Ohanaeze Ndigbo, Osita Chidoka, and Government gloss over fundamentals that Enugu State lacks to attract development partners, argues IKEM OKUHU
Two things happened in quick succession in Enugu State that generated a lot of media mentions in late August and early September 2023. One was the Economic Roundtable hosted by the government of the state. The other was the announcement by the British High Commission in Nigeria of the opening of a visa office in Enugu State. As has become the trademark, these two events were celebrated with dizzying flourish.
Expectations have dimmed on the part of the people following what is looking like failed promises, particularly the one that concerns solving the crushing clean water problems in the state capital, which Governor Peter Mbah said during his campaign, that he was going to solve in 180 days. Therefore, It was not surprising that huge capital was intentionally squeezed from these cosmetic events.
With regard to the opening of a temporary visa application office in Enugu by Nigeria’s former colonial masters, two institutions found themselves struggling to take the credit for initiating and attracting such strange development milestone to the southeast, and they were the Enugu State Government and, quite strangely, the pan-Igbo socio-cultural group, the Ohanaeze Ndi Igbo.
Ohanaeze claimed the opening of the office was a fallout of a request made by the President of the association on 27 June 27 2023. Enugu State Government, in a press statement signed by the Secretary to the Government, Prof Chidiebere Onyia, claimed the UK opened the office in response to a promise made during the visit of the High Commissioner, Richard Montgomery, to Governor Mbah in the same month of June.
Reading these statements, one would be tempted to think that the government of Britain had built 10,000-bed specialist hospital and some computer chip manufacturing companies in all the three senatorial zones in the state. When has the opening of a visa application office, a temporal one for that matter, become a development deliverable? In a country being squeezed to incapacitation by brain drain, I got very worried reading the positions of these two important organs of change, reorientation, and development in the southeast on the move by the British crown.
Enter Osita Chidoka
When one recovers from the horror of the failure to understand the visa office matter, one is surely going to be devastated by the outcome of the Enugu State Investment Summit, and what former Aviation Minister, Osita Chidoka had to say about it. For a man who stayed in Singapore where a home-grown leapfrog from Third World to First World social and economic status was the road to change and uplift, for a man who was a Senior Public Affairs Analyst with ExxonMobil, and who, in many of his outings, has postured as an economics star, Chidoka’s submission was underwhelming.
I tried to make some sense of what he posted on Facebook after the summit, and the only thing it reminded me of was the kind of thing Chief Femi Fani-Kayode was doing in those days when he was hawking endorsement for any political leader blind enough to value his claims to political celebrity status.
The truth is I am not against a government organizing investments and economic summits. For one thing, it is one way of showing a state is ready for business. For another, I believe it is better than those futile junkets to foreign lands in the name of organizing roadshows to attract foreign investment. However, when we take the route road to organize those summits in the homeland, it is important to do it the right way. It is also a sign of seriousness to avoid courting celebrity endorsements, such as the one I strongly suspect Osita Chidoka was commissioned to do for the government.
In his Facebook post on 2 September 2023, Chidoka described Enugu as a “SLEEPING LEOPARD.” He went ahead to lampoon past governments ( all of which were of the Peoples Democratic Party), and surmised that it was time for Enugu to move from “potential to performance.”
“On the positive side, the presence of strong education institutions, beautiful weather, and enchanting natural features, a youthful educated population and a strong potential for local and international tourism on the back of history (sic)…).” This was the most sensible paragraph lifted from the former Aviation minister’s Facebook post.
You see, even if I tolerate both the government of Enugu State and the Ohanaeze Ndigbo for their poor understanding of economic indicators, I doubt if I will forgive Chidoka for this culpable display of avoidable ignorance. Even if the factors that he mentioned can pass for theoretical measurements of economic potential, I am sure he is hands-on as regards the facts on the ground that suggest that Enugu State is far from being ready for the white elephant talk-shop the government is deploying to keep the front doors of social and economic degeneration clean.
While Mr. Peter Mbah was busy bragging that Enugu was ready for business and would do all to protect the security of every investment in the state, nearly all corners of the state were being ravaged by non-state actors who were kidnapping people for ransoms ranging from as little as N50,000 to as high as several billions.
The 12 Pillars of Development
Everybody who has worked the foreign investments angles of national development, and I dare to include even those who have read the tomes of literature on the subject, knows that “potentials” have never lifted an economy to the heights of prosperity. It is what those managing the economy do with those potentials that attract the necessary capital, human and financial for growth. The Nigerian government that Chidoka served as Minister and Adviser to former President Olusegun Obasanjo, is a veritable example. Since oil was discovered in commercial quantity in Nigeria in 1956, the country has remained in the realm of “potential” but has failed woefully in maximizing begging opportunities for growth.
The first thing any nation or jurisdiction has to do to spur capital inflow needed for economic transformation is not summits, roadshows, and conferences. It is directing available economic and social resources to create the enablers for capital to settle. Foreign and even local investment is like what happens to pollinating plants; a flower’s stigma has to be mature and ready for the pollen grains to settle. It does not matter if the pollen grains are flying in from the anthers of the same plant or from that of another plant of the same species; what is important is that the stigma of the receiving flower is ready for the multiplication process when the pollen arrived to fertilise it.
The World Economic Forum (WEF) calls these economic pollen grains, the 12 Pillars of Sustainable Development.
These pillars, listed by the WEF in their order of importance are: Institutions, Infrastructure, Macroeconomic Environment, Health and Primary Education, Higher Education and Training, Goods Market Efficiency, Labour Market Efficiency, Financial Market Sophistication, Technological Readiness, Market Size, Business Sophistication, and Innovation.
These are the sacred firsts; there are no shortcuts to them. Any state or country that wants either local or foreign capital inflow must fulfill these 12 Commandments before dreaming of realistic economic development.
How the Commandments Work
I discussed this in Chapter 11 of my book, PITCH: Debunking Marketing’s Strongest Myths, where I argued, as the chapter titled stated, that Every Nation is not a Brand. I analysed the futility of talk shops and roadshows as the means of attracting foreign direct investment. Without consulting the book, I still remember saying in that book that capital is not drawn to a destination by emotions and exciting presentations at events and roadshows. Capital, as I said, is always in search of a fertile ground to settle and multiply. If you do not create that foundational fertility and talk from here till the 10th planet in our solar system, you will only end up making newspaper headlines but will attract nothing.
Can anybody, in light of the 12 indicators prescribed by the World Economic Forum, prove to me how Enugu has become ripe for what the government is doing right now?
Enugu makes a good show of its Christian faiths and beliefs, but in managing issues such as capital attraction, it ignores the most important portions of the Bible that could help guide them aright, and that is the very popular Parable of the Sower.
For the sake of those who would lend their ears, I will reproduce this Parable as written in the Book of Matthew Chapter 13:
“A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering his seed, some fell along the path and the birds came and ate it up. Some fell on rocky places where it did not have much soil; it sprang up quickly because the soil was shallow. But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no roots. Other seeds fell among thorns which grew up and choked the plant. Still, others fell on good soil where it produced a good crop, a hundred, sixty, or thirty times that was sown.”
Jesus Christ concluded this Parable with a short but important advice: “Whoever have ears, let them hear.“
When Christ was adding this final cautionary statement, His intention was not for people to throw their seeds (capital) to all sorts of places and count on luck and providence for some to fall on places they could multiply. On the contrary, he was telling them to be intentional in their business practices by preparing the grounds upon which they intent to plant to at least be sure that but for natural occurrences such as floods and other natural disasters, the chances of reaping profits from their investments could remain high.
An Example from India
Let me also present an example of what India did when it designed an economic proposition and destination marketing programme. The country’s Prime Minister, Narendra Morsi envisioned his destination branding and economic growth policy also with global capital in mind. But rather than create events that provided speaking opportunities for him and his team, he went about reorienting his people on the values of productivity. Industrial clusters were planted in strategic places around the country, and programmes designed to bring back home the highly skilled, tech experts the country has all over the West.
With these industrial clusters, supported by cutting-edge infrastructure, the country then took up the marketing side of the project by designing a campaign with the theme, “Make in India.“
What this campaign did was to announce to global capital that irrespective of country of origin, they could come to India, get invested in productive ventures and the items so produced would still bear the identity of the country of investors’ origin. In other words, you can come to India and create your brands and still emboss the stamp, Made in the USA, Made in Germany, or made in whichever country the investor is from.
It was through this strategy that this country was able to trap some of the outflows of capital flooding China to take advantage of its humming industrial centres.
A wild goose chase?
If we are to benchmark the Enugu Investment Summit against both the 12 Pillars of Competitiveness as already researched and published by the WEF, and then the Parable of the Sower as laid down by Jesus the Saviour, would any person be in doubt as to the ill fate of Governor Peter Mbah’s wild goose? Besides soundbites and unsubstantiated rhetoric, what are the indicators that point towards a state ready for global investments?
The entire state has, for years been ravaged by infrastructure deficit; the state capital has no portable water, and although Mbah promised to sort this out in the first 180 days of his administration, this hasn’t been achieved, more than 110 days after.
Enugu is hounded from all angles and turns of its undulating landscape by deplorable road networks.
Even the industrial layout in Emene is begging for roads and other common infrastructure.
With all its fertile lands, there has not been anything to leverage the opportunities provided by nature. From Uzo Uwani to Ugbawka and Eha-Amufu, evacuating farm produce to nearby markets is still the journey of the Biblical camel passing through the needle’s eye.
Is Enugu Safe?
Let us again return to the security of life and property. Do you need to tell anyone about the dangerous points of Opi-Ugwogo Road, and the Ikem-Ugwogo dens where kidnapping has become a daily occurrence? What about the 4-Corner – Udi stretch where this same crime also happens regularly?
Three days before the Presidential and National Assembly Elections, Barrister Oyibo Chukwu, a senatorial candidate of the Labour Party was shot, killed, and incinerated along with 4 of his aides inside Enugu. To date, nothing has been heard of the perpetrators of this dastardly act. Same has been the fate of the other murders that have taken place in the state in the past three years.
Given these unfavourable conditions, who, of all the global deep pockets, would be insane enough to wager his investments in such an environment of high social risk? Or are we safe to conclude that the project, like the Southeast Economic Summit held a few years ago, was for the headlines and not for any realistic economic revolution?
Back to the Visa Application Centre
This brings me back to the Visa application centre that drew the commendations of both Ohanaeze Ndi Igbo and the Peter Mbah government.
I will be upfront with my question: What is the value of this project to the government and people of Enugu State and the southeast? For a state that is suffering manpower (competent ones) deficit as a result of a dearth of opportunities in the state, does this government not realise that associating itself with this visa office project is the same as admitting complicity for the brain drain that has afflicted the country? A report published by Business Day on June 6, 2022, stated that out of every 10 Nigerians, seven are interested in travelling out of the country.
It is difficult to reconcile how a government whose campaign theme is “Tomorrow is Here,” will find itself trumpeting a project that will take its citizens to foreign lands, out of reach of the Eldorado it has promised to usher upon them. It is almost like a parent who promised his daughter a good life, only to apply for her to obtain a visa for her to travel for prostitution. Yes, every Nigerian outside the country would want to live here. What is chasing them away is insensitive and unintelligent leaders.
If Gov Peter Mbah’s “tomorrow” is already “here,” what was the point in begging the British Government to establish a visa application centre to absorb the same people to whom the tomorrow was promised?