Published On: Sun, Feb 25th, 2018

South-East: The deprived industrial achiever

 

CHIMEZIRI FRANKLIN

An industrialized, wealthy, highly urbanized and literate society is the highest level of societal development achievable by human will. It is superior to the other society in terms of job or higher income opportunities it presents. It thus attracts a lot of people from the other side who aspire to share in its good. China, India and Singapore recently became like South Africa, Germany, France and the U.S. – industrialized countries so attractive to Nigerians.

The part of Nigeria closest to an industrialized society is the South-West: Lagos-Ogun states especially. That’s where most Nigerian manufactures come from and where most imports enter Nigeria; where most Nigerian industrialists and business leaders have offices and where most Nigerian job openings occur;  where the highest paying jobs are based and where the most educated and most capable Nigerians are based; where most school-leavers and fresh graduates are heading and where most will spend their active years; where most new enterprises will spring up and where the most new millionaires will emerge.

The roads in all other parts of Nigeria lead to Lagos-Ota. South-Easterners are part of the massive migration to this Nigerian land of opportunities.

While the South-East has always looked to Lagos for opportunities, it has not always been a desperate situation. Igboland’s steps toward modernity were once more firmer. Formerly, the region held enough opportunities to keep much of its population from leaving for other regions. It was once comparable to Lagos enough to attract several Yoruba as well as Hausa-Fulani.

A single development plan once drove the entire region that is now the South-East and half of the South-South of Nigeria. The plan rested on three pillars: agriculture, mining and infrastructure with education and healthcare as enablers. Through agricultural and mining development, the region earned huge revenue as an exporter of palm oil, palm kernel, cocoa, cashew, rubber as well as coal. This revenue was re-invested in improvement of seedlings and provision of agricultural extension services and the establishment of the Eastern Region Marketing Board all of which promoted agricultural productivity.

Increased earnings afforded investment in infrastructure such as housing, roads, bridges, market-stalls, waterworks and hospitals. Thus administrative and commercial/industrial centres such as Enugu, Port Harcourt, Calabar, Owerri, Umuahia, Onitsha, Uyo and Aba rapidly grew in size, population as well as modernity. The first impetus for the emergence of the cities of Enugu and Port Harcourt was the coal industry which flourished in Enugu from about 1915.

Up until the beginning of the civil war, farm produce and solid minerals prospered the region and helped her build the high schools dotting each city, the University of Nigeria, Nsukka and Calabar campuses, Port Harcourt’s Boatyard, Trans-Amadi Industrial Estate and Michelin Tyre factory, NigerCem Nkalagu cement factory, Abakaliki Poultry farm, Calabar Cement Company, Obudu Cattle Ranch, Modern Ceramics Industry and Golden Guinea Breweries, Umuahia, Niger Steel, Enugu, Onitsha International Market, the African Continental Bank, the Cooperative Bank of Eastern Nigeria, etc.

Some of the manufacturing and service companies had depots or branches all over Eastern Nigeria and beyond. The economy also afforded the region not only fleets of automobiles like that of Ojukwu Transport Company, but other icons of modernity such as hotels, cinema, pipe-borne water, electric power and telephony. The area stretching from Enugu-Nsukka to Port-Harcourt-Bonny-Opobo with the addition of Ogoja-Calabar-Uyo was in 1964 found by the World Bank to be one of the fastest growing regional economies in the world.

It was after the Biafra war that petro-dollars exceeded other revenues contributing to the rehabilitation of the devastated South-East. How did the zone recover? Roads, bridges, houses, hospitals, offices, market stalls and factories were gradually rebuilt; new ones were added; trade and capital accumulation expanded and industrial investment took off again. By 1990, new factories and hotels have been added to the economy.

Enugu had Emenite Roofing, ANAMMCO-Mercedez and AVOP Vegetable Oil; Onitsha had Premier Breweries and Ezenwa Plastics; Nnewi boasted Cutix Cables, Adswitch Electric,  Ibeto Batteries, Brake Pads & Clutch, Life Vegetable Oil, Intercontinental Feed Mills and First Express Aluminium; Aba had Aba Textile Mills, Kan Biscuits, Onwuka HiTech Nails, I.E.A. the soap and detergent manufacturers, International Glass Industry and Nigeria Breweries; Umuahia boasted Nicen the PVC Fittings Manufacturers; and Imo had Resin Paints, Avutu Modern Poultry, Nsu Tiles and Ezinachi Clay Products Industry.

The volume of industrial activity was so high that even support services like hotel and communications flourished. Dawn Functions Ltd and Reads &Mark Ltd, Enugu; Starchi & Nich Ltd, Owerri and SAB Ltd and Crystal Functions Ltd, Aba led the communications sector.

The major hotels were Aba’s Crystal Park, Terminus, Enitona, Unicoco, Binez; Owerri’s Concorde; Onitsha’s Bolingo, Trace, Nkisi Palace; and Enugu’s Hotel Presidential and Nike Lake and Abakaliki’s Modotel.

The transport companies operating out of the region multiplied. Chidiebere, Ekene, Young Shall Grow, Ifesina, Izuchukwu and ABC were the most popular. The commercial-industrial-transport complex created thousands of jobs, thereby allowing Igbo graduates to be gainfully employed in their home region and live there and impact the quality of ideas governing the place.

Sadly, disincentives to investment in the South-East and neighbouring South-South arose and the industrialization lost momentum. A theory holds that a national geo-politics of development decreed a deliberate under-development of the Port-Harcourt and Calabar seaports and the Onitsha river port as well as the neglect of South-East roads, thereby forcing Igbo industrialists-importers-and-exporters to increasingly site their operational headquarters in the Lagos-Ota axis and further enrich other people’s homeland with job openings and higher income opportunities.

Thus, according to this theory, the youths remaining in the South-East have much reduced chance of getting well-paid jobs and are left with the urge to embrace crimes like drug dealing, robbery and kidnapping in order to survive and this has worsened the region’s chances of attracting and sustaining trade and investment and becoming once again the place to live and work.

Chimeziri Franklin, a marketer and political analyst, is in Aba.

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