Point Of Order With Nonso Ezeani: Diversified Economy; Panacea For Stunted Economic Growth And Development

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In a manner that can be best described as hasty, the administration of Chief Olusegun Obasanjo ratified and accepted a judgment of the International Court of Justice (ICJ) that held that portions of Nigeria around where used to be in Bakassi Local Government Area  of the Cross River State be ceded to the Republic of Cameroun.

During the Nigerian civil war that lasted an excruciating 30 months, on the request from the then General Yakubu “Jack” Gowon’s led Military Government, the Alhaji Ahmadou Ahidjo led Federal Government of the Republic of Cameroon blocked every access to Biafra and Biafrans who were using his country to ferry weapons and non-lethal supplies into their enclave, thus ensuring a total sea, land and air blockade to Biafra. At the end of the war, President Ahidjo raised the issue of Cameroun’s ownership of Bakassi and Gowon was fidgety. Nigeria’s Attorney General at that time, Dr. Taslim Elias addressed and sent a memo to the office of the Head of State, urging General Gowon to recall the help that Cameroun had rendered to Nigeria that led to the defeat of Biafra. That did it! The Federal Government on behalf of Nigeria signed, sealed, delivered and handed over Bakassi (liquid and solid contents inclusive) to the Republic of Cameroun! – “Agreement is agreement.”

Forty two years later, Nigeria is being haunted by the adverse effect of that deal. How much more prices will Nigeria pay for the sins of our fathers? I vividly recall with contempt how Nigerians’ legal representative at the ICJ during the dispute period Prince Bola Ajibola explained to his fellow countrymen how great the occasion of the withdrawal of Nigerian troops from the disputed settlement was. He implied (I stand to be corrected) that “today has further gone down in history as proof to the West and the entire world that Africans can settle their disputes without recourse to arms.”

It is important to note that while Nigeria operated a two chamber legislature at that material point in time, the Olusegun Obasanjo led executive never thought it necessary to seek the input of either the Senate or the Federal House of Representatives before it went ahead to accept the terms of the judgment. He acted in his usual style. The fact that Nigeria was and is still blessed with jurists that are worth their salt left me thinking as to why the then executive acted in a manner that portrayed it more as a sole administration.

The fact that the Olusegun Obasanjo led government of that period was notorious for the ways and manner with which it flouted court orders and abused court processes provided me with a sort of comfort before judgment was given against Nigeria in that matter. I was thinking the government will as usual refuse to implement the terms of the judgment. Alas! I was dead wrong; the government obeyed and implemented the judgment to the letters. Till date thousands of indigenes of “Old Bakassi” are yet to be resettled by the government (at whatever level), this is despite the fact that monies running into several billions of Naira have been spent on the “building” of a “New Bakassi.”

Activities apparently championed by former Senior Special Adviser to former President Olusegun Obasanjo on national assembly matters Mama Bakassi – Senator Florence Ita Giwa have commenced by various interest groups towards pressuring the Federal Government to appeal against the judgment in the best interest of Nigeria and Nigerians, even though I wonder where on planet earth she was when the implementation of the unpopular ICJ judgment was being contemplated. The Federal House of Representatives and the Senate have suddenly found their bearing (I wonder where they lost it) and appears determined to assert their “influence” as parliament and have tactically insisted that it must debate and approve the unpopular judgment before it is implemented.

So far, the body language of the Presidency have suggested that it may give a shot at the appeal with the hope of either upturning the judgment or negotiating a more favorable term with the government of Cameroun. In as much as I hope that this doesn’t amount to a case of medicine after death, kudos should be given to the current Federal Government for being a bit sensitive to the plight of Nigerians.

As I write, I am aware that Nigeria still has a chance and should as a matter of necessity afford itself a chance of appealing against this judgment that is obviously not in the best interest of indigenes of Bakassi Local Government Area whose hopes and aspirations of still being Nigerians have been cut off, citizens of Cross River state that have had to suffer untold hardship because of the inability to the Gov. Liyel Imoke’s led administration to keep up the pace of development it inherited for Dr. Donald Duke (this is certainly not an excuse not to perform and deliver to the electorate dividends of democracy) and Nigeria as a Country that have lost revenue running into Billions of Dollars as a result of the decision of the then Federal Government to implement the judgment of the ICJ.

The finance of the Cross River State government is yet to recover after the dictates of that unpopular judgment was implemented, the Akwa Ibom State government by virtue of court order took over whatever oil wells the Cameroonians left behind relegating the Cross River State to the status of a non oil producing state (if you know what that means in Nigeria).

The government of the Cross River as at today in my opinion is running out of legal options to return that state to its oil producing status hence I dare to suggest that while the legal fireworks continue, the state and it board of governors look inward and develop other sectors of their economy as an alternative source of income. Suffice to say that the general process of operations at the Tinapa Business and the Cattle Ranch in Obudu be improved upon on a daily basis.

It is on record that His Excellency, President Boni Yayi of the Republic of Benin spent his 2012 vacation in the resort. The President couldn’t help but admit the class the Resort have assumed within a short while of its existence. He further confessed that he was hitherto ignorant of the existence of such a location within the confines of Africa. Upon his departure, he promised to make a case in his capacity as then Chairman of the African Union for the Resort to be used as venue for the next AU summit – this is to say that if his proposal sails through, the Cross River State will benefit so much in terms of inflow of funds and the publicity that the event will create.

This is a wakeup call to Governor Liyel Imoke and members of his state executive council. They should as a matter of urgency make a case for the Resort relying on their contacts across Nigeria, at the Presidency and even beyond Nigeria to ensure that within the next couple of years, we will be witnesses to several international organizations flying into Calabar, Nigeria to hold events in the Resort.

The Cross River State government should also consider initiating and developing a similar project in other states in Nigeria just like the Obasanjo Holdings Limited (owners of Obasanjo Farms). The tool of moral suasion can be employed by the government toward getting influential citizens of the state that currently sit on the board of blue chip companies to sell the idea of the resort as being a perfect venue for Annual General Meetings and other corporate forums of such companies. If the state has a ministry of Trade and Investments as is obtainable at the Federal level, that ministry should champion the marketing of the Resort beyond the shores of Nigeria and Africa to ensure that the Resorts is given the publicity it deserves.

If these efforts are pursued vigorously, I am of the firm opinion that the state will do well with or without oil deposits and will definitely go on to be a strong point of reference as a state that have attained economic sufficiency without crude oil.

The Governments of Cross River State and Nigeria have got a lot to learn from Abu Dhabi in this regard. The government of that country has consistently sent a strong signal to the world that with or without oil, rapid economic advancement is attainable. Nigeria seems to be most comfortable with the ritual of state governments dispatching their respective finance commissioners to the FCT on a monthly basis to receive cheques on behalf of their states being their share of oil revenue for each month. It is however important to note that no country on planet earth have blossomed to become a recognized force based on this tradition.

It is necessary that Nigeria de-emphasizes this barbaric tradition of splitting oil revenue in 36 places every 30 days and make concerted to develop such sectors of her economy that have proven to be sources of foreign exchange for other prosperous nations on earth. Such sectors which critical attention should be paid to include:

1.Science & Technology (lessons from China).

2.Education (lessons from Australia and Ghana).

3.Tourism and Hospitality (lessons from the UAE).

4.Trade and Manufacturing (lessons from China).

5.ICT (lessons India).

6.Agriculture (lessons from Holland and Benin Republic).

The speed with which the future approaches is the same speed with which it moves on, leaving behind those that failed to catch up with it. While I wish the Nigerian government well in its quest to appeal against the ruling of the ICJ, I wish to sound the ultimate alarm that “time and tide waits for no one.” The earlier we graduated from crude oil propelled “prosperity” to all round prosperity, the better for us.

There is surely no guaranty that like incumbent President Goodluck Jonathan, Nigeria’s next president in either 2015 or 2019 will prefer to have the likes Mujahideen Asari Dokubo, Government “Tompolo” Epemupolo, Tom Ateke etc on its payroll. It will therefore be in the interest of Nigeria and Nigerians for the government to gather its act now, diversify the Nigerian economy to ensure that every sector contributes to the “robustness” of the federation account, because then and only then will the national cake taste more delicious. This will further guarantee the sustainability of government policies; stimulate job creation and entrepreneurship development, proper execution of national budgets and a reduction in the spate of crime and violence (whatever their nature is) in the land. 

Ezeani, Chukwunonso Elvis is the Convener, Friends of Nigeria; the green group. He writes in from Victoria Island, Lagos.

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