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Published On: Thu, Feb 1st, 2018

How South-East can recover industrial pace

Chimeziri Franklin

Igboland — the South-East and a half of the South-South was once ahead of China in industrialization and also one of the fastest growing regional economies in the world. How can this displaced land once again start to rapidly transform to an industrialized society – a land of job and higher income opportunities, a land where majority of South-Easterners will prefer to live, work and invest?

No doubt, agriculture and industry will continue to be the zone’s economic base and hope. Igbo thinking should therefore be on how to get the best out of each of them. Education is a key input in agricultural and industrial development. The seed or raw material, the soil or factory, and the process or technique as well as the machinery and power system are products of education. For a start, the educational system should be purged of teachers who participate in exam fraud and administrators who grant schools undeserved accreditation. And the schools should be tooled with several harvesting blades for catching talents that are ripe for processing into scientists and engineers that can drive the agricultural and industrial revolutions.

After finishing from a technical/vocational school, Igbo youths should be able to assemble and repair the machines they use every day such as lamps, computers, mobile phones, TV sets, fridges, air-conditioners and fans. Fabrication of desks and waste disposal bins can also be done in secondary school workshops. Higher research and development (R&D) achievements are expected of polytechnics and universities.

One of the extra blades with which schools could catch young talents into the technocratic pool is the school clubs. Prolific American inventor Dean Karmen introduced one of such clubs; an engineering mentoring club called FIRST and through it achieved remarkable breakthroughs. One of the breakthroughs was in the life of a gangster at age eight who had already survived stabbings and was a D student in every subject. FIRST came, engineers working with high school students and creating robots and other interesting things – and the gangster boy developed a strong desire to create problem-solving things everyone can see. So he had to work at his math, sciences and English. He dropped out of the gang and climbed to the highest grades. Then the vision of earning a master’s degree in mechanical engineering opened for him.

Dean Karmen got all the money with which he established his engineering R&D company from his own earnings as an inventor. But not all entrepreneurs can have a start-off without help. Governments usually step in when they identify budding entrepreneurs that need a little help in the areas of training, education, financing and or materials. South-East governments should give assistance to young entrepreneurs with realizable proposals.

Like education, transport infrastructure such as good roads and functional airports (river port and seaports too) also is a great necessity for transforming the economic status of Igboland.  Easier movement of people and products to and from markets in the zone and beyond will encourage investors.

Where will South-East governments find enough money for all these? There are three financial helps for them. The first of helps is in the competitive investment drive often called ease of doing business initiatives.  Investors are not enticed by more difficult environments, but by more conducive and more favourable environments. Now, increased investment is the only guarantee of economic growth as well as modernization and that’s why you hear that a government is providing security or enforcing contracts and sometimes making land acquisition or registration faster to encourage investments that can make a difference in their territories. Lagos and Ogun states are racing towards ease-of-doing-business reforms to attract more investment and provide desired levels of opportunities of comfort for their populations and the South-East states should not be left behind.

The second financial help to governments is private public partnership (PPP). A PPP is defined by cooperative arrangement between two or more public sectors and private sectors. According to Wikipedia, governments use PPP to avoid borrowing and “to harness the expertise and efficiencies that the private sector can bring to the delivery of certain facilities and services traditionally procured and delivered by the public sector.”

The third financial help to South-East governments is integration first of the five South-East states and then of the South-East and the neighbouring South-South, more or less recovering the entire territory and opportunities of the defunct Eastern Region for the accelerated progress of all the component states. Economies of scale have benefitted countless societies everywhere I look, thereby positioning integration as a win-win strategy for nations as well as regional or sub-national bodies. Integration has been embraced by the nineteen-state Northern Governors Forum as well as by the six-state South-West Governors Forum. The nineteen Northern states collectively own a company known as the Northern Nigeria Development Corporation and have added a Commodity Marketing Agency — for the collective progress of their peoples. Likewise, Yoruba governors have, in defiance of partisan differences, merged Lagos State investment authority Ibile Holdings with Oodua Investments, a conglomerate worth over N70billion. In addition, they had jointly set up a commission that seeks to “mobilize the collective strengths, assets and capabilities lying within the states of the South-West towards improved well-being for the people of the region.”

In summary, agriculture and industry remain the South-East’s stay and hope of reaching industrialization’s Promised Land. But they must be accompanied by infrastructure expansion and upgrades, not only in the transport sector but in areas of education and training. The financial challenge has been outlined. Also provided are the financial opportunities which are in ease-of-doing-business, in PPP and in regional integration. If all the opportunities are utilized, the Igbo sun will surely shine again.

Chimeziri Franklin, a historian and marketer, lives in Lagos.

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