Policy Briefs

Inter-regional Commerce-Actualizing Private Sector-led Regional Investment Growth.

Address By Mr. Oseloka H. Obaze, MD/CEO Selonnes Consult Ltd. And Immediate-Past Secretary to the Government of Anambra State At the 1st South-East/South-South International Conference, On South-East and South-South ; Towards Greater Economic Union, at Links Hotel, Chief Even Enwerem Avenue, Owerri, Imo State Tuesday, 18 April, 2017



I thank the organizers of this conference for their kind invitation to this very important conference, which to my mind is long overdue. For pursuing this noble agenda of forging a greater economic union between the South-East and South-South, the organizers of this conference deserve to be commended. 

I join other platform guests in offering my sincere thanks, especially to Mr. Dan Elombah, who graciously asked me to consider addressing this conference.  

I have been asked today to speak on the “Inter-regional Commerce-Actualizing Private Sector-led Regional Investment Growth.” I claim no special niche, beyond being a member of Nigeria’s attentive public, with a bias for policymaking and good governance. While such disposition does not qualify me as a trade, investment or economic expert, I feel comfortable that my standing as a private citizen and a well-travelled Nigerian with great hope, yearning and high expectations of our national development and growth, speaks to my bona fides to render my opinion on this matter.   

There exist, perhaps, many who might be better situated to speak on this subject, purely from a thematic or theoretical perspective. For my part, I do so purely from personal observations; by thinking of missed opportunities and infinite possibilities that exist, should our political leaders and members of the organized private sector in the south-east and south-south region decide to embark on a seamless collaboration aimed at promoting collectivized regional investment and growth. Some have singularly defined this need and aspiration as pursuing a common purpose.

My task has been made easier, and I feel gratified, that expert opinion has already been rendered at this forum on the historical, geographical and economic nexus between the south-east and the south-south region; especially as it pertains to shared political, economic and cultural history.  

I will therefore like to spend the next few minutes laying a background to what those of us in governance should prioritize, in order to complement, or in some cases, stimulate what our counterparts in the organized private sector (OPS) are doing so we achieve the growth we all desire.

It was Henry Ford, I believe, who said that “coming together is a beginning; keeping together is progress; working together is success.” Ford’s idea resonates, especially now that localized and scientific data seems to have arrived at a consensus that no people group, region, or indeed nation, can make meaningful progress in isolation. 

As the days go by, we increasingly see the to need work together in more areas than one in order to ensure economic growth and development. But our quest for growth must pass the litmus test of sustainability. Any economic growth that is not inclusive and introspective may be a halting and non-expansive growth, after all. That is why we must adopt an all-inclusive strategy that favours all. 

Contextually, we should be doubly careful to ensure that we don’t have a repeat situation of prescriptive globalization, which left thousands and millions of ordinary people and businesses behind and favoured the interest of big consortia whose lobbyists had a significant input in the free trade agreements on which globalization was predicated. In crafting our cohesion plans, adequate attention ought to be given to guarantee that the dividends of the economic growth are felt by all, regardless of social status.

As has become clear, despite the existence of six distinct geopolitical regions in Nigeria, inter-regional commerce, trade and economic cooperation between and betwixt these regions does not exist in a formalized sense. This reality is more glaring when extant collaboration is compared with what existed between the four regions of the First Republic.   

Since commerce is progressive like a ripple, it goes without saying that effective commercial collaboration must follow and outwardly concentric circle approach starting with the closest markets or immediate neighbours.

Indeed, as I have asserted elsewhere, “It is paradoxical that Nigeria’s 36 States continue to seek foreign and domestic investors for their enterprise and development needs, while shirking inter-state joint ventures.” A similar fate, if not worse, has befallen regional cooperation in Nigeria. Hence, the south-east/south-south collaboration deficit in commerce is a microcosm of the larger and more deleterious Nigerian problem. Indeed, that is the reality and what our co-region is like from the inside looking out. 

Beyond walling off contiguous realities that compel commercial interface, the present disconnect is promoted and indeed exacerbated by a wild historical revisionism. Such separatist revisionism orchestrates fears of south-east domination recidivism. The flip-side -a psychological corollary – is south-east innate distrust of the south-south, orchestrated by the abandoned property saga. Nonetheless, justifiably as these concerns may seem, both regions are in the short, medium and long-term, the losers from the absence of formalized and structured inter-regional commerce. 

If there is a dearth of South-east/south-south collaboration, it has several compelling reasons, beyond distrust over subjugation and misgivings over expropriation of assets. First, “So long as bad politics subsist, good governance will take flight, perfunctory and cosmetics political efforts notwithstanding.” Secondly, “Hubris has made it impossible for the southeast to act in concert on a number of issues, politics, governance, economics and infrastructural development. If the southeast has any residual clout, they have been unable to leverage such influence. Not being united means inability to engage with the south-south and southwest constructively.”

 It remains a fallacy to think or expect government alone to promote regional integration and collaboration. We must of necessity “seek the requisite synergy and complementarity between the government and the organized private sector, and indeed, with private entrepreneurs aimed at collaborating purposefully, while sharing the responsibility for building our national infrastructure” as well as promoting inter-regional commerce.   

Thus to think that government alone can drive collaborative commerce is to cast too much a burden of expectation the complex bureaucratic hegemon, which we often call government. Experience as well as statistics continues to indicate that real and sustainable growth where they have occurred meaningfully and progressively were private sector driven. 

The fair thing the government needs to do, therefore, is to stimulate this growth by the provision of critical and strategic infrastructure – both hard and soft infrastructure. The eleven State governments from these two regions could work together to provide roads, rails, and inland water transportation, electricity, security, access to funds and regulatory and supervisory framework that will produce a conducive environment in which the private sector flourish. There can also be amalgamation of bloc interests with shared commonality of interests. The OPS, particularly those in the banking and finance can leverage on the sectoral resources to orchestrate economic growth and commerce.  

 But let us be candid, our expectations cannot materialize if the political leadership is hobbled, lack vision and the political will. Our collective aspiration will also not materialize if the political leadership does not understand fully the need to partner with the organized private sector and as such do not engage deep, long and sufficiently hard to have intelligent policy interactions on the people’s behalf. 

I want to say this here; though we collectively root for Nigeria to grow at a faster pace than its current growth pace, there is nothing wrong with the South-East and South-South regions growing at a pace faster than the growth rate of the country itself. And the country shouldn’t be threatened by such a development, which ought to be a plus, since it is the growth of the component states and regions that make up the country that indeed drive the holistic growth of the country

Synergizing OPS-led regional investment for growth

Well beyond Nigeria, it has been recognized that integrative commerce can be driven easily by the private sector, since it “can contribute, first through trade and second, through infrastructure investment cutting across boundaries and interlinking the countries in the region.” For this to happen there has to be shared vision. Contextually, it is noteworthy that “shared vision, need for cost-effective funding and the belief in integrated development, informed the founding of the South-East Nigeria Economic Commission (SENEC) and the Bayelsa, Rivers, Akwa Ibom, Cross Rivers, Edo and Delta Commission (BRACED), in 2006 and 2009.  

As I have previously observed on this subject, “The SENEC and BRACED Commissions still represent futuristic and productive inter-state economic and developmental cooperation models, capable of yielding immense benefits, in a cost-efficient and synergized manner.  

Had the commissions been fully established as special purpose vehicles (SPVs), they would have democratized development, rationalized public finance and expenditure, enhanced common security, promoted collective interests and addressed an array of unmet needs and infrastructure deficits in areas such as roads, electricity, heavy haulage, water, and removed hurdles that despoil the business environment. Their respective impact at the grassroots would have been immense.” The OPS in the South-East and South-South must buy into these two regional blocs, and partner with them with a view to shifting them away from the orbit of total governmental control. If Lagos State as a standalone can claim to the fifth largest economy in Africa, the South-East and South-south combined, deserved a far higher ranking. 

Admittedly, some distractive issues have cropped up. “Leadership groupthink, political differences, divergent party affiliations and loyalties — less so ideologies — continue to subjugate such common aspirations. Rather than pool ideas, fiscal and material resources in positioning common interest infrastructure based on comparative advantage, each state governor within the SENEC and BRACED orbit elected to go it alone.” To this end, I suggest that having a periodic South-East and South-South Governors’ forum will not be a bad idea. However, a period South-East and South-South OPS Forum meeting will be more germane to our regional integration needs. 

An address like this should suffuse statistics. Regrettably, I find it a tad distractive. So let me use data in the elemental way I consider it most effective. Nigeria retains its status as Africa’s largest economy with a GDP base of US$415 billion dollars, ahead of South Africa’s US$280 billion and Algeria’s US$160 billion. A huge portion of the resources are domiciled in the South-South and South-East combined. The South-South, singularly through the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) has pumped some S40 billion in the past ten years. The question is how much of these funds trickled into the South-East? Indeed, of the money owed to some 8,000 contractors, amounting to a contingent liability of N1.3 trillion, how much is due to the South-East? Conversely, one would ask, how much has flowed in from the south-east into the South-South region to support the huge oil industry value change and related developmental projects. That presumably is a fair question. 

But let me use one key variable to underline that prevailing lacuna in south-east/south-south commercial collaboration. Today the South-East and south-south has a combined market population of 34.2 million persons. Oil revenue, mainly from the south-south valued at N1.985 trillion will fund 27% of the 2017 N728trillion budget. The related resources from the ancillary value chain points to a huge market and collaborative potentials. But will this happen? Will the roads, transport, housing, maritime projects in the South-South, be of any benefit to the OPS in the south-east. 

Our railway system, which commenced in 1896, is incapable of handling our ever-increasing heavy haulage needs. This is more manifest in the intra-South-East/South-South commerce. Major regional cities like Benin-City, Onitsha, Aba, Owerri, and Calabar are still unconnected to the national railways, and a key city like Port Harcourt. There are no rail links with our contiguous neighbours.  

As of today, only three light rail systems are under construction nationally – the Abuja Light Rail, the Rivers State Monorail and the Lagos Rail Mass transit. This leaves big cities like Onitsha without any form of rail transport infrastructure, despite its heavy commercial value. I already foresee a prospective inter-state joint venture in a light rail project, that would triangulate three states, Rivers-Anambra-Delta (RAD) and four cities namely; Port-Harcourt-Onitsha-Asaba-Warri. The long-term value and benefits of this so-called RAD-Rail Transit concept would be humongous. This is a project that can be driven by a consortium from the organized private sector, but which most likely, will await governmental intervention to become a reality. What this says, is that we must think outside the box if we must engender progressive commercial and infrastructural development. 


I’ll be amiss if I take my seat without acknowledging the enormous human resources the South East and the South-South has been graciously endowed with. We must have deliberate plans to harness this enterprising spirit of our people for regional development. It is beyond debate that we need a broad-based infrastructure to support and sustain our economic and national development. We must synergize to bring about the desired changes. 

But more importantly we must recognize that one key missing element is the interactive dialogue required to jumpstart any such collaboration. I consider this conference the beginning of such a dialogue. We must therefore thank the organizers once again.

Finally, we need to recognize that policymakers and the leadership at all levels and in all sector can make a great and positive difference; if only they are assured that the proposals on the table offer a win-win prospect. As I am never tired of advocating, conferences like this remain essential components in our collective quest for a seamless development of our dear country. We all have a role to play, and I am grateful to have made my little contribution by being here today.

 Thank you and God bless. 

Oseloka Obaze, MD & CEO

Oseloka Obaze, MD & CEO

Mr. Obaze is the former Secretary to the State Government of Anambra State, Nigeria from 2012 to 2015 - MD & CEO, Oseloka H. Obaze. Mr. Obaze also served as a former United Nations official, from 1991-2012, and as a former member of the Nigerian Diplomatic Service, from 1982-1991.

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