By Chika Onwuji

That Governor Hope Uzodimma of Imo State just won re-election is no longer news. What is on the lips of political watchers is how the All Progressives Congress (APC) candidate managed to garner as much as 540,308 votes, whereas the first runner-up, Samuel Anyanwu of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), polled 71,503 and Athan Achonu of Labour Party (LP) managed 64,081 votes.

However, those of us, who have been following some of the governor’s policies, were not taken unawares. The victory did not come to us as a surprise. He prepared for it.

The governor pulled the massive votes from Imo citizens, especially the youth population, because of his youth-centric policies. Among them is the SkillUpImo Project. The project, which resonated with the youth across the length and breadth of Imo and beyond, must have earned him the admiration, acceptance and trust of the youths, who constitute over 70 per cent of the voting population in the Eastern Heartland.

The SkillUpImo project is the magic wand waved by Uzodimma at the right time. His choice of a technocrat from Nigerian Telecommunications Commission (NCC), Dr. Chimezie Amadi, who has efficiently managed the programme to the admiration of stakeholders in the ICT sector across the country, is another banger.

SkillUpImo is the premier human capacity development programme of Uzodimma focused on empowering Imolites with cutting-edge digital skills that will keep them relevant in the 21st century. By combining hard technical skills with soft employability skills, SkillUpImo grooms well-rounded professionals, who can ply their trade at any level in the local and global digital economy. It covers entry and advanced level digital skills such as computer appreciation, device repairs and maintenance, content creation, web design and development, Internet of Things (IoT), Machine Learning (ML), Artificial Intelligence (AI), Big Data Analytics, Cybersecurity etc.

The programme aims to train 300,000 Imolites in five years, with 100,000 trained in the first year. It would also connect 60 per cent of the graduands to high-paying jobs and empower 40 per cent to be their own bosses (becoming techpreneurs and launching their own companies). With the growth of tech startups, it would attract and increase the inflow of Venture Capital (VC) funding to digital Small and Medium-sized Enterprises (SMEs) in Imo and drive ICT-enabled social economic growth, as well as increase the number of innovative products and services from the state.

Like Pharaoh sought a David to implement his laudable idea of saving the world from starvation, Uzodimma searched out Amadi to see his digital agenda through. Once Amadi came, he did not disappoint; he hit the ground running.

The first cohort of the SkillUpImo project trained and empowered 5,000 youths, the second trained and empowered 15,000 youths of Imo and beyond. For the third cohort, which is in progress, 40,000 youths are involved. That is the magic wand.

In Igboland, the vulnerable do not forget those that saved them hunger or other needs. So, the SkillUpImo beneficiaries and their families, friends and well-wishers might have decided to pay back Uzodimma’s magnanimity.

Lest I forget, with support of tech companies and other partners, the graduands are ‘settled’ (like in the Igbo apprenticeship scheme, in which the master equips the servant to start up his own trade) with laptops and other tools to stand on their own, instead of flooding the labour markets in search of elusive employment. Also, some of the SkillUpImo products are poached by tech companies and government agencies such as National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA) and others. And like India and China exports human resources to the world, the governor also plans to export some of the graduands. But some of his critics have misunderstood that gesture.

As laudable as the programme proves to be, the federal Government and other states have started copying it. The Federal Government now plans to empower Three Million Technical Talents (3MTT) in Information and Communicational Technology (ICT) by 2025, according to the Minister of Communications, Innovation and Digital economy, Bosun Tijani.

The minister said in August that as part of efforts to empower the youths in the country, the Federal Government has partnered Wema Bank to establish Micro, Small and Medium Enterprise (MSME) digital hubs in seven states.

“The centres, to be known as FGN/ALAT Digital and SkillNnovation Hub, will open first in Lagos and Borno states, with Katsina, Cross River, Anambra, Oyo and Kano to follow afterwards,” the central government added.

Many states, on their own, are also copying Imo’s digital empowerment agenda, which has won over five awards for the governor and his newest commissioner.

These policies at the state and federal levels are well-designed, well thought out, and if well-implemented, just like in Imo, will endear the youth to any administration.

Uzodimma’s reelection is something well expected because if the youth stand with you, of course, it is obvious that success is guaranteed.

Imo is now a template for good governance when it comes to developing youth-focused policies to grow the digital economy of the state.

Out of the 540,308 votes Uzodimma got, about 50 per cent of the votes might have come from the youth population, mainly direct and indirect beneficiaries of the SkillUpImo programme

Now that Uzodimma has been re-elected, he should not rest on his oars, but do more in the programme to etch his name in Imo political and economic template like the late Sam Mbakwe did. He should not relent, but invest more in the programme to make Imo a digital skills hub in Africa. Having done well so far, all that is expected, especially from the youth, is that this programme is better enhanced to yield more dividends that will encourage digital transformation and digital economic growth in the state. Uzodimma must not behave like other politicians; because he has set a standard other states are copying. He should bring in more partners to sustain the programme in the next four years.

*Onwuji wrote in from Owerri, Imo State.

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