“Lagos is a land of opportunities”. “Lagos is a commercial City” Not a day passes without one hearing or reading about one of those – about Lagos and the desire of every Nigerian to move over there, mostly because it is a land where we perceive any form of business thrives.
This has sparked a thought within me and the following questions beg for answers: What is going for Lagos State that is not going for Cross River State? Is it the fact that Lagos shares a common boundary with Benin Republic? Or alas! Is it the famous Lagos Port? Or is it just the desire of successive Lagos State Governments to make the State self-reliant?
The above questions must be answered if we are to get a head. Lagos State is strategically located and shares a common border with Benin Republic. As a result of which it is easy for goods, particularly fairly used vehicles to be imported into the State, from which point other Nigerians lift to their respective states.
Taxes and levies are paid in the process. The revenue of the state is greatly boosted in the process. There is no gain saying that the Lagos Port is the single highest revenue generating point in Nigeria and I dare say Africa. As a result of the functionality of the Lagos Port, it is the point where most of the goods coming into the country via sea arrive.
This ensures that there is constant traffic of people at the port as people are always arriving with goods, clearing them or buying. Of course, the resultant effect is that Lagos State is the highest internal revenue generating State in Nigeria.
In the 1st quarter of this year alone, the Lagos State government has generated over Twenty Three Billion Naira as Internally Generated Revenue (IGR). Because of the Lagos Port, companies find it convenient to site/establish their offices there as they can easily get the raw materials for production and of course, there is a ready market.
The fact that Lagos State provides employment to more Nigerians than any other State is overly obvious. Because of the busy nature of Lagos State, there are job opportunities for everyone. For the Lawyers, there is cause of action. For Engineers, there are construction projects. For doctors, people will naturally fall ill. Even for artisans, the need for their services is on the rise. Hence, everybody in Lagos has something from which he can earn a living, unless of course you are habitually lazy.
Over the past sixteen years or so, successive Governors of Lagos State have consciously focused on building an economy which can sustain itself devoid of the Federal Government. From the days of Tinubu when Lagos State was seemingly maligned by the Obasanjo led administration, the State found a way to survive on its own.
Maybe it is because the State has persistently been in the opposition. Hence, they found a way to survive. Necessity indeed, is the mother of invention. So why is our case different? Why are we only termed a “civil service state’’? Is it because the forces of nature have conspired to work against us or that as a people, we lack the initiative to look within in a bid to grow our economy? I think not.
Rather, I believe our problem is a direct result of our reliance and over dependence on the Federal Government. Before now, we used to be a seemingly rich State with oil wells as a result of which we were assured of a huge Federal allocation every month. But then came the judgement of the Supreme Court of July, 2012 declaring Cross River State a “landlocked State’’. A judgement which with due respect to the apex Court defies reason. I mean, how can a State bounded by so many waters be landlocked? Well, that is a discussion for another day.
That judgement has provided a ready excuse for the government as each time it fails to meet up the expectations of the populace, there is usually a ready answer viz: ’’we have lost our oil wells’’. The question then is: are we going to stay lamenting over spilled milk? Or like a Crusoe, we are going to see it as a reason to look within, tap our inner strength and find a way to survive?
Whichever way we decide will definitely provide the footprint upon which the incoming administration will build on. I’d like us to adduce a few reasons why we should choose the option of survival and most importantly how we can go about it.
First of all, it is important we agree that if we choose not to survive, we will remain a poor State, our people will remain unemployed, we will keep having huge debt hanging over our heads and our infrastructures which are in urgent need of attention will remain unattended to.
What then is the way forward? Firstly, the new Governor must ensure that in forming his cabinet it is not business as usual. He should take his time; gather the best of the best to form his team. He cannot afford to have commissioners who do not share his drive and vision.
What we need now as a State, is a case of a strong General with strong Lieutenants. He cannot afford to have weak or ineffective commissioners. He must do away with the old faces, they are now wasted. Bring in young, innovative and creative minds to reposition our beloved state.
Secondly, just like Lagos State, we are a border State. We have a common boundary with Cameroon. We might not be lucky enough to have a common border with a country where we can import fairly used cars, clothes etc., but we have something which Lagos State wishes it has. We have landmass. We have to take a good look at our agricultural sector.
This is an area where we have comparative advantage over and above most states in the Country. We have fertile land where we can grow different kinds of agricultural products. The incoming government should take advantage of the current Federal Government’s drive and agricultural policies. Cross Riverians should be encouraged to go into medium and large scale farming.
The government should encourage us by providing soft loans as well as grants for willing farmers. These agricultural products can in turn be sold to other states and also exported to other countries. This will provide employment for our youths as well as generate revenue for the State Government.
Furthermore, Cross River State has a plethora of estates across the state; rubber, palm, cocoa and what have you. These estates where the mainstay of the economy of the former South-eastern States. The questions then which beg for answers are: what happened to these estates? Did they vanish from the face of the earth? Have they been given out like our oil wells? Why can’t the state’s economy be built on these estates?
These estates are still very much in existence and under our control. The problem I see is poor management. The products are tapped “to their last blood”. No provision is made to replant the aging ones nor is there nursery of any sort with respect to these trees. The new government must therefore look towards this direction, retrieve these estates from the hands of the private individuals which they have been allotted and bring them back under the state’s control and management.
Thirdly, again like Lagos State, we are blessed with a seaport. The new government should as a matter of priority do all it can to ensure that our seaport is dredged and functioning. The importance of this cannot be over emphasised. It is even worrisome that something as important as this has been left unattended to for this long.
I am sure we all remember how busy the Export Processing Zone (EPZ) usually was sometime in the 90s when our port was functioning. There is an urgent need to go back to those glory days. If the Calabar Port is dredged, Calabar will also turn into a commercial city, there will be employment for our people and our IGR will skyrocket.
Fourthly, there is an urgent need to revisit our tourism potentials. Cross River was once Nigeria’s (if not Africa’s) premier tourism destination. Where did it all go wrong? We are as yet the most peaceful state in Nigeria. We are blessed with enormous tourism potentials. From Tinapa, the Obudu Cattle Ranch, Agbokim Water Falls, etc.
Many countries of the World survive mainly on tourism. We can revisit our enormous tourism potentials, show to the world that we are still a tourism destination and redirect traffic to our State in that regard. This will encourage visitors to come and take advantage of our very hospitable nature, improve patronage for those in the hospitality industry and also generate revenue for the government.
Fifthly and very importantly, we have to invest in our youths. The youths are the backbone of every economy. They form a substantial part of the work force, because they have the energy to drive them, If we continuously neglect this sector, then we have no futuristic plans for our State. It is important we invest in the education of our youths by way of scholarships etc. Job creation is also necessary.
The new government should also give the youth a chance to try their hands at governance. If we are not tested under their guidance, how are we expected to fare when nature charges us with the responsibility of handling state and national affairs.
Nothing stops a 30 year old from functioning as an S. A. to the Governor, a board member or even a Commissioner. That way they will be prepared to be governors in 10 years time or so. A people who do not invest in the youths, have no plan for succession.
Lastly but by no means the least important, none of the above suggestions can see the light of day without the required political will. There has to be a conscious effort on the part of the new government and indeed all Cross Riverians to reposition our State.
We have often deluded ourselves that because we are in the “ruling party’’, we will always be looked after by our big brother (the Federal Government). Now reality has dawned on us. We are in an unfamiliar territory; we are now an opposition State.
While we trust that the incoming General Buhari led government will treat all States equally and give every man his due, the time couldn’t have been more apt for us to re-evaluate our economy and think of ways to improve it. God forbid that we let the situation degenerate to a level where it is irreparable.
It’s about time we make that stitch and hope it saves nine others. While praying for the newly sworn in Senator Ben Ayade led government, we trust that he will do the needful and reposition our State in its pride of place.
Barr. Enome J. Amatey writes from Calabar via firstname.lastname@example.org
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