The Okonjo-Iweala Manifesto is a critical takeaway from the epochal South-East Economic and Security Summit that was held on 28-29 September in Owerri, Imo State. The World Trade Organisation DG spoke candidly and drew on her knowledge of economics, finance, and global trade to determine what amounts to a manifesto for the region. It featured SWOT and PESTLE analyses and a roadmap. She spoke on the need for Igbo leaders to unite and work together to boost the region’s economy and address its security challenges.
“We need to come together as a people and speak with one voice,” she said. “We need to have a clear agenda for what we want for our region, and we need to work together to achieve it.”
Okonjo-Iweala also spoke about the need to address the Southeast’s security challenges. She said that the insecurity was discouraging investors and tourists from coming to the region and that it was also making it difficult for businesses to operate.
In addition, Okonjo-Iweala highlighted the importance of investing in infrastructure and developing the Southeast’s economy. She said the region had a lot of potential, but it needed to be adequately harnessed.
“We need to create an environment where businesses can thrive,” she said. “We must invest in infrastructure, such as roads, power, and telecommunications. We also need to make it easier for businesses to get the permits and licenses they need to operate.”
The vision is to have audacious infrastructure projects such as the new Beijing Daxing International Airport. Look it up to see the beauty of vision.
“We are a resilient people,” Okonjo-Iweala said. “We have overcome many challenges in the past. I am confident that we can overcome the challenges we are facing today. Let us work together to build a better future for our region.”
Igbo leaders received her speech enthusiastically and pledged to work together to address the region’s challenges and boost its economy. Note that they pledged to work together and not in five silos.
What did Dr Okonjo-Iweala say? This column submits that the Igbo should know what our distinguished elder sister said and discuss it in the many village squares of our times where the elite and middle class gather. They should then collectively push our governing classes to do the needful.
Here are 12 pillars of what I have called the NOI Manifesto or the Okonjo-Iweala Verses.
1. The biggest challenge of the South East
Our biggest challenge in the South East is ourselves. We have too often been our own worst enemies. We have allowed ourselves to be divided. We have lost focus and sight of our most significant assets: our sense of community and mutual support. We no longer have solidarity. Instead, we have fragmented as a people, making us forget how to work with each other. We don’t support each other. Instead, we attack and undermine each other. We are too individualistic, and individualism can be good, but not when we must come together to enable us to deliver.
2. Tackle insecurity as it sends wrong signals about investment in the South East
Insecurity in our region is sending the wrong signals about whether one can invest in the South East. I want to commend the governors on the recent progress on this front, including mobilising the NSA and the federal government to assist.
The lesson for us is clear: You cannot have development without security, and you cannot have security without development. And to have both, you need good governance.
3. Shared purpose and cohesion imperative
If our big problem is ourselves, the solutions lie in our own hands. If we can build a sense of common purpose and cohesion, we can solve the other problems. To do this, we need to exercise joint leadership – and that is precisely why it is so vital that you are taking this step today.
4. Deliver better governance in the South-East
We also have to admit that the governance of our states can be stronger and deliver more. After all, we are Ndi Igbo and should hold ourselves to a higher standard that delivers more for our people. In that context, it is essential to pay attention to our fiscal performance. We need to do better on internally generated revenue, keep our borrowing down and improve our capital expenditures.
5. Better utilisation of FAAC and IGI imperative
Governors, state legislators, and local government chairs must continuously ask themselves: are we using our FACC allocation wisely, transparently and effectively? Can we generate more revenue internally, and how do we do it while motivating our productive factors? Are we taking on too much debt? Are we even spending the amounts borrowed effectively? What can we do to improve our spending on capital projects?
6. Making Igbo human resource count
Some of the biggest entrepreneurs and industrialists in Nigeria are Igbos. Many micro, medium and small enterprises that thrive in Nigeria, West Africa and elsewhere are run by Igbos. Have you ever been to the market in Niger, Burkina Faso, Cameroon? I have and these places are full of enterprising Ndi Igbo. Then I ask myself, why is the Southeast looking so shabby? Why is our wealth and industry (apart from Aba and Nnewi) not so visible here in the region? How can we harness this entrepreneurship even better at home?
Beyond Innoson, a wonderful brother, and a few others, can we get the several billionaires we have to invest more in the Southeast to create decent jobs for our young people right here? Can we get beyond our beautiful mansions to make Ala Ndi Igbo loveable and liveable? How can we have an apprenticeship model, what a scholar recently described as “the largest business incubator platform in the world”, with apprentices emerging with skills, experience and startup capital and still see our young people desperate on the streets of Onitsha, Lagos and every small and large city in between?
7. Convene a South East Investment Forum to tackle blockages
I suggest we convene a Southeast Investment Forum not for people from outside the region but for our Igbo business people. In this forum, we should examine what is blocking greater investment in the South East Region and what we can do to lift these blockages. Only after we do that will I suggest that we try a Southeast Investment Forum where we can attract outside foreign investors.
8. Tap into global supply chain diversification
This is a very important moment in the world where investors abroad seek to diversify their supply chains due to the vulnerabilities they have seen due to the pandemic, the war in Ukraine, and the ravages of climate change. Certain supply chains are being considered: pharmaceuticals, fertiliser, labour-intensive industries and, yes, technology. The question for us in the Southeast is, can we attract any of this supply chain diversification?
9. Invest in and scale digital infrastructure
From where I sit at the WTO, we can see that technology and digital are critical. The fastest-growing segment of trade is digital trade, especially digitally-driven services trade. This means anything from streaming music and movie services to delivering accounting and backup medical services. Digitally delivered services trade is growing at eight per cent (8%) per year compared to five per cent (5%) for goods trade. We have the Human Resources and trained professionals to benefit from the digitally delivered services trade. We also have the creative industries, film and music centred in Onitsha, that can become part of this trade.
We must build a digital backbone in the state, cable or satellite, to provide the appropriate digital infrastructure. This investment is better done at scale, so I hope, Excellencies, you can get together to figure out who to approach and how the supportive policies will be implemented to attract this digital infrastructure investment.
10. Build our Enugucon Valley for digital trade
Digital Trade for MSMEs, online education, health and accounting services can provide good jobs and income for our young people. Enugu is already becoming a hub for tech and digital in the region. I wonder whether we can build on this to develop our own Enugucon Valley as I know other Nigerian states are working on their version of Silicon Valley, California.
11. Deploy the Igbo Diaspora to make the South East a hub for education and health
The Southeast has one of the largest diasporas in Nigeria if not Africa. Igbos are everywhere: Douala to Durban, London to Leipzig, New York to Newfoundland. Igbos are highly educated professionals, university professors, doctors, lawyers, engineers, accountants, nurses, and prominent sports stars in football and basketball in the USA. All are willing to support the region’s development if they can find a stress-free way to contribute.
Drawing on these diaspora resources, there is no reason why the Southeast could not become a service hub for education or health in the country and the region. Let our professors help develop high-quality schools, and let our diaspora doctors build specialist hospitals to draw people from other parts of Nigeria, West and Central Africa and beyond. We can make the Southeast a service hub for education and health services.
12. Consider a South East Diaspora Bond
We can draw on the diaspora for financing. The World Bank recorded almost $21 billion in remittance flows to Nigeria in 2022 – about Africa’s most significant remittance flows. I am sure the Southeast governors coming together can do some financial engineering and find a way to float a Southeast diaspora bond or fund to capture some of these flows and channel them towards financing some of these development priorities. I know that Federal Government – Ministry of Finance support will be needed.