With a significant Diaspora population, a long list of billionaires and millionaires, a larger industrial outlay and other critical elements, Anambra State should be expected to play a role in the economic integration of the South-East zone. Dr. Obiora Okonkwo, a Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) chieftain in the State, says, “why not.” A political economist, Okonkwo said, “we can harness the critical factors to bring about stable development in a region, and even make us one common economic unit.” He spoke with KODILINYE OBIAGWU. Excerpts:
HOW is PDP gearing up to the opportunity of shedding the toga of perennial losers in 2021 for yet another shot at the governorship in Anambra State?
Things have changed; the times are different now for PDP in Anambra. These are better times. The truth is that Anambra has always been a PDP state. Every successive All Progressive Grand Alliance (APGA) government has been aided by PDP. Peter Obi’s court victory was due to the cooperation of PDP. Due to the internal conflicts in the party then, some elements of the party aided APGA. Those forces fought against Dr Chris Ngige’s government. In 2013 and 2018, PDP people worked for APGA. If that were not the case, why is that APGA people were always embracing PDP in Abuja. All that is what has changed now. PDP will work for PDP and when that happens, PDP will take Anambra back.
What do you think will be the major issue in the 2021 governorship election?
It will be how to get a competent and credible leader. At the last stakeholders meeting in Awka, the PDP encouraged everyone to come out and contest. The emphasis is to get involved so that the best will emerge. They want people to contest.
There are talks in the media about zoning, do you think this will affect the search of the kind of leader you talked about?
Zoning is not an issue in Anambra politics. My interpretation of zoning is that it should be discussed and agreed upon; the formula should situate whichever position that is under contest in a particular area, and anyone desiring to contest the said position, can only come from the area. Most importantly, this must be respected by people from other areas. Once other areas do not respect it, the zoning arrangement is nullified. I am not aware however of a zoning formula in Anambra. And so far, nobody has been able to say where it was discussed or those who instituted it. What we have is what Obi said about appealing for equity in his former party, APGA for his successor to come from Anambra North. The party thereafter picked its candidate from the North. This gave the North an opportunity to fight for the governorship. And it won. Coincidentally, the PDP had a candidate from the North in that election. But Tony Nwoye emerged from a keenly contested primary. He was neither a candidate of equity nor zoning. But let us not overemphasize this. The people of Anambra Central supported the North in that election. They saw the need for equity and their kinsman Ngige, for the first time in his political journey lost his local government, his stronghold, Idemili North and South. He came in third, losing to the two candidates from the North.
How do you think that any leader in the state would use the sizable number of millionaires and billionaires to develop Anambra?
The one thing to do is to put in place a clear policy that will bring about an enabling environment to grow business. There was a time when most of these millionaires were living in Anambra. While in Anambra at the headquarters of their business empires, they sent their trusted lieutenants to run things outside. But things changed to shrink the economic infrastructure of the state and their businesses started to suffer. The men also left the territory out of frustration because of insecurity. Kidnapping started thriving and genuine businessmen ran for their lives. The hitherto business headquarters became branches. And of course, the state of such infrastructure as roads was bad. There is a big opportunity to recreate that glorious era. But it will take a different kind of leadership. We know that every Anambra man loves his home.
It was usually believed that the money bags can fund a government without recourse to the federal allocation. Do you agree?
I don’t agree to the extent that individuals will put their money in the pockets of government for them to use as it pleases them. But I know that there are people in Anambra who have the capacity to provide any amount of money needed to strengthen the economy of the state. This will only be possible if the government can create the enabling environment for them to bring their money and resources to invest in critical areas that will bring about economic growth, create employment and then strengthen the economy of this state. When the government provides infrastructure, there will be multi-billion-dollar factories, industries, internally generated revenue will improve, unemployment will drop, security will improve, workers will pay taxes, there will be so many other economic activities that will grow the home economy, standard of living will improve, and generally, good things will begin to happen. This is just what it means.
What sort of roles do you see Anambra State playing in the larger picture of the so much talked about an economic integration of the South East?
It is obvious that Anambra State can play a role in the integration of the South-East zone because of how it is situated geographically and economically. And we have not maximized the opportunities in charting that course. We have top human resources, but they have to be fully tapped to trigger the revival that is needed in the entire South East. It is then that the zone will start to develop an integrated economy, an integrated infrastructural development, integration in terms of policy and security. We can harness these critical factors to bring about stable development in a region, and even make us one common economic unit. If today Nigeria is signing the African treaty for one African market, that means nations have realized the needs to be one in so many aspects. The South East has to realize the reason to be one in many aspects. When this is done, we can then begin to talk of a shared vision. Anambra State can play a role there.
What is the correlation between the Diaspora population and the think home and come home principles?
The think home is an invitation to be part of the process of what is happening at home. You can extend whatever you are doing wherever you are, to home. We can learn from the Jewish formula here. The greatest strength of the Jews is their population in the Diaspora. The homeland, Israel, doesn’t have enough landmass to accommodate them. But wherever they go, they are first and foremost Jews and link whatever they are doing anywhere else to their homeland. That is what think home means. Anambra’s Diaspora population should go as far and as wide as they can. They must in doing so, think home always like the Jews.
What do you see as the impact of Anambra’s significant Diaspora population in the state?
Anambra State is rated as the lowest today on the poverty indices in Nigeria. This is not because of any special policy to fight poverty. It is all about the cultural support system that has been built and sustained between those abroad and those at home. There is no government social programme that supports the poor or the aged in terms of free medical care, for example. But yet, 70 per cent to 80 per cent of our strong and active population, living in the Diaspora, support the 20 per cent of the old and younger population of parents and siblings. They don’t earn incomes, so they are supported from outside. When they are sick, need to pay school fees or house rent, money is sent from outside the state. The Diaspora remittances are one of the reasons a lot of things look normal in Anambra State. Available statistics has it that in 2018 the remittance from the diaspora into Nigeria was US$18 billion. This is higher than our national budget. And from this amount, 70 per cent are from the South-East. And we expect that more than half of the 70 per cent is from Anambra.
Can the state government harness the remittances in a methodical way to develop the state as is done in the Philippines for example?
I don’t think it can be harnessed along that line because most of the remittances are channelled towards survival. These are private initiatives without government support. You cannot wake up and make a policy on how to get part of the income of a young man who trekked from Nigeria through the desert to Libya, hid in a vessel into Spain, went into prison, got out and eventually started sending money to his parents. You can’t do that. In the absence of a government policy in Anambra State you can appeal to their sentiments bearing in the mind that the only people who can develop a place are the indigenes because one way or the other, they will find themselves engaging in certain investments that may not be driven by the principles of the formal economy, but driven by passion and sentiment. It requires a deliberate policy to repatriate such Diaspora earnings that of course doesn’t exist in Anambra or Nigeria. Philippines got US$38 billion Diaspora remittances and that constitutes about 40 per cent of their GDP. India has the highest repatriation rate of funds, but they were properly planned for. They are coming from highly skilled personnel that benefitted from the clear government policy of skill acquisition and training.
What’s your view on marginalization amidst feelings that Nigeria has been unfair to the South East?
If any section thinks that Nigeria has not done them well, the principle is to get up. You don’t fall down and remain there, you cannot be sitting down there and crying. You need to do something. Some parts of this country cry because they don’t have the means to do anything for themselves. The Igbo people cannot be stopped.