Enugu State has arable lands, but food prices there are high, causing untold hardship for the state residents. In January 2023, the food price watch report by the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) showed that Enugu was one of the states with the highest prices of garri, wheat, catfish, and other staple foods.
Also, the state has rich deposits of coal and natural gas. Yet. the resources are not being maximized for energy security. The state has water bodies, and the residents suffer from a lack of water.
Ahead of this weekend’s governorship election, Nairametrics spoke with Frank Nweke Jr, the gubernatorial candidate vying for the office of governor under the All-Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) in the state, to address these issues.
Nweke, who is an accomplished professional in the private, public, and civic sectors, was Federal Minister for Intergovernmental Affairs and Special Duties, Minister for Intergovernmental Affairs, Special Duties and Youth Development as well as Minister of Information and National Orientation under the Olusegun Obasanjo administration.
In this chat with Nairametrics, he revealed his plans for energy, agriculture, education, ease of doing business and political godfatherism.
Enjoy the conversation…
NAIRAMETRICS: During his campaign, President-elect, Bola Tinubu said he plans to encourage the use of coal from Enugu to harness energy. What are your energy-related plans for the state?
Frank Nweke Jr: Generally, the use of coal had been stalled due to agreements induced by Western powers based on managing climate change. What we have now are illegal miners and private companies who have expanses of coal deposits concessioned to them. As a government, we will work to retrieve these concessions by making deals with the people concerned or by making a strong representation to the government at the centre which holds the rights to mineral resources on the exclusive list under section 39 of the constitution.
On other energy sources, we will work closely with the Enugu Electricity Distribution Company to improve supply and reduce tariffs. We will also explore the opportunities for resources such as compressed natural gas (CNG) which the state has, as well as solar technology to meet the power needs of our residents. We are already in conversation with licensed operators in the natural gas energy space.
We will also work with local companies and with some established international companies from Japan, Turkey and other parts of the world to establish a ‘Partnership in Technology Program” to set up plants for assembling solar panels and training our people to do the same in Enugu State. Our intention is to put in place a policy that will mandate developers of new estates to deploy structures for renewable energy, taking sections of the state off-grid by providing power from natural gas or solar technology.
NAIRAMETRICS: The latest food price watch report from the National Bureau of Statistics states that Enugu is one of the states with the highest food prices. How would you tackle the agricultural sector challenges in your state?
Frank Nweke Jr: This is sad considering the vast arable lands that we have in the state. The hectares of fertile lands that line 30 kilometres of the road from Nkalagu to Aguamede can provide enough basic food resources for the entire state, ensuring food security and boosting the economy. I am committed to exploring the comparative advantage our state has in cultivating the following crops: Pineapples, cassava, cashews, palm trees, sweet potato, yams, peppers, some fruits (mango, papaya), and super grains: Sesame seeds, Breadfruit (Ukwa), Locust beans (Ogiri), Bambara nut (Ọkpa), Pigeon peas (Fio-fio) and Irvingia (Ọgbọnọ).
My plan is to resuscitate the farming estates, create partnerships for industrialization and resolutely address the security challenges that have persisted and affected farming activities. Ensuring the security of farmers and their farms is critical and one I will prioritize. Attention will be paid to boosting the entire value chain of Agriculture from research and production to the supply chain, in order to optimize the nutritional, local economic, and export value of our produce. Agriculture can easily make up 40% of our gross domestic product (GDP) and boost internally generated revenue (IGR) significantly over the next four years.
We will set up agricultural innovation centres across the six agricultural zones in the State and leverage co-operatives to widen access to factors of production including capital, capacity building, equipment, land, improved seedlings, and more. We will also facilitate partnerships with companies such as Olam Agri Nigeria, AACE Farms, Carlos Farms, and others to set up out-growers schemes for smallholders across the state. I have also spoken about my plan to set up a social enterprise, an Enugu Strategic Food Reserve for the State. The goals are to provide succour to the most vulnerable people in underserved communities, provide a ready market for farmers, and moderate food prices by strategically releasing stored grains and other key food items into the market and selling them at affordable rates to indigent communities.
NAIRAMETRICS: What is your plan to restore clean water supply in Enugu state?
Frank Nweke Jr: The major cause of the water scarcity crisis is that the water corporation is a cesspit of corruption, hence the reported amounts allocated to the sector without corresponding results. Enugu City and its environs have two major sources of water at Ajali and Oji, with water currently wasted because of mismanagement. We also plan to leverage new sources of water such as the Iyioku water scheme at the foot of Awhum Monastery and the Orobo river, which operates by naturally occurring gravity.
Our plan is to unbundle the water sector into three sections to cover production, transmission and distribution & commercials. These will be managed by separate and independent entities, selected via an open and transparent bidding process. The water corporation will then be converted into a regulatory agency. We will also work to reticulate water into Nsukka and its environs from the Adada River which had been previously dammed by the Federal Government but abandoned by the State government to date.
For rural water supply, we will take advantage of water bodies across the state and design water supply systems based on the nature of the water source, the location and the needs of specific communities to ensure no one is left behind in the quest to provide water for every resident. We will also interface with the African Development Bank (AFDB), the World Bank and other multilateral for relevant partnerships and investments towards implementing these solutions across the board.
NAIRAMETRICS: Should you win, what is the first thing on your agenda as governor?
Frank Nweke Jr: The first item on my agenda is to provide leadership that can be trusted and shows the political will to tackle difficult challenges; leadership that is compassionate and focused on the people. I have said on several occasions that the government house will no longer be referred to as the Lion Building but as The People’s House. From the first day, the barricades around the government house will be removed and we will immediately set in motion our security plans to keep our people safe in every part of the state. My word is my bond and ndi Enugu can hold me accountable.
NAIRAMETRICS: A lot of young people in Enugu state are unemployed. This has given rise to a number of political thugs in the state. How will you tackle this problem as governor?
Frank Nweke Jr: The sector that has traditionally and always provided productive employment for the majority of our workforce is the private sector. This has always been the case in economies that have experienced rapid and sustainable growth throughout history. Any serious government interested in the provision of jobs and the improvement of the lives of its citizens must prioritize the growth of private sectors and the establishment of industries.
I always give the example of the Dr Michael Okpara years. They were deliberate about creating the enabling environment for businesses to thrive and provide jobs because there are only so many jobs available in public service. My promise is to take Enugu State from number 27 into the top 5 on the Ease of Doing Business ranking over a four-year period by addressing our infrastructural challenges, the regulatory policy environment like stopping multiple taxations, the judicial inefficiencies and the upskilling of our young people.
We have also identified key areas that are of special interest to young people. These include filmmaking, entertainment, fashion and design, sports, tourism and hospitality, media and ICT and agriculture. It is our plan to deploy the necessary incentives, support and initiatives to encourage the development of talents and businesses in these sectors. For example, we have a plan for a film village in Udi. We will institute an Entertainment Week, a Fashion and Design Week, a Coal City Art Week and a Marathon, all in a bid to groom our people and bring the world into Enugu. I am clear on what these will do to boost our economy.
NAIRAMETRICS: Some indigenes have dissociated themselves from your former principal, Chimaroke Nnamani. Does this in any way affect your run for governor?
Frank Nweke Jr: I am running under the All-Progressives Grand Alliance. I have no political alliance or allegiance with Chimaroke Nnamani and so, while I respect him for the years, I worked with him and the opportunities he provided, our political interests and goals have led us in different directions. My focus is to provide leadership that is accountable to the people and shared prosperity. This is what my campaign is focused on and the promise I make to the people of Enugu.
NAIRAMETRICS: What would you say has been the effect of political godfatherism in Enugu State? How do you hope to change this? Some people claim you have a political godfather, what is your response to this?
Frank Nweke Jr: I do not have a political godfather. Now, I believe that younger people need mentorship, guidance and strong partnerships to understand leadership, public service and governance. What I do not subscribe to are hegemony and political brigandage. This is why I have begun plans to initiate the Michael Okpara Leadership Institute to raise visionary and selfless leaders across Enugu State, regardless of their political affiliations. I want Enugu State to produce the best commissioners, civil servants and local government officials in the entire country’s history. We will make this happen.
NAIRAMETRICS: The Otukpa-Enugu (Obollo Afor) road is a federal road, but it is in terrible condition. Do you have any plans for that road, knowing that it affects state indigenes who ply the road for business and personal reasons?
Frank Nweke Jr: The maintenance of these roads may be the responsibility of the Federal Government, but it is our people who use them. It is the responsibility of the State government to ensure adequate liaison with the Federal Government and ensure the road is done. When I was the Federal Minister of Specials duties in 2003, I ensured that Enugu State got the approval of N500 million for roads in Enugu. As a governor, I will deploy my convening powers to ensure we get what is due to us. Our plan is to ensure the accelerated rehabilitation of the roads as we will develop the 9th Mile Corner into a transport and logistics hub with an ancillary hub at Obollo-Afor to facilitate the movement of goods and persons, thereby opening further commercial activities and investments in the region.
NAIRAMETRICS: What are your plans to reduce the tuition fee burden of students in state schools and their parents, especially with the current inflationary trends facing Nigerians now?
Frank Nweke Jr: This is something I have promised to look into. Beyond a review of tuition fees, I am interested in the upgrade of the infrastructure that currently exists in these institutions. The structural fidelity of the buildings in the Institute of Management and Technology (IMT) is highly compromised. The living conditions in the School of Nursing are deplorable. How do we expect a nurse to have compassion after being trained in inhumane conditions?
We will work to greatly improve the quality of the learning environment in these schools. I am also interested in the curriculum and the integrity of the faculty. It is sad to know that the Enugu State University of Technology (ESUT) was recently rated as the 10th worst university in Nigeria. This will not be the case under my watch.
We will facilitate technology inclusion in the state to educate and re-tool this potential workforce for the 21st century and embed a digital literacy and skills development framework in education and professional development that will lead to acquiring globally benchmarked competencies. Ultimately, we want to leverage the existing clusters of educational institutions to accelerate the emergence of a youthful, digitally native and highly skilled technical talent pool that power innovation and attracts high-tech businesses.
Very well done Omono, your questions were bold, straight and people centred.