By Wiliams Orji
Of the various ministries that Governor Willie Obiano of Anambra State reshuffled their commissioners in the newly constituted cabinet, none has gotten more attention than the ministry of commerce and industry. This is because the state is known for her ubiquitous deep business concerns that sign posts and drives every other activity including government businesses.
The state being one of the richest in the country derives more of her income from internal generated revenue( IGR), which the various industries and other business outlets that are scattered all over the major cites of Onitsha, Nnewi and Awka, are contributing in keeping her in a sound economic stead.
To this end, the ministry, mandated to superintendent all these markets including industrial outlets, is the Ministry of Commerce and Industry. The ministry is, among other responsibilities, entrusted to initiate, stimulate, develop, monitor and supervise commercial activities and industrial development programmes for the state government.
Prior to the setting up of the ministry, there was Ministry of Trade, Commerce, Markets and Wealth Creation, which many say, failed to deliver the vision of the Governor Obiano, on revenue drive and sanitized market environment in the state.
Therefore, the creation of Ministry of Commerce and Industry and the subsequent deployment of Honorable Charles Uche Okafor as its commissioner from the Ministry of Transport, is seen in many quarters, as a way by the governor to reposition and breathe life into this all-important and strategic revenue generating ministry of the state.
Hon Okafor’s stay in the ministry of Transport was remarkable as it was eventful.
As Commissioner of Transport, and with a tacit support of the state governor, he fought hooligans and touts who mount illegal levy collection centres to extort money that was never remitted into the state treasury, to a standstill.
In one of interviews he granted to a media house had enthused ‘’When we came on board, we noticed that what encourages them is that there are genuine Revenue Heads that those guys hide under, to collect those illegal levies. So, what we did was to ban those collections on the streets. Every collection is now done at the point of loading and offloading.’’ With this resolve and drive, Anambra State revenue collection programme became sanitized and her citizens began to see more democratic dividends through the provision of essential amenities, which only increased revenue, could bring.
Controlling the menace of illegal levy collections that cluster in the state and dismantling of shanties that inhibit movement of goods and person, especially in Onitsha and its environs , which serve as the gateway to the South East to other parts of the western Nigeria, has brought about reduced traffic logjam and serene environment, where indigenes and visitors alike transact their business without fear of molestation by uncoordinated transport operators and illegal revenue collectors and their managers.
Shedding light on how his ministry tamed the ugly incident, the commissioner posited in the same interview ‘’we dissolved all their unions and formed them into one common group. That was why they were able to have the interface with the state. Although, the actual fact is that the state cannot give out contracts to a union.
Rather, we give to individuals. The union can come into common interest and present a contractor who can now use the union as a sublet to do the collection, while the contractor or consultant pays the state. So, the Tipper drivers also developed the same consciousness and decided that they want to handle the collection by themselves. That was why they started an agitation and so on. At the end of the day, we resolved that problem yesterday. We agreed that they will be a part of the collection. We will inculcate them into the system and the problem was resolved.
‘’…..we noticed that all we needed was to get our people to comply to traffic rules and also to demolish some shanties and illegal structures along those areas. Street trading was also a factor that contributed to the congestion of some of those roads, so we chased them out of the streets and put in stringent measures that made sure they didn’t come back. This led to the free flow of traffic you see on those major roads.’’
Driving within and through Onitsha became pleasant because of the traffic measures put in place by the state government through the initiative of the Commissioner Okafor, as most areas where you previously noticed congestions have become a thing of the past. Even the famous Oye Agu intersection has given way for free traffic maneuvering.
Same measure was also applied to Nnewi, the second economic nerve centre in the state, where places like Bank Road and Old Onitsha road have seen improved free traffic of flow and less congestion in illegal revenue drive.
The ban on Okada and Keke operators during his time as commissioner of transport, though seen as a tough stand in some areas in the state, has been duplicated in some neighbouring states as an ultimate way of reducing crimes and criminalities.
Previously Anambra was a hotbed for all forms of criminalities aptly perpetrated by okada and keke riders, who employed sophistication and cruelty in discomforting their victims, thus making the state unattractive for investment and visitors. Places like Upper Iweka, MCC and Head-bridge all in Onitsha represented an ugly tales that painted the state bad taste.
Non-compliance and total disobedience to traffic rules, including total misunderstanding of government policies by the residents of this great state, formed a bitter taste to any administration, especially in some major cities of the state, where motor park lords of various fiefdoms have been holding sway before this time.
As commissioner of transport, his ministry also championed the recruitment of traffic wardens that help in directing traffic in some urban towns of the state. Their professional way of enforcing traffic rules, has received recommendations from many members of the society in the state, who believe that their coming has brought sanity and a strong relieve to road users in the state.
With these transformations put in place by the commissioner, the need to replicate such good tidings in other ministries in the state became an order of priority for Governor Obiano, especially an important ministry as commence and industry, where he once again didn’t have look far, as he once again appointed Hon Charles Uche Okafor, to reposition the ministry.
Assuming duty as commissioner of the ministry is no child play for this goal-getter Awkuzu-born philanthropic, as he knew that he is stepping into a turf that will be more tasking and challenging.
To mount the saddle of overseeing all the markets and commercial-related activities in the state is onerous as much as the responsibility of being in charge of all the industrial outlets that are spread in all the nooks and crannies of the state. From industrial hubs and commercial cities of Onitsha and Nnewi to other emerging industrial and commercial outlets like Awka, Ekwuluobia, and Ihiala, the stake seems high for Hon Okafor.
First, the streamlining how markets and other business hubs are administered especially in the areas of internal revenue generation calls for an urgent clear-cut policy change from the state government. The era of throwing up emergency overnight millionaires who parade as market administrators or union officials, to the detriment of the state revenue drive, will be a thing of the past, as commissioner comes on board. Stakeholders believe that his coming will see for a more sanitized market administration, just as transport unions and other interest groups in the state were made to conform to policies of reform as introduced under his supervision as commissioner.
Modern methods of revenue drive within and outside the markets environments should be put in place to instill confidence in the citizenry. Market unionism that has act as impediment to state government’s plans in sanitizing the market through a robust modern day administrative guidelines, should be reorganized or totally discarded, to give way for a healthy, modern and transparent market administrations.
In the industrial sector, the state government should look into the power challenge which has been a serious handicap of the sector – the state government, through the ministry of commerce and industry under Hon Okafor, must put in place a policy frame work that will help that state to have her own independent power project that will primarily serve all the industrial hubs in the state.
To this end, the commissioner is expected to engage the authorities of the Enugu Power Distribution Company and other stakeholders in the power sector, to ensure that, not only that the state is allocated enough power grid that will propel in industries, but the allocated grid must be seem to be sustainable, to adequately serve all the industries in the state.
Also championing for to end to multiple taxation that erodes investment and stifles business , must be curtailed , while incentives and infrastructural upgrade should pursued vigorously, by his ministry.These measures, if enacted will see a boom to industrial growth and investment in the state
For the state to garner a deserving return in investment therefore for its strive be maintain her position as the industrial hub in the south-east, setting up a comprehensive data base of all the industries – cottage, medium, and large industries, will help in knowing the number of them that operate in the state. It will as well help to monitor tax payments and other revenue generation for the state.
But being a man to never shy away from responsibilities, it is believe that Hon Charles Uchenna Okafor will adequately deploy that same magic wand that saw him transforming a hitherto moribund transport sector in Anambra State, to what may analysts called a model to other states in the country.