S’East and Its Integration Agenda


Governors of the South-east geo-political zone resolved recently to come up with a roadmap for the social, economic, political and security integration of their region, an initiative that could yet give the people a new sense of direction with a healthy competition, writes Christopher Isiguzo

The recent resolve by the five South-east governors to pursue an economic agenda that could help better the lives of the people of the region and Nigeria in general has suddenly brought a glimmer of hope for a people once celebrated, albeit notoriously given their penchant for working at cross purposes.

After becoming moribund for almost two years, the zeal with which the governors now work especially since the emergence of a new leadership under the chairmanship of the Ebonyi State Governor, Dave Umahi, is gradually trying to put a lie to insinuations in some quarters that Ndigbo could not agree to work together on matters of collective interest.

The governors including Okezie Ikpeazu of Abia, Rochas Okorocha of Imo, Willie Obiano of Anambra and Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi of Enugu have already set up an economic team made up of two representatives, each from the five states to fashion out the roadmap towards the economic integration of the zone.
Before Umahi’s emergence on February 26, 2017, as its new leader, the forum has been inactive over matters of common concern to the people of the zone left attended to with required seriousness they deserve. The forum packed up soon after the 2015 general election. Even before the general election, the forum had almost become deputy governors’ meeting as many of the governors preferred to stay away in what was seen as obvious muscles-flexing over who should lead them.

The situation further worsened as the leadership of the apex Igbo socio-cultural organization, Ohanaeze Ndigbo, which used to articulate and coordinate the affairs of the people of the South-east was equally enmeshed in leadership crisis.

But with the revival of the governors’ forum and the election of a former information minister, Chief John Nnia Nwodo as the President-General of the body, which happened almost simultaneously, it is a signpost of better days ahead for the zone.

It is believed that the coming together of the South-east
governors once again portends good omen, more so coming at a time the crisis in Ohanaeze Ndigbo seemed to have been put to an end.

Political analysts believe that the present scenario is a positive development as the governors, Ohanaeze Ndigbo and other allied groups could now work together to pursue common goal in terms of
socio-cultural, political and economic development of the zone.

This is a zone that has consistently complained of neglect and marginalisation in the scheme of things in the country. There’s obvious dearth of basic infrastructure in the area. The two major highways in the zone – Enugu-Port Harcourt and Enugu-Onitsha – are death traps as a result of long years of abandonment, whilst ecological disasters have become commonplace in the five states in the zone with Enugu alone parading about 500 erosion sites. No doubt, federal presence in the South-east is almost non-existent.

In the area of political appointments, the present day Nigeria has no Igbo man at the top echelon of national security, including the Army, Navy, Airforce, Police, Department of State Security, Civil Defence, Immigration, Prisons and Customs amongst others. The highest political position presently occupied by anyone from the area is the Deputy Senate President, Senator Ike Ekweremadu.
In a recent security and economic summit organised by former Minister of Power, Prof. Barth Nnaji in Enugu, the Deputy Senate President, Ike Ekweremadu lamented that, “Today, there is no Igbo man in the commanding heights of the security architecture to the extent that they can’t attend Security Council meeting”.

Thus, it has become imperative for the leadership of the zone to take their destiny in their own hands. It is as a result of this that the new-found unity among the South-east governors and the election of a new leadership for Ohanaeze Ndigbo are expected to chart a new course for the development of the zone.

Since the resuscitation of the forum, the governors have met three times in February, April and May, the first since the advent of the nation’s democracy. During their meeting in February, the governors resolved to work together in the interest of the people of the zone after receiving briefings from the President-General of Ohanaeze Ndigbo, Nwodo on the activities of the organisation and also from the Deputy Senate President, Ike Ekweremadu on provisions of infrastructure development for the zone in the 2017 Appropriation Bill.

Umahi told newsmen that the governors had resolved to work together, going forward in order to improve the lots of the people of the zone and also take a critical look on a number of burning issues. According to him, the meeting was mainly focused on security and economic integration of the zone in order to improve on the security of the five states and also tap from the abundant economic potential in the area.

On security, the governor said, “We’ve agreed to compare notes. We agreed to talk to the Commissioners of Police in our respective states on security integration so that such issues as kidnapping, armed robbery and other insecurities are looked at together with a view to addressing them.

“We’ve noticed that whenever a kidnap occurs, say in Ebonyi State, the victim is taken to another state and vice versa. The only way to arrest the situation is for us to work together and team up. That way, we’ll be able to secure lives and property of our people,” he said.

On the economic front, Umahi said they also agreed on the imperativeness of working together, adding, “We agreed that each of the governors will direct his commissioner for economic planning to also begin to compare notes and come up with a blueprint on how we will come up with proper integration of the zone. We have abundance wealth in our area and we can harness them if we come together.

“We also agreed to work together to compare notes and imbibe the spirit of peer review mechanism. Ebonyi learns from Imo, Abia, learns from Enugu, Anambra learns from Ebonyi. With that, we will be able to come together for the good of our people. We also declared our support for the new leadership of Ohanaeze Ndigbo and ask our people to give them all the necessary support,” he said.
Penultimate Sunday, the governors rose from their third meeting in a row with a pledge to find lasting solution to the problem of power supply in the zone in order to kick-start the economy of the area. The governors also constituted an economic team saddled with the responsibility of driving the zone’s economic integration plan. Members of the economic team who will be inaugurated on June 4, 2017 were drawn from the five states of the zone.

Prominent members of the committee include former Minister of Power, Prof Barth Nnaji and a former Economic Adviser to former President Olusegun Obasanjo, Prof Osita Ogbu, among others. Umahi, at the end of their meeting, said the forum had opened discussion with experts in the power sector.
The governors have also interacted with the Geometrics Power Limited, Aba as well as slated a future date with the Enugu Electricity Distribution Company (EEDC) to know the challenges of the company and how to help them. They insisted that power was vital to the economic development of the zone, stressing that something urgent must be done to tackle the epileptic supplies in the zone.

“We have invited the team of Geometrics. You know Geometrics set up power plant in Aba and we want to know the reasons these things have not been injected into our system and that injection will help the entire South-east. It can power the entire South-east and with further assistance in the area of cement, our commerce and railway.

“We have invited the team to come and discuss with us. We have also discussed with the EEDC and in due course, we are going to interact with the team to find out their challenges and find out the way we are going to improve distribution in the South-east”, he said.

Umahi said the meeting effectively discussed the economic agenda for the South-east including the economic integration of the states and certain other projects in the zone like the railway and seaports, stressing that necessary step had been taken to ensure that the matter was handled by the economic team of the forum.

“We also interfaced with the bank of agriculture, the bank of agriculture is very important to the agric programme of the South-east. They gave us some few briefings and we asked them to put down their capacities and programme and give to each of our state governors, and state what and what we can benefit from them.

“But what is important is that the anchor borrower’s scheme of the central bank is being handled by them. So, we want to get the much we can get from them. They are not happy that the funds to the South-east is not the way it is supposed to be and they are very happy with the governors for this initiative, because through the governors, we will be able to get our share of the agric funds”, he added, explaining that each state had nominated two representatives to the economic team of the forum, which would be inaugurated next month.

There’s no doubt that the resolve by the governors will go a long way in uniting the zone more so as they have equally agreed to reach out to members of the National Assembly, ministers and other highly placed persons from the zone with a view to getting them involved in their work plans. They also plan to get the traditional rulers and Presidents-General of communities involved.

A Public Affairs Analyst based in Enugu, Chukwunonye Okereke, summed up the present situation as a new dawn for Ndigbo, noting that “There’s the saying if you want an outsider to help you, you must show signs of your readiness to be helped. What they are doing now is good for our zone. They are telling the rest of Nigeria that we are not pushovers any more. You cannot take us for a ride any longer. We are now awake. Unity is indeed strength.”