Welcoming Northern Economic Region

by Odilim Enwegbara

There is no great economy without many regional economic entities competing among themselves within it. The United States, which every nation has looked up to until the recent emergence of the Dragon, was as vibrant and robust as its twelve regional economies fiercely competing amongst themselves, with the federal government besides providing national defense, security, and foreign policy as well as economic and financial rescues when necessary, also acted as an all-powerful referee.

It would have been difficult imagining how America would have beaten the ever-powerful Britain in the race to economic and financial supremacy without the fierce competition among these twelve regional economies; without three powerful regional economies – Pacific regional economy led by California, the Mid-Atlantic regional economy led by New York, and the New England regional economy headed by Massachusetts – leading it! In short, to discover how incessantly messy this regional economic warfare is, all you need do is visit that country’s two competing technology hubs: San Francisco’s Silicon Valley area and Boston’s Route 128 areas.

Take China. Would China have become an economic superpower without America’s similar regional economic competition? In fact, regional economic competition in today’s China has since made America’s regional competition a child’s play. The fierce race to which region in China should become world’s leading advanced manufacturing hub has become messier to say the least. Also messier is the ongoing regional economic competition among India’s regional economies over attracting and retaining the relocating technology service firms from the west. Regional rivalry is also as dense Brazil as it is in India and China as emergent economic powerhouses.

So, with all the transformative power regional economies posses, it makes sense to welcome the recent move by some Northern leaders (popularly called the G20) to begin transforming the North into Nigeria’s powerful economic. By coming out forcefully to showcase their readiness to pursue a business-friendly and business-driven North, the message can’t be clearers. There is no better way to put than that the North is now ever-ready to build well-structured business-government and business-institution relationship.

For the first time since oil made Nigerian leaders turn blind eyes to regional economies since the easy oil money provided our leaders easy free-money, a returning to building regional economy is taking place with tremendous speed. And that it all started in the North has become a challenge to regional leaders in the Southeast, Southwest, and Southsouth. What Northern leaders are telling their counterparts is: Wake up to the reality; rediscover your regional economies as the true engines of the future, not the federal government.

The question, therefore, is not why but how have Northern leaders rediscovered that developing the region’s agriculture and mineral resources will generate for the region more than four times the current revenues being generated for the country by oil? Should it be as a result of being out of power since the beginning of this century that gradually opened their eyes to the truth that after all the bulk of the country’s wealth is locked in agriculture and solid minerals, which the North is vastly endowed? Isn’t this coming in recognition that with such vast regionally generated revenues, developing North’s education, human capital, and health care would be made earlier than depending oil driven federally generated revenues? While it will be difficult to ascertain what made the G20 to have this change of mind, one thing that seems undeniable is that the North has finally rediscovered that it is not oil and gas that hold Nigeria’s present and future wealth, but rather, it is the country’s 80 million hectares of arable land (of which over 65 million hectares are in the North) and the untapped vast solid mineral deposit, which definitely hold Nigeria’s infinite wealth.

What we are about witnessing is not just an economic reconfiguration. With such vibrant and robust regional economy in the North, the region’s demand on the center’s political economy will drastically reduce over the years. And should the success in the North be rightly copied by other regions of the country, certainly Nigeria’s unending ethnic and religious rivalries will soon become things of the past. What that means also is that soon our foreign exploiters, who have for years used our ethnic and religious differences to make the country ungovernable in an effort to promote their ‘divide them and rule them’ imperial agenda, too will soon discover that the game is over.

The reawaken of regional development and the rediscovering that it is regional economies that are going to be the cornerstone for sound public policy and effective national action, not national, is fast sending our decades-long disastrous national economic development policy based on “one-size-fits-all” to the very dustbin of history, where it ought to have been since. In short, there shouldn’t have been any good news than this revival of the North’s economic region.

When fully taken off it will mean millions of jobs generated, developing the region’s vast agriculture and mining resources. When fully taken off the North will definitely generate more than the money to invest in the expansion and upgrading of the region’s decaying infrastructure, including its road networks, power and water supply. This will also mean tapping its vastly scenic tourist wealth.

But to get it right going forward, some difficult novel steps need to be taken. There is the need to quickly establish a regional ‘Policy Think Tank Group,’ with full mandate to articulate policy priorities that will best serve the region’s economic competitiveness, build its core strengths, as well as develop additional advantages compatible with the region’s expansive development needs. Also in focusing regional policy on addressing job-creating problem, it will necessitate establishing the much discussed Northern Nigeria Development Bank and Northern Nigerian Chambers of Commerce.

The reemergence of the North’s competitiveness will also require building critical and determinant social economic mass which too will require creating a pool of skills and capital. For reasons of synergy and economies of scale, the North should need to establish a Northern University of Technology, which should be a pacesetting academic and research center of excellence set up with the goal of attracting gifted scholars, scientists, researchers, and students alongside attracting leading knowledge-based companies. It also mean the need for Northern Nigeria 5-Star hotel and hospital chains, a Northern Nigeria Airline, a Northern Nigeria Power Company, a Northern Nigeria Engineering and Construction Company, a Northern Nigerian Technology City like the Silicon Valley, an Entrepreneurs Bank of the North, Farmers Banks of the North, etc.

While there is no doubt that creating such a viable regional economy is going to be daunting. It is daunting given the inherent difficulty in assets mapping as well as in truly identifying the right combination of competitive advantage. Daunting, it will definitely be as result of the dearth of the right analytical tools and insights into a region’s comparative advantage. And above, it is going to be daunting when it comes to prioritizing the region’s public investments in light of competing interests.

But with determined group of stakeholders, working assiduously on the basis of long-term regional benefits, aligning divergent stakeholder interests wouldn’t be all that insurmountable. Certainly, for a common regional policy to blossom it should be shaped by the overarching need for regional policy, governance, innovation, and entrepreneurship templates.

Thus, crafting an effective regional policy template will require regional leaders having the best diagnosis of the region’s present and future competitive g

oals. Since entrepreneurship should be a priority for such regional development efforts, regional support networks and incentives for the formation of new equity funds should be given the highest regional attention. It also means that, going forward, the regional economy will be forced to constantly create new values in national and international markets, exploiting its regional strengths.

What all these changes will translate to is the turning point for Nigeria’s true federalism. It all means that the federal government should henceforth focus on what it is supposed to be doing: Providing security, ensuring credible and predicable monetary policy, economic stimulus packages whenever interregional interactions call for them. It should henceforth provide support development infrastructure, in addition to actively promoting healthy competitiveness environment beneficial to all the regional economies.

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