South East Regional Integration and Agenda Setting for Incoming State Governors

April 11, 2023
south east regional integration

By Okechukwu Keshi Ukegbu

On May 29, powers will change hands in almost all the South East states as brand new governors will take over leadership. One laudable project the outgoing governors failed to fine-tune and set it rolling is the south east regional integration project.

Whatever reason led to the ability or failure of the governors to achieve this laudable project should not bother this. But it is largely blamed on party differences.

Precisely in 2017, the governors came up with this initiative to forge a very strong and reliable regional integration. Unfortunately, since then, nothing serious has come out of the initiative; rather, insecurity is staring the faces of some of the states menacingly, and if nothing is done as a matter of urgency, the states may slip more dangerously into situations with some of the Northern states, especially the North East and North West.

The urge for regions across the country to come together and forge economic integration was increasing at geometric progression, and this provoked the interests of South-East governors to join the moving train.

Regional integration, which is simply the joining of individual states within a region into a larger whole, is now the vogue. This arrangement tends to achieve the following functions: to strengthen trade in the region; to create an appropriate enabling environment for private sector development; to develop infrastructure programmes in support of economic growth and regional integration; to develop strong public sector institutions and good governance.

Others are to reduce social exclusion and the development of an inclusive civil society; contribute to peace and security in the region; build environmental programmes at the regional level, and strengthen the region’s interaction with other regions.

The urge for stronger regional integration by the South-East governors was basically informed by the prevailing economic realities in the country. In the South West region, the governors of the region, in a continued search for Regional Integration of the zone under the Development Agenda for Western Nigeria (DAWN), resolved to work together to address security challenges confronting the region and foster economic growth and well-being of the people.

In a meeting well attended by governors of the region and their representatives then, critical attention was accorded to issues such as kidnapping and the menace of the herdsmen.

In the South East, efforts in the period under review were in top gear to foster economic integration. In a bid to advance the economic well-being of the region, the five South-East governors met and resolved to bury their differences and work for the economic integration of the region.

In the words of Governor Dave Umahi of Ebonyi State, the initiative was in the interest of the people. The meeting was a landmark because it discussed critical issues affecting the region, such as security.

On the issue of security, the governors agreed to collaborate by comparing notes to talk with the Commissioners of Police and other security agencies located in the region on security integration.

Security, no doubt, is an important component of integration and must be pursued vigorously. It is indisputable that kidnapping had taken a serious toll on almost all the five South-East states then and deserved a serious collaborative effort.

When kidnappers are dislodged from one South-East state, there is every tendency that they would seek a safe haven in a nearby South-East state and resume their unwholesome trade there.

But today, kidnapping has become a lesser evil than what has befallen some of the South-East states.

Criminal elements wielding dangerous arms and weapons are on the prowl trying seriously to sack communities. They are killing indiscriminately and at will, razing people’s homes at the slightest or no provocation at all.

The 2023 general election in the zone was highly threatened. The Continuous Voter Registration exercise was also highly threatened as gunmen invaded centres, ransacked, maimed and killed at will. Police formations, military checkpoints and public gatherings we’re at high risk and prone to gunmen attacks.

There were enough early warning signals, and one could attribute the present security situation to the inability of our security agencies to sample their competence in intelligence.

When criminal elements were amassing large volumes of arms and ammunition illegally by sacking police formations and ambushing checkpoints, we did not need a soothsayer to inform us that doomsday is imminent. We did not need a prophet to tell us that we were sitting on a keg of gunpowder waiting for time to detonate.

Really, we are sitting on a keg of gunpowder, and the detonation may be more imminent than we expect. Some of the South-East states today do not know that these criminal elements lack the ability to expand their operations tomorrow.

On this note, let the incoming South-East governors revisit the earlier regional integration, fashion out measures to collaborate and tackle this menace called insecurity headlong. Now is the time to collapse every political leaning and interest and chase away the proverbial wolf later to come back home and blame the straying hen. This will afford them the opportunity to cross-fertilise ideas and borrow notes from their counterparts from other states.

On the other hand, South-East states can engage in joint projects that require huge capital outlay by pooling financial resources together. To buttress this claim, in the past, the 19 governors of the northern states of Nigeria gave approval to the Northern Nigeria Development Company (NNDC), owned by the 19 northern states, to establish a strong and viable bank.

While NNDC was also vigorously pursuing the search for oil and gas in the Lake Chad Basin and the Niger-Benue trough, plans are underway by the northern states to establish an Agricultural Commodity Board to guarantee market, quality and more farm produce in states in the region as well as the establishment of a multi-faceted Agricultural Industrial Park that would assist in fast-tracking economic productivity.

NNDC was a strong instrumentality to establish a strong foundation for Northern Nigeria to be self-sufficient in food production, financial services and other sectors. Nothing makes it unbecoming for the incoming South-East administrations to think along this line.

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