BY TONY OWEAZIM
Any one conversant with the economic landscape of the eastern part of Nigeria cannot help but be struck by the rapid de-industrialisation of the area in the past twenty years or so, which to a large extent reflects the story of Nigeria in recent times.
Although, the Eastern part of Nigeria was devastated during the unfortunate Nigerian civil war but the fact remains that within the first ten years after the war, there was a major revival of the industries and commerce of the area. By the 1980s the area could boast of a vibrant economic life. Such industries as textile mills, vegetable oil factories, cement, breweries, plastics and assorted small and medium scale industries were thriving. Such towns and cities as Onitsha, Nnewi, Aba to mention a few were beehives of industrial activities.
However, beginning from the 1990s the gradual decline began until it reached calamitous levels at the beginning of the 21st century. This has impacted terribly on the socio-economic life of the area. First, unemployment reached disastrous levels with the consequence of a severe upshot in crime and other illegal activities. Also enrolment in schools dropped sharply in some states, especially amongst boys, as there was no incentive to pursue education when those who have acquired several degrees roamed the streets without hope of gainful employment.
Several factors were responsible for this state of things, beginning with the ill-advised introduction of the Structural Adjustment Programme by the Ibrahim Babangida administration. This resulted in the continuous devaluation of the Naira and other policies that acted as disincentives to local enterprises. Failure of various regimes to invest in long term infrastructure such as power, steel, railways, roads, schools/universities, hospitals, etc., also contributed to this rapid decline. For an economy to be in the upbeat the leaders of today must be able to plan far beyond the strictures of their tenure; leadership must be viewed as a relay race with a continuous exchange of batons but geared towards a common purposeof reaching a predetermined destination.
It is however clear that government alone cannot adequately address the situation. This where public-private partnership (PPP) projects such as the plan for the construction of Aba Mega Mall by Greenfield Assets Ltd and the Abia State government is commendable.
Abia State government recently entered a development lease agreement with a real estate investment and infrastructure company, Greenfield Assets Limitedto build the Aba Mega Mall,consisting of 5,830 ultramodern shops, in four sizes of 12sq meters, 16sq meters, 24sq meters and 48sq meters, to be erected on 23 hectares of land.
Governor Theodore Orji said the project is part of efforts aimed at encouraging development of modern shopping centres as decent alternatives to what obtains at the present. “The conception and realisation of the need to build a modern mega shopping mall in the city is a part of my administration’s drive to transform the landscape of Abia through our Urban Regeneration Policy, thereby providing a decent life for the people of the State.”
CEO of Greenfield Assets, Paul Obanua, said Greenfield and her development partners will deliver a world class facility to become a testimonial and an inspiration to present and future citizens of Abia State
What this portends is that there is a new generation that is determined to make a clean departure from the shortcomings of the past and start building afresh on the ruins of our past mistakes and indulgences. This is the time for our business people to start investing once again in the eastern economy given the examples of the promoters of the Aba Mega Mall and others. This area is blessed with highly resourceful individuals and natural resources which can be utilised for the rapid development of the area and the entire country.
In order to encourage this new thinking the state government and prominent citizens of this area should come together and create a favourable atmosphere for investments to thrive. The state government has the challenge of providing basic infrastructure such as roads, drainage systems, water,schools, hospitals etc. The Federal government should also be pressurised to carry out her responsibilities in the area; such as rehabilitation and construction of standard interstate highways, rehabilitation and construction of railway lines and the rehabilitation of the eastern ports.
Perhaps, one economic project that is capable of transforming the economy of the east is the resuscitation of the eastern ports. It is unfortunate that most businesses in the east still have to route their shipments through Lagos. This does not make economic sense given the distance from Lagos to their areas of business and the consequent delays in clearing good s in Lagos as a result of congestion.
The ports starting from Warri, Port Harcourt, Calabar and the inland ports such as Onitsha if revitalised and made economically functional could act as dragnets for investments and economic development of these areas. From investigations we have found out that these ports suffer low patronage as a result of certain policies which makes them more expensive for transactions than Lagos ports. It is said that the freight charges to these ports are higher than the charges to Lagos and also that duties and other charges are higher at these ports than what obtains in Lagos. In addition, they will also require various levels of dredging in order to make them capable of receiving Modern Ocean going container ships.
For instance the Warri port apart from serving businesses in Delta, Edo, Anambra and environs can also become the maritime gateway to the north western parts of the country as it is closer to them than Lagos. Port Harcourt/Calabar can conveniently serve Rivers, Bayelsa, Abia, Imo, Enugu, Ebonyi, Cross river, Akwa Ibom and also parts of North central/ North East.
The move by the promoters of Aba Mega Mall and the Abia State government should be encouraged and built upon to boost commerce and industry in these parts.