Speech delivered at the ADF Akuruo Ulo Business Development and Investment Forum held at the Colonades Hotel, 8th September, 2019
I thank God for this opportunity to be here. And I thank God for the Business Development and Investment Committee of ADF for putting together this forum, in support of previous efforts. Ndigbo“si mgbe onye obula tetere na ura bu ututu ya.” For long, we have bemoaned the situation where Ndigbo largely have abandoned home for foreign lands. And everywhere we go, we settle down, build our businesses, grow our families, build houses and begin to develop those areas. Yet, very so often, the people we have helped to develop their areas turn around to threaten us. In many cases our lives and assets are assaulted and destroyed. It is true that perhaps learning from our experiences during the civil war, many of us have built houses at home. But most of the houses are only guest houses visited once or twice a year. The entire South-East Nigeria is ravaged by poverty, essentially because of low investment in the region. I believe that the threat of the Oba of Lagos to throw the Igbo into the Atlantic Ocean during the 2015 elections and subsequent and subsisting notices by the Arewa Youths to pack up and leave have been major wake up calls. The patently obvious discrimination against the Igbo by this present Federal Government has added impetus on the need for us to begin to think HOME and Invest Home. And even beyond the borders of Nigeria, the same message is being sent. Recent Xenophobia attacks in Nigeria affect Ndigbo more than any other Nigerian Group. “Agha amara okwa adigi eri onye ngworo and onye ajuru aju anaghi aju onwe ya.”
IGBO ECONOMY BEFORE THE WAR
It is on record that in 1964, the Eastern Nigeria had the fastest growing economy in the World anchored on agriculture and manufacturing. We were the largest producer, processor and exporter of palm oil and palm kernel. We were the largest producer of cassava. We competed with western nigeria in the commercial production and export of cocoa and rubber. We had Abakaliki rice before we heard of Uncle Ben’s or ofada rice. Our People were known for farming Yams- the King of the tubers, hence, we celebrated New Yam Festival, which we still do but with yam imported from Benue/Kogi states.
We had the most remarkable and extensive Industrial base that stretched from Trans-Amadi in Port Harcourt to Factory Road in Aba and extended to the Onitsha-Nnewi axis that produced essentially light consumer goods, many of which we import today. We built an industry around coal in Enugu and developed big commercial centres in Aba and Onitsha that distributed the Agricultural and manufactured goods from our industries. Everybody came either to Aba or to Onitsha to buy, including those from West and Central Africa. At this time the rate of unemployment was close to zero in Eastern Nigeria and poverty was less than 10%.
IGBO ECONOMY TODAY
Since the war ended the economy of South-East Nigeria has declined steadily and as we speak it is lying prostrate. Its GDP is the least in the South. Unemployment and underemployment have risen to frightening proportions, helping to spike criminal activities in the region. The South-East virtually depends on food imports from the North. In consequence there has been unparalleled migration and emigration from the south East to every part of Nigeria and every corner of the World, leaving our villages for the old, infirm and the desperate. Chinese, Indonesian, Malaysian andUAE Prisons are filled with our young men who are running away from poverty at home into the misery of cold prison walls.Ndibanyi, must we allow this to continue?.Tufiakwa! God forbid.
IGBO INVESTMENT IN NIGERIA
Meanwhile, Igbo investment is sustaining Nigeria. Many non-igbo writers and commentators have opined that if you take away Igbo investment in Lagos, the state will crumble. And they are not lying.
One Clement Udegbe writing in the Vanguard Newspaper of July 26, 2013, estimates that Igbo investment in Lagos is around 600 Trillion Naira, twice that of Abuja. The estimated Igbo investments in other parts of the North are as follows:
- Plateau – 15 trillion
- Kano/Kaduna- 10 trillion
- Borno/Yobe/Adamawa – 5 trillion.
In the south of Nigeria it is estimated that Igbo investment in each state especially in the South-South is not less than 5 trillion Naira per state. These are all investments made since the war ended.
In 2007, Nasir El Rufai, the then FCT Minister had this to say about the Igbo and Abuja: “Igbos have acquired 73% of landed property in Abuja. Abuja is the sixth State of the South-East” He added for effect that “68% of the land has actually been allocated to the North but now the Igbo own 73%”.
In 2010, Governor Gabriel Suswan of Benue said“Any State that ignores the Igbo does so at the risk of its economy”
Recently, a magazine published the names of 50 Igbo Men and Women who live in Lagos alone who are billionaires. Yet Alaigbo lies desolate, its walls broken and its gates burnt.
AKU RUO ULO
We are the NEHEMIAHs that will rebuild Alaigbo and return it to the state described by OlaudahEquiano in the 18th Century:A Nation of Clean and happy People, without unemployment, without prostitutes and without beggars
HOW DO WE DO THIS
- Every Igbo businessman or professional who is outside Alaigbo, should within the next one year set up an office, a branch, a shop or a depot in Alaigbo. If this happens in one year, we can create at least one million Jobs in Alaigbo, assuming one business employs only one person to run the office or depot. The impact will be revolutionary!
- Give priority to investing in any part of Alaigbo should a need for new investments arise.Henceforth, before we put new investments elsewhere especially in Nigeria, we should have first tried putting the investment in Alaigbo.
- Gradually over the next 3-years transfer the headquarters of our businesses to Alaigbo and maintain branches outside Alaigbo just as ABC transport, Innoson, Chicason, Ibeto and some others have done.
- Mentor young Igbo entrepreneurs and assist them to set up new businesses in Igbo land, instead of crowding into Lagos and Abuja or taking greater risks up North.
- Help organize cooperatives in our villages and assist them to have access to government, banking and other support in agriculture and commerce.
- Take every opportunity to invite our business partners within and outside Nigeria to Alaigbo. For example, determine that all board meetings of your companies should hold in Alaigbo.
- Model Christian business ethics in our businesses and teach young entrepreneurs how to prosper in righteousness.
- Take deliberate efforts to support each other’s business as the Jews, the Chinese and the Indians do. Let our wealth remain preferentially amongst Ndigbo.
- Introduce or reintroduce the culture of Ndigbo building businesses together – partnerships, combines and group effort. Minimize too much individualistic approach to investments.
- Give preference to Alaigbo and Igbo organizations including our local churches and assemblies in our corporate social responsibility and in our giving. No one else can help our people. Other people are investing and helping their people. We are busy joining them to invest and help their people.Not bad, but who will help our own people?
Thank you and God bless.