I have the pleasure to be here today as we rub minds with some of our great men and women, to find practical solutions and strategy to turn-around the economic fortunes of our South-East Region, and perhaps, move closer to a collaborative economic bloc, in dealing with many of our problems.
For the geographical and political space, we can define as the South-East Region, there is no doubt that many identifiable elements, hold us together, and easily define our collective problems and successes. We share the same language, same history, cultural values, same concept of the use of resources and power.
That is why the Keynote address, and the Summit theme papers, we have just listened to, can talk of South-East Economic landscapes, challenges, potentials, and the projection, of what seems like a collective expectation, to the 21st century economy.
The implication here, is that, despite what may be seen as the existing problems, we can already see existing conditions, capable of encouraging a South-East collective pursuit of policies, that can lead us to a collective greater economic achievements, and perhaps to an economic Union of States.
I need to state here, that I strongly share with these dreams, even though I will like to take a broader view of some issues.
Recalling from the recent experiences of my own State of Abia, when factors beyond economic imperatives, threatened to completely shut down the economic nerve-centers of our State, I feel concerned that our discussion of the Economies of the South-East Region, may not have paid enough attention to the adverse role of Violence and Conflicts, and how these are capable of truncating our economic potentials and dreams, by challenging our future cooperative and collective strategy, to survive as a Region.
While I am not unmindful of the fact, that the deplorable state of our economy and other infrastructural challenges, have themselves, in the first place – encouraged some level of violence and conflict activities in our Region, I still believe that, it is time for us to begin to highlight these, as serious challenges, inhibiting our economic potentials.
Conflicts and Violence, are not isolated issues that are found in the South-East Region alone, but it is also true that our region has been exposed to very intensive conflicts, the first, being the Nigerian Civil war, when our region was the theatre of attack for close to 3 years ( 1967-70).We are yet to recover the cohesion of our region after that war, which also continue to impose some serious constraints on our collective socio-economic development.
Recently, our Region has been the focus of many less serious, but debilitating violent tendencies; the most serious, being the spread of criminal kidnapping, and other politically induced violence. These, do not only distort the perception about our people and our environment as unsafe, but they impede inter and intra economic activities and other interactions in our Region.
While such conflicts and violence do limit the movement of goods, people and transfer of knowledge between the people of our Region, they have also, in very negative ways, re-enforced the Igbo-man’s individualism, and those of the component States, – in the thinking that, ‘we can always go it alone’.
I need to emphasize here that there is nothing wrong about the Igbo-man’s individualism, or that of the component States, which on the face of it is an admirable economic philosophy, manifesting itself in the independence of our people, to seek out and conquer all odds, through self determination. But under threat and scarcity of resources, we still refuse to share things or leverage on collective resources to improve our well-beings.
The down-side is that everyone, continues to struggle for their own, and our lives come to signify our individual or State possessions, our use of it, and our defense of it.
For example, almost all the States of the South-East Region have eyes on building a Refinery, or owning a Private Power Plant, or any other such gigantic Projects, even though such dreams can equally be achieved by pulling resources together, to execute a single project that can serve two or more States ,effectively.
Another paradox of the above tendency is that our desire to gain and defend our possessions, either as individuals or as States within the South-East Region, often come to mean, our dependence on such possessions. So that, even when our Region moves to initiate a collective policy to enhance the political and economic space of the Region, many ruggedly, individual and State forces, are sure to make monstrous bids for the same thing. This does not augur well for hopes of a collective economic agenda for the South-East Region.
The inference I have tried to make here, is that if we can address and manage our imminent conflicts and violence in the South-East Region, more effectively, we will be in a better position to share a larger safe and peaceful environments for business growth, and through that, build an enduring economic arrangements, that can collectively benefit our people across the different States of the Region.
Among the many conflicts and violent activities affecting our Region, the following are more prevalent:
• Violent Armed robbery and criminal kidnapping for ransom.
• Violent Community clashes that often extend beyond community and State borders
• Extreme political agitations that turn to sporadic violence
Such conflicts, where-ever they occur, often come to speak bolder than negotiation, and tend to water-down, required greater collaboration within the larger society. This is a situation that our Region must combat against.
In many areas of the South-East Region, reports show that the violence of criminal kidnapping has been on the rise, daily, requiring heavy State investments to contain them. But the other negative implication, is that it has become the latest avenue for rapid creation of wealth for professional criminals and our young amateurs just in search of job.
This is why the lure of profitable kidnapping for ransom, took the centre stage, and was able to cripple the City of Aba , and in fact the entire Abia State, for many months, before our Government fought vigorously to regain our cities from clutches of violence.
The impact of that period still lingers, as some of our youths remain in the grip of easy money-making, through other forms of violence.
While I must confess here, that the statistics on significant cases of violence and other forms of conflicts in our Region, are far from accurate, since more than 70 percent are rarely reported. But even the much we know or hear about in many areas of the Region, are enough indications to reach a conclusion that the do indeed have serious impacts on the economic activities of our region.
We know that there have been local brain drains from our cities affected by violence and kidnapping, and that our Cities have sometimes become dreaded areas for the much needed local and foreign investment, especially, when genuine entrepreneurs come to the conclusion that their lives and property are no longer safe.
This is why I consider an integrated and collective approach to conflict management in our Region, as a prerequisite to building a collective robust economy in the South-East Region.
I believe that the time is ripe for the interstate connectedness of our Region, to be carried to the level of a closer Economic Union of States, which becomes the source of inter-state promotions of Commerce, development of infrastructures, and the building and management of other desirable huge projects and services, that promote the welfare of the citizens of our Region.
The above becomes more feasible, as Inter-State collaboration is mobilized to limit the damage done by criminal violence in our Region. Through the sharing of valid information on violence and conflict control, we can ensure that such activities are either isolated or confined to specific areas for elimination. Business is sure to thrive better, under a secured and business-friendly Region.
As our Region aspires towards the strategic rebuilding of our Economies through the collective action of States, we should also be at the vanguards, leading to the Legislative Agenda to establish State or Regional controlled Policing in the Nation. This will assist in reducing the crudity of many of our Vigilante Groups, now in use in many of our States.
While an extensive collaboration, or even an Economic Union of South-East States, may take a period of gestation to crystallize, States of our Region, need to explore either singly, or collectively, to implement massive development policies that create the necessary skills for the survival of our huge unemployed youths, and through that, encourage a violence and crime free Region.
I suggest that our States of the South-East Region, begin to use collaborative public policies to rebuild the moral order of our region, and through that re-ignite the confidence of our people in entrepreneurship, as well as encourage foreign investors to return to our Region.
In conclusion, I will say that no society or Region is violence or conflict free, and our region can still achieve a collective and robust regional economy. But we can best actualize this, through an environment, where both, the existence of the right strategies, and a genuine attempt to manage and contain existing conflict pressures, exist.
What is also important,is that our democracy in the South-East Region must be seen to be working for our people. Our State Governments must be seen to be promoting inclusive and equitable policies that advance the aspirations and dreams of our people, as well as delight those who want to participate in our development efforts.
But, no matter the dreams of economic development we share for the South-East Region, especially in the improvement of collaboration between our States, the ordinary people of the South-East Region will be frustrated
with our Region, if our State Governments fail to do what Governments are set up to do – which is the protection of lives and property of our people.
This is why it should be the dream of our leaders and our States, to give to ourselves and to our children, a South-East Region that is safe and easily accessible for business, pleasure, and the preservation of our ways of life; and a Region where the Federal Government – as a minimum – is made to live up to its infrastructural and other responsibilities to our States.
These are in my view, the primary conditions for the growth and development of a viable South-East Regional economy, and emergence of a collaborative Union of States, that can stand the test of time.
Thank you for listening.