Harnessing the Rich Economic Potentials of South Eastern Nigeria As Oil Price Drops By Onyebuchi Ogbaegbe
South Eastern Nigeria is made up of an ethnic nationality known as the Igbo’s; with a total land area of about 15,800 square miles (about 41,000 square kilometers). The region currently has 5 states – Abia, Anambra, Ebonyi, Enugu and Imo States with a population of over 20 million. Their common language is Igbo language with majority of them Christians. Their kiths and kin could be found in Delta, Rivers, Bayelsa, Edo, Akwa- Ibom and Cross Rivers States.
A people known for their enterprise, resilience and a great deal of intelligence. The average Igbo man is entrepreneurial, dogged and very industrious. These qualities give the Igbo man an edge over his peers from other regions in Nigeria as he can survive under any condition. His creative abilities are unequalled and unimaginably breathe taking. It is usually said that Igbo’s are great travelers; they find it very easy to integrate with their host communities which could be alluded to their great sense of hard work.
The civil war that occurred in Nigeria was fought on the grounds of Eastern Nigeria between 1967-1970, an Igbo enclave. This made many young Igbo’s leave the region in droves immediately after the war in search of greener pastures.
However, 44 years after a traumatic civil war, South Eastern Region is yet to maximize her full economic potentials, a trend that needs total overhaul to make Igbo land the Dubai of Africa- it is very possible! I did a little research and I confidently discovered that all the resources we need as a people to turn around the fortunes of the economy of South Eastern Nigeria are very much within reach.
So, again, I want to take you on a journey, a journey of possibilities with boundless opportunities. A South Eastern economy that can keep our youths off the streets and crimes reduced to its barest minimum through job creation. An economy that can put smiles on the faces of great Ndigbo and help them forget the disillusionment of a lost war.
South East has the best arable land for farming in the country- It is often said that everything grows in Igbo land. The region also has comparative advantage in the production of subsistence crops like Yams, Maize, Rice, Plantain and Cassava. Cash crops like Palm Oil, Rubber, Cocoa etc are all grown in Igbo land. In this era of rising food prices, the region could potentially offer food security to Nigeria and generate export revenues. Nigeria’s food imports cost more than N684 billion as at December 2013 and South East can tap into this opportunity.
Fellow Ndigbo, Indonesia has a well balanced economy in which all major sectors play an important role. Agriculture (including animal husbandry, fishing and forestry) has historically been the dominant activity in terms of both employment and output. We can feed our people, create jobs and export even beyond the shores of Africa in large quantities.
Every state in Igbo land has the ability to produce different agricultural produce and place the region as an agro-based regional economy. To solve some of the problems bedeviling the agricultural sector, governments of the 5 South Eastern States should consider the following options;
Provision of irrigation facilities to encourage all year farming.
Well monitored distribution of fertilizers to all farmers in the region
Adopting appropriate farming techniques which can help reduce erosion problems
The distribution of insecticides and pesticides that can help control pests and diseases
Provision of interest-free Agric-loans to encourage young school leavers
Provision of machineries for hire to encourage youth’s involvement and mechanization.
The provision of modern storage facility like silos and refrigerated vehicles can help reduce the problem of storage.
Land tenure system should be reformed to allow for easy access to land
Rural areas should be provided with facilities such as water, electricity, banks etc to reduce rural-urban migration.
The use of agric extension workers to educate farmers on modern farming techniques and the use of improved seed varieties.
If all roads in the villages are tarred in South East, the agro –economy sector of the region would have been given an accelerated boost.
South East Nigeria has a large deposit of limestone, coal, zinc-ores, lignite, coke salts, columbites, tantalite etc, proper harnessing of these bountiful resources will automatically raise the bar in economic terms for South East. Coal could be used to generate electricity, we have the best limestone for cement production, our columbites and tantalite are valuable rare elements used in electronics manufacturing.
Now that crude oil price is nose diving without control, the states and federal government should collaborate to grant titles to organizations to explore, mine and sell our rich mineral resources which will generate foreign exchange for infrastructural development.
Many local and foreign investors should be encouraged to take up this challenge as leaving it untapped could be detrimental just as shale gas is creating less demand for our crude oil.
You will agree with me that the significance of micro, small and medium scale enterprises for the growth , productivity and competitiveness of the economies of a developing region like South Eastern Nigeria is universally recognized. Not only do they provide employment and income for the bulk of the population as well as the primary source of new jobs, they have been acknowledged as critical breeding and nurturing grounds for domestic entrepreneurial capacities, technical skills, technological innovativeness and managerial competencies for private sector development. The promotion and development of small and medium enterprises is therefore central to the progress of the region’s economic development.
It may also interest you to note that growth in the Brazilian economy has been fuelled by manufacturing which provide massive employment for her people.
China, a major industrial power has turned the manufacturing sector so huge to the admiration of many nations. Their human capacities come in handy to provide the necessary support and manpower needs.
In support of the development of the strategic domestic economic growth, South East Governors should appoint training institutions to which SME’s can send their employees for training with 80% government subsidy. All the 5 South East States should partner with Bank of Industry (BOI) to provide low interest loans to vibrant young entrepreneurs with realizable business proposals.
Investors do not invest out of charity; they invest where there are grounds for growth. Provision of guaranteed security and improving social infrastructure will position the region as the best bride for investors.
The manufacturing and industrial activities in Onitsha, Aba, Nnewi, Enugu, Akwete etc should be strengthened. Power is their major challenge, they need adequate capital to increase their production capacity and they equally lack adequate manpower. Basic accounting training could be provided to enable them keep proper records of their activities. Government should provide tax holidays and banish double taxation especially for new industries in the region.
Other areas of concern include building and construction sector, government should partner with private sectors to develop estates that could be affordable by both civil servants and business men and women in the region. Helping every South Easterner own a home in major cities of the region will accelerate healthy living.
Our people are generally traders, the construction of Enugu-Portharcourt Road, Enugu-Onitsha Road, Owerri –Portharcourt Road, Umuahia-Ikot-Ekpene Road, Aba-Ikot-Ekpene Road, Second Niger Bridge, Rail links from Portharcourt through Enugu to the North and the opening up of Onitsha Port by the Federal Government of Nigeria will surely unlock the economic fortunes of the region and encourage inter-regional trade. This will increase both distributions of goods within and outside the region to foster increased trade relations.
The emergence of Information and Communication Technology should be well utilized by our business community. We can now advertise and sell our goods online. Aba shoe producers now have a website as a union. This is very encouraging as other cluster groups should toe same line. We must showcase our legendry and creative excellence for the world to see.
The hospitality industry is still growing in the South East as notable Igbo sons and daughters have taught it wise to invest in this sector. A lot need to be done; the standard should be increased so that people can fly down to East to spend their vacations and holidays.
Igbo land has produced notable great sports men and women that made fortunes through sports. The youths are looking for avenues to express their youthfulness and sports provide the platform. Sporting facilities should be built in each state of the region to encourage our youths to participate fully in various national and international sporting competitions.
With the sharp decline in the prices of crude oil around the globe, occasioned mainly by U.S Shale gas production which has grown rapidly in recent months , thereby reducing market demand, It becomes obvious that diversifying the region’s economy has become paramount.
We must come back home and develop Igbo land, we must improve our local economy to attract foreign investors.
As a people, it is very pertinent to note that achieving greatness is very possible with the’ I CAN’ spirit of every Onye Igbo. It shall be well with Ndi be anyi, Igbo Amaka, anyi bu ofu. Ndewo nuoooooo!
Onyebuchi Ogbaegbe is a Public Affairs Analyst. @buchyogba
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