Strategic Options For The South East In The Next Five Years

By Chido Nwakanma

If you are from Abia State, you are likely familiar with and love Ofe Ukazi. You eat it with or without achara. It is a delicacy common to the major subgroups in the state.
However, you will need help finding Ofe Ukazi on request in the hotels, restaurants, or fast-food joints in Umuahia, the state capital, or Aba, the commercial hub. To add insult to injury, the same outlets would most likely offer you Afang soup, the Ibibio version of the same soup. You will experience the same difficulty in Owerri if you seek Ofe Owerri. Ndigbo must embrace theirs to send a similar message to the world.
People must love their products, goods and services as a starting point to get others to love them. I enjoy Afang. Where there is a choice, give me Ofe Ukazi. It is a cultural determination with economic implications.
The soft power of culture is a critical starting point for the analysis of the future of the South-East. Culture is the soft underbelly of any society. Culture trumps strategy. Culture is the carrier of values, attraction, and persuasion. It covers music, movies, art, food, and fashion.
It then extends to political values such as democracy, human rights, and the rule of law. It covers a people’s internal and external relationships. Soft skills complement soft power. Soft skills enable individuals and groups to interact effectively and harmoniously with others. Experts call them interpersonal, people and communication skills.
With the governor’s spearheading, a mix of soft and hard skills will be critical for the South-East and its people. A SWOT of our region shows.
Communication is critical, as is teamwork. Leaders and people of the South-East must collaborate, share ideas, and resolve conflicts constructively. The recent South-East Economic and Security Summit in Owerri received plaudits because of evidence of teamwork by the governors.
Critical soft skills include problem-solving, adaptability, work ethic, and emotional intelligence. The South-East can claim good marks on these. Following the lead of Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, here is a look at some of the critical issues for our region.
The strategic direction for the South-East of Nigeria in the next five years should focus on the following key areas:
Economic development: The South-East region has a rich economic heritage and a robust entrepreneurial spirit. However, challenges such as poor infrastructure, high unemployment, and insecurity plague the region. Insecurity and unemployment are intertwined. Solving the unemployment problem will drastically reduce insecurity. Investment in roads, bridges, and power infrastructure will contribute to job creation.
Agriculture: Agriculture is a significant economic sector in the South-East, but it is largely underdeveloped. In the next five years, the region should focus on modernising its agricultural sector and making it more productive and efficient. Look into the many research institutes in our region. Do they have a game changer in root crops and cereals at Umudike or Amakama? Our farmers need improved inputs and better agricultural value chains. Our governors need to speak and act more on agriculture. It needs to be on the agenda as a Top Five item.
Tourism: We have several tourist attractions, such as the Ogbunike Caves, Oguta Lake, the Ngwo Pine Forest, and the Arochukwu Long Juju. There are more. The Azumini Blue Lake is one. Milliken Hill is another. Religious tourism exists in the region without state intervention to enhance and regulate facilities. People visit the Awhum Monastery and then contend with poor access. We can do better to modernise infrastructure. Ogun State built a ramp to access Olumo Rock, enhancing its attraction and increasing tourist numbers. It boosted the local economy.
In the next five years, the Southeast should focus on developing its tourism sector by investing in infrastructure, promoting its tourist attractions, and creating an environment that enables tourism businesses to thrive.
Security: Insecurity has plagued our region for years. In the next five years, the region should address the root causes of insecurity, such as poverty, unemployment, and political agitation. Jobs remain priority number one. We commend the governors for collaborating with the federal government to improve regional security.
Other focus areas include education and skills training, healthcare, environmental sustainability, and industrialisation.
Here is a SWOT analysis for the next five years in the South-East:
Strengths
Young and vibrant population: The South East has young and energetic people, with a median age of 19.3 years. This is a significant asset, with a large labour pool and potential consumers.
Abundant natural resources: The South-East is rich in natural resources, including oil, gas, coal, and limestone. These resources provide the foundation for economic growth and development.
Entrepreneurial spirit: The people of the South East are known for their entrepreneurial spirit. This is evident in the large number of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) that operate in the region. Note that we must encourage the MSMEs of the South-East to scale. The Society of Igbo Professionals surveyed enterprises in the region in 2021/22. Finding any that employed up to 500 people was stretching. Scale is critical.
Weaknesses
Infrastructure deficit: The South-East has a significant infrastructure deficit, particularly in transportation, power, and water supply. This has hampered economic growth and development in the region.
Enugu State has domesticated the law deregulating power. We encourage the government and investors in Enugu State to look towards alternative power mini-grids to serve communities. Demonstrable progress in power generation will unleash the competitive spirit in our people. Power will significantly improve incomes and livelihoods.
Security challenges: The South-East has faced security challenges in recent years. This has created an unfavourable environment for businesses and investors. Stop the sit-at-home and similar schemes that drain our people’s energy, capacity, and goodwill.
Brain drain: The Southeast has experienced significant brain drain in recent years, as many young people have migrated to other parts of the country and the international market in search of better opportunities.
Opportunities
Economic diversification: The South East has the opportunity to diversify its economy. Promoting agriculture, ICT, manufacturing, and tourism are the pathways.
Industrialisation: Incentivising local businesses and attracting Diaspora and FDI funds will unlock greater industrialisation. The Governors Forum should look into the multiplicity of taxes and levies that confront regional companies. It is a disincentive.
Human capital development: The South East can invest in human capital development by providing quality education and healthcare to its citizens.
Technology: We can leverage technology by investing in infrastructure and promoting digital literacy.
Threats
Economic recession: The South-East is vulnerable to economic recession, as the governments are heavily dependent on Federal allocations, which depend on oil and gas. A global economic downturn could lead to a decline in oil prices, hurting the region’s economy.
Climate change: Climate change threatens the South-East. The environment remains threatening. Climate change could also lead to a decline in agricultural productivity. Erosion threatens our land. There should be a regional emergency to tackle it.
By focusing on these critical areas, the Southeast can position itself for sustainable economic development and improved quality of life for its people.

Culled from the SouthEast Journal, 2nd Edition, December 2023, a publication of the South-East Governors Forum.

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