THE POST-COVID-19 SOUTHEAST: REINVENTING THE IGBO POLITICAL ECONOMY

Introduction

COVID-19 emerged as one of the world’s worst pandemics with unprecedented social and economic lockdown in history. As a global pandemic, over 212 countries, territories and conveyances have been hit by the ‘super-spreading COVID-19. The effect is the self-evident drift from economic bloom to gloom with every country’s share of the challenge. Covid-19 has exposed the reality that governments are not omnipotent and sole-providers of all individuals’ economic demands in societies.

DAn economy refers to the aggregate gross domestic product (GDP) of a country. It can be measured chiefly by country’s GDP/GNP and per capita GDP. Economic growth rate of any economy is usually determined by increase in the GDP; whereas economic development is a broader concept used to explain an increase on citizens’ quality of life. The production structure of an economy is the fundamental determinant of its economic performance (Khan, 2010). Robust economic growth is realised when a country acquires “returns economic structure”…by adequately enforcing the production structure, composed of commodities with increasing returns (Andreoni and Scazzieri, 2014; Dosi, 1982; Nelson and Winter, 1990).


Prior to independence and early post-independence in the 1960s, Nigeria had ‘returns economic structure’ comparative advantage in agriculture. In comparative terms, Nigeria and Indonesia, in the 1960s, were both agrarian and in 1970s, contributed 46 per cent and 57 percent, respectively from agriculture to their economies. Indonesia’s agro-economy grew into industrial production by 2000s and has transformed economically into one of the top 20, whereas Nigeria’s aspiration to attain the position by 2020 (Federal Government of Nigeria, 2013, p.56-57) appears a wild-goose chase.Economic growth is a production function based on efficiency of factors of production: land, labour, capital and entrepreneurship. Of all the four factors of production, land, labour and entrepreneurship are in abundance; capital which appears to be the only challenge is found at least 50% in combination of available land capital, labour capital and entrepreneurial capital; the rest 50% in seed money requires government’s intervene, using public credit instruments.
In the words of the WHO Director-General, Tedros Gebreyesus, COVID-19 presents humanity with “the opportunity to come together…to learn together and grow together.” The opportunity is for only those who can grab it. It is believed that Ndi-Igbo, through their governors, elected leaders of the Southeast, can come together and untie the harsh COVID-19 economic knots and reinvent the political economy of Ndi-Igbo for a post-COVID-19 sustainable future.


The paper is structured into eight mutually reinforcing sections: 1. Introduction; 2. Background to the impassé; 3. Brief history of Ndi-Igbo; 4. Overview of the impact of COVID-19 on Ndi-Igbo; 5. Reinventing the political economy of Ndi-Igbo; 6. Back to agricultural political economy of Ndi-Igbo; 7. Calming the ‘wind of change’; and 8. Concluding remarks.

Background to the Economic Impassé

All through history of pandemics since the 430 BC influenza, from 165 AD Antonine plague, 230 AD Cyprian plague, 541 AD Justinian plague, 1350 Black death, 1665 AD Great plague of London, 1589 AD Russian flu, 1918 AD Spanish flu, 1957 AD Asian flu, 1981 HIV/AIDS, up untill 2003 SARS, no none has challenged global economic foundation as COVID-19.

COVID-19 which was first reported in China has hit more than 212 countries and foisted lockdown, quarantine, social distancing as well as impacted negatively on movement of goods and services across countries in a super-spreading fashion and with history’s worst global economic recession. Industries were forced to close down, oil prices collapsed to an all-time negative index regions, labourers lost jobs and wages amidst soaring prices of essential commodities across countries including the two world economic powers – U.S. and China (World Economic Forum, 24 March 2020). Today, China recovered and returned its economy up and running; buying distressed companies and stocks in parts of the world, including Australia and India, at bargain price. The Southeast does not pray that this should be the fate of distressed federal government’s investments in the region!

In the U.S., oil fell to 1 cent and deeper into a negative benchmark for the first time, where producers paid buyers, for lack of storage capacity, to lift oil to create space. Several macroeconomic measures by the U.S. government, including payment of unemployment grants to millions of American population and giving $2.2 trillion stimulus package to lever economic activities, still left 10 million jobs in the American oil sector and many millions more from other public and private sectors, at risk.

The experience of China and the U.S. serves as litmus of the severity of the “Great Lockdown” on national economies worldwide. The Bank of America argued that COVID-19 would leave grim and palpable future with the greatest dispersion in macroeconomic estimates in modern history since, at least the 1960s. The Bank advised that the situation demands “indiscriminate abundant largesse” to flatten the curve of personal and corporate bankruptcies. However, political-economists, expertly warned that the lockdown promises the ‘most severe recession’ since the 1930s.

Statistics show that there are an unprecedented 102 countries that have applied for IMF emergency financing which has been stretched from $500 million to $100 million from the organisation’s $1 trillion lending capacity. The demands for IMF’s assistance led the Fund to double its emergency facilities into the Rapid Credit Facility (RCF) and the Rapid Financing Instrument (RFI). The caveat is that only countries with sustainable debt profile or on the trajectory to be sustainable and pursuing appropriate policies to address the crisis qualify for the emergency facilities. In the present COVID-19 pandemic which does not respect sex, person, country, or continent, Africa, nay Nigeria is no exception to the economic presentiment.
Nigeria’s major sources of revenue – crude oil and non-crude oil – have been hit badly by a number of factors, particularly the COVID-19 pandemic. Crude oil generates about 85.2% of the GDP. Despite OPEC largest production cut, Nigeria’s oil price plummeted to an average of $22, between January and 24 April 2020, that is a minus $122 from $144 p/b break-even price of Brent Crude, required by the federal government to balance the budget (Paraskova, 24 April 2020).

The non-crude oil sectors generate about 14.8% of the GDP, encompassing statistical records of:

• revenue from individuals since 1950, which amounted to 48% or 8.3% of the GDP;

• revenue from corporate tax of 9%, making 3.7% the GDP since 1960;

• revenue from excise taxes at average of 1.7% of GDP since 2017 which has continued to decline; and

• revenue sources from other non-crude oil sectors which hovered around 1.1%, of the GDP at best (Office of Management and Budget, n.d.)

Among the two sources of Nigeria’s revenue, 95% crude-oil production that makes up 85.2% of Nigeria’s GDP in recent times, is under joint venture companies controlled in the production chain by expatriates. Worse still, crude-rent economy was a natural given and a later discovery which suddenly replaced Nigeria of its hitherto sustainable agro-farm economy mainstay. The crude-rent economy soon became susceptible to the vagaries of global demand-supply price mechanism that makes it both vulnerable and less sustainable. With COVID-19 oil glut in the U.S., a crude-giant and others like Russia and Saudi Arabia, the fall in Nigeria oil price may not abate in the near future.

Nonetheless, the non-crude oil source, particularly the custom and excise tax, has been fraught with irregularities rather than transparency. The officials of the Customs Service of late are under intense criticism based on allegations of punitive seizures of goods of genuine importers and exporters in pretext of contraband goods while the borders are let loose for some unscrupulous smugglers at the expense of custom and excise duty taxes to the coffers of Nigerian government. This is the reason tax-revenue has slumped from 2.5% of GDP in 2017 to abysmal 1.1% of GDP and continued downwards in recent years.

The presentiment is that an unproductive economy that depends on external borrowing is on a trajectory courting grim future of colonisation and slavery. It may be clairvoyance to reason that if the ‘non-negotiability’ of the corporate existence of Nigeria was anchored on the high prospect of crude-rent economy, logic expects that the mindset would change under free-fall in the crude-rent and by extension, un-sustainability of crude-economy.

It is against these backdrops that while Ndi-Igbo join humanity to fight the pandemic, it is essential for the race to take stock of their history, their share of the impact of the pandemic and appreciate the opportunity it has provided the Southeast to pull together its resources of competitive advantage and plan for a post-COVID-19 sustainable future.

Brief History of Ndi-Igbo

The Igbo people of Southeast – Abia, Anambra, Ebonyi, Enugu and Imo States – are in this paper except for emphasis, referred to simply as Ndi-Igbo. Gloria Chuku wrote: “To understand the history of a people requires that they be seen as productive beings because the interaction of people with their environment is the heart of social production” (Chuku, 2007, p. 33). Ndi-Igbo are well-known across the world for their entrepreneurship, innovation, industry and trade (Olutayo, 1999; Green, 1974; The Modern Ghana). The cultural spirit of Igbo entrepreneurship and industry starts at the time of children’s upbringing, when the virtues of property, money, industry, and loyalty to kinsmen are stressed (Green, 1947, p. 88). The Modern Ghana (30 March 2013) wrote that Ndi-Igbo are “Africa’s most energetic and most entrepreneurial people” who emerged much more with the onset of the British colonialism, “through sheer grit, hard work, and talent for spotting new opportunities.”

Ndi-Igbo had a very solid foundation of agro-based economy which between 1954 and 1964 made the Harvard Review declare Eastern Nigeria “the fastest growing economy in the world”; far ahead of today’s “Asian Tigers” (Eke and Okolie, forthcoming). Under colonial administration, Nigeria economy depended on three major export crops – cocoa, palm produce, and groundnut which accounted for about 70% of the country’s total export, 70% workforce and 75% consumption (Ahazuema and Falola, 1987; Ekundare, 1973: 15-16; Shokpeka and Nwaokocha, 2009).

Ndi-Igbo launched into modern industrial process during the civil war when its scientists and technicians worked with local contents and delved into virtually all areas of production from building refineries unto the production of home-grown wine (Madiebo, quoted in Ikerionwu, 2013, p. 244). The success of Ndi-Igbo in productivity and industry was an outcome of their common ‘I can do’ spirit laced with self-pride, confidence, ambition, and cleverness.
Chua identified Ndi-Igbo among the five global market-dominated minorities, represented by Chinese (in Asia); Whites (in South Africa, Brazil, Ecuador, Guatemala, and Latin America); Lebanese (in West Africa); Igbo (in Nigeria), and Israel (in the Middle East), etc, in every corner of the world’s ethnic societies (Chua, 2003; 2014).

Despite Ndi-Igbo internationalist view, the post-civil war marked a major failed opportunity to mobilise and galvanise the abounding local skills and resources for the ultimate endogenous foundation to building a strong and viable Southeast economy. Reliance on monetary allocations from federal government crude oil rent economy holds no prospect for sustainable economic future of Ndi-Igbo of the Southeast region. Instructively, Nigeria’s first minister of aviation, Chief Mbazuluike Amaechi, proffered reverse engineering option, stating:

… the only reasonable thing to do is for the Igbo to use what God has given them, the gift of hard work, the gift of entrepreneurship, trading expertise and the gift of their technological superiority to exploit and look inwards and develop Igboland industrially and technologically to such an extent that Nigerians will be forced to depend on Igbo technology, expertise and industry (Atuma, 2017).

Understanding the lessons of history leaves no one in doubt that “the most technologically advanced Black race on the planet Earth, bar none!” (Ebarike, https://www.googlr.com) can make and implement strategic plans for Southeast sustainable economic growth and development for the future.

Overview of Impact of COVID-19 on Ndi-Igbo

The Southeast region had its fair share of the impact of COVID-19 on Nigeria. Due to COVID-19 pandemic, there was fall in all components of aggregate demand, except government’s purchases. Four elements of the aggregate demands are very important to explain:

(i) Declining consumption due to restrictions on movement (social distancing and lockdown, which restrict consumers to buying only essential goods and services), falling income expectation, and weak wealth-creation stemming from falling price of assets and stocks;

(ii) Declining investment due largely to uncertainty and adoption of hedging in economic policies against poor profitability of investment spending in future;

(iii) Increasing government spending based on expansionary fiscal policy and increases in health-care expenditures; and

(iv) Declining net export occasioned by disruption in supply chain for exports, border closure to nonessential trade and limited markets for exports due to fall in global demand (Onyekwena, 8 April 2020).

The multiplier effect of the fall in aggregate demand occasioned by lockdown and falling price could better be imagined in an economy in which oil-rent accounts for about 70%, 10% from agriculture and 20% from trade and industry. Part of the effect is that with about 70% Nigeria’s population below poverty benchmark of less than $1 per day, there is no guarantee of food security against hunger, malnutrition and malnourishment and these have combined to accentuate high dependency on rural-subsistence agriculture and primary industrial sector with low productivity and poverty (World Bank 2010 cited in Achumugu et al, 2013, p. 114). These are the underlying causes of deceleration in the GDP growth before the worsening COVID-19 crisis and debt overhang of the federal government.

Nigeria is already reported to be seeking loan in the region of $7 billion from international lenders, including IMF, World Bank, African Development Bank (AfDB), Islamic Development Bank (IsDB), etc. Nigeria’s plummeting economic fortunes prompted the intervention of the federal government and its agency – Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) in the fragile national economy (Oluroumbi, 20 April 2020; Ayeni, 2 April, 2020). The World Bank Lead Economist for Nigeria, Khwima Nthara observed that Nigeria’s debt-service obligation is “out of sync with the country’s revenue profile” (Punch, 30 September, 2016, p. 3).

Based on many macroeconomic factors, IMF predicts that Nigeria’s economy would shrink by 4.4% in 2020 which could lead to recession in 2021. The federal government, on 18 March, announced a N1.5 trillion ($4.17 billion) cut in nonessential capital spending in the face of:
(i) reduced oil production from 2.1 mb/d to 1.7 mb/d, as part of OPEC production cut;

(ii) reduced oil price benchmark from $57 to $13 for Bonny light, and $28 for Brent, with millions of barrels of oil unsold;

(iii) devaluation of official foreign exchange (FOREX) rate from N360 per dollar, to N380 per dollar;

(iv) grant of moratorium to States on public debts in line with suspension of debt service obligations of countries by multilateral and bilateral creditors;

(v) budget shrinkage by 15% of $35 billion; and

(vi) threatening food insecurity.

On the other hand, the CBN was reported to plan a fiscal stimulus including a N50 billion credit facility to households and small and medium enterprises (SMEs). Styled and couched in the language of America’s $2.2 trillion stimulus package to lever economic activities in the U.S., Nigeria lack of reliable data confronts effective inclusive participation and transparency in the stimulus programme.

COVID-19 economic crisis illuminated the facts that Nigeria’s economic structure and dependence on crude oil rent are fatalistic to sustainable national growth and development. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala blamed African countries, with illuminating example of Nigeria, for depending on commodity prices without expanding into job-creating commodity base such as “agriculture, tourism and creative industries” so that as business cycle continues with commodity prices as its essential components both savings when prices were good and the other job-creating sources serve as ‘buffers’ when prices come down (Onuoha, 3 march 2020). Allied to the take-home lessons is that Nigeria’s policy and agency-based agriculture development initiatives, for those that survived, have been less effective and efficient, from colonial to post-colonial administrations. The traditional intervention measures include the:

(i) farm Settlement Scheme (FSS), 1950s

(ii) River Basin Development Authorities (RBDAs), 1976;

(iii) National Accelerated Food Production Programme (NAFPP), 1972

(iv) Back-to-Land Programme, 1983-1985;

(v) Operation Feed the Nations (OFN), 1976;

(vi) Directorate of Food, Road and Rural Infrastructure (DFRRI), 1986;

(vii) Better Life Programme (BLP) for Rural Women, 1987;

(viii) National Fadama Development Project (NFDP), 1990s;

(ix) National Economic Empowerment and Development Strategy (NEEDS), 1999;

(x) National, Special Programme on Food Security (NSPFS), 2002;

(xi) Root and Tuber Expansion Programme (RTEP), 2003;

(xii) Agriculture Transformation Agenda (ATA), 2011-2015

(xiii) National Agricultural Land Development Authority (NALDA), 1992;

(xiv) Family Support Programme (FSP)/Family Economic Advancement Programme (FEAP), 1996

(xv) Green revolution Programme (GRP), 1980;

(xvi) Agricultural Development Projects (ADP), 1974;

(xvii) Youth Initiative for Sustainable Agriculture (YISA), ;

(xviii) Small, and Medium Enterprises Development of Nigeria (SMEDAN), 2003; and

(xix) Youth Empowerment Scheme (YES), 2019.

The Small and Medium Enterprises Development Agency of Nigeria (SMEDAN) and Youth Empowerment Scheme (YES), for example, have not met the critical demands of youth and women empowerment against poverty despite their complementing objectives to foster economic growth by inclusion of youth and women as “the most vulnerable group of the society” whose welfare and lives should be improved (Ozili, 9 April 2020, pp. 11-15). SMEDAN was to promote use of MSMEs to accelerate attainment of broad socio-economic objectives, including poverty reduction, employment generation, wealth-creation, etc. The YES was launched with the objective to make participating youths “economically and socially responsible and self-reliant”.
Both SMEDAN and YES empowered neither the women nor the youth of the society, particularly the Southeast, with the result that private businesses of women in the market lacked government stimulus. Such businesses became worst hit by the twin cases of oil slump and COVID-19 that these small businesses have collapsed as women began, without ‘trader money’, for instance, to trade off their wares for the much-needed essential goods and support services in the COVID-19 crisis. At best, SMEDAN and YES have become political agency and polemic, respectively.
Despite acknowledgement by Yemi Osinbajo that “MSMES are the bedrock of Nigeria’s industrialisation and inclusive development; and the most important component of industrialisation as set out in the Economic Recovery and Growth Plan” of Nigeria, the result is that people in the micro-business enterprises or petty-business enterprises which employed 59,647,954 about 78.2% of Nigeria’s total work force (SMEDAN, 11 July 2019) received attention only on paper and most have folded; capacity for support of dependent relations have dwindled and there has been reverse from rural-urban to urban-rural migration in search of food security for survival.

Regrettably, Southeast could not guarantee food security because it depended on the north for staple food items and animals it can produce, such as, rice, yams, beans, Irish potatoes, tomatoes, cattle, goats, pepper, onions, cabbage, etc. The worse factor was that with the “multifaceted and complex humanitarian crisis” (UNDP, 2018) in the BAY (Borno, Adamawa and Yobe) States, it is predicted:

The impact of an outbreak of Covid-19 on the food security and nutrition situation in the northeast would likely be very tangible, affecting population layers that previously were not of humanitarian caseloads (UNDP, 3 April 2020, p. 7).

The challenge of food insecurity in the Southeast due to the structural defects in Nigeria’s economy and the resultant negative impact occasioned by COVID-19 crisis necessitates urgent strategic plan beyond dependence on food import and federal monthly fiscal allocation from, ostensibly crude oil rent economy (Agbo and Okoli, 2017; Omeje, 2007; Waldner and Smith, 2013, p.16),. The credible alternative is an urgent strategic reinvention of Ndi-Igbo political-economy for an integrated endogenous economic diversification for a post-COVID-19 sustainable future of the Southeast region.

Reinventing the Political-Economy of Ndi-Igbo

The traditional political economy of Ndi-Igbo was sustained by agriculture, trade, manufacturing (particularly crafts), indigenous technology, ostensibly the iron technology in Awka (Njoku, 1986); industry salt (in Uburu and Okposi); pottery (Ishiagu, Afikpo and Ibeku); weaving (Akwete, Nsukka and Uturu); trading and commerce (mostly in Onitsha, Oguta, Aba-Ngwa, Arondizuogu and Arochukwu).

The growth of developed economies illuminates the importance of agriculture as the foundation of economic growth and development. Developed economies of the world grew into industrialisation from food security and agriculture, using in their plantations, slave labour of conscripted able-bodied Africans who were sold between ₤23.16 (price in African market) and ₤32 (selling price to European buyers) based on gender differential (Mann, 2007, p. 217). Boskin and Lau (1990), applying meta-production function approach to data on constant-price capital stocks and labour hours, found that technical progress has been the most important source of growth for the developed countries, particularly the Group-of-Five, G5 countries – France, West Germany, Japan, United Kingdom, and the United States in the post-war period.

Back to Agricultural Political Economy of Ndi-Igbo

Agriculture was the soul of political economy of Ndi-Igbo before 1900 and supported and elevated to primacy by the United Nations SDG-2, with the catch-phrase: “to end hunger, achieve food security, and improve nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture”. Johan F. M. Swinnen wrote and reiterated further that “several important recent international developments have brought the political economy of agricultural and food policy (back) to the top of the international trade and development agenda” (Swinnen, 2010, p. 33).

Prior to the invasion by the Whiteman, land in Igboland was owned communally on kinship title and labour was drawn from households or family and cooperative groups who rendered assistance to wealthy farmers. In Ndi-Igbo agro-society, agriculture was gendered: men cleared the bush, tilled the land, made mounds, cut stake sticks and staked the yams and women took over; weed grasses, harvest produce and transport the produce home. People who lived near the river areas supplemented farming with fishing, while hunting and gathering were also ‘adjuncts’ to farming (Chuku, 2005, p.38). Jacob Chima Korieh wrote, in sorrowful reminiscence, that agriculture was described as the “Igbo staff of life” (Korieh, 2007).

Nonetheless, Murphy et al (1990, p. 1) argue that individuals have “strong comparative advantage” to display natural talent for particular activities and a group’s “most talented people typically organise production by others, so they can spread their ability-advantage over a larger scale; when they start firms, they innovate and foster growth, but when they become rent-seekers, they only redistribute wealth and reduce growth.” To Ndi-Igbo, agriculture was the chief source of food production – yam (Diascorea spp), cocoyam (Colocasia/Xanthosoma spp), cassava (Manihot spp), maize (Zea may) with legumes, nuts, seeds, wild fruits and vegetables, palm-oil as well as wild/bush animals – essentially for nutritional values (Okeke et al, n.d.).

The historical cradle-role of the family and the abundance of other factors of agricultural production remained a very strong incentive and direction to lay a new springboard for agriculture as the strongest and immutable comparative advantage for the Southeast sustainable economic growth and development. Agriculture is a critical lever to industrialisation through the following processes:

• farming and crop production (yam, rice, beans, cocoyam, cassava);

• small-scale husbandry, such as goat- and cattle-rearing; as well as supplementary

• farming of snail, pigs, poultry, fish ponds and honeycombs;

• plantations for palm produce; and

• food processing through cottage industries and resultant start-up technology centres.

Agriculture with the industrial, innovative and technological spirit of Ndi-Igbo, originating from the people’s measured protectionist kibbutz-type community farm-settlements, has great potential to boosting self-generated MSMEs and mini-industrial estates as foundations for private- and public-sector technology clustres such as failed example of IBB Technology Village in Abia State, Southeast region.

The Southeast government can select from a menu of seven sectors of clusters which include:

(i) established companies;

(ii) start-up business;

(iii) universities or other research institutions;

(iv) support groups or champions of enterprises;

(v) state;

(vi) local

(vii) federal.

The options for the Southeast, in the face of lean resources and poor industrial base, are to start-up agro-businesses, coordinated by the region through States and supervised by local governments. The choice for start-ups agro-businesses is that they are “potentially the large corporations of the future” that will play the role of:

(i) commercialising technologies;

(ii) diversifying and broadening the economic base of the region;

(iii) training human capital, widening access to education and contributing to job creation;

(iv) reducing rural-urban migration in search of dependent white-collar stipends;

(v) spinning companies out of the university and other research institutes;

(vi) providing skills and opportunities for wealth-creation and venture capital investment for prosperity; and

(vii) attaining global competitiveness through value-addition in the production of goods and services; and become regional economic and industrial giants (adumbrated from Similor et al, 1989, p. 64; UNIDO, 2014).

Further, clusters generate start-ups which support dominant firms for self-reliance and sustainability. The start-up agro-industries are expected to begin with:

• introduction of family farms in community ‘kibbutz-like’ farm settlements;

• registration and coordination of private and cooperative farming activities by the local governments as well as use serving corps members for community development (CD) programme, particularly those with bias in agriculture to supervise farming activities;

• state governments to acquire and lease lands, give incentives such as soft loans, seedling, fertilizers, etc., to volunteer and occupational farmers under transparent manner and set up cottage industries to process and add value to the farm produce as well as set up Commodity Market Boards that can regulate prices and help in buying off excess products against glut in the produce market.

• Southeast Governors Forum (S-GF) makes policies on areas of common interests on how best to sustain the programme.

Calming the ‘Wind of Change’

There is no beginning which does not have initial “wind of change,” – the phrase coined by British Prime Minister Harold Macmillan to describe the challenge which confronts every initial effort to chart a sustainable future (Clarke, 15 November 2012). The plan for post-COVID-19 sustainable future is faced with many challenges, three critical ones – security, funding, and political will – we have selected for explication:

(i) Skills-development – is a critical prerequisite that requires extensive crusade in talent-hunt and special education, in line with education for sustainable development (ESD). This is in order to drive the new dream of entrepreneurial agriculture for sustainable future of the South-East region effectively and efficiently. Entrepreneurship education became a new home-grown need-based reality which deemphasises ‘education attainment’ of highest degrees for ‘education achievement’ of usable and easily transferable skills to develop self and the society by exploiting and adding values to Nigeria’s resources – human and natural – to produce competitive goods and services of global standard.

(ii) Security – implies in this context, the security challenge, ostensibly the so-called ‘herder-farmer’ conflicts, stemming from incompatibility over herders’ cattle-grazing on farm-crops and farmers’ protest and defence of their farms from cattle-grazing. The sore outcome is the resort by herders to total criminal acts of raping and murder of women in their farms, kidnapping of farmers for ransom and murder as well as total economic war by destruction of farms and crops. These spates of investment insecurity on the farmers reduced farming activities in the Southeast, particularly given the kid-glove treatment handed on the perpetrators by government and its agencies. The picture is a food security trajectory of the Southeast skewed towards insecurity, at best. The security of business investment is key!

(iii) Funding and Extension Services – implies the use of government to mobilise private- and public-sector institutions and funding. The institutions such as universities, colleges and research centres, particularly Agricultural Development Programmes (ADPs) and FADAMA Projects could be revitalised, strengthened and used for effective extension services spanning farm and crop development, infrastructural development, institutional support and training, and consultancy services. From the private-sector, Ndi-Igbo have many captains of industries and larger quantum of Nigeria Diaspora with onshore and offshore resources for development. Nigeria’s Diaspora remittance, in 2019 alone, was $25 billion. Public-sector financing comes directly from government which could use instruments available to it to get funding support from public institutions like commercial banks, Bank of Agriculture, SMEDAN, Bank of Industry, African Development Bank, and part of Southeast share of COVID-19 Emergency and Special Assistance Grants to Nigeria, including the IMF-approved 100% SDR of $3.4 billion from its Rapid Financial Instrument (RFI).

(iv) Political Will – is “the firm intention or commitment” of a government or governments “to carry through a policy, especially one that is not immediately successful or popular.” If the elected governors in governments could go beyond their individual political differences for the interest of the critical mass and reach the necessary compromises to surmount the underlying political challenges not only of comatose and instability of public policies, socio-cultural nuances (e.g., religious, gender bias and family role-differentiation, mundane sense of prioritisation, poor public-private partnership (PPP), inadequate laboratories fpractice, insecurity of copyright ownership, etc., but also of seed, start-up and survival phases of the programme. With strong political will for sure, the goal of tracking short- and medium-term post-COVID-19 economic stability through political economy of agriculture for sustainable future of the Southeast is achievable.

Concluding Remarks

From the cause of the economic impasse, history of Ndi-Igbo in agriculture, lessons learned from the effect of COVID-19 on Ndi-Igbo, and Ndi-Igbo comparative advantage in agriculture, it can be concluded without equivocation that a return of Ndi-Igbo to agricultural political economy will mark the beginning of concrete step into intergenerational gap-filling for Southeast sustainable future through food security, trade, commerce, technovation and industrial revolution. It is a popular adage of Ndi-Igbo that “Ndi mba ozo na’azu na-anwu n’aguu,” meaning: people who depend on foreign food eventually die of hunger.

THE POST-COVID-19 SOUTHEAST: REINVENTING THE IGBO POLITICAL ECONOMY

Introduction

COVID-19 emerged as one of the world’s worst pandemics with unprecedented social and economic lockdown in history. As a global pandemic, over 212 countries, territories and conveyances have been hit by the ‘super-spreading COVID-19. The effect is the self-evident drift from economic bloom to gloom with every country’s share of the challenge. Covid-19 has exposed the reality that governments are not omnipotent and sole-providers of all individuals’ economic demands in societies.

An economy refers to the aggregate gross domestic product (GDP) of a country. It can be measured chiefly by country’s GDP/GNP and per capita GDP. Economic growth rate of any economy is usually determined by increase in the GDP; whereas economic development is a broader concept used to explain an increase on citizens’ quality of life. The production structure of an economy is the fundamental determinant of its economic performance (Khan, 2010). Robust economic growth is realised when a country acquires “returns economic structure”…by adequately enforcing the production structure, composed of commodities with increasing returns (Andreoni and Scazzieri, 2014; Dosi, 1982; Nelson and Winter, 1990).
Prior to independence and early post-independence in the 1960s, Nigeria had ‘returns economic structure’ comparative advantage in agriculture. In comparative terms, Nigeria and Indonesia, in the 1960s, were both agrarian and in 1970s, contributed 46 per cent and 57 percent, respectively from agriculture to their economies. Indonesia’s agro-economy grew into industrial production by 2000s and has transformed economically into one of the top 20, whereas Nigeria’s aspiration to attain the position by 2020 (Federal Government of Nigeria, 2013, p.56-57) appears a wild-goose chase.

Economic growth is a production function based on efficiency of factors of production: land, labour, capital and entrepreneurship. Of all the four factors of production, land, labour and entrepreneurship are in abundance; capital which appears to be the only challenge is found at least 50% in combination of available land capital, labour capital and entrepreneurial capital; the rest 50% in seed money requires government’s intervene, using public credit instruments.
In the words of the WHO Director-General, Tedros Gebreyesus, COVID-19 presents humanity with “the opportunity to come together…to learn together and grow together.” The opportunity is for only those who can grab it. It is believed that Ndi-Igbo, through their governors, elected leaders of the Southeast, can come together and untie the harsh COVID-19 economic knots and reinvent the political economy of Ndi-Igbo for a post-COVID-19 sustainable future.
The paper is structured into eight mutually reinforcing sections: 1. Introduction; 2. Background to the impassé; 3. Brief history of Ndi-Igbo; 4. Overview of the impact of COVID-19 on Ndi-Igbo; 5. Reinventing the political economy of Ndi-Igbo; 6. Back to agricultural political economy of Ndi-Igbo; 7. Calming the ‘wind of change’; and 8. Concluding remarks.

Background to the Economic Impassé

All through history of pandemics since the 430 BC influenza, from 165 AD Antonine plague, 230 AD Cyprian plague, 541 AD Justinian plague, 1350 Black death, 1665 AD Great plague of London, 1589 AD Russian flu, 1918 AD Spanish flu, 1957 AD Asian flu, 1981 HIV/AIDS, up untill 2003 SARS, no none has challenged global economic foundation as COVID-19.

COVID-19 which was first reported in China has hit more than 212 countries and foisted lockdown, quarantine, social distancing as well as impacted negatively on movement of goods and services across countries in a super-spreading fashion and with history’s worst global economic recession. Industries were forced to close down, oil prices collapsed to an all-time negative index regions, labourers lost jobs and wages amidst soaring prices of essential commodities across countries including the two world economic powers – U.S. and China (World Economic Forum, 24 March 2020). Today, China recovered and returned its economy up and running; buying distressed companies and stocks in parts of the world, including Australia and India, at bargain price. The Southeast does not pray that this should be the fate of distressed federal government’s investments in the region!

In the U.S., oil fell to 1 cent and deeper into a negative benchmark for the first time, where producers paid buyers, for lack of storage capacity, to lift oil to create space. Several macroeconomic measures by the U.S. government, including payment of unemployment grants to millions of American population and giving $2.2 trillion stimulus package to lever economic activities, still left 10 million jobs in the American oil sector and many millions more from other public and private sectors, at risk.

The experience of China and the U.S. serves as litmus of the severity of the “Great Lockdown” on national economies worldwide. The Bank of America argued that COVID-19 would leave grim and palpable future with the greatest dispersion in macroeconomic estimates in modern history since, at least the 1960s. The Bank advised that the situation demands “indiscriminate abundant largesse” to flatten the curve of personal and corporate bankruptcies. However, political-economists, expertly warned that the lockdown promises the ‘most severe recession’ since the 1930s.

Statistics show that there are an unprecedented 102 countries that have applied for IMF emergency financing which has been stretched from $500 million to $100 million from the organisation’s $1 trillion lending capacity. The demands for IMF’s assistance led the Fund to double its emergency facilities into the Rapid Credit Facility (RCF) and the Rapid Financing Instrument (RFI). The caveat is that only countries with sustainable debt profile or on the trajectory to be sustainable and pursuing appropriate policies to address the crisis qualify for the emergency facilities. In the present COVID-19 pandemic which does not respect sex, person, country, or continent, Africa, nay Nigeria is no exception to the economic presentiment.
Nigeria’s major sources of revenue – crude oil and non-crude oil – have been hit badly by a number of factors, particularly the COVID-19 pandemic. Crude oil generates about 85.2% of the GDP. Despite OPEC largest production cut, Nigeria’s oil price plummeted to an average of $22, between January and 24 April 2020, that is a minus $122 from $144 p/b break-even price of Brent Crude, required by the federal government to balance the budget (Paraskova, 24 April 2020).

The non-crude oil sectors generate about 14.8% of the GDP, encompassing statistical records of:

• revenue from individuals since 1950, which amounted to 48% or 8.3% of the GDP;

• revenue from corporate tax of 9%, making 3.7% the GDP since 1960;

• revenue from excise taxes at average of 1.7% of GDP since 2017 which has continued to decline; and

• revenue sources from other non-crude oil sectors which hovered around 1.1%, of the GDP at best (Office of Management and Budget, n.d.)

Among the two sources of Nigeria’s revenue, 95% crude-oil production that makes up 85.2% of Nigeria’s GDP in recent times, is under joint venture companies controlled in the production chain by expatriates. Worse still, crude-rent economy was a natural given and a later discovery which suddenly replaced Nigeria of its hitherto sustainable agro-farm economy mainstay. The crude-rent economy soon became susceptible to the vagaries of global demand-supply price mechanism that makes it both vulnerable and less sustainable. With COVID-19 oil glut in the U.S., a crude-giant and others like Russia and Saudi Arabia, the fall in Nigeria oil price may not abate in the near future.

Nonetheless, the non-crude oil source, particularly the custom and excise tax, has been fraught with irregularities rather than transparency. The officials of the Customs Service of late are under intense criticism based on allegations of punitive seizures of goods of genuine importers and exporters in pretext of contraband goods while the borders are let loose for some unscrupulous smugglers at the expense of custom and excise duty taxes to the coffers of Nigerian government. This is the reason tax-revenue has slumped from 2.5% of GDP in 2017 to abysmal 1.1% of GDP and continued downwards in recent years.

The presentiment is that an unproductive economy that depends on external borrowing is on a trajectory courting grim future of colonisation and slavery. It may be clairvoyance to reason that if the ‘non-negotiability’ of the corporate existence of Nigeria was anchored on the high prospect of crude-rent economy, logic expects that the mindset would change under free-fall in the crude-rent and by extension, un-sustainability of crude-economy.

It is against these backdrops that while Ndi-Igbo join humanity to fight the pandemic, it is essential for the race to take stock of their history, their share of the impact of the pandemic and appreciate the opportunity it has provided the Southeast to pull together its resources of competitive advantage and plan for a post-COVID-19 sustainable future.

Brief History of Ndi-Igbo

The Igbo people of Southeast – Abia, Anambra, Ebonyi, Enugu and Imo States – are in this paper except for emphasis, referred to simply as Ndi-Igbo. Gloria Chuku wrote: “To understand the history of a people requires that they be seen as productive beings because the interaction of people with their environment is the heart of social production” (Chuku, 2007, p. 33). Ndi-Igbo are well-known across the world for their entrepreneurship, innovation, industry and trade (Olutayo, 1999; Green, 1974; The Modern Ghana). The cultural spirit of Igbo entrepreneurship and industry starts at the time of children’s upbringing, when the virtues of property, money, industry, and loyalty to kinsmen are stressed (Green, 1947, p. 88). The Modern Ghana (30 March 2013) wrote that Ndi-Igbo are “Africa’s most energetic and most entrepreneurial people” who emerged much more with the onset of the British colonialism, “through sheer grit, hard work, and talent for spotting new opportunities.”

Ndi-Igbo had a very solid foundation of agro-based economy which between 1954 and 1964 made the Harvard Review declare Eastern Nigeria “the fastest growing economy in the world”; far ahead of today’s “Asian Tigers” (Eke and Okolie, forthcoming). Under colonial administration, Nigeria economy depended on three major export crops – cocoa, palm produce, and groundnut which accounted for about 70% of the country’s total export, 70% workforce and 75% consumption (Ahazuema and Falola, 1987; Ekundare, 1973: 15-16; Shokpeka and Nwaokocha, 2009).

Ndi-Igbo launched into modern industrial process during the civil war when its scientists and technicians worked with local contents and delved into virtually all areas of production from building refineries unto the production of home-grown wine (Madiebo, quoted in Ikerionwu, 2013, p. 244). The success of Ndi-Igbo in productivity and industry was an outcome of their common ‘I can do’ spirit laced with self-pride, confidence, ambition, and cleverness.
Chua identified Ndi-Igbo among the five global market-dominated minorities, represented by Chinese (in Asia); Whites (in South Africa, Brazil, Ecuador, Guatemala, and Latin America); Lebanese (in West Africa); Igbo (in Nigeria), and Israel (in the Middle East), etc, in every corner of the world’s ethnic societies (Chua, 2003; 2014).

Despite Ndi-Igbo internationalist view, the post-civil war marked a major failed opportunity to mobilise and galvanise the abounding local skills and resources for the ultimate endogenous foundation to building a strong and viable Southeast economy. Reliance on monetary allocations from federal government crude oil rent economy holds no prospect for sustainable economic future of Ndi-Igbo of the Southeast region. Instructively, Nigeria’s first minister of aviation, Chief Mbazuluike Amaechi, proffered reverse engineering option, stating:

… the only reasonable thing to do is for the Igbo to use what God has given them, the gift of hard work, the gift of entrepreneurship, trading expertise and the gift of their technological superiority to exploit and look inwards and develop Igboland industrially and technologically to such an extent that Nigerians will be forced to depend on Igbo technology, expertise and industry (Atuma, 2017).

Understanding the lessons of history leaves no one in doubt that “the most technologically advanced Black race on the planet Earth, bar none!” (Ebarike, https://www.googlr.com) can make and implement strategic plans for Southeast sustainable economic growth and development for the future.

Overview of Impact of COVID-19 on Ndi-Igbo

The Southeast region had its fair share of the impact of COVID-19 on Nigeria. Due to COVID-19 pandemic, there was fall in all components of aggregate demand, except government’s purchases. Four elements of the aggregate demands are very important to explain:

(i) Declining consumption due to restrictions on movement (social distancing and lockdown, which restrict consumers to buying only essential goods and services), falling income expectation, and weak wealth-creation stemming from falling price of assets and stocks;

(ii) Declining investment due largely to uncertainty and adoption of hedging in economic policies against poor profitability of investment spending in future;

(iii) Increasing government spending based on expansionary fiscal policy and increases in health-care expenditures; and

(iv) Declining net export occasioned by disruption in supply chain for exports, border closure to nonessential trade and limited markets for exports due to fall in global demand (Onyekwena, 8 April 2020).

The multiplier effect of the fall in aggregate demand occasioned by lockdown and falling price could better be imagined in an economy in which oil-rent accounts for about 70%, 10% from agriculture and 20% from trade and industry. Part of the effect is that with about 70% Nigeria’s population below poverty benchmark of less than $1 per day, there is no guarantee of food security against hunger, malnutrition and malnourishment and these have combined to accentuate high dependency on rural-subsistence agriculture and primary industrial sector with low productivity and poverty (World Bank 2010 cited in Achumugu et al, 2013, p. 114). These are the underlying causes of deceleration in the GDP growth before the worsening COVID-19 crisis and debt overhang of the federal government.

Nigeria is already reported to be seeking loan in the region of $7 billion from international lenders, including IMF, World Bank, African Development Bank (AfDB), Islamic Development Bank (IsDB), etc. Nigeria’s plummeting economic fortunes prompted the intervention of the federal government and its agency – Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) in the fragile national economy (Oluroumbi, 20 April 2020; Ayeni, 2 April, 2020). The World Bank Lead Economist for Nigeria, Khwima Nthara observed that Nigeria’s debt-service obligation is “out of sync with the country’s revenue profile” (Punch, 30 September, 2016, p. 3).

Based on many macroeconomic factors, IMF predicts that Nigeria’s economy would shrink by 4.4% in 2020 which could lead to recession in 2021. The federal government, on 18 March, announced a N1.5 trillion ($4.17 billion) cut in nonessential capital spending in the face of:
(i) reduced oil production from 2.1 mb/d to 1.7 mb/d, as part of OPEC production cut;

(ii) reduced oil price benchmark from $57 to $13 for Bonny light, and $28 for Brent, with millions of barrels of oil unsold;

(iii) devaluation of official foreign exchange (FOREX) rate from N360 per dollar, to N380 per dollar;

(iv) grant of moratorium to States on public debts in line with suspension of debt service obligations of countries by multilateral and bilateral creditors;

(v) budget shrinkage by 15% of $35 billion; and

(vi) threatening food insecurity.

On the other hand, the CBN was reported to plan a fiscal stimulus including a N50 billion credit facility to households and small and medium enterprises (SMEs). Styled and couched in the language of America’s $2.2 trillion stimulus package to lever economic activities in the U.S., Nigeria lack of reliable data confronts effective inclusive participation and transparency in the stimulus programme.

COVID-19 economic crisis illuminated the facts that Nigeria’s economic structure and dependence on crude oil rent are fatalistic to sustainable national growth and development. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala blamed African countries, with illuminating example of Nigeria, for depending on commodity prices without expanding into job-creating commodity base such as “agriculture, tourism and creative industries” so that as business cycle continues with commodity prices as its essential components both savings when prices were good and the other job-creating sources serve as ‘buffers’ when prices come down (Onuoha, 3 march 2020). Allied to the take-home lessons is that Nigeria’s policy and agency-based agriculture development initiatives, for those that survived, have been less effective and efficient, from colonial to post-colonial administrations. The traditional intervention measures include the:

(i) farm Settlement Scheme (FSS), 1950s

(ii) River Basin Development Authorities (RBDAs), 1976;

(iii) National Accelerated Food Production Programme (NAFPP), 1972

(iv) Back-to-Land Programme, 1983-1985;

(v) Operation Feed the Nations (OFN), 1976;

(vi) Directorate of Food, Road and Rural Infrastructure (DFRRI), 1986;

(vii) Better Life Programme (BLP) for Rural Women, 1987;

(viii) National Fadama Development Project (NFDP), 1990s;

(ix) National Economic Empowerment and Development Strategy (NEEDS), 1999;

(x) National, Special Programme on Food Security (NSPFS), 2002;

(xi) Root and Tuber Expansion Programme (RTEP), 2003;

(xii) Agriculture Transformation Agenda (ATA), 2011-2015

(xiii) National Agricultural Land Development Authority (NALDA), 1992;

(xiv) Family Support Programme (FSP)/Family Economic Advancement Programme (FEAP), 1996

(xv) Green revolution Programme (GRP), 1980;

(xvi) Agricultural Development Projects (ADP), 1974;

(xvii) Youth Initiative for Sustainable Agriculture (YISA), ;

(xviii) Small, and Medium Enterprises Development of Nigeria (SMEDAN), 2003; and

(xix) Youth Empowerment Scheme (YES), 2019.

The Small and Medium Enterprises Development Agency of Nigeria (SMEDAN) and Youth Empowerment Scheme (YES), for example, have not met the critical demands of youth and women empowerment against poverty despite their complementing objectives to foster economic growth by inclusion of youth and women as “the most vulnerable group of the society” whose welfare and lives should be improved (Ozili, 9 April 2020, pp. 11-15). SMEDAN was to promote use of MSMEs to accelerate attainment of broad socio-economic objectives, including poverty reduction, employment generation, wealth-creation, etc. The YES was launched with the objective to make participating youths “economically and socially responsible and self-reliant”.
Both SMEDAN and YES empowered neither the women nor the youth of the society, particularly the Southeast, with the result that private businesses of women in the market lacked government stimulus. Such businesses became worst hit by the twin cases of oil slump and COVID-19 that these small businesses have collapsed as women began, without ‘trader money’, for instance, to trade off their wares for the much-needed essential goods and support services in the COVID-19 crisis. At best, SMEDAN and YES have become political agency and polemic, respectively.
Despite acknowledgement by Yemi Osinbajo that “MSMES are the bedrock of Nigeria’s industrialisation and inclusive development; and the most important component of industrialisation as set out in the Economic Recovery and Growth Plan” of Nigeria, the result is that people in the micro-business enterprises or petty-business enterprises which employed 59,647,954 about 78.2% of Nigeria’s total work force (SMEDAN, 11 July 2019) received attention only on paper and most have folded; capacity for support of dependent relations have dwindled and there has been reverse from rural-urban to urban-rural migration in search of food security for survival.

Regrettably, Southeast could not guarantee food security because it depended on the north for staple food items and animals it can produce, such as, rice, yams, beans, Irish potatoes, tomatoes, cattle, goats, pepper, onions, cabbage, etc. The worse factor was that with the “multifaceted and complex humanitarian crisis” (UNDP, 2018) in the BAY (Borno, Adamawa and Yobe) States, it is predicted:

The impact of an outbreak of Covid-19 on the food security and nutrition situation in the northeast would likely be very tangible, affecting population layers that previously were not of humanitarian caseloads (UNDP, 3 April 2020, p. 7).

The challenge of food insecurity in the Southeast due to the structural defects in Nigeria’s economy and the resultant negative impact occasioned by COVID-19 crisis necessitates urgent strategic plan beyond dependence on food import and federal monthly fiscal allocation from, ostensibly crude oil rent economy (Agbo and Okoli, 2017; Omeje, 2007; Waldner and Smith, 2013, p.16),. The credible alternative is an urgent strategic reinvention of Ndi-Igbo political-economy for an integrated endogenous economic diversification for a post-COVID-19 sustainable future of the Southeast region.

Reinventing the Political-Economy of Ndi-Igbo

The traditional political economy of Ndi-Igbo was sustained by agriculture, trade, manufacturing (particularly crafts), indigenous technology, ostensibly the iron technology in Awka (Njoku, 1986); industry salt (in Uburu and Okposi); pottery (Ishiagu, Afikpo and Ibeku); weaving (Akwete, Nsukka and Uturu); trading and commerce (mostly in Onitsha, Oguta, Aba-Ngwa, Arondizuogu and Arochukwu).

The growth of developed economies illuminates the importance of agriculture as the foundation of economic growth and development. Developed economies of the world grew into industrialisation from food security and agriculture, using in their plantations, slave labour of conscripted able-bodied Africans who were sold between ₤23.16 (price in African market) and ₤32 (selling price to European buyers) based on gender differential (Mann, 2007, p. 217). Boskin and Lau (1990), applying meta-production function approach to data on constant-price capital stocks and labour hours, found that technical progress has been the most important source of growth for the developed countries, particularly the Group-of-Five, G5 countries – France, West Germany, Japan, United Kingdom, and the United States in the post-war period.

Back to Agricultural Political Economy of Ndi-Igbo

Agriculture was the soul of political economy of Ndi-Igbo before 1900 and supported and elevated to primacy by the United Nations SDG-2, with the catch-phrase: “to end hunger, achieve food security, and improve nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture”. Johan F. M. Swinnen wrote and reiterated further that “several important recent international developments have brought the political economy of agricultural and food policy (back) to the top of the international trade and development agenda” (Swinnen, 2010, p. 33).

Prior to the invasion by the Whiteman, land in Igboland was owned communally on kinship title and labour was drawn from households or family and cooperative groups who rendered assistance to wealthy farmers. In Ndi-Igbo agro-society, agriculture was gendered: men cleared the bush, tilled the land, made mounds, cut stake sticks and staked the yams and women took over; weed grasses, harvest produce and transport the produce home. People who lived near the river areas supplemented farming with fishing, while hunting and gathering were also ‘adjuncts’ to farming (Chuku, 2005, p.38). Jacob Chima Korieh wrote, in sorrowful reminiscence, that agriculture was described as the “Igbo staff of life” (Korieh, 2007).

Nonetheless, Murphy et al (1990, p. 1) argue that individuals have “strong comparative advantage” to display natural talent for particular activities and a group’s “most talented people typically organise production by others, so they can spread their ability-advantage over a larger scale; when they start firms, they innovate and foster growth, but when they become rent-seekers, they only redistribute wealth and reduce growth.” To Ndi-Igbo, agriculture was the chief source of food production – yam (Diascorea spp), cocoyam (Colocasia/Xanthosoma spp), cassava (Manihot spp), maize (Zea may) with legumes, nuts, seeds, wild fruits and vegetables, palm-oil as well as wild/bush animals – essentially for nutritional values (Okeke et al, n.d.).

The historical cradle-role of the family and the abundance of other factors of agricultural production remained a very strong incentive and direction to lay a new springboard for agriculture as the strongest and immutable comparative advantage for the Southeast sustainable economic growth and development. Agriculture is a critical lever to industrialisation through the following processes:

• farming and crop production (yam, rice, beans, cocoyam, cassava);

• small-scale husbandry, such as goat- and cattle-rearing; as well as supplementary

• farming of snail, pigs, poultry, fish ponds and honeycombs;

• plantations for palm produce; and

• food processing through cottage industries and resultant start-up technology centres.

Agriculture with the industrial, innovative and technological spirit of Ndi-Igbo, originating from the people’s measured protectionist kibbutz-type community farm-settlements, has great potential to boosting self-generated MSMEs and mini-industrial estates as foundations for private- and public-sector technology clustres such as failed example of IBB Technology Village in Abia State, Southeast region.

The Southeast government can select from a menu of seven sectors of clusters which include:

(i) established companies;

(ii) start-up business;

(iii) universities or other research institutions;

(iv) support groups or champions of enterprises;

(v) state;

(vi) local

(vii) federal.

The options for the Southeast, in the face of lean resources and poor industrial base, are to start-up agro-businesses, coordinated by the region through States and supervised by local governments. The choice for start-ups agro-businesses is that they are “potentially the large corporations of the future” that will play the role of:

(i) commercialising technologies;

(ii) diversifying and broadening the economic base of the region;

(iii) training human capital, widening access to education and contributing to job creation;

(iv) reducing rural-urban migration in search of dependent white-collar stipends;

(v) spinning companies out of the university and other research institutes;

(vi) providing skills and opportunities for wealth-creation and venture capital investment for prosperity; and

(vii) attaining global competitiveness through value-addition in the production of goods and services; and become regional economic and industrial giants (adumbrated from Similor et al, 1989, p. 64; UNIDO, 2014).

Further, clusters generate start-ups which support dominant firms for self-reliance and sustainability. The start-up agro-industries are expected to begin with:

• introduction of family farms in community ‘kibbutz-like’ farm settlements;

• registration and coordination of private and cooperative farming activities by the local governments as well as use serving corps members for community development (CD) programme, particularly those with bias in agriculture to supervise farming activities;

• state governments to acquire and lease lands, give incentives such as soft loans, seedling, fertilizers, etc., to volunteer and occupational farmers under transparent manner and set up cottage industries to process and add value to the farm produce as well as set up Commodity Market Boards that can regulate prices and help in buying off excess products against glut in the produce market.

• Southeast Governors Forum (S-GF) makes policies on areas of common interests on how best to sustain the programme.

Calming the ‘Wind of Change’

There is no beginning which does not have initial “wind of change,” – the phrase coined by British Prime Minister Harold Macmillan to describe the challenge which confronts every initial effort to chart a sustainable future (Clarke, 15 November 2012). The plan for post-COVID-19 sustainable future is faced with many challenges, three critical ones – security, funding, and political will – we have selected for explication:

(i) Skills-development – is a critical prerequisite that requires extensive crusade in talent-hunt and special education, in line with education for sustainable development (ESD). This is in order to drive the new dream of entrepreneurial agriculture for sustainable future of the South-East region effectively and efficiently. Entrepreneurship education became a new home-grown need-based reality which deemphasises ‘education attainment’ of highest degrees for ‘education achievement’ of usable and easily transferable skills to develop self and the society by exploiting and adding values to Nigeria’s resources – human and natural – to produce competitive goods and services of global standard.

(ii) Security – implies in this context, the security challenge, ostensibly the so-called ‘herder-farmer’ conflicts, stemming from incompatibility over herders’ cattle-grazing on farm-crops and farmers’ protest and defence of their farms from cattle-grazing. The sore outcome is the resort by herders to total criminal acts of raping and murder of women in their farms, kidnapping of farmers for ransom and murder as well as total economic war by destruction of farms and crops. These spates of investment insecurity on the farmers reduced farming activities in the Southeast, particularly given the kid-glove treatment handed on the perpetrators by government and its agencies. The picture is a food security trajectory of the Southeast skewed towards insecurity, at best. The security of business investment is key!

(iii) Funding and Extension Services – implies the use of government to mobilise private- and public-sector institutions and funding. The institutions such as universities, colleges and research centres, particularly Agricultural Development Programmes (ADPs) and FADAMA Projects could be revitalised, strengthened and used for effective extension services spanning farm and crop development, infrastructural development, institutional support and training, and consultancy services. From the private-sector, Ndi-Igbo have many captains of industries and larger quantum of Nigeria Diaspora with onshore and offshore resources for development. Nigeria’s Diaspora remittance, in 2019 alone, was $25 billion. Public-sector financing comes directly from government which could use instruments available to it to get funding support from public institutions like commercial banks, Bank of Agriculture, SMEDAN, Bank of Industry, African Development Bank, and part of Southeast share of COVID-19 Emergency and Special Assistance Grants to Nigeria, including the IMF-approved 100% SDR of $3.4 billion from its Rapid Financial Instrument (RFI).

(iv) Political Will – is “the firm intention or commitment” of a government or governments “to carry through a policy, especially one that is not immediately successful or popular.” If the elected governors in governments could go beyond their individual political differences for the interest of the critical mass and reach the necessary compromises to surmount the underlying political challenges not only of comatose and instability of public policies, socio-cultural nuances (e.g., religious, gender bias and family role-differentiation, mundane sense of prioritisation, poor public-private partnership (PPP), inadequate laboratories for practice, insecurity of copyright ownership, etc., but also of seed, start-up and survival phases of the programme. With strong political will for sure, the goal of tracking short- and medium-term post-COVID-19 economic stability through political economy of agriculture for sustainable future of the Southeast is achievable.

Concluding Remarks

From the cause of the economic impasse, history of Ndi-Igbo in agriculture, lessons learned from the effect of COVID-19 on Ndi-Igbo, and Ndi-Igbo comparative advantage in agriculture, it can be concluded without equivocation that a return of Ndi-Igbo to agricultural political economy will mark the beginning of concrete step into intergenerational gap-filling for Southeast sustainable future through food security, trade, commerce, technovation and industrial revolution. It is a popular adage of Ndi-Igbo that “Ndi mba ozo na’azu na-anwu n’aguu,” meaning: people who depend on foreign food eventually die of hunger.

By
Ikechukwu Gregory Ibe Ph.D1
Department of Business Administration
Gregory University Uturu, Abia State
chancellor@gregoryuniversityuturu.edu.ng; 0803 606 0669

and

Onyemaechi Augustine Eke Ph.D2
Department of International Relations
Gregory University Uturu, Abia State
e.onyemaechi@gregoryuniversity.edu.ng; 0806 923 3923

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