From David Onwuchekwa, Nnewi
A socio-cultural philosopher, economic and public affairs commentator, Ogbuevi (Dr) Eddi Idigo Aguleri has taken his time to diagnose the actual solution to the raging agitation for the state of Biafra.
According to him, it’s not political self determination that the agitators should talk about, rather they should talk of having an economic blueprint that will solve the problems of the South-east.
What’s your recipe for a lasting solution to the struggle for Biafra?
Over the recent years, movements and campaigns for Biafrexit and other forms of ethnic agitations across Nigeria have persisted. In particular, the continued resurgence of the Biafra movements, both by the Movement for the Actualisation of the Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB) and most recently, the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) over 46 years after the failed separatist attempt at an independent political Biafra, underscore the life force of the Biafra ideology which can hardly be exterminated.
The Biafra struggle, just as any other ethnic agitation from various parts of the country, as well as the recent calls for the restructuring of the Nigerian nation, are direct consequences of the failure of the Nigerian state at various levels to gratify the political and socio-economic cravings and aspirations of the people.
Continued political marginalisation in the determination of the affairs of the nation; economic exclusion from the control of the nation’s wealth and resources as well as the resultant socio-economic poverty arising from maladministration, among other factors, have sustained these agitations and struggles. However, whilst the actualization of a politically sovereign state of Biafra may seem unachievable and inexpedient at this time, the creation and gradual building of an economically fortified South-east region remains the most plausible alternative to Biafra objectives and ideology.
Could you expatiate on building a South-east sub-national economy as an alternative to the Biafra struggle?
Fundamentally, the quest for political self-determination pursued through various forms of ethno-political agitation is ultimately aimed at enabling a people achieve wealth creation, economic empowerment and control of economic resources. This is supported by some perspectives in political economics that the achievement of economic wealth and social development remains a major purpose of the quest for political power and control. Alternatively, a virile and vibrant sub-national economy in the South-east region will provide the much needed purpose of a conventional political Biafra. Such a strong regional and sub-national economy in the South-east will create and bestow on the people greater hegemony and dominion over owned economic resources to create wealth and engender socio-economic prosperity; a development that will exterminate the increasing political agitations for self determination.
What are the imperatives for a strong sub-national economy of South-east Nigeria?
Adequate strategic socio-economic and political architecture must be crafted, executed and firmly entrenched as pre-requisites for creating an economically-powered South-east region that will generate the much-needed socio-economic activities that will maximally engage the abundant human energies towards the production of economic wealth. The current partially-liberalized economy provides the basic economic environment to achieve this objective. The most critical imperative however lies in fostering an integration of the economies of the respective states of the entire South-east and adjoining ones into a strong cohesive sub-national economy capable of advancing the socio-economic prosperity of the people. The truth remains that no state in the South-east can actually develop in isolation of the other given the fundamental strings of cohesion that weave the region geographically together. A strong coalition, commitment and co-operation between South-east governors is a condition sine qua non. The next major imperative lies in the re-crafting of a strategic socio-economic architecture and master plan for the provision of the basic infrastructural strategic economic catalysts that will unleash the requisite industrial and commercial activities for rapid re-development of the South-east region.
In essence there’s need for a strategic economic architecture and master plan for the South-east?
A strategic socio-economic architecture and master plan to achieve the desired virile sub-national economy of the South-east is indispensable. The primary purpose of this is to identify, encompass and integrate the entire broad spectrum of all major economic opportunities available to be harnessed to achieve and sustain the momentum of continuous economic wealth creation and prosperity. It will provide a roadmap for the redevelopment of the South-east zone. Essentially, such a strategic economic master plan must seek the creation of the requisite environment as well as the establishment and provision of the foundational framework upon which a new market economy and the various structures, superstructures and ramifications of economic, industrial and commercial activities can be built and developed. Some of the indispensable ingredients of the strategic master plan include:
Integrated transportation infrastructure
This is arguably the most fundamental pre-requisite for the socio-economic redevelopment of the South-east region of Nigeria. Whilst the South-east zone may be geographically more compact than others, it becomes even more germane to link and interconnect the major socio-economic and political clusters with the appropriate transportation infrastructure. Given the population density, there is need for a 10-lane dual carriage road to replace the existing three major arteries of: a) Asaba/Onitsha-Enugu-Abakaliki; b) Onitsha-Owerri-Portharcourt; and c) Enugu-Umuahia-Aba-Portharcourt. In addition, a cross-belt mainline highway should necessarily complement this cutting through Onitsha-Nnewi-Orlu-Aba. This will link the major industrial and commercial hubs of Onitsha/Nkpor, Nnewi and Aba. Along the line, Orlu will naturally come up as another potential major economic/commercial hub.
Besides road transport infrastructure, it is imperative to develop the maritime and rail transport infrastructure. The Onitsha River Port and the Aba (Isiala-Ngwa) Dry Port (Inland Container Depots) must be made to come fully on stream to serve the basic commercial needs of the zone. These two projects are economically and technically critical as they are respectively located in the two biggest commercial hubs of the region. Whilst River Niger facilitates the operation of the Onitsha River Port wherein light cargo can be shipped and cleared, the existing rail line will facilitate movement of cargo by rail from Port Harcourt ports to the inland container depot in Aba (Isiala-Ngwa to be precise). Already, the Akanu Ibiam International Airport at Enugu has become operational and with direct flight routes to many major economic cities of the world. Therefore, with the adequacy of road transport infrastructure as proposed, the Onitsha River Port; Aba Dry Port; the upgraded Enugu International Airport; and the existing Owerri Airport, there will be sufficient transportation infrastructure that will not only serve the growing social and economic needs of the South-east zone but indeed boost the region into a virile sub-national economy.
Development of agricultural belt
No economy survives without food security. The redevelopment of agriculture is imperative as it once formed the mainstay of Nigerian pre and post-colonial economy including the South-east. The Northern, Western and Eastern regional economies of Nigeria were anchored strongly on agriculture with groundnuts, cocoa and palm-produce constituting the respective major crops. In fact, in the early 1960s, the then Eastern Nigeria economy was rated as one of the fastest growing economies in the world because of its exploits in export agriculture.
There’s no need re-inventing the wheel but it’s imperative for South-east governments and people to join hands to revive the rice plantations at Abakaliki and Adani; the cashew plantation at Enugu and the palm produce scattered all over the region among other agricultural investments. The current efforts of the present Anambra State government under Governor Willie Obiano in the area of agricultural development is commendable and should be emulated by other states. The conscious redevelopment of South-east agricultural belts and zones across the entire region remains indispensable not just to ensure food security but to generate massive employment and create wealth.
Mining and cement production
Economic diversification away from merchandising is advocated. A virgin economic activity to tap into is mining of solid minerals which are abundant in the South-east. The respective governments of the South-east should collaborate to facilitate the mining of various solid minerals deposits across the zone not only for the purpose of improving their revenue-generating potentials but also to generate employment, create wealth and develop strategic industries. It is unfortunate that there is no where in the South-east that major mining activities are currently ongoing. Coal and cement production pioneered in Enugu and Nkalagu respectively, the first ever to be established in West Africa, have all gone moribund. Coal mining and production was one of the foremost industries in pre-colonial Nigeria but has been totally abandoned today. Similarly, cement production in the South-east has also been abandoned. The Niger Cement Company (NIGERCEM) at Nkalagu was the first cement plant in West Africa built in 1957 with 1.5m metric tonnes capacity annually. The plant has remained dilapidated and moribund for decades.
Today, cement manufacturing is going on massively in all the geo-political zones of the country except the South-east. The Cement Company of Northern Nigeria in Sokoto serves the Northwest; Ashaka Cement (now Lafarge) is in the Northeast; Lafarge Cement produces in Ewekoro and Sagamu in the South-west; whilst Unicem (Calabar) and Okpella (Edo State) are operational in the South-south. Of course, the giant, Dangote Cement operates out of Gboko and also operates the single largest cement company in the world at Obajana, Kogi State all in the North-central. There is none at present in the South-east even as the region represents a place and people with the highest level of cement consumption in Nigeria. It’s therefore imperative that the cement manufacturing plant at Nkalagu be revived, upgraded and expanded to re-commence production to serve the ever-growing construction needs of the region.
Re-development of strategic industries
The fate that has befallen NIGERCEM, Nkalagu, is not peculiar to the cement sector . It is regrettable to note that the once strong heavily industrialized South-east region of Nigeria which in the past boasted strategically diversified industries scattered across the region and which created massive employment, wealth and export earnings for the regional and state governments is today lacking in basic industrial investments. The prolonged neglect of these premier industries which resulted from chronic maladministration by successive state governments in the entire region have wrecked these industries, rendering them moribund and decrepit. They include Niger Steel Company at Emene, Enugu, which was West Africa’s first steel plant; Oji River Power plant; Nigeria Ceramics Industries at Umuahia; Golden Guinea Breweries; Premier Breweries and Anambra Vegetable Oil Products (AVOP). Today, there is no functional steel plant or steel rolling mill anywhere in the South-east. Conscious efforts must therefore be made to re-industrialize the region by not only revamping the major industries that are now moribund but indeed establishing new large-scale industries in the strategic sectors of the economy such as petroleum refining; power plants; steel rolling; cement manufacturing; fertilizer plants; flour milling; tomato and other agro processing plants etc. These large-scale strategic industries will consequently power a new economic dawn in the South-east region and trigger a new wave of industrial growth at the small and medium-scale levels that will directly and indirectly result in wealth creation and economic empowerment of the South-east people of Nigeria.
What are your comments on expectations of South-east leaders?
Actualizing a new nation of Biafra is therefore possible should there be a strong and sustainable consensus and commitment by all the governments and leaders of the South-east to economically redefine, redevelop and reposition the region to respond to the socio-economic necessities and aspirations of the people. This is achievable through the development of an integrated transportation infrastructure that is inter-modally connected; the re-growing of bourgeoning agricultural zones with vast yields of staple food and cash crops for local consumption and export; mining of the abundant mineral resources; development of strategic industries which will involve the revamping, upgrading and expanding of basic industries such as cement manufacturing; steel rolling mills; power plants; vehicle assembly; petroleum refining; fertilizer plants; agro-processing plants etc. These will bring about the much-needed control of economic resources, wealth creation and economic empowerment which the continued agitation and campaign for a political Biafra is ultimately intended to achieve.