The sustained agitation for the manifestation of our regional selling points has never been this feverish. The preponderance of opinions is that it will herald a new vista for Nigeria, if faithfully embraced. Again, it appears to be a prescription that will strengthen the professed indivisibility which our country is desirous of protecting.
Just recently, the former vice president of Nigeria, Alex Ekwueme, steered a new body in town: Southern Nigeria Peoples Assembly (SNPA) to advocate a return to the six-zonal arrangement which the generality of Nigerians sympathise with.
Constant resonation of this reality had always featured in the charismatic devotion of some present-day gubernatorial stewards to inject life into some latent and comatose legacies of their regional heroes past. This is symptomatic of a renewed zeal in Abia State to strengthen Michael Okpara’s milestone in agriculture exemplified by the once vibrant Abia Palm at Ohambele in Ukwa East Local Government Area. This effort is being complemented by a rare initiative of locating farms in each of the 17 LGAs of the state under project “liberation farms”.
In my estimation, we stand to substantially reward Nigeria if there is a deliberate regional effort programmed to maximise the mineral and agricultural competencies of a region devoid of federal encumbrances. A federal structure which empowers component units to express themselves exploratively and pay economic homage to the centre will, in my mind’s eye, engender healthy competition in the polity and herald a departure from our present monolithic and precarious arrangement hopelessly tied to uncertainties of the global oil market. A recent and widely reported decline in America’s demand for Nigeria’s crude drives home the point I am trying to infer.
This submission is without prejudice to the demand for even distribution of state creation as against what presently obtains. If anything, it will fast-track development in the six geo-political regions, given a foreseeable scenario of regional stakeholders going the extra-mile to maximise the potentials located in their domain.
Lord Lugard’s unification of 1914 meant only the loose affiliation of three distinct administrations of Northern, Western and Eastern regions. Consequently, each region was still administered by a lieutenant governor, who bestrode independent government services. This latitude enabled each governor to coordinate virtually autonomous entities that had overlapping economic interests, but little in common politically or socially.
However, our reception of democratic tenets as ingredients of political and economic development will make it imperative for its replication in all geo-political entities of the country. Consequently, while we seek to deregulate the economic atmosphere of each region, our shared democratic values will be administered nationally for constant promotion and maintenance of our national identity.
As earlier on somewhere highlighted, synergy, in the face of dwindling economic resources, has become imperative. In a lecture I delivered during the public policy forum of Business Hallmark, July 4, 2012, I did observe that seeking integration of contiguous states, especially those already bonded together by cultural and historical affiliations, has become unavoidably expedient for states to be in a position to harness and accelerate their economic development. Having taken a look at the past and how it compares with the present, it is obviously evident that at the point of independence the British colonists and Nigerian nationalists rooted for a broad-based federal system of government.
Each of the regions, through their inaugural heroes, sought to exploit their potentials to develop and this ushered Nigeria into the healthy era of celebrating regional competencies. The North covered up for agricultural deficiencies in other regions, and we could hear of the groundnut pyramid which featured prominently in Nigeria’s foreign exchange earnings.
Same spirit of enterprise played out in the Eastern part of Nigeria as it was widely reported that by 1960, Michael Okpara, then premier of the defunct Eastern region, had laid a solid foundation upon which the economy of the region stood – without mineral resources. The strength of the then Eastern region motivated many political and economic permutations that the region would ultimately actualise Nigeria’s long-held desire to be among the most industrialised countries of the world.
We could also hear of the cocoa merchants in the West ably piloted through the foresight arising from the well-established Odu’a Investment Company in 1965. Odu’a blue-chip subsidiaries spanned publishing, manufacturing, and properties such as the Western House on Broad Street, Lagos, Cocoa House in Ibadan, Oyo State, and other industrial concerns like Durosyn Paint and Polyplast, Airport Hotel Ikeja, and so on. Praise-worthy resilience and tenacity of purpose have kept some of Odu’a investments going, while many have also gone the way of others.
Given the enormity of merits located in revisiting a reformed regional structure, it has become unavoidably necessary to stimulate a healthy debate in that direction. A broad-based national conviction will usher in a sincere adoption as investments will be directed to regions with comparative advantage for a significant rise in the nation’s productive capacity.
Let us remember that at independence when regions prospered, it was simply because each of them found a reason to prosper through collaborations with the contiguous localities, and the federal government was undoubtedly the beneficiary in its transformed economy. Consequently, leaders of the regions saw no attraction in operating from the centre. We can, if we put our minds to it.
T. A. ORJI
Orji, the Governor of Abia, wrote in from Umuahia
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