By Okechukwu Keshi Ukegbu
Regional integration, which is simply the joining of individual states within a region into a larger whole, is now the vogue. This arrangement tends to achieve the following functions: to strengthen trade in the region; to create an appropriate enabling environment for private sector development; to develop infrastructure programmes in support of economic growth and regional integration; to develop strong public sector institutions and good governance.
Others are to reduce social exclusion and the development of an inclusive civil society; to contribute to peace and security in the region; to build environment programmes at the regional level; and to strengthen the region’s interaction with other regions.
The urge for regions across the country to come together and forge economic integration is increasing at geometric progression.
The urge is basically informed by the prevailing economic realities in the country. In the South West region, the governors of the region in a continued search for Regional Integration of the zone under the Development Agenda for Western Nigeria (DAWN), recently resolved to work together to address security challenges confronting the region and foster economic growth and well-being of the people.
In the meeting well attended by governors of the region and their representatives, critical attention was accorded to issues such as kidnapping and menace of the herdsmen.
In the South East, efforts are in top gear to foster an economic integration. It will be recalled that about a fortnight ago in a bid to advance the economic well-being of the region, the five South East governors met and resolved to bury their differences and work for the economic integration of the region.
In the words of the Chairman of the forum, Gov. Dave Umahi of Ebonyi State, the initiative was in the interest of the people. The meeting was a landmark because it discussed critical issues affecting the region such as security. On the issue of security, the governors agreed to collaborate by comparing notes to talk with the Commissioners of Police and other security agencies located in the region on security integration.
Security, no doubt, is an important component of the integration and must be pursued vigorously. It is indisputable that kidnapping has taken a serious toll on almost all the five South East states and deserves a serious collaborative effort. When kidnappers are dislodged from one South East state, there is every tendency that they would seek a safe haven in a nearby South East state and resume their unwholesome trade there.
Since the South-East governors have finally agreed to collapse their differences and forge an integration that would cut across almost all spheres of governors, it is noteworthy here for them to cross- fertilise ideas and borrow notes from their counterparts from other states.
There is nothing out of place if other South East governors borrow the recent whistle- blowers policy of Gov. Okezie Ikpeazu which has began to yield fruits. The policy is aimed at rewarding persons who volunteered useful information to security agencies to enable them crack down kidnapping activities in the state .
Besides, N1m reward is attached to any useful information that will aid in the arrest or crack down of kidnappers in the state. The gesture extends to security agents who successfully crack down kidnap gangs in the state to the same tune of N1million.
Other ancillary efforts to this are the setting up of information desk at Government House to ensure that the identity of informers would be protected; the re-launch of “Operation Jubilee” which will record a fresh boost with the introduction of additional 300 sophisticated- armed police personnel.
Also, the recent demolitions kidnappers den and buildings said to have been used by some kidnappers to keep their victims until ransom is paid in Abia State is worthy of emulation.
To put the herdsmen menace at bay, the initiative of Abia State Government to recruit more hands into the State Vigilante Services for onward deployment to the communities for community policing which was proposed sometimes last year but has not come into full operation should be made operational and copied by other states .
Similarly, the constitution of the Farmers/Herdsmen Conflict Resolution Committee initiated by Abia State which mandate was to take measures that would forestall pastoral conflicts in the state by accessing information, identifying flash points and nipping crisis in the bud is also worthy of emulation by other South-East states.
Indeed, there is a lot to benefit from this integration. The exploits by Governor Willie Obiano of Anambra State which has raked revenue for the state through exporting vegetables to Europe deserves a mention here.
The South-East states can engage in joint projects that require huge capital outlay by pulling financial resources together. To buttress this claim, recently, the 19 governors of the northern states of Nigeria gave approval to Northern Nigeria Development Company (NNDC), owned by the 19 northern states to establish a strong and viable bank.
While NNDC is also vigorously pursuing the search for oil and gas in the Lake Chad Basin and the Niger-Benue trough, plans are underway by the northern states to establish an Agricultural Commodity Board, to guarantee market, quality and more farm produce in states in the region as well as the establishment of a multi-faceted Agricultural Industrial Park that would assist in fast-tracking economic productivity.
NNDC has become a strong instrumentality to establish a strong foundation for Northern Nigeria to be self sufficient in food production, financial services and other sectors. Nothing makes it unbecoming for the South East states to think along this line.
Ukegbu writes from Lagos