Blind patriotism aside, Nigeria can rightfully be described as a country that is richly blessed in poverty, miserable in abundance, and saturated in wants. As a people, we have had our share of intellectually barren, politically ignorant and pugnacious leaders who emerged from, or forced themselves on us as a direct consequence of prolonged military misrule and dictatorship in the country. The military mentality and its corrupt morality have thus, unfortunately been imported into our fragile democracy and pseudo-federalism as evidenced by the predatory politics of our major political actors, the unrestrained and inflammatory utterances of people who wrongly believed that the Nigeria of the 21st century still operates a patrimonial type of government of the past. Little wonder then that Thomas Pickering, a former U.S. Ambassador to Nigeria once said that:
“when we think of positive changes in Africa, ……. we are not reminded of Nigeria. Instead, we think of Nigeria when we consider the Africa of lost economic opportunities, tragic abuses of human rights, and repression. This is disturbing because I know firsthand that Nigeria has every reason to be a success story, to be a model for its region and a leader of the continent. It has the human and material resources to provide for every one of its citizens. It has or had educational base to develop political, academic and artistic leaders that could have inspired a continent, enriched the world and led in international as well as regional cooperation and development”.
Therefore, at a time of untrammeled and unprecedented destruction of lives and property in the country by Boko haram and other cohorts of bankrupt leaders, at a time of manifest incompetence on the part of a fearful and inexperienced Nigerian president Jonathan sitting at the helm of the country’s affairs, and whose major preoccupation at a time of such grave national security and economic needs, is simply to engage in a worthless but sufficiently provocative exercise of renaming the University of Lagos without necessary prior consultations, as well as the existence of a seemingly corrupt judiciary that is effectively complemented by other political opportunists and macabre dancers, it is a great source of personal joy to know that the progressive leaders of the south-west are thinking ahead in genuine commitment to the goals of nation building and improving the lives of the people in that region through the proposed regional economic integration.
The proposal to integrate the economy of the south-west is rooted in the realization that it makes sense to collaborate across political boundaries because many economic and social issues affecting the region certainly overflow a state’s geographical borders. More importantly, the idea of economic integration is inextricably linked to broadened ownership and opportunities.
The south-west definitely shares common problems and frustrations with all Nigerians but with the level of its endowed resources (human and materials), the region could justifiably argue that it suffers more and above that of the certain other segments of the Nigerian society. Collectively put, the south-west since the exit of late chief Obafemi Awolowo from active politics, can be said to have suffered what one can refer to as regional devastation-some of which are self-inflicted, while others are the result of government’s ignorance or insensitivity, and deliberate policies orchestrated by the federal government to slow down the people and development in the region. From higher rate of unemployment among the region’s university graduates, to abandoned farmlands and agricultural products, as well as rapidly aging population in the rural communities and exodus of its intellectuals to foreign lands at alarming rate, the region faces foreseeable and imminent crises that must be promptly addressed by leaders of the south-west. According to Arnold H. Glasgow, “one of the true tests of leadership is the ability to recognize a problem before it becomes an emergency”. This is why every progressive in the south-west (irrespective of party affiliation), need to support the vision and efforts of the CAN-led governors and other leaders to poll the region’s resources together for accelerated development that is urgently needed throughout south-west.
Since globalization and industrial restructuring are shifting the world economies, local communities or state governments within a region coming together are bound to benefit from greater collaboration, citizen participation and regional analysis that can lead to greater markets. Also, in dealing with the increasingly complex public issues and tightening resources, state governments must look for better ways of doing business. Example of such ways is coming together within a particular region to promote regional strategies without having to sacrifice individual state’s autonomy, integrity and independence. The states of the south-west have always been blessed with progressive leaders and ideas in addition to their sharing common ancestral and cultural heritage, similar and intertwined historical and political background long before British imperialism, to the extent that integrating their economies is only in the overall interest of same people.
Another advantage certain to result from coming together for economic integration is the opportunity to leverage the region’s resources, and by leveraging resources, the states are better able to capitalize on competitive advantages of each member state within the integrated region. The regional competitive advantage will inevitably broaden development agenda of the south-west and ultimately improve the living standard of the people. Furthermore, this regionalism is bound to result in effective governance which is one of the best opportunities for shaping a vibrant future and rural prosperity for those towns and villages throughout the region because it is generally accepted that effective governance is an amalgam of specific practices that make a difference between stagnant and flourishing communities.
The concept of economic integration in the south-west will also enable the component states to spread costs. Regional economic integration with its attendant coordination and planning is crucial for the success of large capital projects and other undertakings that are too big, too complex or too expensive for a state government to unilaterally address. This practice is bound to lead to greater unity among the state governments and peoples in the region while the mix of local and state governments, businesses, and professionals in the region will eventually breakthrough institutional barrier lines and capitalize on the skills and resources each sector and jurisdiction brings to the table. On the other hand, such interactions and large project undertakings are bound to result in more job creation and lower unemployment rate in the region as a whole.
The economic integration policy will also provide the much needed collaborative forum for the region where the leaders of south-west can examine the region’s strength, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats and then fashion a vision or strategy for the future. Since successful development policies are region specific, these leaders can build on what is unique and valuable to the region’s residents. The regional collaborative forum, with its attendant authority will foster collaborative solutions to the problems and issues that are unique to south-west as a region. The benefits from the proposed economic integration (regionalism) and regional approaches to planning and coordination in the south-west cannot be overemphasized.
On a final note, while no one is suggesting that the eventual realization of this regional economic integration of the south-west as a region is a panacea for all the problems and challenges confronting the region, it is beyond both reasonable and unreasonable doubts that the propo
sed integration is a right step in the right direction. The idea of regional cooperation among states or local economies and communities is nothing new to smart people all over the world due to its obvious advantages. From Europe to Asia, to the states of America, it is a standard practice.
I therefore urge the visionary leaders of in the south-west in general, and the ACN governors in particular, to march forward in the pursuit of this noble concept until the idea becomes a reality. It is in the interest of the region that our leaders ignore all personal attacks and invidious comments or criticisms that will come from political opponents and paid commentators until south-west of Nigeria is fully propelled into an era of unprecedented prosperity. It is also recommended that all well-meaning Nigerians and the entire people of south-west support and rally around this idea of regional economic integration in the overall interest of our people.