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Developing The Eastern Nigeria with Revenues Generated from Groundnuts as Alleged: Setting The Record Straight

 Developing The Eastern Nigeria with Revenues Generated from Groundnuts as Alleged: Setting The Record Straight Rediscovering The Enterprisi...

 Developing The Eastern Nigeria with Revenues Generated from Groundnuts as Alleged: Setting The Record Straight

Rediscovering The Enterprising Brilliance Of The Igbo man

In the era of pre-independence Nigeria, revenues generated from groundnuts were never invested in the development of the Eastern region. Therefore, it is foolhardy for anyone to mischievously claim ignorance of historical facts concerning this. This factor may have been employed nonetheless, by Ahmadu Bello to stimulate the economic growth of the Northern region and that is commendable.

However, the economy of the Eastern region prior to 1970, ran on a completely diverse template. The then economy was planned to gradually, steadily and strongly grow right from the base way up, by a United States Consultant, Arthur D. Little, that Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe brought in. The firm under this American, worked firstly with Dr. Michael Okpara and then later, with Samuel Otti and Eluwa, the Civil Service Head. Much later, Philip Odimegwu Ojukwu later became the Chairman of the Eastern Nigerian Development Corporation (ENDC) and as well, the Chairman of Eastern Nigeria Commodities Board (ENCB). 

He also sat as the Chairman of fifteen other multinational companies in the period under consideration. Such multinational companies included John Holt, PZ, Michelin, Costain, Thomas Wyatt, Guinness, GB Ollivant, etcetera. He was so wealthy that he single-handedly funded the establishment of Lagos Stock Exchange but bluntly objected to enlisting his own company for fear of losing control. Late Louis-Philip Odimegwu Ojukwu's picture yet hangs proudly there on the floor of that Exchange Firm as it's foremost Chairman. 

Arthur D. Little equally worked with an array of young Eastern Nigeria economists at the time, such as Pius Okigbo (PhD, Northwestern), Ukwu I. Ukwu (PhD, Cambridge), Chukwu Sunday Okongwu (PhD, Harvard). These men in their early twenties, worked with the American, to plan and position the Eastern Nigeria economy right from the scratch. This American Consultant recommended the setting up of a University within the Eastern region for the production of key skills needed to drive economic growth as most of the requirements were not readily being taught in Ibadan then.

Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe sent Dr. Akpabio (MA, Columbia), who then, was the Eastern Nigeria's Minister of Education, on an extended tour to the Universities in Michigan, New York, United States of America, for collaboration in key fields like Medicine, Engineering, Survey, Photogrammetry and Business Administration. University of Nigeria (UNN), Nsukka, thus became the first institution ever in Nigeria, to offer many of these courses. University of Ibadan then, taught mostly, Classics, General Sciences and afterwards, Medicine. Palm oil, palm kernel, coal, cocoa (from Ikom), coffee (from Obudu) and subsequently, petroleum (firstly from Izombe, Oguta area) and Oloibiri (Ijawland), all helped to drove the Eastern economy.

In developmental consideration, the Eastern region really commenced late, compared to the Western region. Development and education started well off in Lagos and Abeokuta right after Beecraft occupied Lagos in the 1850s and made it a British colony. Lagos and the entire Western region thus, had more than seventy (70) years headstart over the East in terms of total gross capital formation as well as the platform it gave for growth. But after the implementation of Arthur D. Little's recommended growth plan, the economy of the East experienced an astronomical growth at more than 9.2%, starting from 1958 to 1967 when the war eventually broke out. At 9.2% growth, the Eastern region became the fastest growing economy on earth consistently, for a period of nine good years and was estimated to have equalled that of Western Nigeria by 1978, in terms of total gross capital formation and eventually had it overtaken. The civil war abysmally truncated that momentum which was never recovered from.

Louis Philip Odimegwu Ojukwu brought his industrial influence to bear on the growth plan as he single-handedly pushed for the establishment of not just industrial estates but also, industrial corridors in the region. An industrial estate was localized while industrial corridors had industrial estates that formed chain of viable, economically inclined industrialization that vastly sprang up across the Eastern region. Trans-Amadi in Port Harcourt, light industries in Aba, biotechnology in Umuahia, steel industry in Emene - Enugu, industrial automation in Nkalegu, cement industries in Port Harcourt and Calabar, as well as building materials in Onitsha, as an emporium to drive retail trading. In Obudu, Cross River State, were openings for dairy, holidaying/pleasure and corporate meetings. Because he was the Chairman of fifteen notable multinational companies, he effectively utilized his influence over them, to buy into the East's industrialization plan.

Dr. Michael Okpara also on his part, partnered with the nation of Israel for the setting up of industrial farms and plantations, seedling production, assistance to farmers, etcetera. Plantations for cashew nuts, palm kernels, cocoa, coffee and timber, of course, all sprang up in Oghe, Enugu State, Okigwe, Abia State, Obudu, Itumbenuzor and Akamkpa, Cross River State amongst various other places in Rivers, Akwa Ibom and Imo States. Dr. Michael Okpara personally divided some seedlings himself, by driving behind the trucks that engaged in the delivery. Sir Louis Philip Odimegwu Ojukwu, pushed for the establishment of three major cement plants in the region. They were Nkalagu, Eastern Bulkcem in Port Harcourt and Calabar cement. Their factories were all established in Nkalagu, Port Harcourt and Calabar, respectively. Operations in Nkalagu and Port Harcourt factories commenced before the war started in 1967 while everything needed for the take off operation for that of Calabar was readily on ground.

In 1970, Governor Esuene of the then newly created Cross River State, commissioned Calcemco plant to the applaud of many. Three industrial corridors were mapped out additionally for the region. The Emene-Nkalagu industrial corridor was meant to focus on automobiles, building materials and industrial automation. Kaiser Motors in the United States of America at that time, having earlier been acquired, had consented to building a car plant in Emene and another, solely for car engines. That corridor was billed to stretch for almost one hundred miles distance. The second industrial corridor was meant to stretch between Port Harcourt and Aba. So the industrial centers were set up in Trans-Amadi, Port Harcourt and in Aba respectively. Over a period of ten years, these two centers were to be linked by many feeder industries that would be located on the highway joining both cities.

Dr. Michael Okpara had hoped that over time, the Port Harcourt/Aba industrial corridor would follow the old road between Port Harcourt and Enugu and then be linked to the Emene/Nkalagu industrial corridor. This was aimed at creating massive industrial entities that would almost imitate the two hundred kilometers Rohr Industrial Valley in Germany, built under Chancellor Otto Von Bismarck.

Onitsha was to drive the Eastern region's retail (commercial) economy and so, the market was built there as an emporium. This was to attract buyers from all over Nigeria, West and Central African Sub-regions so that they could transverse the East and spend their money.  Dubai, United Arab Emirate, would copy this same model fifty years after and got it successfully implemented, on a global scale. Onitsha market achieved it's purpose by 1958, two years after the Eastern region achieved self-governance. It became the preferred destination for retail and bulk shoppers from across West Africa, Cameroon, Gabon and Congo. This was what gave the Anambra man, a headstart in retail trading which is an advantage they have always enjoyed till date. All these developments and growth projects were centrally driven by Eastern Nigeria Development Corporation (ENDC), and the accruing revenues were equally centrally aggregated into the treasury (account) of the Eastern Nigerian Commodities Board (ENCB). Both organizations were headed by Sir Louis Philip Odimegwu Ojukwu. Funds for developments were sourced mostly from three different channels namely:

1) Local revenues accruing from export of cocoa (Ikom and Itumbenuzor), coffee (Obudu and Arochukwu), timber (Akamkpa), coal (Enugu, Udi), palm oil (Rivers, Imo, Abia), palm Kernels (Rivers, Imo, Abia).

2) Direct foreign investments.

3) Loans from Commonwealth Development Corporation (CDC).

Umuahia was to midwife the East's biotechnology industries which clearly explains why Golden Guinea Brewery and the Root Crop Research Institute were established there. Obudu (Cross River State), because of it's pristine hills and fresh/cold weather, was to be a holiday/pleasure resort, for many as well as a primary center for diary industry which came on stream before the commencement of the war. Obudu Cattle Ranch was the first in the series of viable investments that got scuttled by hostilities.

Lastly, crude oil was discovered in the later years. Chief Nwodo (father of the immediate past President of Ohaneze Ndigbo) and Eastern Nigeria's foremost Minister of Trade, negotiated the first contracts with Shell Petroleum on a 50-50 investment and sharing basis. Virtually all of the East's oil assets were seized by the Nigerian Federal Government under Yakubu Gowon, with no compensation of any sort being paid till date. The Nigerian government simply inherited the region's fifty percent (50%) slot and paid absolutely nothing for it. Presently, everyone in the country is hugely profiting from it. Most of the catalytic cracking and the downward refineries that the Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) would subsequently build,  were in the plans that the Eastern Regional Government had, for the region. Today, some of the plants are located in faraway Kaduna (Northern region), and the mention of anything East, was craftily eliminated. 

Every Nigerian today, totally depends on the windfall of the same oil for survival including the states that claim their survival from their internally generated revenues. Rather than dining and winning away our lives on frivolities every day, the Igbo people should sit down and very critically take stock of the 1967 scuttled growth of the Eastern economy. This perhaps, will propel us all into conscientiously rediscovering our enterprising brilliance and start working together, by picking up all the pieces. We have to start rebuilding once again, from the scratches. It is definitely not late if we mean to change the tide.

Edited and published by Family Writers Press International.

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