By Collins Opurozor
Governments borrow for a reason. It is because debt instruments are development tools which they deploy for raising the financial and socio-economic wellbeing of their entities.
The implication of this is that loans are invariably obtained so as to invest in those programs, initiatives and projects which have the prospect of turning around the economic circumstances of the borrowing entities and affording them the capacity not just to repay in future but also to create sustainable growth.
Available data from the Debt Management Office (DMO) indicate that Imo State before the emergence of Chief Hope Uzodinma had a debt stock estimate in the region of between N110bn and N115bn. However, after the last quarter of 2021, the requisite information gleaned from Imo incessant borrowings, namely N7.5bn in March 2020, N5bn in October 2020, N32.9bn of domestic loans between January and September 2021 and N5.3bn domestic loans within the same period, in addition to N18.3bn borrowing plan which was further nocturnally approved in October and effected in early November, the debt profile of Imo State currently stands at well over N183bn.
What is curious as well as mind – boggling is that, first, Imo State now shoulders a debt burden bigger than all the other four States of the South East put together. To be clear, Abia’s debt stock today is slightly above N56.2bn, while Anambra and Ebonyi have N12bn and N8bn respectively. Enugu is N32bn. Imo now owes more than them all combined.
Second, in all of the landmark borrowings by the regime of Chief Uzodinma, no effort was made to redraw the industrial landscape of the State by re-jigging investments in the hugely vital Agro-industrial where Imo has major comparative advantage. Ada-Palm has remained moribund, Imo Rubber Estates and Avutu Poultry Farm have remained comatose.
Also, Nsu Tiles Company, Umuna Bricks Factory, Egbema Power Plant and Inyishi Aluminium Extrusion Plant are some key investments with the capacity to rev up the local economy and employ a vast majority of the teeming unemployed Imo youths. Yet, they have been left to rot away, even when Imo under Chief Uzodinma has been officially designated by the NBS as the unemployment capital of Nigeria.
A more sordid reality is that in the face of this excessive debt overhang, no attempt is made to cut the cost of governance. With an overhead cost of nearly N2.8 billion spent every month on lengthy convoys, hiring private jets, drinking champagnes and servicing political machineries, which is the highest in the South East, Chief Uzodinma has continued to squander loans to finance waste thereby mortgaging future generations of Imo State with unpayable debt stocks. Imo is undergoing financial hemorrhage under Chief Uzodinma.
The bad news is that fossil fuels, our own black gold called petroleum, upon which all our hopes and economic projections are hinged, will become obsolete before the end of this decade. Given the innovations in technology and advent of clean, green energy, anyone who waits on oil money for anything is only waiting for Godot. Other progressive States have realized this and, increasingly, they have diversified their income bases to embrace the Post-oil realities. How then will Imo repay the loans being taken by Chief Uzodinma to fund his extravagance and frivolities?
With a monthly IGR profile of below N1bn which cannot even offset the personnel cost in Imo, humongous debt stock, absence of associated infrastructure and policy framework that can ensure private sector-driven growth, and collapse of all State-Owned Enterprises (SOEs), Chief Uzodinma’s two years have succeeded at making Imo a pitiably unviable entity and further plunged the once prosperous State into debt slavery with no solution in sight.