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From May 29, most governments in Nigeria would earn a Begin Again as they prepare for a four-year life programme. It takes four years to earn a bachelor’s degree that serves as a ticket for life for most citizens. What would the governments of the South East be able to do for their citizens in four years?
Four years is a significant period. In four years, the late De Sam Mbakwe accomplished so much in the old Imo State in education (Imo State University), agriculture, rural industrialisation, infrastructure of water schemes and electricity and more. Chief Jim Nwobodo did the same in Anambra State with the first state university of technology where Professor Mobisson led a team to develop home grown computers. In Lagos, Alhaji Lateef Kayode Jakande laid the foundation of today’s Lagos. I was recently at a retreat in Badagry and just as we drove in, I told my colleagues this must be a Jakande legacy. So it was: a well-laid out rest house with ample groundsto which the government is adding a hotel with conferencing facilities.
What would happen in the South East? We will be tackling this question here. Ahead of that, readers on social media have been pointing me to our thoughts last year as the foundation for this fresh thinking. I thought therefore to refresh and then go forward.
Exploring and activating The Awka Exposition
Many challenges confront the South East as Nigeria approaches the 20th year of its Fourth Republic. It is essential in the view of this column to tackle first the internal matters rather than the focus on the external that has characterised engagement on the Igbo challenge. For the Igbo today and into the foreseeable future, charity must begin at home.
We have noted that the Awka Declaration has within its prescriptions an opportunity for the South East to take its own medicine. Commence the process of registering persons who have spent a minimum of 10 years in states other than their ancestral roots within the South East as citizens of where they reside. It strengthens the case for national adoption of the recommendation of citizenship by residency canvassed by Ohanaeze Ndigbo.
Distinguished economist and thought leader Charles Soludo set a new benchmark with his characterisation of the Igbo as a global race. His 2017 Awka Exposition used the term race as a positive social and cultural construct for a people. Many possibilities arise from that descriptor and the mindset that it should engender.
South East states should pursue regional economic integration. The South East should do all that is necessary to position and establish as the Start-Up Region of Nigeria, with Anambra as a lodestar. From Onitsha through Nnewi, to Awka and Aba, this can quickly happen if the Governors focus on providing enablers in policy, infrastructure, integration and linkages. As the National Competitiveness Council of Nigeria noted in its recent report, infrastructure is fundamental to enabling growth and development.
How productive are the South East states with their endowments and the factors of production they can provide or attract? It is about competitiveness, innovation and productivity. It is about managing the micro-economic factors that each state controls within the broader macroeconomic environment of the country. States through their policies and actions influence the operations, innovativeness and expansive capacity of businesses in their domains. As it stands, the statistics are promising. Three of the five states of the region fall within the Top Ten in the sub-national competitiveness rankings released in November 2017 by the National Competitiveness Council of Nigeria. The key drivers of competitiveness are human capital, infrastructure, institutions and economy.
Human capital looks at education, healthcare, and ability to attract external human capital. The scores see Enugu leading at number 3 nationally. Anambra places 4th, Abia 8, Ebonyi 11 and Imo 21. The overall scores on the sub-national scale see Abia at 3, Enugu, 8; Ebonyi, 10; Anambra, 1 and 1mo, 28.
Science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) are critical to enable the South East to overcome the disadvantages of policy and geography over the years. The states must develop and integrate a strategic map on developing capacities in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. Start with increasing the number of science and technology institutions at the secondary school level.
Power is next. In this age, power is a critical enabler. The South East should be articulating a plan to pluck the low-hanging fruit in the new policy direction of the Nigeria Electricity Regulatory Commission on mini-grids that says groups can work on independent power projects up to 1MW capacity (NERC Minigrid regulation2016). Power must be to the South East what acquisition of western education was in the 1920s through to independence. The region entered an original race in pursuit of the golden fleece. Communities taxed and tasked themselves to build schools, grant scholarships and do whatever was needful to produce the educated workforce for the new economy.
The need has arisen again, this time in developing capacity in power generation. STEM is impossible without power. Focus on ICT is impossible without power. Communities and groups must mobilise to take advantage of the new policy environment to #PowertheSouthEast or #LightUpTheSouthEast.
What is in place to make Akulueno more than an emotional appeal? Those to whom Governors and leaders direct the call work with verifiable indices as entrepreneurs. They want to be able to see policies and procedures that would make investment sense.
There should now be closer collaboration between the merchant class and the educated class in the South East. When our firms, mostly medium and small scale, collaborate with scientists, engineers, mathematicians and liberal arts scholars in the many universities in the East they would identify and solve significant problems. The synergy of the Big Corporates and SMEs with the academia could unleash Ogbunigwe Version2 or the reinvention of science and technology in Eastern Nigeria.