In a country of 133 million multidimensional poor, with youth unemployment at 53.40 percent, it would be a pity if anyone looking for an opportunity to earn a living missed the chance to hear the Imo State Governor Hope Uzodinma recently.
In a campaign speech for his second term, Uzodimma promised, as my father would have said, what Napoleon in all his extraordinary conquests and ambition could not even have dreamed of.
In my humble view, it’s Japa 2.0, a giant leap forward for the youth delivered in a moment of creative genius, the last of which was seen when the Supreme Court’s ruling on his election petition sprung His Excellency from number four position on the Imo ballot list of contestants in 2019, all the way to the Government House.
I must dispense with any further rigmarole and get to the point, while the governor’s generous offer lasts. The governor told a crowd of excited, cheering youths who came to visit him at the Government House on September 26, that he had finally come up with a plan to put at least 4,000 of them out of unemployment, as part of his “Skill Up Imo” programme. He said he had spoken with representatives of some Canadian and European firms in Nigeria. The companies would not only train these youths, but also send them to different choice destinations in North America and Europe to work.
As if that was not enough, he then added that his government was prepared to pay the flight tickets of all 4,000 eligible persons once their employment has been processed, with the possibility, I might add, that a few lucky ones may even fly first class!
Upon hearing this bonanza, the crowd roared and roared in raptures of ecstasy. Of course, the governor didn’t have to say this too-good-to-believe offer was tied to the potential beneficiaries voting for him at the November 11 governorship election in the state. Quid pro quo was implied.
Campaign in lullaby
Mario Cuomo’s dictum that politicians campaign in poetry doesn’t really do justice to politicians of the Nigerian variety. They do much better – they campaign in lullaby.
In 1999, for example, a fellow called Ahmed Yerima campaigned for governorship, promising to make Zamfara the believer’s paradise. He vowed to end corruption and enthrone justice and prosperity through political sharia. The seed of his green-eyed fanaticism has bred a deadly variety of bandits that haunt that state today.
Another fellow, Saminu Turaki, promised that if he was elected governor, Jigawa would become Africa’s Silicon Valley, with a tablet for every voter. It turned out, however, that the only time there was Internet service in the state for most of his tenure was immediately after he received billions of naira in monthly allocation from Abuja. Once the money entered the state’s treasury all lines to the Government House were unreachable until the next allocation.
There’s even a more recent example of campaign by lullabies, the sort that is now ensuing from Imo State. A gentleman governor called Professor Ben Ayade promised among a litany of things during his campaign that he would build a 260km superhighway from Calabar to Katsina-Ala in Benue State. He also promised a deep-sea port in Bakassi and a cargo airport in Obudu.
Voters bought his snake oil and repurchased it by giving him a second term. After eight years, they woke up to the harsh reality of the empty musical notes of Ayade’s broken promises.
Perhaps Uzodimma would be different? What is the price of a vote, anyway, compared with the prospects of a new life, so bright and beautiful that the vistas only compare with a terrestrial realm which, permit my limited imagination, I can only describe as Uzodimma-nistanat this time?
As I watched the excitement and anticipation in the mostly young crowd, I felt sorry for Uzodimma’s opponents who have so far been thoroughly unimaginative. All they have been doing when they’re not pressing for the Charter of Equity that they say should disqualify the governor from re-contesting, is to talk about some plan to make Imo safe and secure again, and how to end graft and corruption in government.
After listening to Uzodimma’s extraordinary redemption plan for Imo youths, his opponents should humble themselves and take remedial classes from this man who has been a consummate snake oil salesman long before Imo River.
The governor’s announcement on September 26 may appear ordinary to the undiscerning, but a friend of mine and obviously a closet Uzodimma admirer expanded the grand dimensions of the governor’s Japa 2.0 programme, totally hidden from my simple heart.
When I criticised the scheme as a cheap and foolish campaign gimmick, my friend admonished me promptly. How could I compare Uzodimma with Yerima or Turaki or Ayade? Couldn’t I see the governor’s ingenuity, he asked?
First, he said, all the talk about insecurity and corruption would vanish once the 4,000 ambassadors started working and remitting foreign exchange back home. And second, how could I not also see that the announcement by the governor, an accomplished salesman, had unleashed a cottage industry of sorts in the state already?
According to my friend, as soon as the governor promised to provide jobs for 4,000 youths in Canada and Europe and also to pay their airfares, some smart folks in and around government would take the matter to greater imaginative heights
In the next few days or weeks, for example, expect some people who might start hawking forms for Cohort One of either the Canadian or European editions of “Skill Up Imo.” If these retailers of snake oil charge only N5,000 per form, for example, they would have made N20m, if only 4,000 bought forms – a very conservative estimate in a state with an estimated population of 5.2 million, mostly youths!
Imagine what that means for both the personal and government internally generated revenue. Between the sale of forms to the multiple rounds of screening, tests and final selection, my friend said, surely the good times would be back again.
Think of the hundreds, if not thousands, of young people who instead of risking their lives in the desert of North Africa and the perilous Mediterranean Sea to get to Europe now have the opportunity of not only being trained by some of the best companies in the world but also being employed by them. And all of this on Uzodimma’s ticket, just for the price of a vote to return His Excellency to office!
Reverse migration never looked so potentially profitable and America and Europe should have no difficulty seeing the win-win in this grand scheme. I therefore urge all busybodies trying to fact-check the governor to think about the implication of their action on this laudable and patriotic project and to desist forthwith.
My only regret perhaps is that non-indigenes registered to vote in Imo may not benefit from this programme, although it is likely that given the wild excitement that greeted the announcement and the likely political harvest, the governor may extend this scheme to non-indigenous voters as well, as long as they vote for him and retain a certified true copy of their ballot paper.
There’s a saying in my neck of the woods that if a fashion designer is offering to make you a special wear you must first look at what he is wearing. Surely, anyone like His Excellency, who registered a company in 2012 with a share capital of N5m and won a dredging contract of N26 billion five years later which was diligently not executed, should be trusted to send only 4,000 Imo voters to the moon and back, without much difficulty.
As they say in the South East, “Ya kpo tu ba!”
Ishiekwene is Editor-In-Chief of LEADERSHIP