The Executive Governors,
Re: The South-East Economy In a Post-oil and Restructured Nigeria
I hope it’s not too late to extend my hearty congratulations on your recent re-elections! Well. It’s been a couple of months now since you stood in front of our people and repeated those solemn oaths. The vow to lead and protect. Though some may argue that the processes that foisted you were far from free and fair, the facts still remain that you are now custodians of sacred mandates. The mandates to pilot the affairs of Ndigbo in a way that we can at least dare dream for a better future, having lost so many years to the locust. Am sure during those formative years, your Excellencies may not have been the best brains or the most gifted hands in the mix. Your wildest dreams may not have taken you anywhere close to this mountain top. But here you are today, chosen to lead among men. As a people with deep rooted belief in the omnipotence of Chukwuokikeabiama, I think it’s safe to say the divine lent a hand in your ascent.
I seek to address your Excellencies today for two reasons. One, as the group entrusted to lead an estimated 40 million Ndigbo, whose destinies and experiences in this country are inextricably interwoven. Two, by virtues of these positions you now occupy, only you at this moment have the powers to position the South-East region on the path of sustainable economic development and prosperity.
It is needless to say that we are living in challenging times. Not only is Nigeria tethering on the precipice, our region, where you hold sway and are undeniably the biggest players, is facing a monumental socio-economic and political crisis. Before you jump the gun, I would caution that the premise of this letter is not to recite our litany of woes. We have had enough of that already.
Your Excellencies, I put it to you without equivocation that today, Ndigbo as a group is punching far below her weight. The existing infrastructure in our various States cannot even support artisans, let alone provide the impetus for the desperately needed industrial base to survive a post-oil Nigeria.
You will agree with me that the restructuring of this entity called Nigeria is on the horizon. Most policy experts are unanimous in the belief that it’s the only option left if a post-oil Nigeria will continue to exist. And so it’s no more a question of if, but when. Abuja knows this too well, even as she drags her feet and continues to live off of the last proceeds coming from the black gold. The question is: How are your Excellencies preparing our region for a post-oil and restructured Nigeria?
Late last year, some of our nation’s brightest minds converged in Lagos, under the auspices of the Pastor Poju Oyemade-led “The Platform”. It was to jaw-jaw on the way forward for a nation in crisis. The topic of the convergence was “Redesigning the Nigerian Economy With New Ideas”. One of the highlight was the Question and Answer session that featured the current Lagos State governor, Mr. Babajide Sanwo-Olu. The audience followed with excitement as he clearly laid out short, medium and long term plans on how Lagos is positioning for the future. He went from detailing his plan on decongesting the perennial Lagos traffic to issuing a recipe to promoting quality education. He explained how Lagos will be introducing electronic tracking devices to monitors teachers attendance in schools and how his government has taken delivery of modern commuter trains. It’s no secret that the South-West already plays host to more than its proportionate share of small, medium and large scale industries in Nigeria. The region remains the favoured destination of new capital in the country. The South-West is seriously marching forward to the future.
It’s no doubt that Ndigbo parades many of the best brains and world class intellectuals. Even at the said event, our own Professor Chukwuma Soludo and ex-Governor Peter Obi delivered powerful speeches and offered sound prescriptions on the way forward for the Nigerian economy. We are a people with an unending quest for creativity and who are known for our ingenuity. We exhibit an uncommon can-do spirit. But it seems that’s all there is for us today. Since the return to civil rule in 1999, how many new industries have called the South-East home? Have you ever stopped to wonder what happened to Aba, our commercial city that was once the hub of local technology and innovation in the West African sub-region? How come little Asaba has an airport yet Onitsha, with its famed large volume of businesses, has none? I could go on and on but am sure you get the point. How are you our governors planning for the future of our region on the eve of the restructuring of Nigeria?
Your Excellencies, I put it to you without equivocation that today, Ndigbo as a group is punching far below her weight. The existing infrastructure in our various States cannot even support artisans, let alone provide the impetus for the desperately needed industrial base to survive a post-oil Nigeria. As I write you, the only international airport serving our estimated 40 million people has been closed down for repair for months now, as we continue to hope that at some point it will reopen for business. The economic toll involved can only be imagined. Our interstate road network is so horrible that it cripples economic activities between our sister states. The security challenges are so high in the region that even our own people would rather stay on a foreign soil than come home to invest in our land. I’m sure you will argue that those are federal roads and that Abuja is in charge of the airports, as well as control of the existing security apparatus, all of which are true. But that is only if you believe that Ndigbo cannot do anything as a people without going cap-in-hand begging for help from Abuja. With effective and purposeful leadership, we can construct our own interstate highways, provide water-tight security and even build an additional airport if need be, without having to wait on an unfriendly and overburdened Federal Government of Nigeria. Now is the time to start cutting loose from the shackles of overdependence. Of course, no one said the challenges will be small. Not at all. But we have taken on bigger things. We are still the same people who fought an existential war that took all we had and yet in no time we successfully rebuilt to become one of the biggest middle class societies in the world. It’s very clear to us that government can’t solve all our problems. What we are asking from you is to create an enabling environment where our vibrant private sector can step in and roar. The only thing we are waiting for at this point is your badly needed leadership.
Our current situation demands a clear vision and concerted effort. We need to harness best practices to increase internally generated revenues (IGR) and foster productive collaborations between the governments of South-Eastern states. It may interest you to know that you are leading a population a little more than that of Canada and four times bigger than that of the state of Israel. Even Ghana, our next door neighbour, is a country of just 30 million people, yet they have gone on to do greater things. Truth is there is nothing we cannot do as a people here in Igboland, if your Excellencies are ready to lead the way.
Our region was once blessed with selfless and visionary leaders. Men like M.I Okpara and Chief Sam Mbakwe. Little wonder their memories are still constantly invoked and their deeds referred to many years after the facts. Today’s visionless and self-centered leadership is hanging on our neck like an albatross. Many of our elected officials, through misappropriation and in the name of security votes, have bilked the region dry and amassed ridiculous personal fortunes that leave them with no joy and rest of mind. We rent crowds to reaffirm support for every bad administration and sing praises of the hollowest achievements. We ignore our best minds and endorse touts and criminals to represent us, just because they helped with our nefarious agenda. We move around in convoys of more than a dozen luxury automobiles, blaring sirens and disturbing the peace, when many of our young people are roaming the streets jobless. Do we care to know how they really feel or we are just relying on the reassuring words from our bevy of sycophants? The moment we step into office, we start plotting to be the next vice president of Nigeria or how to secure a seat in the Red Chamber after our terms are served out. Of course, no one is against anyone pursuing their dreams. It’s your God given rights. But it should never be at the risk of sabotaging the future of millions of our people. Your Excellencies, we watch with dismay and great indignation as your personal ambitions, for the most part, colour your political calculuses to the detriment of our people. The time for reckoning is not too far away!
We humbly suggest that you, as a matter of urgency, set up such a body to come up with an economic blueprint to position our region for the future. We strongly emphasise inter-state cooperation as a matter of necessity to be able to take on certain broader and capital intensive developmental projects needed to move the region forward.
As deplorable as some of the actions are, it will be unfair to just single you out for blame or lump you all together. Truth be told, some of you, past and present, have gone on to do great things with what you have. You know yourselves and no point in calling names. The caterpillars of our commonwealth know themselves too. No need pointing fingers. To the extent that you are reflective of the horrific value system of the current society that produced you, we are all part of the problem. For much have been said of every society getting the leadership it deserves. That said, times are changing and the clock is ticking fast.
Creation of a South-East Regional Economic Development Council.
We humbly suggest that you, as a matter of urgency, set up such a body to come up with an economic blueprint to position our region for the future. We strongly emphasise inter-state cooperation as a matter of necessity to be able to take on certain broader and capital intensive developmental projects needed to move the region forward. We will also recommend that you select two persons from each State to be part of that body. One of such persons, we believe, should be an economic expert, while the other is a policy expert, all with proven track records.
The terms of reference should be made to address the following:
How to improve existing or establish new inter-state roads and other critical infrastructure necessary to ensuring the seamless movement of goods and services across our state lines.
The best way to come up with an incentive to promote a private sector-driven industrialisation policy. Ndigbo cannot survive a post-oil Nigeria without a solid industrial base.
Exploring energy alternatives outside of the national grid. A new industrial revolution will be almost impossible with the current power situation in Nigeria.
Proposing effective ways of tackling security challenges complementary to what obtains at the moment. Progress and prosperity is impossible in an atmosphere of insecurity.
LEAD NDIGBO TO UNLEASH OUR LIMITLESS PRIVATE SECTOR POTENTIALS AND CREATE THE MOST VIBRANT ECONOMY IN SUB-SAHARAN AFRICA.
These are the critical areas we believe your Excellencies should give priority. Obviously this is only but our humble contribution to the ongoing discussions. We all know our region is full of men with far superior intellect and better ideas than just stated. Nonetheless, we challenge you to reorient your goals and focus for the common good. Personal success cannot insulate you from the failures of your society and the joy of material things is only but temporal. True and lasting happiness comes from service to humanity. Today we will remind you to honour your vows; to lead and to protect the Igbo nation.
God bless you all and may our future be worthy of our dream.
Dr. Osy Agbo
P.S: This letter was written on Monday, January 27, 2020. It’s been exactly one year since the letter was written and aside from the inauguration of the Alaigbo Stabilisation Fund by the former president-general of Ohaneze Ndigbo, Chief John Nnia Nwodo, not much has changed. Most of the issues raised, including insecurity, continue to dominate discussions, with no indication that a coordinated regional response championed by the South-East governors is on the horizon.
The leadership vacuum in the zone is being given as the reason for the formation of the Eastern Security Network (ESN), a para-military outfit of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) with the goal to combat the menace of external threats and aggression, according to the Biafran separatist group. The recent violent clash between the Nigerian State security apparatus and ESN in Orlu, Imo State, resulting in fatalities may prove to just be a tip of the proverbial ice berg of what is to come if our leaders do not rise to the occasion.
Osmund Agbo, a public affairs analyst is the coordinator of African Center for Transparency and Convener of Save Nigeria Project. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org