The place of 66 vision in governance
While many state governments are unable to pay staff salaries, let alone provide basic infrastructure in their domains, it is heartwarming that the Anambra State government has just signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with a private firm to build a bonded container terminal worth over five billion naira. At a ceremony in Awka two weeks ago, Governor Willie Obiano led government officials to sign the MoU with Bonded Terminal Ltd of London to build the container terminal in Ozubulu, Ekwusigo Local Government Area, which will also provide offices for government agencies like the Nigeria Police Force, National Drug Law Enforcement Agency, Nigeria Customs Service as well as the National Agency for Food and Drug Control and Administration (NAFDAC).
A bonded container terminal is a place where imported goods are stored temporarily by a terminal operator who bonds them, and they remain there until cleared by appropriate government agencies. Terminals are bonded in order to prevent abuses by operators. Reasons for bonded container inland terminals include the need to decongest harbours or seaports, improve turn-around time at ports, and enhance inland economic activity. The first bonded container terminals in Nigeria were established in the early 1980s in the northern cities of Kano and Kaduna. The Olusegun Obasanjo administration took steps to create more dry ports and bonded terminals as part of the economic reform agenda. Chief Ojo Maduekwe, then the Minister of Transport, promised inland ports in Oguta, Imo State and Aba, Abia State, among other places. The promise to develop such facilities in the South-East, however, did not materialise.
Against this backdrop, the MoU which the Anambra State government signed to build a bonded container terminal in the state is welcome. The South-East dominates importation business in Nigeria. But the absence of seaports and dry ports in the geopolitical zone has compelled many people in the industry to relocate from commercial cities like Aba and Onitsha to places like Lagos. One consequence of this state of affairs is what someone has called the “over-population” of Lagos. This, in turn, puts severe pressure on infrastructure and social facilities in Lagos and similar places.
The choice of Ozubulu as the location of the bonded container terminal is informed by economic and business considerations. Ozubulu shares boundary with Nnewi, another centre of importation business. In addition, Ozubulu is only about 20 minutes drive from Onitsha which hosts West Africa’s largest market. Yet, the bonded container terminal cannot work without certain infrastructure which the government is in the best position to provide. Therefore, Obiano’s decision to immediately start building a light rail to Ozubulu is perfectly in order. This is the kind of support every well-meaning government provides the private sector to make its economy competitive.
There was a salient point which Tony Nwabunike, chairman of Bonded Container Terminal Ltd, made during the MoU signing ceremony: his decision to invest in his hometown of Ozubulu is in response to Governor Obiano’s effort to make Anambra the first investment destination in the country. Anambra has about the largest number of millionaires and successful professionals of all states, but most of them are outside the state. It is a state where the government is relatively poor but the people are rich. Therefore, the state government’s drive to make its wealthy indigenes invest at home is logical. Such great investors as Engr. Emeka Okwuosa of Oilserv, Sir Daniel Chukwudozie of Dozzy Oil & Gas Ltd, Sir Chika Okafor of the Chikason Group and Mr. Cosmas Maduka of Coscharis Group are among the first people to answer the government’s call to “think home”. Senator Annie Okonkwo is one of several persons who recently moved into massive housing development in the Awka Capital Territory. Things are, indeed, looking up.
An important factor for Anambra’s recent economic growth is the quality of people working in the agency driving investments in the state. The chairman of the Anambra State Investment Promotion and Protection Agency (ANSIPPA) is Dr. Cyril Enweze, a Cambridge-trained economist who used to be with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) before joining the African Development Bank (AfDB) where he rose to the top. The ANSIPPA managing director, Joe-Billy Ekwunife, is a successful investment banker, with decades of experience. There is also Dr. Ifediora Amobi, who used to work with Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala at the World Bank before returning to Nigeria to work as an investment banker and later as a special economic adviser in the Presidency.
The lesson here is that for any state governor or even the president to be successful, the person has to look out for the best hands in various fields, regardless of their political or religious affiliations. What should count is competence. Of course, there would be critics who would question the appointment of professionals, rather than politicians, in key public positions. They would ask: would the governor or the president not want to go for reelection? This question cannot, admittedly, be dismissed with a cavalier wave of the hand. But the truth remains that the few governors delivering the goods today in Nigeria would not have been doing so if they were preoccupied with election and politics. The current Anambra government, for instance, is dominated by accomplished bankers, economists, scholars and development experts who have never been in politics.
Consequently, the state is working as if it were immune from the ongoing recession in Nigeria. It is the only state to increase salaries in recent times, and salaries are paid before month end when even oil-bearing states, whose monthly revenues from the federation account are about four times that of Anambra State, cannot meet their obligations to civil servants and contractors. Needless to add, infrastructure development is ongoing. And the state has become the safest in West Africa, from being only three years ago a state tormented by kidnappers and other extremely violent criminals.
What is happening in Anambra is no rocket science or magic. It is about injecting integrity, professionalism and clear vision into governance.
Nsofor, is a former Majority Leader in the Anambra State House of Assembly.