Winning Africa’s future from the seeds of the past: Reconnecting with the voices and footprints of the 3-wise-men from the East

Okpara’s vision and hope was that, over time, the Port Harcourt-Aba industrial corridor would follow the old road between Port Harcourt and Enugu and join with the Emene - Nkalagu industrial corridor to create a massive industrial conurbation similar to the almost-200-kilometer Ruhr Industrial Valley in Germany, which was built under Chancellor Otto Von Bismarck.

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Plantation agriculture: Palm oil, Palm Kernel, Coal, Cocoa (from Ikom), Coffee from Obudu and later petroleum from firstly Izombe – Oguta area and later from Oloibiri in Ijaw land were to drive the economy of the East

It is not possible that Nigeria will just flick a switch to industrialize. It will need to rediscover the potential manufacturing bases of its past, to muster some of the expertise and create the enabling infrastructure for industrialization. This was what 3 wise men did in the East, for the Eastern Nigeria Region.

The Eastern Nigeria Development Corporation – ENDC – and the Eastern Nigerian Commodities Board – ENCB – served as vessels for the economic reconstruction and growth projects delivered under a blueprint for industrialization in the East, as inspired by 3-wise-men: Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, Michael I. Okpara and Mbonu Ojike, the brilliant economist who conceived the 10-year Eastern Nigeria Economic Reconstruction Plan (1954 -1964).

M.1. Okpara and Mbonu Ojike, fearless Nigerian nationalist and strong advocate for post-independence self-reliance, had served in the kitchen-cabinet of Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, when Dr. Azikiwe was premier of the former Eastern region of Nigeria.

The economy of the former Eastern Nigeria, prior to 1970, ran on a very planned, and thoughtful pattern. Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe had engaged the services of US consulting firm Arthur D. Little to chart an industrial vision, from ground up.

When the team of Arthur D. Little arrived the East, Zik, as Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe was popularly called, had first detailed M. I. Okpara to work with the consulting firm. Okpara was later to be joined, in the Arthur D. Little technical partnership, by head of the Civil Service, and Louis Phillip Odumegwu-Ojukwu who at the time was the Chairman of the Eastern Nigerian Development Corporation (ENDC) and also the Chairman of the Eastern Nigeria Commodities Board (ENCB).

M. I. Okpara, a medical doctor by training and practice, served as minister of agriculture and production, and was noted as a strong advocate of what he tagged “pragmatic socialism,” and believed that agricultural reform was crucial to the ultimate success of Nigeria.

The economy of the former Eastern Nigeria, prior to 1970, ran on a very planned, and thoughtful pattern. Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe had engaged the services of US consulting firm Arthur D. Little to chart an industrial vision, from ground up

At this juncture, a brief mention of the man, Ojukwu, is apposite because of the pivotal role which Ojukwu played towards realizing the sterling success of Africa, that was brewing in Nigeria’s East, only to be extinguished in the Nigerian Civil War.

Louis Phillip Odumegwu-Ojukwu sat as Chairman of fifteen multinational companies at the time, including John Holt, PZ, Michelin, Costain, Thomas Wyatt, Guinness, and GB Ollivant.

Odmegwu-Ojuwu was so rich that he single handedly funded the establishment of the Lagos Stock Exchange, but refused to list his company there for fear of losing control. His photo still hangs proudly on the floor of that exchange as its first chairman.

Now, back to Arthur Little. Arthur D Little also worked with a coterie of young Eastern Nigerian economists at the time – Pius Okigbo (PhD Northwestern), Ukwu I. Ukwu (PhD Cambridge), Chukwu Sunday Okongwu (PhD Harvard). These young men in their early twenties worked with Arthur D Little to plan an economy for Eastern Nigerian from scratch.

A crucial plank of the economic plan was the setting up of a university in the East, to produce key skills needed to drive economic growth, as most of those skills were not being taught at the University College, Ibadan at the time. Ibadan at the time taught mostly Classics, General Science and later Medicine.

Dr. M I Okpara: When the team of Arthur D. Little arrived the East, Zik, as Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe was popularly called, had first detailed M. I. Okpara to work with the consulting firm

Zik sent Dr Akpabio (MA Columbia), who at the time was the East’s Minister of Education, on an extended tour to universities in Michigan New York for collaboration in key fields like medicine, engineering, surveying and photogrammetry and business administration.

This led to the founding of the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, UNN. The UNN was the first school in Nigeria to offer degree programmes in many of these courses.

In terms of development, the East started late, compared to former Nigeria’s Western Region. Development and education had started in Lagos and Abeokuta right after Beecroft occupied Lagos in 1850s and made it a British colony.  Lagos and Nigeria’s Western region thus had more than a 70-year head-start over the East in terms of total gross capital formation and the platform that it provided for capital growth. 

Palm oil, Palm Kernel, Coal, Cocoa (from Ikom), Coffee from Obudu and later petroleum from firstly Izombe – Oguta area and later from Oloibiri in Ijaw land were to drive the economy of the East.

The establishment of not just industrial estates, but industrial corridors also, was key to economic transformation in the East. An industrial estate is localized. An industrial corridor connects two or more industrial estates to form an industrial conurbation.

Mazi Mbonu Ojike, last right: Mbonu Ojike, the brilliant economist who conceived the 10-year Eastern Nigeria Economic Reconstruction Plan (1954 -1964

Then, came the Trans-Amadi industrial estate in Port Harcourt.  There was a similar industrial estate in Aba, husbanding light industries. Umuahia had one, for biotechnology. In Emene, near Enugu, there grew an estate for steel and industrial automation.

Onitsha was envisioned to drive the retail economy of the East, as an emporium, hence a market was built there to attract buyers from all over Nigeria and West and Central Africa, so they could come spend their money in the East.

Dubai would later copy this same model 50 years later, and implement it successfully but on a global scale. Onitsha market achieved its purpose by 1958, two years after the East achieved self-government. It became the preferred destination for retail and bulk shoppers from all over West Africa and even Cameroon, Gabon and Congo. This gave the Anambra Igbo a head start in retail trading…an advantage that they enjoy till date.

As premier, M. I. Okpara partnered with Israel in the setting up of industrial farms and plantations – seedling production, extension services, assistance to farmers.

So, plantations (cashew nuts, palm kernel, cocoa, coffee, timber etc) sprang up in Oghe (Enugu State), Okigwe (Abia State), Obudu, Itumbenuzor, Akamkpa all in Cross River State, and in various parts of the present Rivers, Akwa Ibom, Imo, Abia States.

Louis Phillip Odumegwu-Ojukwu: Sir Louis Ojukwu pushed for and led the establishment of three major cement plants in the region – Nkalagu, Eastern Bulkcem in PH and Calabar cement factory in Calabar Nkalagu and Port Harcourt opened before the war started in 1967

Okpara personally delivered some of the seedlings himself by driving behind the trucks that did the delivery.

Sir Louis Ojukwu pushed for and led the establishment of three major cement plants in the region – Nkalagu, Eastern Bulkcem in PH and Calabar cement factory in Calabar Nkalagu and Port Harcourt opened before the war started in 1967. Everything needed for the take-off of the Calabar cement factory were procured, but the war truncated its take off.

In 1970, Governor Esuene of the newly-created Cross River State opened Calcemco plant, to the applause of many.

Three industrial corridors were planned for the East. The Emene-Nkalagu industrial corridor was to focus on automobiles, building materials and industrial automation. Kaiser Motors in the US at the time (it has since been acquired) had agreed to build a car plant in Emene and a plant for car engines. That corridor was to stretch for almost 100 miles.

The second industrial corridor was to stretch between Port Harcourt and Aba. It was to link these two industrial centers, over a 10-to-15-year-period, by many feeder industries that would be located on the highway joining both cities.

Okpara’s vision and hope was that, over time, the Port Harcourt-Aba industrial corridor would follow the old road between Port Harcourt and Enugu and join with the Emene – Nkalagu industrial corridor to create a massive industrial conurbation similar to the almost-200-kilometer Ruhr Industrial Valley in Germany, which was built under Chancellor Otto Von Bismarck.

Ruhr Industrial Valley which Okpara intended transplanting: Okpara’s vision and hope was that, over time, the Port Harcourt-Aba industrial corridor would follow the old road between Port Harcourt and Enugu and join with the Emene – Nkalagu industrial corridor to create a massive industrial conurbation similar to the almost-200-kilometer Ruhr Industrial Valley in Germany

All of these economic reconstruction and growth projects were centrally driven by the Eastern Nigeria Development Corporation – ENDC – and the revenues were centrally aggregated into the account of the Eastern Nigerian Commodities Board (ENCB). Both groups were headed by Sir Louis Phillip Odumegwu-Ojukwu.

Sources of revenue for development included local revenues from the export of cocoa (Ikom and Itumbenuzor), coffee (Obudu and Arochukwu), timber (Akamkpa), coal (Enugu-Udi), palm oil (Rivers, Imo, Abia), and palm kernel (Rivers, Imo, Abia). Then, there came Foreign Direct Investments (FDIs), and loans from the Commonwealth Development Corporation (CDC).

Umuahia was to midwife the East’s biotechnology industries, which explains why Golden Guinea Brewery and the Root Crop Research Institute were established there. 

Obudu, because of its pristine hills and fresh weather was to be a holiday resort for many, as well as a primary center for a dairy industry that just started before the war commenced.  Obudu Cattle Ranch was the first in a series of investments planned for Obudu, that got scuttled in by the war.

Eventually, crude oil was discovered. Chief John Nnia Nwodo, Eastern Nigeria’s first minister for trade, negotiated the first contracts with Shell on a 50-50 investment and sharing basis.

Eastern Nigeria and Shell had jointly made investments in catalytic cracking and downward refineries. Then, the Civil War dawned, and some of hese investments were to be moved to Kaduna under the aegis of Nigeria’s National Oil Company.

Eastern Nigeria Development Corporation Estate in Calabar: The Eastern Nigeria Development Corporation – ENDC – and the Eastern Nigerian Commodities Board – ENCB – served as vessels for the economic reconstruction and growth projects delivered under a blueprint for industrialization in the East

Summarily, the faithful implementation of Arthur D. Little’s recommended growth plan for Eastern Nigeria led to economic growth at more than 9.2%, starting from 1958 till 1967 when the Nigerian Civil War began.

At over 9% growth rate, at the period, Nigeria’s Eastern Region had been adjudged the fastest growing economy on Earth, for 9 years on a consistent basis. The economy was estimated to have grown as much as to equal that of Western Nigeria by 1968 (in terms of total gross capital formation), and then overtaken the Western Region after that.

That was the momentum of growth and expansion, which the Nigerian Civil War, had abridged, and the East and Nigeria are yet to recover that spirit of economic determinism.

Focus: The Power of One….

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