South-East, South-South Govs explore new revenue

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From PAUL OSUYI, Asaba

At a time substantial number of states across the country cannot afford to even meet their monthly wage bill without federal allocation because of poor internally generated revenue base, cooperation among contiguous states in the area of commerce has become very imperative.

Exploring this cooperation, experts believe, would foster economic integration of the states and thus reduce the over-reliance on federal allocation when the cooperating areas begin to develop and leverage on various economic sectors where they have comparative advantage.

Experts are also convinced that the post-independence four regions (West, Mid-west, East and North) were largely successful because of their autonomous status in all sectors except in defence, currency and international relations.

The balkanisation of the hitherto viable regions into states although with political advantages, state governments have however woken up to the reality that the enormity of present challenges in the areas of security, poverty and unemployment before them is more than what a single state can independently shoulder.

It would be recalled that it was in the light of the above scenario, governors of the South-South and South-East geo-political zones irrespective of political party affiliation recently met in Asaba, the capital of Delta State to fine-tune modalities of making the two contiguous zones economically vibrant through integration and cooperation.

The forum also provided an opportunity for the governors to brainstorm on workable solutions to common challenges which over the years have defied political party affiliation and geographical boundaries. Chairman of the South-South Governors’ Forum and Cross River State Governor, Liyel Imoke, while reading parts of the twelve-point communiqué underscored the compelling importance the governors placed on socio-economic integration and cooperation within the two zones.

He had said: “The South-South and South-East governors agreed on economic and political integration of the old Eastern and Midwest regions now the South-East and South-South,” adding that the forum pledged “to strengthen cooperation across the board with particular focus on development of infrastructure linking the zones particularly federal roads.”

In view of the pivotal role of transport in exchange of goods and services, Imoke said the forum emphasised the need for the Federal Government to re-establish rail links and embark on the construction of railway links between all the states within the zones.

They further appealed to the Federal Government establish cargo airport at Owerri and additional deep-sea ports in Ibaka, Escravos, Agge as well as the dredging of the Calabar Port even as they resolved to work together to ensure the development of the Abia Dry Port.

The governor it was gathered, have already initiated dialogue with the management of the Nigeria Ports Authority (NPA) to facilitate the achievement of the above objective just as the Federal Government has already selected the airports in Asaba and Port Harcourt as cargo airports.

Besides the development of an efficient transport system to facilitate movement of goods and decongest the over-stretched Lagos Port, the governors agreed to work to revive agro-allied industries particularly in oil palm and rubber plantations and exploit the comparative advantage in agriculture, even as they appealed to the Federal Government to facilitate the full implementation of the Free Trade Zones status for the states.

Speaking on the development, Ben Okpuzi, an economic expert said the rapprochement between the South-South and the South-East was like the coming together of two former regions – Eastern and Midwest regions, saying that it would no doubt strengthen the mutual ties between the two zones.

“If the oil-rich South-South is linked economically and infrastructures-wise to the industrially active South-East zone, the mutual benefits that would accrue to both zones would be enormous,” he reasoned.

Okpuzi who said the South-South states were already working on similar programme under the umbrella of BRACED (Bayelsa, Rivers, Akwa-Ibom, Cross River, Edo and Delta) commission, argued that the South-South/South-East cooperation was on a wider spectrum.

He supported the call on the Federal Government to construct railway lines, noting that to move coal from Enugu, for instance, to parts of the South-South would be quite tedious unless there was an effective railway system.

According to Delta State Commissioner for Information, Chike Ogeah, the coming together of the two zones for mutual economic benefit was not only symbolic but “very strategic to fast tracking the infrastructural development of the state” as it seemed poised to play a nodal role in the nascent arrangement.

Ogeah told Daily Sun in Asaba that the state has evolved a strategy tagged “Delta Beyond Oil” with the objective of developing alternative sources of revenue outside the proceeds from the black liquid gold. He said the state was investing on infrastructural development particularly in the area of transport with the construction of airport, roads and sea ports to facilitate the proposed regional integration.

“The major viability of the Asaba airport,” he explained, “is that Onitsha is five minutes away, and Nnewi (the China of Africa) is about 20 minutes away. With such massive commercial activities going on in those two South-Eastern cities, the viability of a cargo airport in Asaba linked to businesses in Onitsha and Nnewi cannot be over-emphasised.

“Therefore we had felt that with a people of common cultural values and being in the same corridor anyway that we must foster economic integration that will become mutually benefitting to each other. About 60% of people who use the Asaba Airport daily are going to different parts of the East.

“Hence, it is very strategic. The airport serves about six states including about four South-Eastern states. The people from the South-East being natural merchants and commercial in nature, if the South-South can develop a better framework for commerce integration it will be better for all businesses in Delta.”

Ogeah gave the assurance that the opening up of the Koko and Warri ports in no distant time would free up the Lagos Port where about 50% of the patronage is from the South-East, “because Warri and Koko are closer to the Eastern part of the country.

And to further facilitate the movement of goods, we are dualising the Ughelli-Asaba expressway so that from the ports there is a viable road infrastructure to take goods straight to the South-East. “I assure you that by the time all these infrastructures fully come on stream, a lot of businesses will shift to Delta and the state would become the hub of economic activities for both the South-South and South-East.”

He posited that regional integration was the best way to strengthen federalism “because a federal constitution emphasises more strength to the federating units and a weaker centre but it is the other way round in Nigeria. So with the beginning and strengthening of such regional cooperation the idea is that we start reversing that trend and getting Abuja to cede more powers to the federating units.”

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