by Chinedu George Nnawetanma
Igboland is an ethnocultural region in the present-day southeastern Nigeria. It differs from the South East Geopolitical Zone of Nigeria in that it encompasses both the zone and other adjoining territories of the eponymous Igbo ethnic group.
With an estimated 35 million inhabitants, it is comparable to the US state of California in population and would be the 12th most populous country in Africa were it independent, surpassing the likes of Ghana, Angola, Côte d’Ivoire, Cameroon, Senegal and Zambia.
A repository of natural resources, including coal, natural gas, petroleum and arable land, in addition to its wealth of human capital, Igboland is well-equipped to become one of Africa’s foremost engines of growth and development. However, repeated failures in optimising these human and natural resources have seen it serially underachieve.
Like much of the rest of the continent, it is enmeshed in underdevelopment, with the usual subplots of pervasive unemployment, infrastructure deficit and a very low production base featuring prominently. It is also particularly beset by an acute emigration rate among its economically active population, as they are regularly haemorrhaged for better opportunities.
Whilst myriads of factors have contributed to Igboland’s hobble over the years, the chief culprit has been its administrative balkanization. Unlike many other homogeneous regions the world over, it does not constitute a single polity. Rather, it is politically broken up into five Nigerian states, namely Anambra, Enugu, Ebonyi, Imo and Abia; with parts of its territory jutting out into a further eight – Delta, Rivers, Cross River, Benue, Akwa Ibom, Kogi, Edo and Bayelsa.
As different governments often translate to different modi operandi and even partisan inclinations, this arrangement has robbed the region of cohesion in the utilization of its resources, a predicament that is compounded by the pint size and multiethnic composition of most of these states, leaving only fragments of its resources in the hands of each state government and intensifying communalism over their distribution in the process.
Amidst the reluctance of the Nigerian federal government to restructure Nigeria’s convoluted 36-state system into fewer, larger and more viable regions along ethnic lines – as stronger federating units would whittle down the power and influence of the center – the key to extricating Igboland from economic stagnation in the interim and navigating it towards sustained development is politico-economic integration.
The coalescence of the political pieces of Igboland into an economic union of harmonised policies, combined resources, shared responsibilities and collective goals will, among other things, unlock the potential of the region by mitigating the bureaucratic, political and socioeconomic bottlenecks scuttling its progress thus far.
A single market covering Igboland will represent one of Africa’s most attractive investment destinations. Its huge population (which is more than the combined population of the Netherlands, Austria and Switzerland), compact land mass and considerable mineral wealth will provide a large labour pool, proximate consumer base, readily available raw materials and easy accessibility for investors coming into the region.
Buoyed by that and its strategic location near the intersection of West and Central Africa (and, by extension, Anglophone and Francophone Africa), it can serve as a springboard for businesses reaching out to both subregions whose combined population of 530 million outstrips that of each of the European Union and the United States of America.
As well as putting Igboland on the world map as an attractive investment destination, a politico-economic integration will equally pave the way for the realization of joint projects that will boost the socioeconomic profile and investment climate of the region, such as a rail link between its major northern corridor cities of Asaba, Onitsha, Nnewi, Awka, Enugu and Abakaliki and its major central and southern corridor cities of Orlu, Okigwe, Owerri, Umuahia and Aba.
It will also galvanise public-private partnership in the region by presenting a central platform for high-level collaboration between the private sector and the government in bringing investments that will create much-needed job opportunities necessary for retaining its teeming economically active population and preventing them from putting their skills to use elsewhere.
It is no longer news that at least 50% of the economic means of Ndigbo are domiciled outside Igboland. An Igboland Economic Union will arrest this anomaly by persuading Igbos worldwide to make Igboland the centrepiece of their investment drives and its fast-tracked development a top priority.
In a century when the drivers of the world’s economic growth are expected to shift from Asia to Africa, Igboland must be foresighted by repositioning itself now to be integral to and benefit from this process. As a first step, adequate and accelerated measures must be put in place to realise the comprehensive integration of Igboland, without which it will never come close to reaching its full capability and competing favourably on the global turf.
Chinedu George Nnawetanma; Email: firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter: @Chinedu17George