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From geopolitical to geo-economic zones: How to grow the economy

After years of using it to secure plumb and lucrative political offices, in which much is taken away from the commonwealth and returning little value…

After years of using it to secure plumb and lucrative political offices, in which much is taken away from the commonwealth and returning little value to the Nigerian people, the sweet and tantalizing political rhetoric that served the elite so well as guaranteed honey pot, should take some back seat, while Nigerians figure out some measures to return the country to economic viability.

It was originally thought out as a formula for inclusion in order to accommodate all sections of the country with a view to generating an even development and not a mere narrow design for elite accommodation and exclusion of the majority sectors of the society.

What originally was designed to redress some imbalances has produced a system of privilege and exclusion, concentrated on a narrow range of elites, whose most obvious criteria is a jaundiced access to the seat of power in Abuja. 

The geopolitical zones have triggered the most feverish proclivity to power mongering, a convenient bargaining chip for the invasive vandalisation of the country’s common wealth. If it was originally designed to generate a certain sense of inclusion and provide a practical effect to the country’s federal structure, it has however, degenerated to a cesspool of chaotic abuses characterised by indolence, drudgery and sheer hedonism. It is the country’s arguable signpost of decay. 

The intention of the concept of a geopolitical zone remains noble, but nothing is given as it is, without deliberate and concerted efforts to steer it in the direction of its expected outcomes.

The mechanics of geo-political zones degenerated to toxic zones of political infighting, spilling out bands of marauding incompetents, noxious and parasitic gladiators incapable of bearing witness to the honest strivings of the original intentions of the concept.

While it would merely amount to throwing the baby with the bath water for any advocacy to dispense with the concept of geopolitical zone, it might become imperative especially with the urgency to rebuild the economy and give the people a new lease of life, to shift emphasis to geo-economic zones as key to broad participatory economic revival.

To give effect to the long-desired strategy of economic diversification; tapping from the endowment of the various parts of the country and aligning such horizontal efforts to a vertical national value chain, an economic model that would take our domestic efforts in combination with the secondary inputs of foreign investments is an urgent imperative for consideration. 

The concept of geo-economic zones would start with establishing a credible economic geography of the country in which natural endowments and comparative advantage of each zone should be mapped out and articulated.

The fundamental crises of Nigeria whether security or socio-political, arise from a fundamental contradiction of the growing and expanding needs of a fast-growing population against the background of inadequate and even dwindling resources to meet the needs. This fundamental contradiction is reinforced by low and underdeveloped productive forces.

Any meaningful strategy to resolve a broad range of Nigeria’s existential crises, including security, economic and political must proceed from the proper understanding of the fundamental contradiction which is basically a growing population with expectation for a good life against inadequate resources to meet the growing needs and a concerted effort to resolve it.

A deliberate strategy of economic recovery must focus on increasing productivity as a critical factor of value creation and multiplication. The fact that our current economic trajectory is vitiated by low productivity, far below its potential, means that the future is bright if we develop an original economic paradigm that is concentrated on optimizing the country’s economic potential.

A deliberate strategy of geo-economic consideration will emphasize the productive potentials of identified geo-economic zones with the intention to formulate and execute industrial and agricultural policy that aligns with the critical imperative of optimizing the economic and productive potentials of each of the geo-economic zones.

Geo-economic zones could further be mapped out into geo-economic areas with each zone and area designed to align to a national economic value chain.

Geo-economic zones, unlike geo-political zones, would not pile pressures on the economic fortunes through primitive extraction and vicious elite entitlement but would challenge the creative and imaginative resource of the entire population, generating a healthy contest for optimum production based on the comparative advantages of the respective regions, zones and areas.

Nigeria’s main challenge of economic recovery is to optimally deploy her productive potential, especially in mobilising her huge endowment in manpower and natural resources. The distribution of Nigeria’s resources endowments across all regions, zones and areas means the country sits on a potential wealth to be triggered to the benefit of all her people and the rest of mankind.

The pursuit of politics and its innate Nigeria’s implication for primitive accumulation of wealth has distorted the natural benefits that should derive from her economic geography, spawned a hedonistic elite given to pleasure and avarice without the slightest exertions in the direction of productivity.

The trend of the hegemony of avaricious elite vegetating on mundane pleasure without commensurate work output is unsustainable and the entire gamut of the current existential crises has its origin in it.

The state must be refocused from the morbid dispenser of the common patrimony to an essential mechanism to call out the latent strength of the people to generate and create wealth.

A common refrain that the country must be positioned to attract foreign investment is good but it is even better that the country should be calibrated to fully mobilize the productive capacity of the Nigerian people through targeted industrial and agricultural policies that automatically make productive activities attractive and rewarding.

The politics of geo-economic zones would generate substantive inclusion because it would not be about what would be taken out or to be benefited but what would be created, generated and given in, to the national system and build a bigger common wealth.

For a genuine return to productivity as the critical fundamental to restoring Nigeria’s economic viability is not derived from the opportunistic and simplistic campaign slogan of “from consumption to production.” In our context, we mean the institution of a credible and efficient state, engaging in practical policy explorations, not derived from any economic orthodoxy but incrementally attempting to “cross the river by feeling the Stone,” as China’s reform Patriarch, Deng Xiaoping stated at the start of Chinese economic reforms in the early 1980s.

The increasing complexity of Nigeria’s politics and the challenging electoral trajectories can only be mitigated by refocusing on economic expansion through enhanced and targeted productivity.

The idea of geo-economic zones may not be the last word in the strategy of recovery and social stability but would afford a roadmap in which other issues of expanding productivity would mix to re-arrange the national destiny from one, immersed in narrow political profiteering to economic self-redemption.


Onunaiju is a research director of an Abuja-based think tank   


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