KILLING SOUTH EAST SOFTLY, SUBTLY
When you drive through many towns or cities in the South East, you certainly will see dozens, often hundreds and thousands of big and small business. They are as varied as those who own and operate them. Ask them how they are doing. They will tell you 'ifeadirozi ka odi na mbu'. Things are no longer as they used to be.
Time was when the South-East geo-political zone used to be an edifying reference point of how to build a citizen sector and a culture of innovation. The power of the citizen sector holds its promise in the complementary strengths of the people and the entrepreneur spirit that creates business and wealth.
This also translates into good fortune in the Gross Domestic Product (GDP). But this can only happen when government is quick and responsive to the pressing needs that can boost business enterprises.
This is vital because, no matter the can-do-spirit in the people, little progress can be made in the absence of basic social infrastructure such as good road network, power supply and raw materials.
For much that still valid the south east still holds so much progress in the economy of Nigeria. It's citizens are exemplars of how to make what seems impossible, practically possible. Over the years, economists and management experts have carried studies upon studies on what makes Ndigbo so successful in business.
The curiousity might have started following the uncommon accomplishments that made the late Sir Louis Odumegwu Ojukwu the first acknowledged millionaire in Nigeria. The answer is simple: it is the vibrancy of entrepreneurship spirit that make some people to see opportunities when others see obstacles and are hemmed in by them.
This made commercial cities in Igboland such as Aba, Nnewi and Onitsha to create and expand markets in such a large scale beyond our shores. Their feat was recognized by the World Bank and international credit rating agencies.
This is because good progress is easier when government support private business initiatives through social networks. In strict business sense, this is called Progress Loop. It reveals the potentials for self-reinforcing benefits. About 30 years ago, the World Bank ranked Onitsha as the fastest growing economy in West Africa. Africa with the potential of becoming one of the best commercial centres in the sub-saharan Africa. Aba and Nnewi were rated as the most enterprises commercial centres in terms of building a culture of indigenous technology.
Perhaps not anymore. Not because that entrepreneurial spirit and vision have deserted the people. No. Rather, it is because the Federal Government has gone to sleep in the areas it ought to assist the citizen sector in the country. For much that is plain truth now, the Federal Government has abandoned the people to their fate. The roads have collapsed, and have become deathtraps. Everywhere you go, North, West, South, East, that is the sad tale. But the situation in the south East is like a repeated poison given in doses that kills its victim slowly, subtly and suddenly, he dies. Is this all about politics, or what? This negligence has taken its toll on businesses in the South East, the very soul and oxygen for the survival of the people. The state of Federal roads in the South East and the erratic power supply does not make for edifying reading.
At no time is the urgency for the Federal Government to do something resonated more than now. Recently, Governor Peter Obi of Anambra state took the gauntlet on how erratic power supply is killing the economy of the South East, to the minister of Power, Prof Barth Nnaji in his office, Abuja. With voice shaken, the urgency of Obi's message was unmistakeable: the inability of the Federal Government to provide adequate electricity supply has forced many manufacturing companies in the South East to close shop.
In Anambra state alone, less than 50 percent of an estimated 3,000 factories in the state have shut down operations. They can only operate with diesel, and the cost of the product has hit the rooftops. One of the resultant effects is job losses, especially among the youths. In Nnewi and Aba, the casualty figure of companies that have closed down as a result of poor power supply is much worse, with less than 35 percent of the factories still in business.
Onitsha, Aba and Nnewi used to pride themselves as the 'Japan of Nigeria'. But that dream is dying fast, for Japan was not developed in darkness. It required thoughtful and wise leadership to build it to what it is today. As governor Obi rightly noted, the factories in the South East are the second largest employer of labour. With thousands of youths now jobless, crime wave is already high with spate of kidnappings and armed robbery on the increase. A society where the best of its youth is jobless is like a time-bomb waiting to explode.
But beyond the power supply crisis that has virtually crippled the South East economy, the state of the roads, especially Federal roads, gives the impression that the Executive branch at the centre has gone Awol. Quite a number of these federal roads are gateways to the economic activities of the zone. Few instances will suffice. In Onitsha, the commercial nerve centre of Anambra state, the bridgehead road is the most critical. This is in view of its strategic role as the main artery into the state. So also is its importance to the economy of the state. The same is the Owerri/Aba/Port Harcourt road.
At the moment, the bad state of these link roads compete with the Oshodi/Apapa Lagos/Ibadan Expressways that is now described as the shame of our nation. Governor Obi as the chairman of the South East Governors' Forum told the minister of Works, Arc. Mike Onolememen that much during his courtesy visit. But the biggest federal government's flight of conscience in the South East is the contract given to one of the civil engineering construction firms working on the South Eastern road, CCC. I never knew the extent of mess done by CCC until last week when a catholic priest in the Diocese of Nnewi Rev. Fr. Chiedu A Onyiloha sent me a mail, cataloguing the alleged 'misdeeds' of the construction firm. What follows below is part of Fr. Onyiloha's investigation.
CCC is currently working on some roads in the South Eastern part of Nigeria. CCC is working on the Onitsha-Owerri Road, from the Onitsha through Uli area. That road is yet to be completed, especially the Okija-Azia-Ihiala axis for some years --whereas the Owerri-Mgbidi section of the same road has since been completed by the Julius Berger Plc. CCC is also working on the Oba-Nnewi-Ekwulumili-Okigwe Federal Road, as well as the Ichi-Nnewi-Ozubulu Federal Road.
Works on the Oba-Nnewi-Ekwulumili-Okigwe have stopped since April of this year (2011) at the Traffic Junction area of Umudim Nnewi without any reasons for not reaching the Amichi-Ekwulumili-Unubi-Uga terminal. As disturbing as the situation is, the so-called completed areas of the road in Umudim Nnewi are unprofessionally done as rains have washed off some of the roads due to absence of gutters in some areas and/or construction of gutters in non-erosion tracks/channels.
South East Governors owe their people the duty of liaising with the appropriate federal/state ministries in monitoring projects going on in their geopolitical zone. This is a conscious civic culture that promotes excellence of service and judicious use of the tax-payers' resources. Let Governor Peter Obi of Anambra and Owelle Rochas Okorocha of Imo take a tour of the Oba-Nnewi-Ekwulumili-Okigwe Federal Road and see the glaring engineering inefficiency of CCC.
Equally, the new Minister of Works' visit to the road will help the Honourable Minister to invite CCC to Abuja for questioning and/or review of the contract. This will serve as a veritable platform for promoting the Good Luck Transformation Agenda for the Vision 202020.
Having taken a tour of some of these roads in the South East recently, it is not an odd conclusion to say that the risk elements of neglecting the socio-economic development of this geo-political zone will have incalculable economic consequences, not only for the South East, but Nigerian economy as a whole.