The South East and Gov. Uduaghan's Business Entreaties: Pros And Cons

Gradual but steadily he’s warming himself into the heart of the South East business community. The constraints of doing business in the South East were something Dr. Uduaghan, the governor of Delta state, seems to understand. Though a relatively new politician, his recent utterances and actions underscored that of a man determined to carve an enduring niche for himself.

Among the numerous problems that have impeded the consummate growth of business in the South East, infrastructure and social appear to be the most nagging. With the former arising from the state of the existing roads leading to the zone from major Nigerian cities. Then, there were the lack of a dredged sea channel and rail link, coupled with the absence of a practical International airport.

On the other hand, the social aspect, include among others, armed robbery attacks on the Lagos–Onitsha road, the unspoken conspiracy of some members of Nigeria’s customs and the police to impound South East bound goods at the slightest pretext. Goods that would later be resold in a shady manner.

Then, mention must be made of the inconsistent government policies in international trade. Something that has made long term forecast and planning difficult for importers in the country in general. Statistically, the South East has the largest number of importers in the nation. And, according to the Chinese mission, the zone is China‘s biggest trading partner in Nigeria.

Now that some unavoidable circumstances have propelled the Delta state governor to behold the South East, the stakeholders should see that as a step in the right direction. Interests, and not political boundaries should be paramount in this regard. For one thing, the two states are contiguous, and each has something the other doesn’t have. A fact Mr. Uduaghan appear to understand.

On the strength of his knowledge of the business opportunities in the area, he has fired the first salvo with the commencement of the construction of the Asaba airport. Though, Asaba, on her own right as a state capital, deserve an airport. But the fact that the project is competitively close to Onitsha and Nnewi business districts, even within the boundaries of Anambra state, has made it a double-edged blade of sort. Something that is currently making the governor to look for reciprocity across the Niger.

He now wants the South East business community, specifically Onitsha and Nnewi, to switch their maritime related activities to Delta state’s seaports as soon as they were renovated. A desire that must have, among other factors, been informed by his Itshekiri background. And a move, seen by many, as geared toward breaking the South West’s near monopoly on the nation’s stevedoring sector.

In a meeting with the Amalgamated Traders Association of Onitsha which took place at Warri, the governor was said to have pressed home the argument that Delta state was nearer home, and that Warri and Koko, instead of Lagos ports, were the natural and safe place for South East’s maritime needs.

In a zone where many things have been proposed and none was done, Uduaghan should be taken seriously. The open-ended proposal to dredge the lower Niger should further be a reason why the governor’s hand of friendship need to be reappraised.

Another game-changer in the unfolding business re-alignment was money; federal allocation. Delta has got it. She is far richer than Anambra from that perspective. But, on the other hand, Anambra has an enviable, and thriving business community, one that would add an immense value to the Delta governor’s economic agenda.

And for the Southern people of Delta state, the fact that more new sophisticated sea ports have been penciled down for construction in the Southwest, has already foreclosed the chances of a future thriving Koko and Warri ports. Activities of oil companies may not just be enough for these ports. Dr. Uduaghan’s on-going efforts to reach an understanding with the Eastern business community could be the way out.

There were promises of high capacity warehouses around the Asaba airport. This is in addition to his determination to have the road leading from the Warri seaport to the airport dualized on the state’s bill. Something that will reduce the goods haulage time to Onitsha from Warri to within three hours. One other issue he brought to table, and which must have been well taken by his guests was that of security, specifically on the road leading from Koko/Warri ports to Onitsha.

Indeed, Dr. Uduaghan is walking on the right side of history. But the path he’s chosen may not be all that smooth. To succeed in diverting the existing East/Lagos trading axis would be a seismic shift. Most South-Eastern trading organizations have their branches and factories in Lagos state. Thus, their choice of Lagos was not only borne out of the safe clearing of their cargoes, but marketing them as well. A concept which has made their mission in the state worthwhile.

Even if Warri and Koko ports become operational and safe, the patronage of the few who have no subsidiaries in Lagos, may not just be significant enough to effect the desired change in the local economy of these moribund port towns.

Donald Duke, the former governor of Cross River state, tried as much to court South East business men, vis-a-vis Calabar port, without success. The Igbo presence in Lagos has transcended business to political and cultural ties. The indigenous communities were at home with them, and this is evident from the uninterrupted peaceful co-existence with the people. A fact that was recently reaffirmed by the Secretary to the Lagos State Government, Mrs. Adeniran Ogunsanya, on her trip to Anambra state, where she honored Mr Ben Akabueze, the Lagos State’s Commissioner for Budget and Economic planning, whose origin is in Ifite Dunu, Anambra state.

What may likely change the equation, still to a limited existent, would be the implementation of the dredging of the lower Niger, and the construction of the already designated sea-ports at Onitsha, Oguta, Azumini and Owerri-nta. Azumini community is a mere five nautical miles to the Atlantic coast.

Written by
Ossie Ezeaku
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