HON. CHUDI OKAFOR
ON THE OCCASION OF NDIGBO ECONOMIC SUMMIT
Saturday, May 30, 2009
H. E. The President General of Ohaneze Ndi Igbo, Ambassador Ralph Uwechue, OFR, Former Finance and Foreign Affairs Minister of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, and Managing Director, World Bank, Dr. (Mrs) Ngozi Okonjo Iweala, Former Minister of Education of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, Professor Fabian Osuji Director, Lagos Business School, Prof. Pat Utomi, Our Chief host, Mr. Joe Nze Eto, and his beautiful wife Representatives of the State Governments, here present, Representatives of the South East Economic Council, here present, Leaders of Nigerian Organizations, here present, Friends of Nigeria, Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen, Good morning and welcome.
It is indeed, my distinct honour and privilege, to welcome our distinguished guests to Atlanta, Georgia, for this ground-breaking Economic Summit. I understand that this is part of the on-going efforts, this time from the Igbo Community from the Southeastern, Delta and Rivers States of Nigeria in the Diaspora, to complement the Federal Government’s determination to enhance economic development, and improve the living standard of Nigerians.
I particularly want to thank the well spirited leaders and the entire Diaspora Igbo Community in the United States, for making this event possible. Before I proceed further, I wish to pay tribute to a renowned Igbo son, Ambassador Ralph Uwechue, OFR. As an Ambassador’s Ambassador, he is a patriot, who has served Nigeria meritoriously in various capacities, and in particular, the Foreign Service. Sir, thank you for piloting the affairs of the Ohaneze Ndi Igbo, and for finding time to grace this occasion. I also extend warm welcome to all distinguished visitors from Nigeria and other parts of the world. It is not often that you have a two-time cabinet Minister and a jewel of the World Bank, a former presidential candidate and other eminent personalities in their own rights grace an event. Let me also crave your indulgence to convey the good will message from the Nigerian Permanent Representative and Ambassador to the United Nations, Professor Joy Ogwu. Due to prior commitment at the United Nations, she could not be here with us today.
It is significant that the first-ever Economic Conference, in recent times by the Igbo Diasporans is holding in Atlanta. This is not surprising because southeastern US is the second fastest growing region in the United States, with Atlanta as the heartbeat. It would be recalled that Atlanta is the city Nigeria took by storm, when she lifted the coveted Olympic gold medal trophy in 1996. Encouraged by the unceasing quest for economic growth and development, Atlanta, has never looked back after the Centennial Olympic Games.
Atlanta is at the 8th position in terms of population in the United States cities, with a population of 5.3 million people. She plays host to a lot of renowned international companies in the Fortune 500 family, organizations and educational institutions. Notable among them are CNN, Coca-Cola, UPS, Delta Air Lines, and the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. I should add, as a matter of fact, that there are many hardworking Nigerian professionals in Atlanta, who add value to the growth and development of the City of Atlanta.
Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen,
It is my hope that this Economic Conference should be a clarion call for a resolute determination to harness tremendous resources in the United States, in collaboration with the State Governments, the Organized Private Sector (OPS) and Non-Governmental Organizations, to bring about development and better life for Nigerians. As Americans would say, it is time for Ndigbo to talk the talk, and walk the walk. Today, the current global economic and financial crises have challenged previous economic paradigms and assumptions as to what constitutes economic development.
Experiences over the centuries, have clearly shown that there is no single silver bullet to jump start economic growth and development. Also many scholars now appear to agree that development measured only by the conventional economic indices of GDP and GNP are important, but not sufficient determinants of prosperity in an economy.
I agree, therefore, that there is a fierce urgency of time to map out new economic strategies that are pragmatic, to meet the desired quest of our people for a better standard of living. As a starting point, Ndigbo need to carefully assess where they are, with a view to determining where they want to be, and develop the road map for getting there. Certainly, like the other zones in Nigeria, Ndigbo want to see Nigeria, their States, and the Local Government Areas, with accountable government, employment opportunities, infrastructure, efficient service delivery system, and a secure and clean environment.
You have to think out of the box. The Federal Government cannot do everything alone; you should act by doing whatever is legitimate to help your people overcome the poverty gap; by creating employment opportunities and wealth. Ndigbo cannot afford to be delinked from the inexorable march to better the lots of Nigerians. A developed Igbo homeland is a developed Nigeria to achieve national integration.
I commend you for seizing this period in our national history, to undertake in-depth analysis and appraisal of the state-of-play, in the Igbo homeland, with particular reference to the economic, social, educational and security situation. Fortuitously, going by your expected vision themes, it seems to me that Ndigbo have a lot to benefit from the present Administration, as these areas of concern have been embodied in H.E. President Umaru Musa Yar‘Adua’s 7- Point Agenda.
The Agenda, which is a sub structure of Vision 2020 programme, is aimed at repositioning Nigeria on the path of sustainable growth and development, with emphasis on the improvement of power and energy; transportation network; education to meet the challenges of the 21st century; security; employment generation; food supply; wealth creation, and land reforms. The aspiration is that by the year 2020, Nigeria would be among the 20th most structurally developed countries in the world. Ndigbo should play a pivotal role in this crusade.
Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen,
I am confident that the Igbos in the Diaspora will continue to attain great feats, given their enviable pedigrees of hard work and achievement. Ndigbo are in the medical, engineering, academia, accounting, law, management, ICT, corporate business, banking, entertainment and sporting professions, as well as, in international organizations. What is more, many are disposed to offering their services to the Federal, States and Local development efforts in Nigeria, and in most cases, free of charge, as exemplified in the annual medical missions.
Also, it is common knowledge that with the advent of ICT, the skills and knowledge of Ndigbo Diaspora sons and daughters can be made available without their physical presence, if properly arranged and coordinated, to enhance capacity building. Given this pool of professionals with tested ideas, global development experiences, with vital links to investment funds, technical skills and expertise, project financing, and industrial discipline, the time has come for Igbo Diaspora to mainstream best practices to assist her people.
They can do this by sourcing funds and attracting foreign direct investment. They should provide important advice for States in arranging educational and cultural exchange programmes, and sister-to-sister city twin development strategies. A good example is the need to understudy the Malaysian development process and experiences. It is no longer news that the high yielding palm seedlings from Malaysia actually came from a town in the Southeast of Nigeria. This is imperative, given the fact that the GDP of Nigeria was by the mid 1970s three times higher than some of the ASEAN Tigers, namely; Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand and Indonesia. As economic dynamos, they are today in the category of the Newly Industrialized Countries (NICS). Noteworthy are also the experiences of other countries such as India, China, Brazil, Israel and Vietnam.
Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen,
The issue is what Ndigbo can and should do to improve their economic growth and development needs. It does appear to me that the way forward to achieving the expected investment haven, is for the various States to strive and establish a sound foundation for good governance; transparency, especially in the area of separating public funds from private funds; provision of basic infrastructure particularly roads and electricity; a transparent taxation policy; legal and regulatory confidence-building frameworks; as well as, peace and security of the environment. It is needless to say that no development can take place without peace and stability. Ndigbo should reinforce their Town Unions, which in the past, set standards for security and ownership, as well as acceptable mode of behavior.
Economically, Ndigbo should take advantage of the on-going land reform efforts by the Federal Government to release land for integrated economic development. As a minimum, feed the people and be self-reliant in basic food production. Create farm belts or agricultural parks and cultivate crops you have comparative advantage in, including chicken and fish farming. It is common knowledge that Farm Settlements worked in the past, and I know they can work again once the will is there. I assure you that Igbo sons and daughters in the Diaspora will add value to this efforts. It will be useful to re-establish Agricultural Boards that set standards for agriculture, and Marketing and Produce Boards that set standards for export crops.
A vibrant education system can and should improve economic growth and development needs because business is dependent upon knowledge, particularly managerial and technical knowledge. Ndigbo should give basic education to all without exception. Education is the key to the long term future of any society that wants to progress. Clearly, modern industrialization, modern agriculture and the information technology of the 21st century require everybody to be literate and knowledgeable in the New World Order that is expected to emerge after the global economic meltdown.
In this connection, the Government Colleges and Mission Schools, that set standards for education, should be repositioned as necessary incubators and springboards to prepare students for a better future, as it was done in the past. Some in this audience were beneficiaries of that glorious era, and we should not forget.
I can attest that education is the secret of the ASEAN Tigers, all of which leapfrogged economic development gap within a period of 15 to 20 years. We also know for a fact, that about 80% of all the high-growth businesses created in the United States in the past 20 years were launched by college graduates. Without doubt, what we have today is a knowledge economy and what propels societies to the cutting edge of innovation is circulation of ideas, skills, technology and credit (money). Ideas and not natural resources alone eradicate poverty. Indeed, there is no known country in the world that has industrialized as a result of only natural resource endowment without technological in-put and skills. This is why the Jews, Chinese and Indian Diasporans are unstoppable. It is evident that they mix and match knowledge from different parts of the world to uplift their countries of origin.
On healthcare, Ndigbo should make efforts to rehabilitate Specialist and General Hospitals in their respective States, in the overall interest of the people. Among the efforts made by Nigerians in the Diaspora, aside from the huge money transfers to Nigeria, the annual medical missions rank next, in terms of tangible benefits to the less privileged. Ndigbo sons and daughters with their professional friends, play great humanitarian role in this regard. They have not only treated the sick without charge, they have also helped in the rehabilitation, capacity building and equipment of some of these hospitals.
Furthermore, every effort should be made in these States to establish export free zones, industrial parks, development corridors, technical and finishing schools for artisans, internet cafes, science and technology parks, ICT villages, including cultural and hospitality centers. In all these, no one State can do it alone. For effective integrated development effort, two, three or four States can join hands on healthy competitive basis to create economies of scale, and overcome the expected financial bottlenecks. We should create development corridors in these States to provide a veritable platform that will facilitate collaboration and cross-pollination of ideas. The advice is that you need not embark on capital intensive projects at the initial stage.
Moreover, I implore you to follow the Federal Government’s example to reform your Civil Service by introducing innovations to achieve better service delivery. As I indicated, the 21st century is a knowledge based age, encourage and reward excellence in order to drive development process and impact best practices in these States.
It is an open secret that the excellent economic performance of the former regions of Nigeria was complemented by an equally virile and efficient Civil Service. Make no mistake about it, investments will not amount to much, unless there is an efficient public service system and administration to assure sustainable economic growth and development.
Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen,
Summing up, I believe that when these measures are put in place, with a sense of mission, accountability and ownership, Ndigbo will not only re-invent their economic ingenuity, build bridges across Nigeria, but will also create veritable framework for improved standard of living for their people and for the mutual benefit of all Nigerians.
In the final analysis, however, it will be left for the Igbo sons and daughters outside the homeland, to determine whether they will stand-by, and visit their land of birth, only when it is time, for electioneering campaigns, award of chieftaincy titles, birth, marriage, burial ceremonies, and award of honourary degrees, while they return to other cities to live. This is with the hope, in their own estimation, that it is the next generation of the Igbos, that will rebuild and develop their homeland. No, I believe that the time for finger-pointing and the blame game is over. You are equal stakeholders in your respective States, and in the Nigerian project. In this age of the 21st century, Ndigbo should be wiser in the overall interest of the race and our dear country, Nigeria. I believe that this is the essence of this epoch-making gathering.
Ndigbo have no choice, whether home or abroad, but to join hands in the current crusade of rebranding Nigeria ‘Good People, Great Nation’. I wish you fruitful deliberations and thank you for listening.