Towards the rebuilding of Southeast economy and the need of taking our investment back home
By Great Imo Jonathan
This will be my further contribution to the ragging debate on how Ndi Igbo can take their investment back home and how to rebuild the South eastern economy. I have made several contributions to this discuss but I still see the need to make further contributions considering the fact that many of our people are still very confused about the issue.
First, I need to remind us that our founding fathers without the help of the federal government established the eastern economy in the fifties and early sixties and made our economy the fastest growing in the whole of Africa without any support from outside. At that time there were not many Igbos outside our homeland with much resources to bring home as we have them today. Yet, our fathers with focused determination turned our economy into a manufacturing hub with great distinct. Someone like my father in the 70s established a palm estate of about 6.5 acres through a cooperative society he was part of the east then.
I am surprised that this generation of Igbo are afraid to confront their challenges and to distinguish themselves despite the potential that lies within them. Especially, amongst the political leadership there is no sense of vision, there no sense of urgency and there is definitely no sense of leadership. The political leadership is preoccupied by their greed and primitive acquisition. With the exception of few, what we have in many places of authority are mediocres who think that the opportunity given to them is an opportunity to steal and to compete for material possession. They have been unable to inspire our people or to lead them to a collective action.
Yet, we must move. We should definitely not depend on political leadership to ride our crest. The responsibility falls on the average Igbo man and woman to rise to the occasion. We must become pathfinders and architects of our own future and allow posterity to judge those of them who have been given such unique opportunities but failed to live up to the responsibilities bestowed on them.
Now the challenge I have identified is that our people have become comfortable in other people’s domain. We are relishing the effort of other parts of Nigeria at creating opportunities for themselves and we are simply happy to participate in the economic activities in their environment and we have now become full of excuses for not doing same for ourselves. We are fixated on the obstacles we need to surmount to establish our ingenuity instead of focusing on our strength.
But the time to move is now. We cannot afford to remain complacent and to continue to complain. It is time to change the narrative and to build for ourselves an economy that will become the signature of the Igbo ingenuity.
In my interaction with our people, I discovered that many of those who are sand filling swamps in Lagos and breaking rocks in Abuja to develop properties are of the opinion that in the east there is no quick return on investment; especially in property business. Even those amongst us who have built in undeveloped territories in these cities, far away from the major part of the cities where they create roads and other amenities by themselves still believe it cannot be done in the south east. Meanwhile they are the ones creating the economic activities that is making their host cities places of attraction but they cannot do same in the east. That is an error.
Another problem is that some of our people only view themselves from the perspective of trading and their concept of bringing investment back home is about building markets. But that is another error.
Fortunately I have had this discussion with some of our brothers in Lagos and recently in Abuja.
Now this is the right way to look at this matter.
1. We don’t necessarily have to build more markets in the south east but we can modernize and improve on what we have already.
2. We don’t all have to come back to the south east to do buying and selling but we can start by domiciling head offices of our companies in the south east and pay our annual taxes to our states, even if the office is a room, that is the law. It will help build our economy.
3. Especially, those who are franchise owners of foreign products and sole importers of goods can build their warehouses in the east and make those who want to buy in wholesale come to the south east. Nnewi people in motor parts business are doing it. We can gradually employ that strategy to direct business traffic to the south east. After all our people do come from the south east and from other parts of Nigeria to our warehouses and markets in Lagos to buy goods. It is the same distances they travel that others need to travel to buy from us in the south east if we warehouse our goods there. We will only reverse the activity point by redirecting traffic back to the south east. After all we go as far as China and Dubai to buy goods thousands of miles away from Nigeria. Meaning that we can as well make people come to the south east to buy goods if we have what they need, they will locate us.
4. As I said earlier, we don’t all have to take buying and selling back to the south east. There is what is called divestment. You can take some of the monies you have made from owning shops and from buying and selling and invest in other areas back home where we have comparative advantage. By so doing you will reduce the risk of having all you have laboured for at the mercy of those who threaten your investment in their cities anytime there is a national disagreement because they know you are vulnerable. You can have other areas of investment but this time in the east. like Dr. Uche Ogah who divested from oil and gas to establish 12 industries in his immediate community where he has started producing noodles and other things, you should have the courage to go home and build factories in your community and create jobs for your people. Particularly, manufacturing should be it. We should diversify into manufacturing whilst retaining our shops in other cities. In fact it is the progressive way to think because with the advent of online shops we may soon lose grip of things. But if we go into manufacturing and online selling we can comfortably operate from the south east and sale to any part of the world like Dangote.
5. Instead of boasting about having ten shops in Lagos or Kano, reduce the risk by owning just three and divest the monies from the remaining seven shops plus goods that you would have stocked it with, use it and build a factory in the east where land and labour is still cheaper. Over time you will be glad you did like Innoson, Ibeto and recently Coscaris who went back to the east to build one of the biggest rice farms and rice mills in Nigeria and and their products are heavily patronized from across Nigeria.
6. The attraction for going to Lagos and Kano or Port Harcourt are the industries in those cities and the population which results to strong economic activities. But how did it happen? Some people built these cities for themselves and as we were all moving there and finding something to do we formed a huge market base for them through our sheer population and we ended up attracting other people to come and invest there as well. If we were all in Aba, Nnewi, Onitsha or Enugu doing manufacturing and taking our goods to other cities, many people who would have been coming to get jobs in our factories in the south east would have created a huge market base that will in turn trigger other forms of activities that will make our economy grow.
7. When we build factories rather than shops, people who come to work in those factories will need houses to live in; thereby creating opportunities in the real estate sector in the south east. They will need to move around from work place to other places; thereby creating opportunities for modern transportation in the south east. They will need to eat; thereby creating opportunities in the agricultural sector in the south east. They will naturally enjoy their money when they earn salaries; thereby creating opportunities in the hospitality, sports, arts and entertainment sector in the south east. They will need to buy cloths nearby, cut their hair, repair their phones or buy new ones, amongst other things that will lead to economic boom that will attract strangers to our cities and the attention of foreign investors who wants to take advantage of the huge market base we would have created.
8. Igbos in Lagos and Abuja are burying their heads too much into building markets, shops and residential properties. It doesn’t have to be so. The greatest secret and the easiest way to advance our economy home and take our monies back home safely and profitably is to focus on manufacturing, mechanized agriculture, food processing and fabrication of tools and equipment. With that we can settle in comfortably while maintaining what we have already invested outside but not investing more. If you have ten houses out there you can gradually sell seven and go home and build a factory or a processing company. It is Igbos in major cities in Nigeria that are causing the prices of properties to remain high. We compete amongst ourselves to outbuy each other in other peoples land; thereby creating value for them. If we stop buying properties in any city in Nigeria today, prices of properties there will drop drastically. We create the competition that enables others to gain value on their properties. If we transfer that competition to the south east values will raise. I saw it happen in Owerri a few years back, especially when Rochas Okorocha opened up new Owerri and invested heavily himself on properties in the area; many others joined him and prices of properties in the city went up. We can replicate that across our major cities and state capitals.
9. Real Estate developers of Igbo origin in Lagos and other cities in Nigeria are sometimes fixated. By now they should be out competing themselves in the south east, developing and selling modern estates to millions of Igbos abroad who wants to own properties in the east but do not have the time to come back and do it themselves and cannot trust their siblings down home but need trusted property dealers who can locate them in a well planned estate where they can live with people of the same class when they come back home. It is cheaper to get a land in the east and the cost of land and labour can help anyone make up for the expected return on properties built in Lagos and Abuja if he was to build in the south east.
10. It is simple economics that once we start concentrating economic activities in one location others will be attracted, and when they populate the location economic explosion will take place and investors will join the bandwagon by bringing more money. That is exactly what happened in Lagos, Abuja, Port Harcourt and even Kano.
11. We should think of how to use our contacts and networks to bring in foreign investors to develop seaports in Azuimiri, Uguta and other places. We should also build dry ports, Export processing zones and free trade zones. If all elected leaders, governors, Senators, House of Reps members and federal political appointees would focus on helping businessmen and women secure licenses from the federal government, I am confident that we can get approval for seaports, dry ports and export processing zones. With strategic moves like that we can get these infrastructures on our own that can enable us produce and export directly from the south east.
12. We need to attract international hotels down to the south east because most foreign investors with money will only consider going to an environment where there are reputable international hotels and airports close to the point of business engagement. Rather than building mushroom hotels as individual we can join resources to build, own and partner with international hotels that will be landmarks posts for international businesses in the south east; like Protea and the likes.
13. But we need to put the feet of south east governors to fire to provide good road networks, security, quality health facilities and tax incentives. They should also stop stealing our money and taking same to Lagos and Abuja to create opportunities for others whilst our people are crying for development. It is shameful.
14. Finally, we need to think critically to identify and deal with all the factors that have been discouraging our people from going back to the south east to invest in their communities. Sometimes there are issues of envy amongst people in communities, bad leadership or lack of vision from royal fathers in communities. They must all be dealt with. Apex Igbo organizations have failed in the aspect of making sure that royal fathers and governors and local government chairmen live up to their responsibilities of providing peaceful secured environment for their people. Even as far as dealing with issues of diabolism and local intimidations which are discouraging factors for educated Igbos in the cities and around the globe, who are interested in returning home to invest in their communities. There were times in Igbo land when you could not do your brother any harm or forcefully take what he has laboured for because the Royal fathers and custodians of our tradition will make you face the anger of the gods without compromise. But today, we have village heads and royal fathers who connive to dispossess their brothers of their hard earned properties. Some village heads even work with local criminals in villages to loot properties of their people who live in the cities when they leave them behind in their communities. Land disputes that should be easily resolved are allowed to linger and snowball into generational hatred because of irresponsible royal fathers who fail in their duties to ensure the peace and the unity of their people. Even the current trend of having President Generals have not really resolved the issue. It is becoming more of egocentric affair than solution to the communities of the south east. It is now more of politics than it is about choosing creative and honourable men who can contribute to activities that will leverage their communities. And while we are in it, we are losing our future because most of our kids born abroad who are even shinning stars in their places of abode are discouraged from coming back home to help develop their land because of few stupid, greedy and envious elements in our communities who have turned their communities to land of horror and irresponsible royal fathers and political leaders who have never considered these petty communal issues as discouraging factors to development.
IGBO NA EME ONWEHA
God Bless Ala Igbo
Great Imo Jonathan
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