AS Nigeria gradually approaches its 60th independence anniversary, the question many people have continued to ask is: Why is the country not moving forward as compared to the speed the earlier leaders were moving the nation?
It may be surprising to a lot of people who may not know that during the regime of Dr Michael Okpara as the premier of Eastern Nigeria (1959-1966), the eastern region (comprising of present day 9 states) became the fastest growing and industrializing economy in the world, ahead of Malaysia, Korea, Taiwan and Singapore. This survey was carried out by a research group based in Michigan State University in the United States.
What happened was due to Okpara’s unique vision in which agriculture and industrial development were the twin pillars on which he built the Eastern Nigerian economy.
The East during that time had the first industrial development plan in Africa. With all Eastern Nigerian “townships” / cities designed within them, an industrial zone:
For instance: Aba (factory Road), Umuahia (Factory Road), Calabar (Factory road), Enugu and Port-harcourt had Industrial Free zones – the Emene Industrial Layout and the Trans-Amadi Industrial lay-out. So did Owerri, Onitsha and others which had industrial layout each. Owerri, Aba and Port Harcourt were designed in what was called “A three city nexus”.
See below other wonderful achievements of M.l. Power as he was popularly called:
- Obudu Tourism and Entertainment Ranch,
- Nigercem (cement factory) at Nkalagu,
- Nigergas factory at Emene Enugu,
- Aluminium Factory Port Harcourt,
- Glass factory Port Harcourt,
- Hotels like: Presidential hotel Enugu and Presidential hotel Port Harcourt,
- Aba Textile company,
- Onitsha Textile company,
- Golden Guinea Breweries in Umuahia,
- Ceramics industry Umuahia,
- Standard Shoe Factory in Owerri,
- Pepsi Cola Factory Onitsha,
- Michelin factory in Port Harcourt,
- Cement factory in Calabar,
- Portharcourt sea Port Expansion,
- Ohaji palm plantation and other palm and rubber plantations,
- Cooperative and commerce Bank of Eastern Nigeria,
- Universal Insurance Company was opened in Enugu,
- Alvan Ikoku College of Education Owerri,
- Many teachers colleges and upgraded many secondary schools,
- Built many hospitals and many clinics and maternity homes,
- Leprosy clinics at Itu, Orji River and Uburu got big assistance in aids,
- He was a Force in Library Development in Nigeria
- There was also a catalogue of numerous small industries that were also established simultaneously with the major ones during this period,
- Roads, big water schemes and Urban development took place,
- Farm settlements in many towns
Some of the farm settlements schemes he established were: Ulonna in Umuahia province, Ohaji in Owerri Province, Igbariam in Onitsha province, Boki in Ogoja province, Uzo Uwanni in Enugu province, Abak in Annang province. Each was to accommodate over 5,000 farmers and what was remarkable was the scrupulous effort for even spread of the settlements throughout the length and breadth of the region. There were also establishment of estates of oil palm, cocoa, cashew etc which were processed for export. He tremendously transformed the agricultural life of the people and enhanced food production in the region.
The surprising thing about Dr. Okpara is that, despite all the above achievements and more, he never owned or built a home for himself throughout his tenure.
It really takes extra commitment, transparency and patriotism for a leader to attain such an enormous level of achievement in such a short time.
But if Okpara can use agricultural products to achieve all these and attain the status of world’s fastest growing economy, why can’t those managing our petrodollar over 50 years after his regime do far better? If the tempo has been sustained Nigeria would have really gone far and possibly among the first world industrialized countries. Unfortunately as at today virtually all the establishments made by Dr M.I. have either been sold out, mismanaged or abandoned.
Let us all pray for this country, as we need to meet up with the fast moving World. If Malaysia can now use Palm seedlings they got from Nigeria to become World power in that sector, the same palm product Okpara used to make a big difference in his agricultural revolution in Eastern Nigeria, then something is really wrong somewhere.
I have to use the M.I. Okpara analysis to prove what a visionary leadership can do and that it is possible in Nigeria if the right person is in such position. Just like the Dubai ruler, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum turned a desert to an extremely wonderful and beautiful place within few years.
AMBROSE NWAOPARA IS A PROLIFIC WRITER AND AUTHOR OF MANY BOOKS.