“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood”.

This article was inspired, in part, by a heated exchange I had with a good friend of mine, a few days ago. The subject of the kerfuffle was a report published by the National Bureau of Statistics that shows Enugu as one of the only two states in the South-East with a poverty rate higher than the national average. With the rate standing at a dissapointing 58.13 per cent, the coal city state is only fairing slightly better than Ebonyi with 79.76 per cent.

In some way, we might understand a bit why the two are lagging behind other sister states with the advantage of an earlier exposure to Western civilisation. But to be clear, it is jarring to even contemplate that any State in Igboland, with our legendary spirit of enterprise, could fall into such a pitiful category, to say the least. Someone once joked that the rank and file of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) are mostly populated by an army of barely literate and perennially jobless youths. That in essence means that our very republican South-East Nigeria also habours her own equivalent of the Almajiris that could readily be exploited for political gains. This is not only shameful but utterly inconceivable and could only be explained by many years lost to the locust.

As the chief executive officer of the State, I could see why a governor may share in the blame. However, in my friend’s warped world, every fly that dies in Enugu has got to be Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi’s fault and nothing could be further from the truth. When you call the governor a despot or use such unflattering word like ‘arrogant’, one could only conclude that you either haven’t had the opportunity to get to know the man or you are just making a conscious effort to malign his person. In my opinion, he is arguably the most humble political leader of his stature you will ever meet, dead or alive.

To my friend’s point, the sobering NBS report is not the news we both wanted to hear of our beloved State. It is, however, very hard to imagine that the actions that precipitated such ranking were taken only these past few years of this administration. You don’t need to be a Harvard-trained policy and strategy expert to decipher that the effects of long term fiscal policies/planning or the lack of it, takes years to materialise. Any suggestion to the contrary is not only disingenuous but outrightly mischievious.

We had pointed out on more than one occasion that what Ndi Enugu needs now is not to be trapped in the cycle of an endless blame game that saps every productive energy there is. What is required at this moment is for all stakeholders (government, citizens, the private sector) to come together and queue behind a solid neo-economic blueprint to face the fiscal challenges that lie ahead. A good way to start may demand that the governor and his team come up with both short and long term economic goals. Optimising our agricultural capabilities needs a special mention in this regard, given that it is one of the least capital intensive ventures with the highest potential to spur growth in a very short period of time. It will also help mobilise a sizable proportion of our young people, who are either unemployed or underemployed.

According to the NBS data, none of the five South-East states made it to the top ten in terms of tax revenue generated in the first half of fiscal year 2019. This is quite disconcerting, given the dwindling federal allocation to the states. Enugu will need to double down on her internally generated revenue (IGR) effort to be able to pay her bills and stay solvent, going forward.

It’s worthy of note, however, that the state under Ugwuanyi is one of the early adopters of the Treasury Single Account (TSA), as well as the direct bank lodgment system. This has reflected positively on the IGR figures of the State, which has risen progressively from about N14 billion in 2016 to N22 billion in late 2018. It also helps that the governor chose Prince Emeka Odo, a seasoned technocrat who had spent many years in the banking sector as the chairman of the State’s Internal Revenue Service (ESIRS).

Industrialisation is another area that needs great attention. Enugu State, like others in the South-East, needs, as a matter of urgency, an agressive plan for rapid industrialisation. This is not just a matter of necessity but the only way our region will continue to meet the economic challenges of the future in a post-oil Nigeria, with restructuring on the horizon. We made this case passionately in our widely circulated open letter to the South-East governors published in the Sun newspaper of Monday, January 27.

The Ugwuanyi administration should lead the charge and position Enugu as a favoured destination of new capital. By this we are not suggesting to go back to the old days of state run enterprises like AVOP Nnachi or Aluminium factory at Ohebe-Dim, both of which proved to be monumental failures. The role of the government should be limited to creating a conducive environment, as well as providing the regulatory oversight necessary for the private sector to thrive. States in the western world have utilised different kinds of tax incentives and methods designed to cut through the red tapes in an effort to attract potential investors.

Other measures that will help arrest our fiscal challenges would target reduction in the cost of governance, with its suffocating impact on our regional economy. A spending pattern that is biased against capital projects is inimical to growth and development and invariably promotes wastage and inefficiency. In the same vein, tackling the crippling influence of pervasive identity politics will help field our best eleven in leadership positions. This is very crucial to our success. Human capital development is, without doubt, a very important area to pay attention to if we are to stay competitive in the emerging global economy.

Those are the issues Ndi Enugu need to be focusing on. This kind of discussion I believe would yield more dividends than launching a barrage of ad hominem attacks against the person of the governor or his administration. Such has a tendency to distract us from facing the serious business of the day. We have seen quite a few of such lately and it’s incumbent upon everyone of us to play our little positive part where possible to improve the fortunes of our state and our people.

Freedom of speech is so paramount to the working of a democracy, which is why it was the first out of the ten amendments to the United States’ Constitution (the Nigerian presidential system by the way was modeled after it), as ratified in 1791. The framers knew that the health of a republic is dependent on the right of her citizens to freely express an opinion without fear of retribution. That said, your right as a citizen ends where another person’s own begins. The implication of such being that when you go about throwing innuendos and assasinating characters, even if it’s that of elected officials, the law doesn’t offer you such a protection.

We should, as a matter of necessity, begin to practice constructive criticism and at the same time fight the temptation to go personal. For in the end said Theodore Roosevelt:

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood”.

It is our sincere hope that we all join hand and stay focused as we tackle the onerous task ahead. May our future be worthy of our dreams.

Osmund Agbo is the president/CEO of the African Center for Transparency.