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Enugu “Oganiru” Summit: Making Enugu a regional economic hub

By The Citizen
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By Anayo Udemezue
The Enugu Investment Summit has defined the path that economic development strategy needs to follow in sustaining development in the country without dependence on crude oil.

The summit charted the course for a sub-regional approach to economic development, which I believe is not just for the south-eastern states alone but equally applies to every other region in the country.

Many of the states of the federation are not economically viable without oil revenue and that has made sub-regional economic cooperation a necessity in the light of the sharp drop in oil revenue. Shedding light in this new direction represents a major contribution that the government of Enugu State has offered the nation in managing the current fiscal crisis.

Financial crisis necessitated consolidation in the banking sector and operating difficulties make mergers and acquisitions compelling in the business and industrial sectors. The equivalent of these in the public sector is regional economic integration or cooperation, which enhances the environment for new investment inflow through policy harmonization and consequently ensures the survival of cooperating states.

Hon. Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi, governor of Enugu State has been running with the vision of creating an economic hub in the south east. The just concluded investment summit has not only given his desire a prominent expression but has gone ahead to define the next steps forward in actualizing the vision.

The 'wise men' from eastern Nigeria are gifted in entrepreneurship, the same skill with which the nation of Israel has become the world leader in technological innovation. Israel is now an innovative and entrepreneurial powerhouse, leading the world in various innovation metrics even ahead of the US, according to World Economic Forum's 2010-2011 Global Competitiveness Report. The south east can, like Israel, become the start-up region of Nigeria and with proper government support, it can replicate the entrepreneurial miracle that Israel has shown to the world.

I see in Ugwuanyi the conviction to spur this spirit of entrepreneurship in the eastern region and I can say that the east hasn't got a better opportunity to break out in entrepreneurship than now that a rallying point has been found at last. Entrenching entrepreneurial culture provides a fundamental approach to addressing the problem of high rate of unemployment and the social evils arising from it. In 2012, Israel showcased to the world its expertise on entrepreneurship as a model for creativity, job creation and poverty eradication.

The immediate line of action for the eastern state governments in this direction has been defined by Mr. Tony Elumelu, chairman of Heirs Holdings, who clearly understands regional business strategy at the African continental level.  Elumelu, while speaking at the investment summit, has called on the governors of the five south eastern states to harmonise economic policies in order to spur economic development and provide an enabling business environment in the region.

This is the critical survival line not only for the south east but also for the other regions of the nation. Nigeria ranks low in the global business environment ranking and nothing says it should be so across the states. I urge state governors to take decisive actions in the direction of opening up channels of investment inflow that is highly needed to activate regional economic potentials.

Elumelu, who invests across Africa, is the right man to consult on investment environment issues. I expect that his recommendation to state governors should be given its proper weight in policymaking.

He has created businesses across the African continent in sectors critical for economic development. He is running with a vision to create institutions that will be role models for African business under the umbrella of his African investment holding company. He has defined his stand as a ready private sector ally with the south east region in the areas of power generation, oil and gas, agribusiness, real estate and hospitality should the states respond appropriately to form the regional economic hub.

Nigeria's economy has come to a stage where neither the public nor the private sector can run exclusively on its own. Strategic collaboration has become quite critical for the survival of both. This lays bare the beauty of the Enugu investment summit in terms of both its focus and timing. Strategic collaboration between the public and private sectors has become imperative to head off total economic collapse.

According to Elumelu, 'we need the combined effort of regional leaders to create Eastern Industrial hubs; the existing state-by-state fragmentation won't work in today's economic reality'. The vision bearer, governor Ugwuanyi defined the mission clearly, which is to transform the state and the region into an economic powerhouse and a preferred destination for investment.

The 3-day summit had the theme 'Beyond Oil: Fostering Inclusive Economic Growth and Sustainable Development'. The objective is to highlight the state's enormous economic potentials, ultimately develop an economic agenda for the south east region and promote integration and shared prosperity for the region.

In order to accomplish these, Elumelu has urged the south eastern governors to offer regional incentives that will attract new investment inflow. He also drew the attention of the private sector to the need for investing in industries and infrastructure rather than keep fat bank accounts. This call should not fall on deaf ears in a situation where job creating activities are critically needed while huge funds are stashed away in foreign bank accounts. The security implication of such a divergence is yet beginning to unfold.

For the new investments needed to spur entrepreneurship in the eastern region to begin to flow, the eastern businessmen themselves should lead the way. This is what Elumelu means when he called on successful people in the eastern region to invest in the youth as a sustainable means of developing the African continent. Economic opportunities for the youth are severely limited and this calls for sustained new investments in job creating sectors of the economy.

The investment summit has no doubt provided new steps ahead for the Enugu State government in its mission of transforming the state into an economic powerhouse and a preferred destination for investment. The state is gradually assembling local and foreign development partners given the high level of their participation at the summit.

France and Ireland have shown considerable interests in the aggressive investment drive of the governor of Enugu State and their active participation in the summit is therefore not surprising. Also, China and Singapore appear to be highly impressed by the effort of the governor of Enugu State to create an investment friendly climate here.

The active presence of the Asians at the summit should encourage the state government that its efforts in driving growth through increased investment inflow are yielding the desired fruits. The presence of leading Nigerian businessmen at the Enugu summit has equally afforded the state an opportunity to showcase its economic credentials. This is one small step by Enugu state government but a giant step for the south east and for the nation.

Udemezue, a public affairs analyst writes from Abuja.