by Chris Okoye
The governor asked rhetorically at the Aka Ikenga event: “Has this exodus, which includes quite a number of indigent people with no talents, to do with an awful lack of human resources in the area? Has it to do with the absence of natural resources in their place?
The most celebrated news item published about the silver jubilee celebration of Aka Ikenga, the respected think tank of the Igbo community in Lagos, is the unreserved public apology to the Igbo people by Lagos State governor, Mr. Babatunde Fashola for the relocation of some people of Igbo origin from Lagos to Anambra State last July on the grounds that they were beggars abandoned in the streets of Lagos. The relocation generated a serious public relations challenge to the governor who had hitherto been the darling of all sections of our huge and heavily divided nation for his transformative achievements. The apology would have nipped in the bud all the divisive controversy if it had been rendered early enough.
All the same, like all Igbo, I accept the apology wholeheartedly.
However, I have noticed that most Igbo seem just satisfied that the governor has just apologized for the action of his government, a very rare thing for Nigerian rulers to do. Can we imagine what General Ibrahim Babangida would have gained as a person—and where Nigeria would have been today—if he had apologized for the annulment of the June 12, 1993, presidential election? Well, this is a matter for another day.
Like the media, the Igbo people who have responded to Fashola’s apology seem to have glossed over a most important component of the governor’s speech, that is, the imperative to establish why large numbers of Igbo people are leaving their geopolitical zone for other parts of the country. The governor asked rhetorically at the Aka Ikenga event: “Has this exodus, which includes quite a number of indigent people with no talents, to do with an awful lack of human resources in the area? Has it to do with the absence of natural resources in their place?
Has the phenomenon to do with natural disasters or epidemics like cholera? The answer to each of these questions is a resounding no. The answer, of course, must be located in basically one thing: the ongoing poor governance of the South East which is fast turning the place into an economic desert, resulting in large numbers of our people becoming economic refugees in all parts of the country. Poor governance has not been our lot.
Otherwise, we would not have given Nigeria its first industrial estates and its first indigenous bank as well as its first university, among other great achievements. It is a shame that our political class has been underperforming, and our people are not asking questions because they have taken the excellent concept of self- development too far.
On Thursday, September 19, 2013 I gave a talk to the 2nd Media Summit of the South East of Nigeria Union of Journalists on how the media could serve as a catalyst for socio-economic development in the zone. It was an event organized in conjunction with Gregory University in Abia State and attended by such development conscious persons as Professor Bart Nnaji, chairman of Geometric Power Ltd who is also the immediate past Minister of Power. I accepted the invitation because I recognize the agenda setting role of the media in the world. I was invited to speak on this occasion in my capacity as the chairman of the steering committee of the South East Nigeria Economic Commission (SENEC).
SENEC seeks the reinvigoration of South East development. The former Eastern Nigerian Region is reputed to have the fastest growing economy in the world by 1966 when Nigeria’s first military coup took place. This feat owed to, among other factors, the establishment of West Africa’s foremost cement factory at Nkalagu, Nigeria’s first industrial estates at Emene, Enugu, and at Trans Amadi in Port Harcourt, the steel industry at Emene, the gas factory at Emene, glass factories in Port Harcourt and Aba, Standard Shoe Factory in Owerri, Aba Textile Mill, Golden Guinea Brewery in Umuahaia, etc. In addition, there were Nigerian Construction and Furniture and Company (NCFC), the Eastern Nigerian Development Corporation (ENDC), the Obudu Cattle Ranch, stunningly successful farm settlements. Onitsha had West Africa’s largest market.
Hotel Presidential, whether in Enugu or Port Harcourt, was of international standard. Products of the University of Nigeria with campuses in Nsukka, Enugu and Calabar were competing favourably with their counterparts the world over. These institutions were propelled by the Eastern Nigerian Development Corporation; similar to what SENEC is attempting to do in South East region. The state-owned enterprises (SENEC) among them regularly posted huge profits and accordingly paid impressive dividends. Compare this development with the current situation where almost all government owned enterprises, including the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), have failed woefully.
If not for the military intervention in politics and the consequent civil war of 1967-70, Eastern Nigeria would have long been in the league of Singapore, Malaysia, Brazil, South Korea, Taiwan, and Hong Kong. This would have been possible because Nigeria was then practicing proper federalism where each regional government was fully in charge of its destiny and even had foreign offices in such places as the United Kingdom. Let me quickly add here that the First Republic remains the golden era in Nigeria’s development, and this explains why the Igbo campaigned at the Constitutional Conference of 1994/5 for the division of the country into six geopolitical zones and for the zones to be the federating units. It is a tribute to the enduring vision of the Igbo that though the present Constitution does not provide for geopolitical zones, Nigeria is, in reality, today governed on the basis of the geopolitical zones to the extent that there is a minister in the Federal Government representing each of the zones.
States have been created in Nigeria since 1967 ostensibly to bring development nearer to the people. But the truth is that the more states are created, the lesser the rate of development. This should not be surprising to discerning observers. States were created for the first time for purely political reasons, and not for economic or developmental reasons. When they were created in 1967, it was with the sole purpose of defeating Biafra because the authors wanted the ethnic minorities in the Eastern Region to become “independent of Igbo domination”. The reason for creating states subsequently has never gone beyond politics.
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