The Abia Think Tank, an assemblage of intellectuals and professionals, whose objective is focused around socio-economic and political development of Abia State and Nigeria, has called on the state government to identify the strength and weaknesses of the state in order re-direct governance for the growth of the state, which its said was once the economic and commercial nerve centre of the Igbo people living in the eastern states of the country.
The group, which made the call at its 7th annual forum and dinner held at the Sheraton Hotel Lagos at the weekend, also called on the state government to take competitive advantage of the strength of the state to develop it into a more vibrant state that will create new possibilities to transform its people and businesses.
The President of Abia Think Thank, Chief Sam Ohuabunwa, in his opening remarks, called on the people of state to put politics aside and come together to develop the state.
Identifying Aba, one of the towns in the state with the highest concentration of small and medium enterprises (SMEs) in the country, Ohuabunwa said: “Part of the motivation of Abia Think Tank, is to create a major and modern industrial and development node in Aba, with a positive multiplier effects in other economic centres of the state and Nigeria.”
He said SMEs should be organised into a well defined industrial and commercial clusters with modern infrastructural facilities to promote rapid economic activities that will absorb young men and women of the state.
Delivering the keynote address at the forum, with the theme: ‘Beyond Politics: Re-directing Abia Economic Development Paradigm’, the guest speaker, Ijeoma Nwogwugwu, who is also the Editor and Group Executive Director, THISDAY Newspapers, explained that politics cannot be disentangled from economic development of the state, insisting that economy necessitates a political structure, just as the political behaviour of the leadership determines the economic fortunes of a state.
Addressing what she called the new urgency on the economic future of states across the country, Nwogwugwu faulted the Nigerian federation on the creation of states by political fiat, mostly by the military, instead of allowing the states to evolve as a consequence of political and historical necessity. According to her some of the states, were created without due consideration for economic viability, as their creation were mostly informed by the considerations of political convenience and elite pressure, which eventually put the states in difficult situations in discharging their obligations as sub-sovereign entities compelled to pay workers’ salaries, provide municipal services, address security issues that should mostly be a federal responsibility and undertake development projects both in terms of infrastructure and human capital development.
She cited recent studies which show that only four states are currently viable in the country based on the measurement of viability restricted to their ability to pay public sector workers’ salaries and settle outstanding obligations to sundry creditors from the receipts from the federation account and internally generated revenue (IGR).
Picking on the state in addressing the challenges of most states of the federation, Nwogwugwu said the federation account receipts for Abia State, which exclude allocations to its local government areas, amounted to about N48 billion in 2014, N40.1 billion in 2015, and N25.4 billion from January to October 2016.
Meanwhile, available data on the website of the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) show that the state has generated little amount from its IGR, which is slightly over a billion naira in the last six years.
According to the statistics, Abia State generated N11.12 billion in 2010 as IGR; N11.76 billion in 2011; N16.75 billion in 2012; N12.37 billion in 2014 and N13.35 billion in 2015. This, the guest speaker said, was despite the huge economic potential; proximity to the seaport in Port Harcourt in Rivers State and oil economies of the Niger Delta. In contrast, a state like Ogun has grown its IGR from about a billion naira in the same period to about N7 billion on a monthly basis, by leveraging its proximity to Nigeria’s largest commercial city, Lagos. In the same vein, the Anambra State Governor, Willie Obiano, recently said he has raised IGR in the state from N500 million monthly to N1.2 billion monthly, with a target to reach N2.2 billion per month by next year.
Comparing Nigeria federalism to that of United States, the guest speaker said the difference is that in the US, the various states joined the union at various times to create the federal government, but in Nigeria, the federal military government arbitrarily created the states without considering the economic viability and productivity of the states, and began to fund them with oil rents and royalties.
Amid difficulties faced by states in Nigeria, Nwogwugwu said: “The present situation calls for urgency, when the economic potential of states will have to be explored and quickly realised, and quite a number of states have already put on their thinking caps to address the ugly situation.”
Responding, the chief guest of honour at the forum and Governor of the state, Dr. Okezie Ikpeazu, commended the guest speaker for her paper presentation, which he said touched on vital points as they relate to the development of the state, but disagreed on the figures quoted in the area of IGR. According to Ikpeazu, the state may be generating billions of naira on a yearly basis from IGR, going by the statistics as presented by the guest speaker, he however explained that the total amount paid into the state government coffers, was less than a billion in one year.