By Jimanze Ego-Alowes
Some clouds of unknowing have gathered over Imo State. Of course, the verdict of the last court of recourse, the Supreme Court, is clear. It is that Senator Hope Uzodinma is the duly elected Governor of Imo State.
But the courts and their pronouncements do not constitute or confer legitimacy to power. To govern a people there must be the palpable feeling that ”we are all and together in it.” That is the people must truly be by governed by their delegated powers, not powers conferred by courts, however supreme.
Somehow, the situation of the people being governed by their will in Imo is not taken as given. There are disputations as to the correctness of the wisdom or lack of it of the Supreme Court. There are legal fireworks and a wagging of tongues on both sides. To help have a handle on the matter, we spoke with a former commissioner in the now defunct Honourable Emeka Ihedioha regime. Chijioke Nzekwe is not only a barrister at law, he is one of the leading minds of his generation.
For him the judicial pronouncement that elevated Hope Uzodinma as governor is a derailment of justice. Thus the most urgent task in his mind is for the court to do all it must to reroute the train and coach of justice back on track. Neither Imo nor the nation has the time to waste.
The consequences of failure he warned is that our development and progress and thus our history will become victims of a given accident in time. In his words, that verdict for whatever else it is, is an accident of history, a judicial freak. Yes, one agrees, accidents are human all too human but the role of men in their agency as makers of civilization is to quickly correct these accidents and restore and restitute for propriety. Any failure to so do will make a nation and its destiny to be held hostage by an aberration in history, an aberrant moment in time.
Nzekwe, who in his short service as commissioner garnered numerous awards from stakeholders cautioned on the dangers of the exercise of power as its own justification. And this does not matter if it is judicial or executive or legislative power. Humility and genius demand that the elite be in tune not just with the mandate of the moral majority but try and steer themselves and their peoples towards the glorious.
Nzekwe was full of praise for Hon Emeka Ihedioha for his show of statesmanship, maturity and his observance of the rule of law in the pursuit of the recovery of his mandate. And by the way he concluded, history will record Ihedioha’s reign as period, of not just Imo, but Igbo Renaissance. It was a kind of a Nigerian Camelot and one was proud he participated in it. Urgently, the good peoples of Imo and the rest of humanity look forward to its renewal.
He also shared some reminiscences on his historic stint as Commissioner of tourism. Excerpts:
Are there centers or activities of interest to international tourists in Imo state? Can you highlight some of these?
Nzekwe: Imo State has always been a preferred city for Meetings, Incentives, Conferences & Events (MICE) and the current government is focused on supporting the hosting of world class events and conferences in the state. A few days ago the Imo Diaspora Summit was held at the Imo Concorde hotel and was very well attended, hosting business investors, international deal brokers; experts in diverse fields of endeavour and top policy makers were also in attendance. You may also wish to know that the Ahiajoku Lecture has just been revived by His Excellency, Rt. Hon Emeka Ihedioha and will continue to be an annual event that will attract the best minds from across the region and beyond.
Imolites love sports and you may wish to know that Sports Tourism is a strategic tourism plank that does not only create employment, but also encourages travel and increases revenue receipts.
Already, the state is bidding to host The National Sports Festival for 2022 and no stone is being left unturned in our efforts to actualise this dream amongst numerous other activities of interest for tourists visiting Imo going forward.
In the coming months, a lot more programmes that will attract thousands of visitors will be unveiled.
Infact, our target is to turn the torchlight on Imo State as a leading tourism destination in Nigeria and by that increase the number of visitors by 1million visitors every year. In the coming weeks, the date for the Imo State Tourism Summit will be announced. The tourism investment summit will surely galvanize private sector investment from both local and foreign investors which is key to the growth of eco-tourism in the state.
In addition, the Iriji Imo is being planned to become a major carnival-like tourism event that will attract hundreds of thousands of visitors to Imo State.
His Excellency is no doubt committed to rebuilding the tourism industry in the state which you know was not viable due to lack of investments in the sector. At the moment plans are underway to upgrade Imo Concorde Hotel into a world class hotel befitting of a state like Imo State. Not too long ago, He visited the Oguta Lake Resort and made serious commitments to develop the resort into a world class resort with beautifully manicured golf course, aesthetic accommodation, water sports and the rest. The idea is to maximize the tourism potentials of Oguta Tourism Hub- which offers uncommon connections between nature and humanity.
Meanwhile, an Olympic Size Swimming pool is about being constructed as part of Sports facility development in State preparatory to our 2022 National Sports Festival Bidding.
Are there any innovations you have brought and or intend to bring to the agenda of making or consolidating Imo as a preferred national and international tourist destination?
Nzekwe: Yes. There are innovations. You know, ours is called the Ministry of Tourism, Creative Arts and Culture and our mandate is to develop the tourism, creative arts and culture sector of the state to become viable, productive and resourceful. Being a new ministry, we have started by creating systems and structures that will help lay a solid foundation for sustainable growth. That also includes manpower development for staffs of the ministry as well building partnerships with professionals and the private sector so as to achieve maximum results.
I am aware that Tourism innovation is about targets and receipts so I challenged my team and we developed a target to increase the number of visitors coming to imo State by 1 million every year to 2023. To achieve that we will be unveiling the ‘Lo Ruo Ulo’ (Visit Imo) Campaign. The Lo Ruo Campaign’ is put together to inspire Ndi Imo (home and abroad) and indeed travellers, business executives, tour operators, event organizers, solo travellers, Weddings, Meetings, Conference and Events (MICE) Experts to think of Imo and to ‘visit Imo State’ from 2020-2023.
I am also aware that tourism is about technology so we are planning to hold a digital marketing masterclass for staff in the Ministry as well as equip players in the industry including hotels, restaurants, bars, etc on how to build brand presence and marketing on the internet thereby boosting Imo State Tourism Footprints on the social media. And you know that this will definitely turn into revenue returns to the businesses and to the state as well.
In addition, we are working on the blueprints for Hotel Standardization and Grading. This standardization will in great ways benefit the state as a hospitality capital of the nation, as well as benefit the owners/investors and the travellers.
Tourism is also about warm connections, hence during the 2019 Christmas season we hosted the ‘Welcome To Imo’ Campaign which was a strategic initiative to warmly welcome back our people and other visitors at the Imo Airport Owerri with the prestigious Omenimo dance. Those dancers were such beautiful sight to behold and this was evident on the smiles on the faces of people at the airport. This was more interesting as the Owerri Airport was the only airport servicing the whole south east within the period.
What are depth and reach of your programs for involving private sector participation in the development of Imo tourism potentials?
Nzekwe: As soon as I came into office, I started engaging with stakeholders. I connected with the hotels and their owners to discuss strategic and formidable partnership that will make us succeed. The hoteliers are critical stakeholders as they have invested heavily in the state in terms of hotels and employment generation. In fact, the Imo Hoteliers Association hosted me to a very warm reception in December 2019.
The essence of the summit i mentioned earlier is to galvanize public and private sector participation in the Imo State Tourism development and investment so we are reaching out the private sector with a view to achieving mutually rewarding benefits.