By Dennis Agbo, Abakaliki
Study has shown that economic and development indicators of the South East zone are mixed when compared to other geopolitical zones of Nigeria . While the south east zone compares well in national income poverty metrics and general literacy, it performs relatively poor in physical infrastructure: (roads, water and electricity), regulatory efficiency and overall business environment. As a result, the zone lags behind in critical economic investments and organized industrial development.
Recent developments in the zone tend to suggest that the people have decided to take their collective destiny in their hands. This is exemplified in the on going move towards the actualization of the South-East Nigeria Economic Commission (SENEC) initiative. The initiative has attracted the admiration of different segments of the Nigerian society, probably because every one seems worried about the decadence of the countryâ€™s economy and is therefore desirous to witness a restoration of growth such as the type that obtained in the region before the intrusion of the Military in Nigerian Politics in 1966.
SENEC is an institution that is configured on two props: Policy Framework for massive development of human capital in all areas of endeavour, planning for a sustainable society in the zone, cooperation and integration policies, governance concept; and creation of world class companies. It is hoped that as soon as it takes off, a lot of structural changes will be made in the Southâ€“East which of course will be beneficial to the rest of Nigeria and even Africa in general.
The commission is derived from the philosophy of self-help which the people of the South East are reckoned with. However, in the present case of a global environment, SENEC is established on the tripod of Privateâ€“Publicâ€“Community (PPC) partnership; where all persons of the region are active participants in the strive for economic redemption. It is mostly anchored on private enterprises, with the backbone of the federating five state governments. At present, the state governments together with the state houses of assembly are putting final touches to legislations that will give legal backing to the Commission.
The remote idea about SENEC is derived from similar but now differently modeled first republic institutions like the Dr. M.I Okparaâ€™s Eastern Nigeria Development Cooperation, a platform that was responsible for the establishment of many industrial and agricultural outfits, which then made the Eastern Nigerian economy one of the fastest growing economies in the third world. Another example is still there in the South West where their own vehicle is the ODUA investment company. Same as in the Northern region where Northern Nigeria Development Cooperation provided the platform that grew the groundnut pyramids in Kano which at that time was exported to different parts of the world.
The modern day concept of SENEC actually emanated in 2006 from a stakeholdersâ€™ forum on industrial clusters in the South Eastern Nigeria, organized by the African Institute for Applied Economics (AIAE) in Enugu. The forum observed that the poor state of industrial development in the South East zone reflects the underlying lack of coordinated economic, institutional and infrastructural development and recommended that though industrial clusters pose major policy challenges across the zone, they cannot be treated in isolation of the overall economic context of the south east zone.
The policy forum concluded that holistic and systematic approach is required to harness the full economic potentials of the zone instead of piecemeal disparate measures by individual states. It was reasoned that there is compelling need to explore sustainable institutional mechanism to generate and deliver common services in order to reap economies of scale for the accelerated development of the entire zone. Among the critical economic areas that are amenable to collective approach are the development of key and lumpy infrastructural projects, generation and diffusion of technologies, upgrading human capacity for industrial development of large regional social projects, creation of strategic investments and institutional strengthening.
Based on the communiquÃ© of the forum, AIAE set up an interim steering committee to facilitate the establishment of South East Nigeria Economic Commission. The committee drew members from the cross section of stakeholders including government officials, private sector persons, academia, professionals and leaders of civil organizations. The steering committee then established four subcommittees on study, sensitization, consultation and legal framework. Respondents of study subcommittee memoranda include home and Diaspora individuals and organizations. The study subcommittee reviewed experiences in Nigeria and international best practices in the establishment of private public partnership â€“ based economic development institutions after critical analysis of alternative models, the international experiences and inputs from variety of sources. The SENEC Interim Steering Committee then prepared a framework document for the establishment of South East Nigeria Economic Commission (SENEC).
The coordinating group of SENEC comprises individuals drawn from the different sub-units. They include: Engr (Sir) Chris Okoye, as Chairman, Interim Steering Committee; Prof Eric Eboh, General Coordinator; Prof Ukwu I. Ukwu, Coordinator Study Sub-committee; Olisa Agbakoba, coordinator Legal Framework Sub-committee. There is however an on-going move to broaden the Coordinating Group by incorporating the five south east states nominees to SENEC, representatives of the organized Private Sector and Community Development Organizations, who hitherto have had interactions with the Coordinating Group as separate units.
SENEC is modeled to play vital roles in uniting interests of states of the South East and in encouraging cooperation and collaboration amongst the governments of the member states. The vision is to become a robust platform that drives sustainable economic growth and development of the South East geo-political zone of Nigeria. The mission of SENEC is to provide potent vehicle for the articulation of development strategies, mobilization of resources and coordination of policies for greater economic prosperity within the south east which in turn will have multiplier effects on the rest of Nigeria and Africa as a whole. The cardinal goal is the promotion of economic competitiveness and sustainable development of the zone within the national and global economies.
In milestone achievements, SENEC will create world class investments in the south east, develop large physical infrastructural schemes, implement programmes for sustainable institutions, create centres for human capacity development and develop coordinated framework for the formulation and implementation of public policies and plans. The commission will determine shared zonal development policy goals and strategy, facilitate inter-governmental cooperation, advocate for zonal investments and coordinate infrastructural development within the zone.
A major tool for the implementation of SENEC is the proposed South East Nigeria Development Fund (SENDEF) which will mobilize and deploy investment and development funds from government, private sector stakeholders and other partners based on predetermined financing arrangements.
The questions that come to mind are whether SENEC would not take the shine out of the governments of the South East zone andÂ also if we are not going back to the era of regionalism. Though the answers are quiet discerning based on the tripod stake holding of a commission like SENEC, the concept of allowing the regions become the economic engines of their zones will allow Nigeria to remake itself into the giant of Africa and a key player in the global market. The persistent quest for everybody to rush to the centre will be reduced to the barest minimum and different regional economic blocs like that of the South-South will interface with SENEC on a number of key strategic projects that are beneficial to the regions and by extension, the country at large. Then, the federal government would concentrate on playing its proper role of offering grants and assistance to these blocs which would guarantee a sustainable economy for the nation even before the year 2020.
Speaking in an interview, the SENEC Interim Steering Committee Chairman, Engr (Sir) Chris Okoye said: â€œEssentially, the aim of the institution is to create a robust platform for driving economic and social development in the South East. We felt that if one looks at what is now called the South â€“ East Nigeria vis-a- viz what happened before the civil war, one canâ€™t help but wonder why so much progress was recorded during the pre-civil war period in comparison with what obtains in this contemporary period. It is obvious that there is no basis of comparing the progress that the Igbo nation made between these two periods and this is perhaps, attributable to the fact that we had a development initiative that was driven by Eastern Nigeria Development Corporation. A careful review of that era would show that the then Premier of the Eastern Region, Dr. M. I. Okpara seemed to have used the model very extensively in almost everything the region did. Although the Eastern Nigeria Development Corporation was a government institution as against the model that we are now trying to put in place, almost everything done in the former Eastern Nigeria was carried out by that defunct Eastern Nigeria Development Corporation:.
Engr Chris Okoye elaborates with examples: â€œIf you recall, the first one million pounds sterling for the setting up of University of Nigeria , Nsukka was actually raised by the marketing board under Sir Louis Odumegwu Ojukwu, father of the present Dim Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu and that was an institution under the Eastern Nigeria Development Corporation. It was that one million pounds that was given to Zik that prepared the platform for the take-off of University of Nigeria , Nsukkaâ€.
â€œIn the area of agriculture, the vegetable oil industry that Malaysia is associated with was set up with the palm seeds that were taken from the Eastern region, courtesy of the same corporation and so you could imagine that if ENDC had continued with its palm multiplication project after the war, South East would have become the largest producer of vegetable oil in the world by now. But they couldnâ€™t continue because of the Civil War. On the industrial front, numerous establishments such as the glass factory at Port Harcourt , the Nkalagu Cement factory which was probably the first cement manufacturing factory in Africa, the steel factory in Enugu , amongst others were products of ENDC. As a matter of fact I am aware that the lime stone at Nkalagu cement factory is enough to guarantee production of cement for the next 300 years. The only problem is that they started with the wet process as against the dry process but if they had continued, they would have changed to a new line of dry production. So it seems to us that there is a clear indication that Okpara had an understanding of what such a platform could do and he did not really allow government to take an upper-hand. They rather said that it should be done by such an institution. Now the circumstances are different because there was then one central government for the Eastern region but now you have a number of governmentsâ€.
He continues: â€œEven though the institution is going to be public-private community partnership, it is to be driven strictly by the private sector in the actualization of its pursuit of creating world class companies in the South East and policy formulation. When we talk about policy we are talking about governance, leadership, co-operation and collaboration. The institution will ensure that quality people are the right leaders, that what we are doing on the economic platform does not get derailed. So we have proposed a structure that will have the government being involved not necessarily in the day to day running of the organization because it will be run by a board. Even though there is going to be a board of trustees where the government is going to be involved in terms of appointing the chairman who appoints every other person like the Managing Director in accordance with best practices of courseâ€.
â€œSENEC is designed to handle common economic projects, in all the states. A typical example of a common economic project is power generation. Letâ€™s assume we want to setup Power Plants in the South East zone with coal as a source of power supply. Instead of all the states setting up different coal power plants, it will make more sense to have a company that will first of all resuscitate the coal industry (mining) and thereafter centralize a power plant that can supply power to all the states. That is an example of common economic project. In Agriculture, for instance, it is possible that rice could do better in Abakaliki, Cashew in Enugu , palm treesÂ Â in Imo and so on. Perhaps it is important to recognize that the key reason why agriculture has failed in Nigeria is because it has been treated as a government- subsidized venture. So long as we continue to treat agriculture as a subsidized phenomenon, the situation will remain the same. Agriculture must be treated as a business.
Another issue is that of the chain concept. There is also a compelling need to treat every commodity as a product chain. Rice production should be treated as a chain, ie from the farm, to the mill and to the market. Even if you have the rice fields in Ebonyi,Â Anambra andÂ Enugu , is it not possible to have a rice mill somewhere that will take rice from all the fields instead of having a kind of unsustainable rice millsÂ all over the states which canâ€™t produce beyond 5,000 tons per unit? But to be able to run a rice mill and be successful, you need to put up a mill of about 50,000 tons. So we need a mill to be situated in such a way that the farms can feed into at a centralized mill. We think that for agriculture to do well here, we need to approach it from that concept of common projects and you can apply it to rice, cashew, vegetable oil, cassava etc. We are looking at what we can successfully husband and showcase not only to feed our people but to be extended to other parts of Nigeria and for exportâ€.
â€œThere are obviously many facets to the application of the common-economic-project principle in our socio-economic milieu. I know we can also apply it to sports like football academy for instance. We can centralize the production of footballers since we now know that you could export footballers to all parts of the world. You can imagine a centralized football academy here that will not only produce footballers for our clubs but for clubs in the whole worldâ€.
â€œAs it stands right now, the first layer of the structure that will run SENEC is on the horizon. The organized private sector, represented by chapters of the Manufacturers Association of Nigeria (MAN) and Chambers of Commerce in the South East zone have already passed resolutions on SENEC, with community development organizations not left out. Governments of the five south east states are already in the process of signing the SENEC Memorandum of Understanding (MoU). It is the shared understanding of the Coordinating Group of SENEC that the signing of the MoU by the Public, Private and Community representatives will facilitate the registration of SENEC at the Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC)â€.