By Emeka Mamah
Mr. Ikenna Modebelu from Nnewi, Anambra State is the lead promoter of South East Leadership and Development Initiative, SELDI. SELDI- a strong advocate of Igbo emancipation is committed to the economic and social transformation of South East region.
Modebelu, an accomplished media and advertising practitioner, founded theRichland Communications Limited over two decades ago. In this interview with Saturday Vanguard in Enugu, Modebelu spoke on the deplorable state of South East roads, development of Igbo land as well as the think home policy of Ndigbo. Read on:
The South East geopolitical zone is the most neglected in the country going by reports from most quarters. To what extent is this true?
The facts are there for everyone to see. The deplorable state of infrastructure in the South East region is alarming and calls for urgent attention. The few federal infrastructure in existence are in deplorable state. After the civil war, the Igbo were left with nothing which was why a large chunk of the population took solace in trading.
Fortunately, they prospered but the reality of the modern economic development has gone beyond conventional trading. However, emerging market developments in the region requires infrastructure which is almost none existent. Equally, the Igbo professional requires a new paradigm to function successfully in the Southeast.
However, the state of underdevelopment, poverty, unemployment and lack of federal infrastructure in the South East, can be attributed to failed leadership of all classes in the region. The region has not witnessed any serious development since the civil war ended about 47 years ago in 1970, even as the continued post war challenges still pose major economic and developmental threat to the area and its people. Even during the oil boom that resulted in the increase of federal government assets, south east was left out.
The dredging of the River Niger has become political with no action from succeeding governments. Even the fate of the Second Niger Bridge project remains unclear. These challenges have continued to engender forceful migration of South East youths to areas outside the region in search of greener pastures.
The negative result of this neglect by the federal, state and local governments alongside Igbo elites and Igbo industrialists in Diaspora, have resulted to social unrest, political imbalance and general impoverishment of the region with the attendant agitation, insecurity, infrastructural decay, and moral decadence among others. At the root of the above lies systemic economic decay.
What is SELDI’s position on the issue of restructuring of the country?
Our position on the restructuring of the federation is in line with the general position of most positive thinking groups in Nigeria, which is restructuring along regional lines of the six geopolitical zones; whereby each zone will keep 50% of what they produce with the other 50% shared between the other federating units and federal government on a 30/20% ratio respectively in line with the subsisting constitution at Amalgamation.
How has the turbulent national political dynamics affected the Southeast?
Yes I can say categorically that the Igbo are getting more united. The new leadership of the apex Igbo social-cultural organization, the Ohanaeze Ndiigbo, can be said to have hit the ground running in these two months of its young tenure. The President- General, Chief Nnia Nwodo has successfully reorganized the Southeast Governors Forum with Governor David Umahi of Ebonyi State as its chairman. This is progress.
The coming together of Nzuko Umunna which is a group of progressive Igbo technocrats drawn from all Igbo states including Delta and Rivers and their recent Kuje prison visit to Nnamdi Kanu is also unity and progress.
The recent visit by Ohanaeze leadership to Governor Nyeson Wike of River State and their proposed visit to Governor Ifeanyi Okowa of Delta State also portrays unity and progress for the various peoples of Igbo land. The call for the demilitarization of the region by the Ohanaeze leadership will enhance unity and bring about progress.
There is increased positive collaboration that will lead to economic integration between the Southeast and South – South geopolitical zones. So it can be reasonably asserted that the region is becoming more progressively united by speaking with one voice.
What are leaders of the Southeast doing to reign -in the separatist agitations by groups such as IPOB/MASSOB?
The Southeast leaders have a general consensus that if a level playing field is provided by the federal government by way of equity and fair play in distribution of national resources to adequately benefit the region; it will help to variously empower the restive youths that can channel their energies towards more productive ventures than calling for separation from Nigeria.
The leaders recognize that separation is not and end in itself but an equitably restructured Nigeria will calm frayed nerves of the youth and will increase the opportunities available to them.
The South eastern governments and cooperate organizations also share in the responsibility of making sure that these restive youths that make up the IPOB and MASSOB are given new opportunities towards more productive engagements. Opinion leaders and traditional institutions also have roles to play in this direction.
As the promoter of SELDI, what do you think should be done to build strategic leadership for sustainable development in the South East region and the country as a whole?
SELDI is dedicated to transforming and fostering development of Nigeria especially the South East region, focusing on leadership development in order to change the fortunes of the people and give hope to present and future generations. It is the response to the developmental gaps and challenges that have confronted the South East after the civil war which devastated the region.
There are many groups clamouring to represent the Igbo cause but they tend to become weaker after a while, how can your group be sustained?
SELDI as an advocacy group will continuously bring to the fore our objectives. It is hoped that with a sustained integrated media approach in pursuit of the above ideals, positive results will begin to show in due course by way of concrete response to our think home; build home agenda…
We will work on strategic thinking in leadership development and promote people – oriented, sustainable development programmes with special focus on good corporate governance, human capacity development and empowerment as well as focus on the environment.
SELDI will collaborate with individuals, organizations and networks to achieve set goals of promoting inclusive growth and development of South East region for the economic and sociocultural revival of the region.
SELDI will commit its work to public education, information dissemination and advocacy, to educate, inform, influence, change and develop mind-sets.
As often noted, regardless of what the underlying causes of slow progress in South East may be, south easterners themselves have to take responsibility for their own progress. The key challenge is how to engender good corporate governance and engender competitive investment environments that are necessary to bring about poverty alleviation through private sector-driven inclusive economic growth.
Given the unwillingness or inability of most leaders to promote good governance, the onus falls squarely on accomplished South East leaders, both within and outside the country, to take charge of fostering such objective to engender the evolution of visionary and transformational leaders in the region.
SELDI will go beyond just technical training in narrow fields — which are, of course, necessary, but not sufficient — to also include the development of talented young and emerging leaders into future leaders in policy, business, and civil society sectors. We will also, promote and appreciate leaders.
What do you think can be done to integrate the economy of South East for sustainable development?
The emerging South East market will be a major economic hub in Nigeria, and West Africa, with substantial global trade and huge industrialization potentials and opportunities. The time has come for the South East states’ economies to be integrated to boost investment, trade and development in the region and the nation at large.
The South East region faces several distinct challenges. The region is still weak with regards to national relevance in the following areas: infrastructure development, investment and industrialization. This has negatively affected its’ economy over the years.
However, harnessing the potentials and fully integrating the economies of the states will position the region to become stronger in attracting investment, promoting inter regional trade and stronger possibilities for economic growth. This strategic partnership will spring up better operation of SME’S, engender poverty reduction and improve employment generation.
Positioning South East economies will activate the potentials of the waterways, railways and airways. These will help open up the region to the world markets. Campaign will be on linking the region through rail system, good road network and international airport. We hope to rebuild the South East region through the “THINK HOME‘’ philosophy.
Seldi supports the integration of South East economies (largest economic block in Nigeria, Second only to Lagos West) as a strategy to foster faster development across every sector in the region. The forum will discuss various issues bothering on leadership, infrastructure development, politics, economy, investment, youth empowerment, employment and trade, the environment and ensuring grassroots participation. Efforts will be made to look at modalities for effective integration of these areas for the region. We believe that this is the way to move forward.
Insecurity and poor investment climate in the south east are reasons why Investors shy away from the region. In your opinion how can this be addressed?
Insecurity and lack of infrastructure are not enough disincentive for investment in the region. Negative perception “that the region is not conducive for investment”, has been a major clog in the wheel for investment.
There have been capital flight, premium human capital flight and these have caused massive investment flight out of the region. Strategic rebranding and Think Home Campaign efforts will create excitement and interest around the economic possibilities and strengths in the South east. This ultimately would drive investment interest.
It will be targeted at addressing the incidence of pervasive negative perception about investments in the region. It will also work to encourage attitudinal and behavioural change in the people. It’s however heart-warming to note that despite the noted constraints many industries still post healthy results in the region.
We believe that there are so many positive stories about south east other than kidnapping and we intend to let the world know that our land is rich and green with quality workforce. If the youths are well empowered, they will shun violence and other vices. SELDU will work closely with various stakeholders to empower our youth to be gainfully employed and self-reliant.
We therefore urge prospective investors to start thinking home by investing in the region. The issue of insecurity is a social problem all over the world but there is remarkable improvement, as various state governments in the south east are taking security very seriously. These efforts should be encouraged and that is why we will continually promote a south east where everybody in Nigeria and outside the country are free to invest and be assured of protection.