blame worthy.
Traditional rulers who are involved in these unlawful collections of undue taxes and levies are denigrating their positions and promoting illegal exploitation of their people while exposing themselves to criminal prosecution for extortion and fraud.
It remains their best position to let the Government know that there are no enabling protections from the law to enable them act in the capacity of tax and levies collector or registrar of Businesses.
I must advise the State Government that any purported non recognition of Autonomous communities who have been cleared by the panel that investigated their creation by this same government would be null and void.
The government has encouraged some ill informed and questionable traditional rulers to annul town unions that are the creations of statutes to pave way for this criminality. In many Towns today, the town union that has existed as far as the 18th Century in far places like Zungeru, and remained the cornerstone of Igbo Unionism and interactive development has been compromised by private greed.
Some traditional rulers after annulling the town unions have set up parallel bodies and accounts under their control for the N3000 levies per taxable adults to facilitate appropriations ; a tax that is unprecedented in the annals of Nigerian history. Our glorified town unions are existing in vacuum and almost irrelevant under the misguided strictures of this administration.
It is indeed blatantly illegal and unconstitutional to raise monies from the public by threat, intimidation, harassment and coercion and demeaning for a traditional ruler to become a registrar of companies in a system in which they find their roles increasingly politicized and denigrating.
In the final analysis, may I inform the Government that Imo State enjoys less than .1% of the electricity produced in Nigeria and no power source available in the state is of redeemable value that can power a factory. In my letter to him on behalf of the Orlu Chamber of Industry, to draw his attention to the state of infrastructural poverty that cannot support industrial development.
So what would be the source of electricity of these cottage industries? Or would they be powered by generators?