Professor Chukwuma Charles Soludo, former governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), is certainly a man of figures and words. He speaks with so much authority and forthrightness that it often borders on arrogance. He is at home with statistics and knows how to mine it for stories, particularly when it concerns the political economy. He didn’t disappoint when he recently delivered a lecture in Awka, Anambra State, to mark the third anniversary of Chief Willie Obiano as governor of Anambra State.
Soludo had analysed the three-year tenure of Obiano in relation to the nation’s macro-economic fundamentals, and delivered a verdict of progress and hope. Some excerpts of the lecture are worth repeating here: “Governing a state in Nigeria, where you do not have control over much of these macro variables, must be extraordinarily challenging. For Governor Obiano, therefore, this third anniversary must be time to thank God for His mercies, for survival and progress! Let the truth be told: in the context of Nigeria’s situation over the last three years, and in comparison with other states or even in comparison with past governors in their first three years, Governor Obiano has without question done very well.”
Soludo’s thesis is that Anambra “has begun the journey but Ndi Anambra need extraordinary cohesion, new thinking/orientation, new politics, and different actions to accelerate the momentum for the economic miracle of the 21st century.”
Many agree that Obiano has, in line with Soludo’s submission, started re-writing the Anambra narrative. Truth be told, the momentum was started by Dr. Chris Ngige, deepened by Peter Obi, and Obiano, in keeping with his promise of the “3 C’s”, complete, commission and commence, has clearly driven the state to the highway towards 21st century development. Little wonder Soludo surmised as follows: “So, why mend it if it is not broken? This is a time of crisis and you don’t change the General in the middle of a war, especially the General that has led you through successes in battles.” This profound endorsement and many others have put Obiano miles ahead of the serial contestants who are warming up again for the race to the Governor’s Lodge, Amawbia, on November 18, 2017.
I am much more enamored by Soludo’s characterisation of Anambra as “an emerging start-up nation.” Relying heavily on the seminal work of Dan Senor and Saul Singer titled “Start-Up Nation: The Story of Israel’s Economic Miracle,” Soludo laid out a road map for Anambra’s emergence as an economic power in spite of the Federal Government’s foot-dragging. Anambra is seen as a state with a lot of growth potential. The reason for this is simple. The state is blessed with enormous human and material resources. Let’s look at some of the fundamentals.
In 2014, Anambra’s GDP was estimated at $13.5 billion. This accounts for three per cent of Nigeria’s GDP and would rank 122 in the world or 24th in Africa if the state were to be a country. With only N3.993 billion debt, the state has the lowest domestic and foreign debt profile among the 36 states. The state’s economy is unarguably the fourth largest among states, after Lagos, Abuja and Rivers. Anambra State also has the fourth largest bank deposit, after Lagos, Abuja and Rivers, but ironically has one of the lowest access to bank credit. With five universities, two polytechnics and two colleges of education, adult literacy in the state is over 80 per cent. The state has the lowest poverty incidence and has the unique feature of being a net exporter of capital.
It is, therefore, not in doubt that Anambra State has a strong economic base as well as human and natural resources to become a truly 21st century economic miracle. It stands to reason that it should have achieved exponential growth, but as for the resources (human and material), nothing has been seen as yet of commensurate development in the state, until recently. A few states in Nigeria can claim as much potential for growth as Anambra, especially in human capital. The entrepreneurial skill of the people as well as their impetuous drive for success were hardly leveraged upon by the state to push up its levers of development. As a matter of fact, the human aspect of these resources made and still makes a lot of impact on the socio-economic activities of other states.
However, the Anambra narrative is changing for the better. The perception of a great state is being matched by commensurate development since the advent of the Obiano government, which is consciously directing attention to these resources and has carefully gained the confidence of investors. Today, investment is streaming into the state at a galloping pace. Untapped areas of the economy, like agriculture, have since received a tremendous boost to the point that the state now exports farm produce and gains public acceptance as a producer of rice. Accordingly, this new thinking has continued to elicit commendation from well-meaning Nigerians. While commending the uncommon effort towards Anambra’s new economic trajectory, Soludo observed that the Obiano has diligently latched onto one or two ingredients (about six in all) that changed economic fortunes of start-up nations. He listed the six to include strong positive thinking and self-belief; dynamism and maximising the emerging status of the people as a global tribe; thinking global and acting local; consolidating the micro and moving towards the macro (not forgetting the power of collective action); mainstreaming citizen’s power through progressive politics, and, finally, facilitating and enabling development by insisting that the government at the centre meets its obligation to the state.
It belabours the fact recounting the power of the ingredients to vary economies of nations. Many countries have leveraged on these to pull off their economic success. States like Israel, India, China, South Korea, Rwanda, Ethiopia and Singapore, for example, did not perform any economic miracle, but simply adopted the principles and kept steady on what they did right. Israel, in particular, commands uncommon attention for the simple reason that it excelled amid environmental difficulties. And like Anambra, nay Igboland, the Jewish state has most of its people in the Diaspora, but it got its politics right and surmounted the challenge by thinking global and acting local. There is very little that Anambra cannot achieve if it is able to change its brand of destructive politics and mine its abundant human and material resources, while not forgetting the six economic principles. The political events leading up to the primaries of the political parties do not suggest that the ‘professional’ politicians are yet to learn any lesson from the past. With the security situation in the state, the Obiano administration has achieved the first condition for economic transformation. What is going on in the state today, in terms of foreign and domestic investment, if sustained, would trigger a burst in development activities. Already, the state government has started tapping into the Diaspora strength by creating an office for this purpose. It has also begun consolidating the micro while moving toward the macro through a comprehensive development plan.
For Soludo, the people should seize the opportunity offered by the government through the provision of adequate security and other incentives for growth and develop the state. He has decried retrogressive politics, spoken against waste and enjoined the people to consider home when thinking of business location. He cited the West as an example of a place whose people have since adopted the home location strategy, which has not only helped it but has also given it relative edge over other areas of the country. For emphasis, he mentioned ex-President Olusegun Obasanjo, whose patriotism has not been impugned by his preferred choice of location of both the Ota farm and the Presidential Library. Pooh-poohing the idea of big cities as choice location for business, the erudite professor stated that, in the age of improved information technology, location is fast paling into insignificance. If the state maximises its network as an emerging global tribe, it can seize upon the opportunity offered by spiraling cost of production in places like China, Japan, India and others to be the preferred destination.
Following on the above, it is high time Ndi Anambra evolved a paradigm shift in their politics and business. Obiano has sufficiently created a good momentum for development and to sustain it there must be new thinking and new politics. As advised by Soludo, we must play down retrogressive politics, spend less on it and make conscious effort to harness the state’s resources for its development. Politics of hate, divisiveness and destruction has never and will never work for the state. If we must fight, let’s fight over ideas of development and not the acrimony and calumny against personalities. What is seen of the effort of the present government, especially with the influx of investors in the last three years, if given support, would drastically change the Anambra narrative. The influx is a testimony to leadership that is both responsive and pragmatic. Anambra people appear sufficient and only need a government that can provide them the basic needs. It is fairly right to argue that it took just three months of security for investors to stream into the state and change its economic profile. It is, therefore, imperative for the people to support the effort of the government and help it deepen most of the things it has done right. Of course, the state can and should.
• Onyima, former Commissioner for Information, Culture and Tourism in Anambra State, wrote from Umuoji.