Igbo Economic Road Map

Primary tabs

Igbo Economic Road Map

Economic Road Map is an economic plan of action that is designed to create a stable economic environment where the people will enjoy economic prosperity with limited economic hardship.

Ndiigbo are people known worldwide for their mercantile ability and as a result will benefit from an economic road map that is designed to harness their economic comparative competitive advantage.

Why the Southeast Needs Economic Road Map

The Southeast is one of the six zones in Nigeria. The Southeast is the zone with the least federal presence in terms of infrastructural development. In other words federal presence in the zone is almost nonexistent. For the Southeast to develop her industrial base, create jobs, retain her trained manpower and, reduce crime, there is a need for economic road map. In all honesty, the economic road map has already been prepared by Engineer Chris Okoye led Southeast Nigeria Economic Commission (SENEC). Please see SENEC summary below which forms the bulk of the presentation. Therefore this paper will emphasize the need for the Southeast to revisit the SENEC plan.

The Role of the Government

The government plays a crucial role in the provision of infrastructure that propels economic development. Nigerian economic development has been hamstringed by lack of constant supply of electricity. Closely related to the lack of constant supply of electricity is the lack of railway system. The railway hauls the bulky goods for both household and industrial use. The cost per mile using the railway system to transport goods is cheap compared to using road transportation network. In addition to a developed railway system, a developed waterway transportation network is equally important. In the case of the Southeast, it is efficient inland waterway transportation system that will haul or transship goods from ocean going vessels. I am aware that the federal government that has starved the Southeast zone of federal presence is the same government that has jurisdiction over the development of efficient road, railway and inland waterways transportation network. However, I believe that if the elected governors, senators and federal house members work for the common interest of the zone much could be accomplished.

The Role of the Private Sector

Just like the public sector, the private sector has a very crucial role to play in the economic development of the Southeast zone. Fortunately for the Southeast zone, the people are predisposed to business and are entrepreneurial. Again I emphasize that the essence of this paper is not to bore the readers with litany of what should be done because we have them already. I will encourage anybody who wants to read a well researched paper on the economic road map for the Southeast zone to read the summary below developed by the South East Economic Commission (SENEC).  

South East Nigeria Economic Commission

I reproduced in this section a condensed version of what SENEC forwarded to me by the interim Chairman Engineer Chris Okoye.

Background to SENEC’S Vision

The concept of South-East Nigeria Economic Commission emanated from a Stakeholders Forum on Industrial Clusters in South-Eastern Nigeria, organized by the African Institute for Applied Economics (AIAE), on 26th September 2006 in Enugu. The state of industrial clusters was situated against the economic and development performance of the South-east geopolitical zone, in relation to other zones of the country. The Forum observed that the poor state of industrial development in the south-East zone reflects the underlying lack of coordinated economic, institutional and infrastructural development. It recommended that though industrial clusters pose major policy challenges across the zone, they cannot be treated in isolation of the overall economic context of the south-east zone. The Policy Forum concluded that holistic and systematic approach is required to harness the full economic potentials of the south-east states, instead of piecemeal disparate measures by individual States. It was reasoned that there is compelling need to explore sustainable institutional mechanisms to generate and deliver common services in order to reap economies of scale for the accelerated development of the entire zone. Among the critical economic areas that are amenable to collective approach are the development of key and lumpy infrastructural projects, generation and diffusion of technologies, upgrading human capacity for industry development of large regional social projects, creation of strategic investments and institutional strengthening.


Based on the communiqué of the forum, AIAE set up a Steering Committee under my leadership to husband and facilitate the establishment of South East Nigeria Economic Commission.  The Steering Committee carried out an extensive research and study which culminated in the generation of a 100 page framework document for the establishment of the South East Nigeria Economic Commission.

The Proposed South-East Nigeria Economic Commission (SENEC)


Currently, the South-East zone lacks a robust institutional framework to drive the development of shared infrastructure, common services and coordinated economic development. The Commission is modeled as a joint independent agency of the five co-operating South-East states, the private sector and the entire people of the zone.

Legal Status

It shall be established by laws enacted by individual legislatures of the South-East states and incorporated under the relevant provisions of the Companies and Allied Matters Act. It will be a public-private-community partnership organization, to which state governments, private sector and civil society have mutually reinforcing stakes. The Commission shall be a body corporate with perpetual succession and a common seal and may be sued in its corporate name.

Organizational Structure

The organizational structure comprises Board of Trustees, Economic Advisory Council, Board of Directors, Executive Directors and non-Executive Directors. The management shall be organized along departmental lines focusing on respective mandate functions. It will bear structures such as state liaison offices to meet operational imperatives. Funding will come from state governments, private sector and civil society, under financing arrangements agreed to by stakeholders.

Functions and responsibilities

The proposed SENEC will play vital roles in uniting the interests of the States of the zone and in encouraging cooperation and collaboration amongst the governments of the States. The vision of the South East Nigeria Economic Commission is to become a robust platform that drives sustainable economic growth and social development of the South East geo-political zone of Nigeria. The mission of the Commission shall be to provide potent vehicles for the articulation of development strategies, mobilization of resources and coordination of policies for greater economic prosperity within the South East geo-political zone of Nigeria. The cardinal goal of SENEC shall be the promotion of economic competitiveness and sustainable development of the south-east geopolitical zone within the national and global economies.

Expected Milestone Achievements

The milestone achievements of the Commission will be: creation of world-class investments in the South-East zone; development of large physical infrastructural schemes; implementation of programmes for sustainable institutions; creation of centres for human capacity development; and development of coordinated framework for the formulation and implementation of public policies and plans. Specifically, the Commission shall carry out the following objectives/tasks: determine shared zonal development policy goals and strategies; articulate and advance zonal interests within the national framework; facilitate inter-governmental cooperation, policy coordination/synergy and joint programming; advocate for, facilitate and implement strategic zonal investments; and coordinate infrastructural development within the zone.

Imperative of the South-East Nigeria Development Fund (SENDEF)

One of the main tools to catalyze the implementation of the SENEC initiative is the South-East Nigeria Development Fund (SENDEF). The SENDEF will mobilize and deploy investment and development funds from government, private sector stakeholders and other partners, based on pre-determined financing arrangements. Even though the SENDEF would eventually become an investment facility, it should be established as the critical first step towards realizing SENEC. When started, the Fund shall become the legitimate basis for mobilizing seed money for the full establishment of SENEC.

I have reviewed the background that led to the Senec initiative and the supporting props for its institutionalization in the South East region.

Perhaps, it might also be pertinent to carry out an overview of the South East economy over the periods up to 1967 and post – 1970 era so as to establish the compelling desirability for integration as a desideratum for the zone’s rapid economic/social growth and development.


(i) The economy of South East Nigeria from 1958 to 1967. The Eastern Region of Nigeria started off as a separately governed territory of colonial Nigeria. It participated in negotiating for Nigeria’s independence as a distinct party and achieved self-government in 1958, two years before Nigeria. This region was originally totally rural and the population engaged in small scale farming (food crop, livestock and fishing). As early as the 16th century, trade in palm oil existed between the region and Western Europe. Under colonial rule, British trading firms established throughout the region, buying palm produce for export and selling imported manufactures. The oil palm was not cultivated but grew wild and economic production was mostly not for money.

The government of Eastern Nigeria had the challenge of modernization. The paradigm it followed was to provide infrastructure to enhance productivity and access to markets; educational development to improve human capital; and development, water and sanitation to improve the quality of life.  While the Regional government provided trunk roads and bridges that linked important centres, the local governments (Divisions) were responsible for rural roads and bridges that linked small settlements to the trunk roads. Similarly, the Regional government provided large hospitals called General Hospitals at provincial centres, while local governments provided dispensaries in every town.  In addition, the regional government partnered with voluntary agencies to set up large health centres called Joint Hospitals. Markets, Schools and Christian Mission centres were used to vaccinate (immunize) people against communicable diseases. The Regional and local governments set up a few standard primary, secondary grammar, vocational and technical and teacher training schools. Voluntary agencies willing to provide educational services were granted approval, under specified conditions, and given financial support (called matching grant) in order to limit their charges. They were also required to set up teacher training colleges to sustain and support their school work.

The private sector in this region had neither the capital nor the skill to engage in the production other than small scale farming. In order to increase and diversify economic activity, the Regional government invited foreign direct investment to establish in the region alone or in partnership with the government or domestic private sector. Government procurement was used to incentives such investors. E. M. Mitcheletti, Costain and RCC were assured of government construction contracts for buildings, roads and bridges. Local content in procurement was required to be promoted and local sub-contractors were also required to be developed, by the foreign contractors. These contractors were also required to train local skilled personnel in carpentry, masonry, painting, welding, and fitting and so on. The Regional government promoted the establishment of building product manufactures such as cement, roofing sheets, enamel ware and furniture. 

The history of Nigeria is evidence that this paradigm was successful. It produced good secondary schools such as DMGS and CKC Onitsha. The Nigerian Cement Company, Nkalagu; Asbestos Products Ltd and Niger Steel, Emene; and many other companies set in the old Eastern Region were the product of this endeavour.

ii)  The Economy of South East Nigeria: The post -1970 experience.

Nigeria generally and Igbo land had the opportunity after the civil war of creating a new self-sustaining economic base during the oil boom period following the OPEC revolution of 1974. What could have been attempted is well illustrated by the transfigurations which took place in the economies of the Middle East most notably in Qatar, Kuwait, and Saudi Arabia. In Nigeria the funds to re-build the foundations were there in abundance as the following figures of showing the rise in federal assets indicate.

The military administration of the period learnt very quickly how to squander money. This can be seen from the failure of the balance of payments and external reserves to keep pace with increasing oil receipts. But in fairness it must be recognized that government expanded communications, public transport, energy generation, steel production, and tertiary education especially by building universities of agriculture and technology. Naturally no investments of any kind whatsoever were made in Igbo land. Federal attitudes towards Igbo land were characterized by double speak and of farce. These attitudes, which continue even today, are illustrated by President Shehu Shagari’s opening of a sea port that did not exist in Onitsha in 1983 and by President Olusegun Obasanjo’s fake launching of the dualization of the Onitsha / Owerri road in 2003. The South East was supposed to remain a ghetto of underdevelopment and frustration.

But Ndigbo made money in the military era. Figures from the National Bureau of Statistics show very emphatically that Igbo land had the least poverty ratio in Nigeria with a low figure of 34.2% as against 43.0% in the South West, 51.1% in the South South, 63.3% in the Middle belt, 63.9% in the North West, and 67.9% in the North West. Thrust against their will into the underworld of the informal sector, Ndigbo took hold of that sector and re-created it by organizing the import of cheap consumables mostly from South East Asia: motor spare parts, electronics, general goods, pharmaceuticals, clothing materials, and food items. Otu Onitsha, Ariaria market in Balogun, Alaba, Idumota and Nkwo Nnewi gradually became the show rooms of the Igbo economy.

It is important to recognize that Igbo traders contributed immeasurably to the sustenance of Igbo land during the military era. Their prosperity trickled down. They created an apprenticeship system which broadened the scope of their business to an ever widening population and they developed networks of related enterprises which reaffirmed the communal tradition of Igbo land in a difficult setting.

If however, we use the structure developed by the Niger Company as a reference point, it should become clear that trading, no matter how rewarding it may be in the short term, is not the way forward for Igbo land.

In 1970 – 1983, Ndigbo took refuge in trading and we prospered on it. But for a dynamic self-sustaining centre of the Igbo economy in the 21st century, we should look elsewhere.

The South East Nigeria Economic Commission (SENEC) seeks reinvigoration of South East development. The former Eastern Nigerian Region is reputed to have the fastest growing economy in the world by 1966 when Nigeria’s first military coup took place. This feat owed to, among other factors, the establishment of West Africa’s foremost cement factory at Nkalagu, Nigeria’s first industrial estates at Emene,  Enugu,  and at Trans Amadi in Port Harcourt, the steel industry at Emene, the gas factory at Emene, glass factories in Port Harcourt and Aba, Standard Shoe Factory in Owerri, Aba Textile Mill, Golden Guinea Brewery in Umuahaia, etc. In addition, there were Nigerian Construction and Furniture and Company (NCFC), the Eastern Nigerian Development Corporation (ENDC), the Obudu Cattle Ranch, stunningly successful farm settlements. Onitsha had West Africa’s largest market. Hotel Presidential, whether in Enugu or Port Harcourt, was of international standard. Products of the University of Nigeria with campuses in Nsukka, Enugu and Calabar were competing favourably with their counterparts the world over.

The magic of it all is that all these institutions were propelled by the Eastern Nigerian Development Corporation – similar to what SENEC is attempting to do in South East region. The state-owned enterprises (SENEC) among them regularly posted huge profits and accordingly paid impressive dividends. Compare this development with the current situation where almost all government owned enterprises, including the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), have failed woefully.

If not for the military intervention in politics and the consequent civil war of 1967-70, Eastern Nigeria would have long been in the league of Singapore, Malaysia, Brazil, South Korea, Taiwan, and Hong Kong. This would have been possible because Nigeria was then practicing proper federalism where each regional government was fully in charge of its destiny and even had foreign offices in such places as the United Kingdom. Let me quickly add here that the First Republic remains the golden era in Nigeria’s development, and this explains why the Igbo campaigned at the Constitutional Conference of 1994/5 for the division of the country into six geopolitical zones and for the zones to be the federating units. It is a tribute to the enduring vision of the Igbo that though the present Constitution does not provide for geopolitical zones, Nigeria is, in reality, today governed on the basis of the geopolitical zones to the extent that there is a minister in the Federal Government representing each of the zones.

Time for a New Renaissance

States have been created in Nigeria since 1967 ostensibly to bring development nearer to the people. But the truth is that the more states are created, the lesser the rate of development. This should not be surprising to discerning observers. States were created for the first time for purely political reasons, and not for economic or developmental reasons. When they were created in 1967, it was with the sole purpose of defeating Biafra because the authors wanted the ethnic minorities in the Eastern Region to become “independent of Igbo domination”. The reason for creating states subsequently has never gone beyond politics.

Conscious of the fact that the states as currently constituted cannot serve as authentic vehicles for development, SENEC has from inception sought the economic integration of the five states in the South East geopolitical zone. In any case, the South East was until 1975 just one state called East Central State. SENEC seeks to make the states have a common development plan. Borrowing a leaf from SENEC, the South Western states launched on March 6, 2012, the Development Agenda for Western Nigeria (DAWN) when they realized that the current states are too weak and small to bring about the quantum development their people require.   

The need for economic revival is perhaps more pronounced in the Southeast than anywhere else. Almost every historic industry and path-breaking institution in Eastern Nigeria which I mentioned earlier in this paper has long disappeared. The few remaining ones like the UNN can do much better. Even ones built later like Premier Breweries in Onitsha and the Avutu Poultry farm in Imo State have collapsed. A fresh graduate of, say, mechanical engineering from the University of Nigeria or any other university in the South East is likely to head the next day to Lagos or Abuja or Port Harcourt for employment because there are scarcely employment opportunities in our place.

The Role of the Chambers of Commerce of the States of the Southeast

The chambers of commerce of the Southeast states must work collaboratively to develop the zone as a unit. Their role is to harmonize the commercial and industrial activities of the zone by helping to establish industries to where the economy of scale will be effective. For example, the chambers of commerce should work collaboratively to make Ebonyi State the rice producing capital of West Africa. The various regions of the world are integrating to reduce waste and inefficiency thereby increasing economy of scale. This should be the role and ultimate goal of the chambers of commerce of the Southeast zone.

Diaspora Connection

In 2014, Nigeria received $21 billion from her citizens living abroad. Ndiigbo arguably has the highest number of her citizens abroad and if that scenario holds, then Ndiigbo should have received between 55% and 65% of money remittance into Nigeria. This translates to $11.55 billion to $13.65 billion using the official figure for 2014. Please note that in 2013 and 2012, Nigeria received the same amount from her citizens living abroad. If the unofficial figure (money that is carried by travelers that were not declared at the point of entry) is factored in then we are looking at more money that flows into Alaigbo from her Diasporas. The governments of the Southeast may not realize it but her Diasporas are playing a very important role in keeping Alaigbo economically stable.

More importantly for the Southeast the zone has the Diaspora brain power that can be harnessed to develop the zone. Unfortunately the political and business elites in the zone still regard their Diaspora counterparts as adversaries instead of collaborators. This scenario has led to mistrust that has not helped the zone reach its potential.

The political and business elites at home must develop a strategy whereby highly skilled Diaspora Ndiigbo are engaged not necessarily as employees but some as consultants to help fast track the development of the zone.


The aim of this paper is not to reinvent the wheel because it has already been invented but to point out that when Ndiigbo decide to develop Alaigbo, the human and material capital necessary to do that are already in place. The only thing holding Ndiigbo back is the political will or put more appropriately, a few good men and women that have the interest of Ndiigbo at heart. It is fine to be a proud nwa Igbo and still a Nigerian. They are not mutually exclusive.

About the Presenter

Amadiebube Robert Mbama is the DSG IWA Economic Institute. He is the president of MBAMA & Associates LLC a California based anti money laundering, anti terrorist financing, bank secrecy act and office of foreign asset control consulting company. Mr. Mbama has an MBA, ACA, CGMA, CFF, CPA, CAMS.

Amadiebube Robert Mbama was a former online faculty member of Accounting and Finance classes at the University of Phoenix. Currently he is inactive due to the opportunity of running MBAMA & Associates LLC. He was a Supervisor with the Department of Financial Institutions, State of California.  He has a BS in Accounting and MBA in Finance & Banking both from the University of San Francisco, California. He is an Associate Chartered Accountant of the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Nigeria, a Chartered Global Management Accountant, a Certified Financial Forensics, a Certified Public Accountant, and a Certified Anti-Money Laundering Specialist.

He helped to develop training and also train money transmitter regulators association examiners (MTRA). MTRA is an arm of various state banking department/financial institutions regulatory agencies that specialize in transmitters of money abroad, payment instruments issuers and travelers checks issuers. He is an anti money laundering consultant for many financial institutions in the U.S.

He was a former Financial Institutions Supervisor. As a Financial Institutions Supervisor, he was responsible for the senior, mid and entry level Financial Institutions Examiners.  He assisted in planning, organizing, and implementing the examination program and regulatory oversight for a group of licensees.  Prior to being promoted to this supervisory position, he was a Senior Financial Institutions Examiner with the Department of Financial Institutions, State of California. As a senior examiner, he was appointed by the Commissioner of Financial Institutions to the Internet Task Force and Special Licensees Task force. He was also one of the point persons during the Y2K conversion. In December 2002, he was awarded a rare State of California Superior Accomplishment Award and in the same month, he was awarded a Team Player of the Year Award by the Department of Financial Institutions for exhibiting a positive attitude, inspiring others to excel, and his contributions that continuously exceed expectations.   Prior to joining the Department of Financial Institutions, Robert was a Savings and Loan Examiner for the State of California and was involved in examining troubled Savings and Loans during the Savings and Loan crises.

An active member of his community, he is the past Chairman of the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Nigeria (ICAN) USA District Society and a current member of the board of trustee. He was a former President of the Nigerian American Chamber of Commerce. In 2004 and 2005, he was the President of the Parish Council and prior to that, he served as a member of the Finance Committee for seven years.