BY AUSTIN OYIBODE
THE Second South-South Economic Summit, organized by the six states of the South-South under the auspices of the BRACED Commission was held between Thursday and Saturday in Asaba, Capital of Delta State. The event which was the second in the region had the presence of various dignitaries ranging from President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan, represented by Vice President, Namadi Sambo; President of Rwanda, Paul Kagame, represented by John Agara, a member of the country’s executive council; Nobel Laureate, Prof. Wole Soyinka; Minister of Finance, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo Iweala; Managing Director of Zenith Bank, Jim Ovia; National Security Adviser, Andrew Woye Azazi; John Lipsky, First Deputy Managing Director of International Monetary Fund; Prof. Graciana Del Castillo of the University of Columbia and many other personalities from within and outside the country.
The event began on Wednesday with the arrival and registration of delegates from the BRACED states and guest speakers from the international community while deliberations and the actual summit kicked off on Thursday at the Delta Convention Centre in Asaba. Major issues which were discussed at the summit included but not limited to issues of security, development, investment, tourism, environment, infrastructure, agriculture with emphasis on regional and cooperative development away from individual state approach but collective effort of the states under the BRACED Commission. Speakers and paper presenters were renowned technocrats in their various fields of endeavour.
The event opened with a welcome address presented by Director-General of the Commission, Amb. Joe Keshi. He said the essence of the summit was to foster economic ties to deal with challenges of security, development and integration in the region. According to him, the BRACED agreement was signed by the governors of the states as a vehicle to drive the process of economic cooperation and development and to raise the standard of living of the people in the region. He said since the establishment of the commission, the governors of the states had met on several fora to brainstorm on possible ways of reinvigorating the economy of the zone. He added that the summit was to pursue regional development, to eliminate competition among the states and look for areas of comparative advantage in the zone.
For Chief Host and Governor of Delta State, Dr. Emmanuel Uduaghan, the event was an opportunity to showcase the economic potentials of the state. He analysed the economic transformations going on in the state. He explained that the projects going on in the state were geared towards the prosperity and survival of the people of Delta State. According to him, “the state is determined to diversify the economy to a more sustainable economy for the people of the state. In pursuing the vision, we’ve seen many challenges but we are undaunted and prepared to surmount them for the good of our people”. He acknowledged the fact that the state is faced with the challenge of security but explained that the zone is set to combat the challenge headlong.
Chairman of South-South Governor’s forum, Senator Liyel Imoke, told the participants that the zone is made up of about 25 million people and that the pursuit of the goal of regional development has been in the front burner for a couple of years. “Our desire is premised on the fact that we need increased economic opportunities across the region. This is widely practiced across the world. We’ve committed ourselves to working towards promoting regional development in areas of gas, power and oil. This was instituted at the last summit in Calabar. The agenda has been adopted by the BRACED Commission”, Imoke said.
He maintained that the development of the South-South has been a crucial challenge for the people in the region. The development, according to him, would serve to enrich and empower the people in the zone. He explained that since the last summit, there has been significant improvement and security in the region. “The South-South is now the fastest growing region in the country. It is a region of trillion naira gold mine. Though the challenges before us are formidable, they are not insurmountable”, Imoke added. He underscored possibilities of development, investment and growth in the region.
For the Rwandan President, Paul Kagame, the South-South Region and Rwanda share a common issue of conflict. Speaking on opportunities for development, Kagame, who was represented by John Agara, said Africa has great potentials which could be tapped for the benefit of the continent. According to him, since 1994, Rwanda has risen from catastrophes but with determination, it has surmounted the challenges confronting the nation.
“We owe to ourselves to succeed, the South-South has more advantages than other regions, You have the oil, you only need to develop the human resources to help in developing the economy. Rwanda’s experience has taught us an important lesson that other African countries can learn from. We initiated a national dialogue to facilitate unity. We revived and built new infrastructure in the country”, Kagame said. He advised the governments of the South-South zone to involve citizens in governance adding that countries can only develop if government creates opportunities for the people.
Nobel Laureate, Prof. Wole Soyinka, who gave the keynote address, denounced undemocratic governance describing it as irresponsible and lacked the political will to meet the needs of the people. He told the crowd that some of the people who were not elected but were declared winners are not qualified for the seats they are occupying in the senate and other levels of government. Soyinka condemned the inconsistent policies of government and called for a national conference to address the challenges confronting the nation.
Soyinka told the region leaders to look up to regional autonomy and groupings with compatible ideas for development. “Each state should establish how to lead their people and send their decision to the federal government. Nigeria is too large, it is overbloated and is parasitic”, he said noting that small states would do better than large countries like Nigeria. But one problem with Soyinka was his use of poetic language which caused much laughter but lead to many people not understanding his terminologies.
Governor Adams Oshiomhole of Edo State looked at the power challenge confronting the nation and submitted that states cannot on their own deliver on the power imbroglio, noting that the private sector and investors are needed to make investments that could take long time before gestation. Oshiomhole explained that the nation has suffered joblessness for the past 12 years adding that the epileptic growth is however driven by generating set. He condemned multinationals who come in to invest with sugar coated tongues at the beginning but end up not meeting the need of the people. The Edo State Governor, who is currently running for second term, said his state has revived education sector and condemned a situation where children learn under trees and broken classrooms.
He took a swipe on governments who have no feelings for their people explaining that “we do not need government that works for the people but government that will work with the people. Beyond oil and gas, there is much to be done. The greatest challenge in Nigeria today is that nobody wants to make long term submissions”, Oshiomhole said noting that the problems in the country are far less than its potentials.
For President Goodluck Jonathan who was represented by his vice, Namadi Sambo, the vision for Nigeria is to develop an economy without oil as it is one of the ways of preparing the nation for generations yet unborn. “Oil can be a blessing but with a creative mind we can serve our people with good governance and transparency”, her said adding that his government is implementing revolutionary programmes for the nation. He listed them to include adequate transport system, construction of thousands kilometers of power distribution network across the region, approval of 400m dollars to develop gas plant in the South-South and building of a university of oil and gas in the zone.
President Jonathan explained that the current administration is rehabilitating abandoned railway lines in the country and that funds have been provided for development of Brass Energy in the region. According to him, all value chains of agriculture would be addressed and that the government would make agriculture easy by providing cheap funds to farmers. President Jonathan told the participants that the vision of making Nigeria one of the most developed country by 20:20:20 would never be a mirage. “Very soon, there will no longer be power outage in Nigeria. There’s due process and we are following it in the power sector”, President Jonathan said.
The summit ended with a pledge by all the BRACED states to work together with a common goal to bring development to the region. In a communiqué signed by the six governors, the summit called on the Federal Government to restructure and unbundle the current revenue allocation formula and give more powers and responsibilities to the states and local governments. The event closed with the governors pledging a united spirit to work as one body for the overall development of the region.