As the saying goes; “a road once traveled, can always be traveled again”. In the first Republic, under the leadership of Drs. Akanu Ibiam and Michael Okpara, the then Eastern Region was economically self-sustaining, building upon the foundation laid by the colonial masters.
For the region to get back to the successes of the first republic, it must strive to be a player in the current global economic dispensation, where trade borders are seamless, technology is cheap, and venture capitalists – both local and foreign – are aplenty.
To be able to know where you are going, you have to know where you are coming from, how to get there, and what you need to get to your destination. In the case of the Igbos of Southeastern Nigeria, it is obvious where they are coming from, economically.
Where Are Igbos Coming from?
Today, the region is badly in need of good governance, reliable infrastructure, rail system and seaports, steady water and power supply, agricultural and manufacturing industries, security, improved educational infrastructures and modernized academic curriculum, agricultural, bio-medical and scientific research facilities, a stable government across the region, and business-friendly laws.
Where Are Igbos Going?
In terms economic development, Igbos would want, and do desire, to be at par with countries like Taiwan, Hong Kong, Israel, and Singapore, just to name a few. The four factors of production – resources, labor, capital, and entrepreneurial spirit - are in abundant supply in the region. What is lacking is a vision and a mission to better harness these factors, a strategy or plan to implement that mission to achieve that vision. The big question is: does Igbos have the stomach and determination to embark on this arduous task of economic development? If the will is not there, the way will not be there either.
What do Igbos Need to Get There?
First, you have to know what you have to be able to identify what you need. In terms of natural resources, the region is abundantly blessed. Underground in the five Southeastern states of Nigeria and parts of Edo and Delta states lay the following natural resources and their uses:
1. Salt: is used universally as a seasoning
2. Gold: monetary exchange, investment, jewelry, medicine, food & drink (vitamin E), industry, electronics, coloring
3. Lead: used for automobiles, mostly as electrodes in the lead-acid battery, It is used in solder for electronics
4. Zinc: The metal is most commonly used as an anti-corrosion agent, as a white pigment in paints, and as a catalyst in the manufacture of rubber.
5. Gypsum: used as a finish for walls and ceilings, like cement blocks in building construction, fertilizer & soil conditioner, surgical plaster ingredient, a major source of dietary calcium, mushroom cultivation, dough conditioner, shampoos and conditioners.
6. Coal: power generation as fuel or for cooking, chemical fertilizers and other chemical products.
7. Limestone: main raw material in cement and mortar manufacture, for road construction, in glass making, used in paper, plastics, toothpaste, paint, tiles as either cheap fillers or white pigment, in sculptures, petroleum reservoirs.
8. Phosphate: Inorganic phosphates are mined to obtain phosphorus for use in agriculture and industry.
9. Lignite: brown coal for power generation in coal plants
10. Marcasite: used to make or coat jewelry
11. Iron-ore: main source of metallic and steel iron,
12. Clay: for medical (anti-diarrheal) and agricultural uses, as building materials
All of these natural resources could be developed to any stage desired for either local use or exported to generate revenues; what is lacking is strong commitment by the people and governments, and the requisite vehicle to drive a development plan.
Southeastern Nigeria Development Corporation (SENDC)
The first step would be for the southeastern governors, industrialists, and academicians locally and in Diaspora to commit to the following:
1. Agree on a proposal to set up and fund a Southeastern development trust corporation.
2. For the state governments and legislators to agree on a certain percentage of the states’ monthly federal allocation as contribution for regional economic development
3. For industrialists to, equally, agree to contribute a certain percentage of their net profits to this development fund.
4. Academics to commit to drawing up a technical education master plan, and the establishing of vocational training departments/schools in state universities to be funded by indigent banks and other financial institutions.
5. For all stakeholders to agree on setting up a well-represented corporation to draw up and implement an economic development plan for Igboland, something akin to NDDC.
6. A broad-based and effective public relations/publicity campaign structure that will be responsible for promoting the benefits of doing business in Igboland
As the saying goes: “if you build it, they will come”; apart from a quick return on their investments, investors look for ease of entry into any market, unencumbered movement of capital (funds), uninterrupted access to internet technology, accurate and on-time information, and ease of exit. The existence of cheap modern technology has made it possible for any government, region or community to put in place the technological resources required for efficient and effective conduct of business in any part of Nigeria. Governments of the Southeastern zone must ensure the following:
1. Removal or relaxation of restrictive international business laws, and replacing them with business-friendly ones which would include tax breaks for certain class of investors, generous lease agreements, build-operate-transfer (BOT) joint-venture agreements, ease of purchase/financing/sale of business entities, ease of issuance of investment and/or partnership licenses.
2. A safe and secure environment devoid of fear of armed robbery, kidnapping, financial fraud, economic sabotage, disruptions and intimidation by community groups and powerful political figures
3. Steady power and water supply, efficient telecommunication and internet services; independent power-generating and switching capacity
4. Good rural and urban inter-connecting roads and bridges, airport/airline, seaports, and rail systems for timely, effective and cost-efficient movement of raw materials, finished goods and labor force.
5. Assurances of commitment to prudent fiscal management, and transparency in dealings with investors.
6. Establishment of a business ethics watchdog responsible for resolution of problems with host communities.
In Igboland today, there is abundance of venture capitalists and investor, locally and in Diaspora; New business and investment consulting experts; abundance of cheap but educated labor force, and a highly trained technical and vocational workforce within the zone. Equally not lacking is a requisite entrepreneurial zeal – the willingness and commitment to take a risk at success – among the people of the zone.
These days, governments are incapable of doing everything alone; governments and the governed frequently come together to create a third vehicle – public/private partnerships - for the development of a community, state, region, or nation. For Igbos to get to where they want to be, we must take the bull by the horn, set a developmental goal and timetable for our land, and make the necessary sacrifices required to achieve that goal. It takes planning, time, and commitment from everyone.
Mr. Felix Oti (B.Sc. Econs)
Principal Partner: Oti & Associates, PC.
(Income Tax, Personal Finances, Business Development Strategies)
Member: National Association of Business Economics (USA); American Economists Association; National Economics Association (USA)