A governorship aspirant on the platform of Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in the November 18 poll, Mr Oseloka Obaze has stressed the need for economic integration among the five South Eastern states.
Mr Obaze who was speaking on an interactive radio program on Blaze FM, Oraifite, on Wednesday, said the states in the South East stand to gain if they pool their resources together for common goal and interest instead of pursuing individualistic agenda.
Mr Obaze who was the immediate past Secretary to Anambra State Government noted that collectivity in the South East region would boost the strengths of the states as they can then specialize on those areas where they have relative comparative advantage.
"When you talk about regional integration, you have to consider the things like commerce, education, industries, etc. It is true that thirty percent of the South East workforce are outside the region but the movement of the workforce is a factor of the intensity of the integration.
"When there is capital flight, people tend to migrate to where there is money, so the first premise of the South East regional integration is to decide what is needed to attract and retain both foreign and local investors and putting such in place.
"We used to have Eastern Nigeria Development Corporation(ENDC) there was also Northern Nigeria Development Corporation(NNDC) the same thing is applicable to the west. Each of the regions agreed on what they wanted.
"For instance, in South East, coal was the major industry, there was cement industry in Nkalagu, there was textile industry in Aba and Onitsha."
Obaze noted that it has become imperative for the region to articulate integration policies and pursue it so that irrespective of who becomes the governor of the affected states, they will have no option than to buy into it.
The Anambra state governorship aspirant said that the region can collectively invest into rail transportation system which he pointed out would boost trade and commerce and also reduce the pressure on the roads in the zone.
Mr Obaze, when asked on what sort of action he expects from the governors in the South East said "In 2016, the five states had a collective N635b budget, in 2017 it is N556b, if the governors decide to collaborate on transportation and agree to bring out,for instance, ten percent of their budgets to develop rail system network for the South East. If that is done for five years, a whooping N50b would have been set aside for that purpose."
He said emphatically said that once there is commitment and a template, it will not matter who the governors of the states are but that if states continue to be preoccupied with their individual needs, it would shift their attention away from collective interest.
Commenting on the dearth of infrastructure in the South East, the diplomat of repute said that every investor will like to put their investment where it is secure and where there is high returns on investment.
"Igbos are naturally gregarious, we are everywhere supporting the economy of the host communities. I expect the governors in the South East to work with the organized private sector but then we can not expect integration, development and infrastructure when there is no credible leadership.
"There shouldn't be unhealthy competition among the state governors in the region. There's a need for the governors to shelve their egos and collaborate to solve collective problems faced by people of the South East.
"Gov Ben Ayade has built an expressway from Calabar to Katsinaala, Benue state, what he has just done is to make it easy to evacuate farm produce from Benue to Calabar for export, that will positively affect the economy of the two states.
"Within South East, we have Owerri, Enugu and Asaba airports but the question is, 'is there any need to build another airport in the region when the existing ones are underutilized?' That is a question, regional integration would seek to take care of.
"There is added cost for every businessman bringing goods from Lagos to the region, he has to clear his container at the wharf, he pays at the toll gate, the trend continues at Ore and Okada as well as Ubulukwu where Custom officers extort money from them.
He said that the situation of dropping money at all the custom's check points has automatically lead to added costs, noting that goods that are coming to the South East should better come through PortHarcourt and Calabar ports.
"We have a port in Onitsha built in 1982 by the administration of Alhaji Sheu Shagari, it has the capacity, if the South East governors decide to work together and make the Onitsha port functional, that will take care of the monies lost to custom officers which is a kind of hidden cost of production.
Mr Obaze stated that the former governor of Anambra state, Mr Peter Obi flagged the issue of exploitation of the South East businessmen by officers and men of the Nigeria Customs Service but that those in power seem to be indifferent about the ugly development.
The PDP governorship aspirant while commenting on the bail terms given to the detained leader of Independent People of Biafra (IPOB), Mazi Nnamdi Kanu said, "it is gladdening that he has been offered bail but this is not the first time he is being admitted to bail. It is quite unfortunate that the government is not obeying court orders, that should never happen.
Obaze however noted that admittance of Nnamdi Kanu to bail is a strong indication that democracy is working in Nigeria even as he commended the solidarity of the Ekiti state governor, Ayo Fayose.
"Fayose's support to Kanu is a strength to democracy and what he is simply preaching by his support is that if it can happen to one, it can happen to all" Mr Obaze concluded.