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Anambra: An Emerging Start-Up State & Our Collective Challenge


A Lecture to Mark the Third Year Anniversary of His Excellency, Governor Willie Obiano, on 17th March, 2017, Governor’s Lodge, Awka.

I: Introduction

Every anniversary is a time for thanksgiving as well as time for deep and sober reflections. Since 1999, no consecutive three years have seen such level of turbulence and crisis in Nigeria’s economic and political life as the last three.  Oil price collapsed, government revenues came under immense stress, exchange rate and inflation are at all-time high since 1999, unemployment has soared, insecurity and youth agitations intensified, workers and pensioners are owed by most state governments, poverty is escalating and the economy is in recession. Governing a state in Nigeria where you do not have control over much of these macro variables must be extraordinarily challenging. For Governor Obiano therefore, this third anniversary must be time to thank God for His mercies— for survival and progress! Let the truth be told: in the context of Nigeria’s situation over the last three years, and in comparison with other states, or even in comparison with past governors in their first three years, Governor Obiano has without question done very well. I will return to this later.

However, I must also add that there is still a very long way to go, and I am sure Governor Obiano will be the first to acknowledge this. Perhaps this is the reason he chose to mark this anniversary with a public lecture—to brainstorm on the road ahead, and I am glad to lead the discussion. 

As a work-in-progress, Nigeria is at a critical juncture, requiring fundamental economic and political restructuring en route to a more perfect union. If Nigeria can get its acts together, this moment offers a perfect opportunity for creative destruction and transition to a post-oil economy and a more balanced and stable federation. However, while we wait for the federal government to do the needful and provide leadership to the country, Ndi Anambra must unite to exploit our God given potentials to build a new prosperity corridor—a prosperous homeland for the globalizing tribe (Ndigbo)!

I was given the liberty to choose a topic for this lecture. As I reviewed my lengthy keynote address to the 2ndAnambra Development Summit in May 2006 entitled “Anambra 2030: Envisioning the African Dubai, Taiwan and Silicon Valley”, the recent powerful but exhaustive treatise by HRM Igwe Achebe (Obi of Onitsha) on 3rd October, 2016 entitled “Aku Lue Uno”, as well as Governor Obiano’s Plans and Programmes, it was difficult to say more. However, I have chosen to simply challenge us to action (let us walk the talk) by framing my lecture on “Anambra: An Emerging Start-Up State and Our Collective Challenge”. I recommend the book by Dan Senor and Saul Singer entitled Start-Up Nations: The Story of Israel’s Economic Miracle.In many ways, Anambra/Alaigbo is potentially comparable to Israel or some other new start-up countries/societies. I believe we have useful lessons to learn from Israel as well as several other global tribes (Jews, Anglo-Americans, Indians, Chinese, etc.) with experiences in building prosperous homelands– on the kind of creative destruction and innovation that must underpin the revolution to jumpstart Anambra as an island of security and prosperity.

Countries/societies that have recently achieved spectacular economic miracles such as the type that Anambra aspires to (see for example: Singapore, Malaysia, South Korea, Dubai, Taiwan, Israel, Ethiopia, Rwanda, etc.) have three key features: i) They got some fundamentals right and kept doing them right over an extended period.  Li Kuan Yew was asked to explain Singapore’s economic miracle, and he retorted that there was no miracle. According to him, they got a few things right and kept doing them for decades; ii) A grand vision and a Grand Plan (broadly owned with elite cohesion around the Plan) such that successive governments kept moving within defined trajectory; and iii) Longer-tenured governments to cement the vision/Plan instead of the four yearly turnovers with policy reversals and false/fresh starts. How does Anambra measure on this scale? Our thesis is that Anambra has begun the journey but that Ndi Anambra need extraordinary cohesion, new thinking/orientation, new politics, and different actions to accelerate the momentum for the economic miracle of the 21st century. Yes, We Can; and So, we should! 

II: SWOT Analysis: Ingredients for the New Start-Up State

Wealth creation in the world will continue to be driven by skills and technology. Old money –based on brick and mortar – especially derived from low value-adding activities (rents, primitive accumulation, informal/underground and criminal economy, and wealth from primary commodities) will continue to suffer rapid destruction and replacements. As mega cities emerge; populations moving faster than before, and ICT/ robotics replacing much of human labour, only those who PLAN, and continuously innovate and adapt will survive.

Is Anambra fit for purpose to prosper in the evolving world? Anambra state, with 4,887 sqkm of land mass, is Nigeria’s second smallest state (after Lagos state—although they might swap positions given that Anambra is shrinking due to 900 erosion sites while Lagos is reclaiming parts of the Atlantic oceasn). It also has the second highest population density after Lagos state. With 60% urbanization rate (again, second only to Lagos), Anambra will, over the next 50 years,no doubt become one mega city—with a population approaching 20 million! It is strategically located to become a commercial and industrial hub—with boundaries with the North through Kogi, South-South through Delta and Rivers, and the South East through Abia, Imo and Enugu. 

Its latest population estimate is over 5 million (10thmost populous state in Nigeria). It is estimated however that over 50% of Anambra indigenes (perhaps more than another 5 million people) live outside of the state— in other states in Nigeria as well as outside of Nigeria (all constitute the Greater Diaspora), whereas the state attracts a diversity of immigrants from all over Nigeria and the world. Anambra is indeed a home for all. In literally every village, ‘non-indigenes’ are becoming a significant share of population at home— especially those hired as security guards, and Okada drivers. Onitsha, Nnewi, Ekwulobia, Otuocha, Ihiala, Umunze, Awka, etc. have become rapidly urbanized. In 2006, I asked if there were white people living in Anambra as an index of a modernizing state. Today, not only are there several foreigners but Chinese are fast making Anambra a home, with estimated over 400 of them in the state. There are now several institutions in Anambra where Chinese language is taught to thousands of enthusiastic Anambra people.

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