GUEST COLUMNIST By Uche Anichukwu
The relationship between democracy and the economy is like the one between the fish and water. After all, according to the Greek philosopher, Aristotle, the state exists “for the sake of life, and continues for the sake of the best life”, hence man is only willing to subject himself to the state to the extent that his rights and welfare are catered for. In that wise, democracy is not an end in itself, but a means to an end – primarily the security and welfare of citizens is aptly captured in Section 14 (2)(b) of the 1999 Constitution.
In a 2005 Democracy Day lecture, “The Political Economy of Sustainable Democracy in Nigeria”, former Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria and incumbent Governor of Anambra State, Prof. Charles Soludo, said, “broad-based prosperity sustains democracy whereas widespread poverty and ignorance undermine it”.
Also, in their 1996 research article, “What Makes Democracy Endure”, published in the Journal of Democracy, Adam Przeworski, Michael Alvarez, Jose Cheibub, and Fernando Limongi empirically established the relationship between economic prosperity and survival of democracy. According to the scholars, “Once a country has a democratic regime, its level of economic development has very strong effect on the probability that democracy will survive”.
Going further, they said: “Democracy can be expected to last an average of about 8.5 years in a country with per capita income under $1000 per annum; 16 years in one with income between $1000 $2000; 33 years between $2000 $4000 and 100 years between $4000 $6000…. Above $6000 democracies are impregnable and can be expected to live forever. No democratic system has fallen in country where per capita income exceeds $6055”.
Whereas their findings may not be cast in iron, they nevertheless underscore the point that democracy does not thrive on an empty stomach. For the sake of the economy, governments have been voted out, while democracies have been entirely upended. We saw it in the 1992 U.S presidential election when Bill Clinton’s campaign adviser, James Carville, capitalised on the economic recession of the time by coining the popular catchphrase, “It’s the economy, stupid!” to trump President George H.W Bush’s re-election bid. Also, virtually every military coup in the developing nations has been predicated on corruption and economic hardship and is often greeted with jubilation by suffering masses, but who ultimately realise that they jumped from frying pan to fire.
Today, the Nigerian economy is in a state of emergency. The tragedy of it is that unlike other federations like the U.S, which boasts of about $3.36 trillion GDP in California, $2.1 trillion GDP in Texas and $2.0 trillion GDP in New York, all in different states and usually driven by various industries, ours is a mono economy that virtually rises and falls on oil and where states practically depend on the Federation Account for survival. Worse, while the states need innovative and ambitious economic visionaries to turn things around, the economy is seldom the meat of the campaigns, especially at that level.
It is therefore heart-warming that the governorship candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in Enugu State, Dr. Peter Mbah, is redefining electioneering at that level by not only making the economy the crux of the matter, but also unveiling an ambitious economic and development agenda built outside the Abuja monthly allocations. Mbah believes that with the right vision and partnerships, Enugu’s natural and human resources are enough to grow the state’s economy from the present $4.4 billion to $30 billion, make it one of the top three states in Nigeria in terms of GDP and have the state enjoy a zero per cent headcount rate in terms of poverty index.
Those who initially saw a $30 billion economy as a slip of tongue got another shocker when he presented his manifesto in October. He not only put it in black and white, but also committed to building at least 10,000km of urban and rural roads in eight years. Some called his attention to what they believed to be typographical errors. No administration has done a thousand kilometres of roads in Enugu, and hardly any Nigerian president has done 10,000 kilometres. For instance, the President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration has done 8,352.94 kilometres as at October 2022. But here is a governorship hopeful promising 10,000 kilometres.
The doubts are understandable in a country where people are used to the conventional and states survived on Abuja handouts. But Mbah is a proponent of quantum leap and disruptive innovation, which he has amply demonstrated in the private sector. Although the downstream market was already saturated and distributed as at 2008 when Pinnacle Oil and Gas commenced operations with just two staff in a one-room apartment in Lagos, the Pinnacle Founder/CEO nevertheless, in a few years, took the company to number one in that sector. Only recently, President Buhari inaugurated Pinnacle’s $1 billion and Nigeria’s first offshore, subsea, and largest petroleum products terminal in Lekki.
Sharing that experience with newsmen in October, Mbah said: “Even from that humble beginning, we envisioned that we were going to play a dominant role in the petroleum products market in Nigeria. I recall, when we brought in some resource people to train us on strategy, we expressed to them how we wanted to grow our revenue then from N29 billion to N600 billion annually. They thought it was mad; that it was only crazy people that could imagine such a thing, because you don’t grow at that rate. However, today, we have beaten that number. We are not even at N600 billion; we are well above that”.
To achieve the envisioned economic revolution in Enugu, Mbah plans have agro-allied industrialisation alone contribute $10 billion to Enugu’s GDP to engender that would yield and make the state an agro export hub. Building on the existing agro-allied initiatives of the Governor Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi administration such as breeding of local cows (Efi Igbo) and PPP arrangement with Ellah Lakes at Adarice in Uzo Uwani, Mbah plans to create Special Agriculture Processing Zones (SAPZ); Technology for Agriculture Systems Transformation, Enugu (TASTE); E-Wallet that will introduce high-yielding seeds, fertilizers and farm inputs to farmers; M-Farm that will communicate directly to suppliers and off-takers and thereby cutting off middle men; and a rejig of the land tenure system (working with the communities and the Enugu State House of Assembly) to make land accessible to large scale commercial farmers.
He plans to catalyse energy and mineral resources development by attracting investors to explore and exploit Enugu’s oil and gas fields, coal, glass sand, iron ore, gypsum, limestone, alum, clay stone, kaolin, and other mineral deposits. Good enough, Governor Ugwuanyi’s has successfully pushed Enugu’s enlistment as an oil-bearing state. Mbah equally plans to have Enugu explore renewable energy and tap into existing finance to setup captive power for industries and homes, and explore solar energy, wind, biomass and hydroelectric energy sources.
As a businessman, who understands the challenges of starting up businesses in Nigeria, he plans to initiate and implement policies to effect ease of doing business, de-risk investment flow, set up a N100 billion venture capital seed funds to aid small businesses and start-ups with access to funding, upscale the Common Export Facility Centre being developed by the Ugwuanyi administration, create Innovation Incubation Centres for young entrepreneurs, and develop a Program for Apprenticeship System for vocational education.
To achieve these and other strategic programmes that cover a wide range of other sectors, he has developed various funding models that include blocking revenue leakages, enhancing the state’s IGR, attracting private sector investors, Diaspora Investment Bond and Securitization, expanding the tax net without increasing the tax rate, innovative co-financing with the private sector, and financial institutions and international development banks to attract funds and investments.
Mbah does not miss any opportunity to market his vision. Most recently, Mbah spoke at the official opening of the Godfrey Okoye University–European Business Park and Centre for Practical Skills (CPS) in Enugu, which had in attendance the Ambassador of Hungary to Nigeria, Mr. Thomas Schlesinger; Minister Counsellor of Germany in Nigeria, Mr. Martin Huth; Country Director of the German Agency for International Cooperation, Mr. Markus Margner; Director-General of the International Centre for Migration Policy Development (ICMPD), Dr. Michael Spindelegger, among a host of investors. The initiative is a unique collaboration that brings together migration experts, the university, and private sector to create businesses and employments in Nigeria.
Taking the investment community through his economic masterplan, he explained that the initiative was in sync with his plans to catalyse technical skills and vocational education, de-risk investment inflow, and make Enugu State a preferred destination for investment, business, and for living. He plans to propose to the State House of Assembly legislation for compulsory technical skills and vocational training from age 12 so that at some point, nobody aged 18 would be jobless.
Mbah’s case shows that when you believe in yourself, when you champion a clear vision with a credible roadmap, you are likely to enjoy the buy-in of the private sector, foreign investors and governments. For instance, an investor from Europe at the Enugu event, Mr. Jens-Christian Moller, who could not hide his captivation with Mbah’s presentation, believes that while extra efforts will be needed to achieve seven times the state’s current GDP, it is attainable nevertheless. He expressed the eagerness of his company to partner with Mbah if elected and once the right policies and legal frameworks were in place.
Likewise, the Consul General of Denmark in Nigeria, Per Christensen, said that the mission had corporate investments in Lagos State and Northern Nigeria, but none in the South East as yet. He said with such ambitious vision as Mbah’s backed with the right policies and legislations, Denmark would be willing to invest in Enugu State to serve the region.
To Monsignor Obiora Ike, a highly respected clergy and professor of Ethics and Intercultural Studies at Godfrey Okoye University, Peter Mbah is not a politician, but a technocrat.
“He has never aspired to be a politician. People are begging him, please come and join in building up our state. Don’t do all the good things there in Lagos. So, he is not a politician. This man is a scholar, a titan, and an entrepreneur. He is what we call a technocrat. At a certain time in the life of a nation, we need technocrats, people who come to salvage and add value”, he reassured the local and community.
There comes a time when a people must ask themselves, “What shall we do to ignite an economic revolution and build a more prosperous democracy for our children and ourselves?” Luckily for Ndi Enugu, the much desired future is here for the taking – through the ballot box come March 2023.
• Anichukwu is Deputy Director, Mainstream Media, Enugu State PDP Campaign Council