The South East Economic and Security Summit held on 26 December 2016 also grappled with the ways and means of creating an integrated and economically vibrant Igbo land. It was not the easiest part of the conference. But it had the big guns and the egg heads to tackle the issues. The session on finance was chaired by no less an expert than the founder of the Diamond Bank, Dr. Pascal Dozie, who is also one of the founders of the telecommunications giant in Nigeria, the MTN.
The main speaker was Mr. Reginald Ihebuzo who stated that although the conventional wisdom is that “good funds follow good projects,” good projects are hard to find, even harder are the funds to execute them. To make up for the infrastructural deficit in Igbo land would require an immediate investment of N800 billion: education, housing, health would need N100 billion; electricity, transportation, potable water would require N500 billion while commercial investment, public and private, would gulp N200 billion.
Igbos flee the South East partly due to the development policies that have deprived the region of basic infrastructure. The region has had to entrust its fate almost entirely in the hands of the state governments for the past 16 years. The infrastructure needs demand “regional integration, intermodality in transportation, and the rejection of silo operations,” Ihebuzo said.
Projects are in three categories – the good projects, which readily attract good funding; the public/private partnership (PPP) projects which never feel comfortable investing more than 25 per cent in infrastructure; and the “do-it-yourself” (DIY) projects which encourages the time honoured charity begins at home mantra. “If Igbos don’t develop the South East, externals won’t do it for us. Our destiny is in our collective hands.”
Ihebuzo noted the favourable features and qualities of the South East. Its territory is the most compact region in the country; it is approximately 27,000 square kilometers, about the size of Belgium, though three times its population, at about 30 million, predominantly youth. The region is also easily accessible. Besides, he noted, Igbo land is homogenous in culture, language, marriage, food; religion is predominantly Christian and African animists. In terms of ethos, aspirations and values, “the spirit of capitalism and development” is quite strong. It is the region with a global disposition at a time globalization has caught up with the world’s economy.
Computing the possible investments from various sources ranging from state governments, government officials, to Igbos in the diaspora, through Igbo businesses, private individuals, international investors including willing Chinese entrepreneurs and the sale of bonds, Ihebuzo projected a total of N708 billion. Observers think that if half of that amount is put down in Igbo land, the region will be changed forever.
The session on agriculture was chaired by Dr. Cosmas Maduka of the Coscharis Motors fame; the speaker was the world-famous Prof. Rev. Fr. Godfrey Nzamujo, the Director of the Songhai Regional Centre, whose presentation titled “The Third Industrial Revolution: Towards a Regenerative Agriculture and Agro-Ecological Practices to Increase Productivity and Sustainability” was quite exciting but so technical the conveners of the Summit ought to schedule a follow-up workshop of at least three days to enable the great professor to bring his work down to earth so that Igbo people can benefit from his mind-blowing work, innovations and discoveries. Prof. Nzamujo spoke of the crisis in agriculture and the dangers posed by inorganic phosphorus-based fertilizers which tend to contaminate underground water. He discussed the dual-brain system of the human body (located in the head and in the stomach); the role of human and non-human microbes and the urgent need to move to organic methods of enriching the soil using his famous, and UN-acclaimed, Songhai model of integrated farming and how the South East governments and people can harness these possibilities to tackle the triple challenge of poverty/food security, unemployment and environmental degradation. The third industrial revolution is based on his three pillars of (a) “distributed energy regime (how to generate power through regular farm produce, in simple language); (b) synthropic connectivity and systemic integration of things (ICT); and (c) unleashing the biological capital of our world (which includes the recycling and valorization of plant and animal residues by microorganisms to produce more and better with less.”
The rural exodus in Igbo land has led to “ever increasing urban decay resulting in ‘slumization’ instead of urbanization.” Prof. Nzamujo’s Centre in Cotonou, Benin Republic, has become a model for the world. Transmitting the ideas, the expertise, and the ethics of it would seem to demand investment in time and resources on the part of the South East state governments and Igbo industrialists interested in 21st Century integrated agriculture.
Among the newsworthy discussions of the South East Summit was the revelation that there are more than 200 Igbo physicians and consultants and doctors in various fields in the diaspora who are willing to return home if there is an opportunity for them to be able to practice their trade. The session on healthcare showed that $1 billion is spent each year by Nigerians who travel abroad for health reasons; $260 million is spent in India yearly by Nigerian health tourists; 30,000 Nigerians travel abroad yearly for health reasons and 60 per cent of their spending is on cardiac, orthopaedic, renal and cancer specialists.
To fill this need the Americare Resort Hospitals plan to set up two hospital resorts in Enugu and Abuja made up of medical doctors and other professionals practicing in USA who wish to come home and combine with local business leaders in Nigeria and the South East. They seem to have the support of the South East Nigerian Development Fund (SENDEF). Nick Oliver spoke on the provision of the infrastructure for the healthcare while Dr. Charles Okorie spoke on behalf of the Americare Resort Hospitals.
“The hospitals are to be tertiary specialist hospitals with regional-leading clinical capabilities and cutting-edge facilities with services for public, private, and VIP healthcare provision services all provided in a patient-friendly and relaxing environment. Dr. Okorie is promising a full range of specialists from primary care physicians to kidney specialists, brain and heart surgeons, and cancer physicians, from all over Nigeria.
|The project would be first in a group of six hospitals to be designed and then operated to obtain world-class accreditation aiming for early awards by Joint Commission International (JCI). This will boost patient confidence and attract health tourists from Nigeria and other countries in West Africa.
It was near miraculous how Prof. Barth Nnaji and his committee were able to cram so much into a day’s conference. The session on infrastructure explained the co-relation of good infrastructure with the rise in gross domestic product (GDP) and low crime rate. It recommended that as a matter of urgency the South East should develop legislation, framework and a master plan for infrastructure in Igbo land.
The session on security was chaired by Lt. Gen. Azubuike Ihejirika and its main speaker was Retired Inspector-General of Police Ogbonna Onovo who delivered a comprehensive survey of the security of the South East. Although the figures showed a slight decrease in crime, he advised greater vigilance to tame the upswing in kidnapping and robbery and the proliferation of arms and light weapons. Concluded