ASIDE politics, the burning desire by the South-South governors and their South-East counterparts who met in Asaba, Delta State capital last Sunday towards achieving economic integration was obvious and so expressed during that meeting.
Definitely, there is no doubt that such a collaborative effort would yield faster dividends unlike one zone pursuing their interest alone. The beauty of it all is that both zones have linkages that cannot just be taken for granted. And that is why they have realized such and decided to chart a common cause for a collective bargain.
Arising from that meeting, the governors through the Anambra State governor, Mr. Peter Obi who read the communiqué said “the South-South and South-East Governors agreed on economic and political integration of the old eastern and Midwest regions now the South-South and South-East.
“The governors pledged to strengthen cooperation across the board with particular focus on development of infrastructure linking the region particularly federal roads. The Governors also called on the Federal Government to rehabilitate all rail lines linking the States in the region as well as embark on the construction of railway links between all the states. The Governors also pledged to work together to ensure the development of all the ports in the region including the Abia Dry port and called on the Nigeria Port Authority to facilitate the achievement of this objective. “The Governors commend Mr. President for the extensive ongoing rehabilitation/modernization of the airports across the country particularly those in our regions. The Governors also called on Mr. President to establish cargo airports including Owerri and additional deep-sea ports in the regions including Ibaka, Escravos, Agge and also calls for the dredging of the Calabar port.
“The Governors agreed to work to revive agro-allied industries particularly in palm and rubber plantations to exploit the comparative advantage in agriculture in both regions. “The Governors of the South-South and the South-East states called on the Federal Government to facilitate the full implementation of the Free Trade Zones status amongst the States of the region”.
Delta State Commissioner for Information, Mr. Chike Ogeah told our reporter that the economic cooperation sought by the two old regions was desirable.
According to him, “the fact that 10 governors sat on the same table to discuss the prospects of growing their economy collectively is a positive development. It is recognition of the fact that the path to progress is growing the economy.
“By adopting a regional approach”, he went on, “the States are harnessing their individual and collective potentials to create a larger economy that will spur growth even for the entire country. The two regions are contiguous and also share a lot in common in pre-independence times. Their economic cooperation is absolutely in order and desirable. It is not just the two zones that will benefit but the entire country”, he asserted.
The governors were however silent on the much-talked about 2nd Niger Bridge, which another vital artery that would invariably decongest the existing one that is already aged and shaky. One could recall that when the Minister of Works, Mike Onolememen, sometime in March this year met with the Delta State Governor, Dr. Emmanuel Uduaghan in Asaba, shortly after the Federal Government announced Julius Berger as the firm that would hand the second Niger bridge project, the same issue of cooperation was harped upon.
The Minister during that courtesy visit specifically told the governor that “we are here to seek your co-operation with the contracting firm, Julius Berger Nigeria Limited in the acquisition of Right of Way and land for the project and to help remove all encumbrances that will delay the early construction of the project”.
He said that the contract, having been awarded, explained that the 40 kilometre six-lane approach roads and bridge would link the Onitsha- Owerri and Onitsha-Enugu dual carriage roads without passing through the ever busy Onitsha town.
He barely finished when Governor Uduaghan said that “the second Niger Bridge is so important to the people of the South-South and South-East Zones as it is a vital link between Western Nigeria and the Eastern and Northern Nigeria. The award of the Second Niger Bridge contract was a welcome development as it will reduce tension and traffic hazards in the Asaba and Onitsha ends of the old bridge especially during festive periods.
“The construction of the second Niger Bridge”, he said, “is long overdue especially as traffic gridlocks during the festive periods extend over 5 kilometres at the Asaba end of the present Niger Bridge”.
The governor did not stop there. He immediately asked the officials of the Federal ministry of Works to liaise with his officers in charge of Works, Lands and Survey for the necessary collaboration as requested by the minister and any other areas of assistance.
Having said that this reporter is of the opinion that there is need for a follow up actions and regular interactions in driving the integration to successful end.