President Goodluck Jonathan
By Goddy Egene
President Goodluck Jonathan will declare open the second South-south Economic Summit scheduled for Asaba next month, a Presidency source confirmed last night. This also was corroborated by the Director-General of BRACED Commission, Ambassador Joe Keshi. BRACED is an acronym for Bayelsa, Rivers, Akwa Ibom, Cross River, Edo and Delta States which functions as the secretariat of the South-south states.
This second summit is coming three years after the first one, held in 2009 in Calabar, which did not seem to have made any sustainable impact on the investment potentials of the region.
The hopes raised by the idea of that summit have remained in animated suspense.
However, the theme of the impending summit slated for April 26-28th is ‘Development, Investment and Security’.
“When put together, we are saying that the South-south is ready for investment. We want to tell the world that the South-south is developing but within the context of that development is also the realisation that the South-south is potentially an investment haven. For those around the world and within the country who are looking for areas of investment, they can do so in oil and gas, agro-business among others. There is virtually nothing you cannot produce in large quantity in the South-south,” Keshi told journalists at the weekend.
He said the summit would attract presidents, offshore investors, global business leaders as well as indigenous investors and ministers, especially ministers from the South-south zone.
To demonstrate the seriousness and commitment of the commission towards delivering a world class summit, the BRACED Commission at the weekend, formally launched a new website solely dedicated to the summit.
The South-south is the economic life wire of the nation being the sole producer of the country’ crude oil. With the recent passage of a N4.8 trillion 2012 budget at a benchmark of $72 per barrel of oil, the full implementation of this budget will depend largely on the socio-political stability of the South-south which as recent as 2006 was a major flashpoint. The summit, therefore, in addition to building synergy within the region, would also seek ways of sustaining peace in the region.
According to Keshi: “We are focussing on regional integration and economic development, the type that is capable of producing jobs for the people of the zone and by extension for the larger Nigerian populace.
“There is something you must understand about labour; if any part of the country is developed, there would be substantial migration of labour towards that area as we have in Lagos today. Lagos is the commercial nerve centre of Nigeria but we need to create more commercial centres and cities in the country. The South-south has up to two or three areas that you can call commercial cities. Our strategy is to create the conditions that would help these cities realise their full potentials as commercial hubs.”
Given the way the South-south is growing, he projected that “in the next 15 to 20 years, the zone can create the number of jobs and opportunities that would help banish poverty from the region and the country at large. Very soon, people would start migrating to the South-south because of the opportunities which would be created from the socio-economic integration of the zone”.
While fielding questions from journalists shortly after the launch of the summit website, Keshi said: “Today, the South-south is very much united politically. Socially, they are contiguous. When you consider that one state sprang from another, you will understand the close ties that bind them. Initially, they were part of Eastern Nigeria; later you had Mid-Western Nigeria and later Bendel State on the one hand and Cross River and Rivers State on the other. Both of them further split to form Edo and Delta and Cross River and Akwa Ibom, while Bayelsa was carved out of the old Rivers State. If you take a tour of these states, you will discover how contiguous they really are. We are leveraging on this affinity to create an economic super power. We want to dismantle the dividing walls and allow free movement of goods, labour and services within this region. Already, the governors have decided that if you are from the South-south and you school in any university in the South-south, you pay the same school fees. These are some of the policies that would make the co-operation work.”
The director general said there were many areas of investment. He cited oil and gas, agriculture, transport as major investment opportunities.
“At their last meeting, the governors of the zone mooted the idea of an integrated power grid for the region. Four states are already working on it and the remaining two states are on the verge of buying into it. When fully implemented, the zone would have taken care of the power problem that has kept investors away for too long,” he said.
According to him, “At the BRACED Commission, we have set the stage at a meeting with the commissioners on the need for an inter-modular transport system for the region. The railway is very key. I have talked to my friends in the South-west who are doing the same on the feasibility of linking up these railway systems. For instance, linking the railway from Lagos to Calabar through the East would facilitate movement of goods from the South-west to the South-south. The three zones will now have to compel the Federal Government to make this work.”
He said the South-south governors were working to ensure that each state becomes a leader in the production of palm oil produce, cassava, rice and cocoa.
But noble as the idea is, some people have expressed concern over the commitment of the state governments to powering the idea to blossom. Many fear that too often political dynamics stall the progress on the essence of the summit. But the involvement of President Jonathan this time is likely to inject greater energy to realising the goals of the summit.