We need to invest in skills —Prof Odoh
Professor Bernard I. Odoh, former Secretary to the Ebonyi State Government, is presently a gubernatorial aspirant under the All Progressives Congress (APC) in the state. He speaks with Egbo Udodinma on how he will restructure the state and make the environment conducive for investors if he becomes the governor.
Why did you choose to contest with your former boss?
I was in the government scenario for three years before I left. My motivation starts from the fact that governance is supposed to provide real sector group for citizens and in those three years that the present administration has been in power, the statistics of the various organisations, including World Bank, does not show that we have really made progress in terms of poverty reduction in the state. For example, last month, the latest release by World Bank shows that Ebonyi ranks, 34th on the capital GDPN in the country. Ebonyi people are still living under $200 per capital of GDPN, that is not accepted by any standard.
Ebonyi State is also one of the most difficult places to do business today in the country because of the harsh environmental conditions, taxation and all kind of things. Our schools, if you Google the top 50 secondary schools in the country, you can’t find any secondary school from Ebonyi State. Ebonyi State University in the days of Dr. Sam Egwu, the medical school was ranked second after Ibadan; today, that university is ranked 42nd position in the country. So if you look at the indexes to measure progress, we have not really made progress. And for me, governance should be able to provide hope for the people.
If you take opinion poll in Ebonyi today you will see that most people are hopeless. So what we need now is a mail shift, they are not sustainable if we don’t consciously invest in our people, the future will remain bleak. These are the key issues we must address. No matter how anybody is looking at me as somebody who is greedy or whatever, that is not the issue because I, as an individual have personal accomplishments. It is not all about me but how to improve the wellbeing of our people.
Having mentioned some areas where the present administration is getting it wrong, that led to your resignation, what measures do you think can make you achieve differently if elected?
The best way to function as a leader is to be honest with your people. I believe that leadership must be all about honesty, certain clear roles and getting your people to buy into your roles. If your subordinates do not buy in your goals they will sabotage you because those people are the owners of that project, but they should be able to see the link between the project and their future, in their progress, and they will give us the desired cooperation when they see this. So we will be building a governance system that encourages participation and opinion building, not that I am a governor and my opinion is final; things doesn’t work that way and that is the problem of the present administration.
If you have a contrary opinion, you are seen as an enemy, we cannot grow the system that way.
Which issue gives you more concern?
Education, business and our civil servants. If we restructure and strengthen governance system, which is the public sector system, if we reorganise and invest in our people, if we make our environment conducive for investors to come into, we are good and every other thing will fall in place.
You stated that young men of Ebonyi state are not moving forward when there are lots of youths employed and empowered by the present administration, can you explain this?
Giving money to people does not equate to empowerment. In fact, the fastest way to multiply poverty is to throw money to the people. You must invest in knowledge first, which is key to reinvention. So, when you give people, they will eat it and come back the following day that is not empowerment.
All that have been done for the past three years, which we called empowerment; giving people N250,000 each in the short time they appear nice and sound good but I will tell you five years from now, you cannot track real impact because somebody who does not have a job or skill and you give him N250,000, the first thing he will do is to eat, pay house rent and take care of his wellbeing, so what empowerment would that do for him? But if you give that person skill and knowledge, he will be able to have a life with the skills and move forward. So, all these we call empowerment are not empowerment, because they are not sustainable, cannot stand, so it is a social service that we are doing, just like what they do in US. People who don’t have jobs, every month they will come and collect money just to eat and be alive. It is skill that helps you contribute to the society, that is empowerment and we are not investing in our people in that direction.