Okonjo-Iweala made the call in her keynote address to the South-East Summit on Security and Economy, which kicked off in Owerri on Thursday.
The News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) reports that the theme of the two-day summit is “South East Beyond 2023, Time for a Reset.”Okonjo-Iweala said: “We no longer have solidarity, instead we are fragmented as a people and that has made us forget how to support each other.
“If our big problem is ourselves, it means that the solution also lies in our hands.”The WTO boss underscored the need for the region to improve its internally generated revenue, keep borrowing down and improve on capital expenditures.
She asked: “Governors, state legislatures and local government chairs must continuously ask themselves, are we using our FAC allocation wisely, transparently and effectively?“Can we generate more revenue internally and how do we do it, while so motivating our productive sectors and factors?“Are we taking on too much debt? Are we even spending the amount borrowed effectively?”
Okonjo-Iweala advised the region to seize the opportunity of privatisation in the electricity sector to look towards solar and gas solutions as a way to improve the situation of power supply.
“I want to suggest that we convene a South-East investment forum, not for people from outside the region or abroad but for our own Igbo business people.“In this forum, we should examine what is blocking greater investment in the Southeast region and what we can do to block these leakages,” she further said.
She emphasised the need for the region to consider diversifying and attracting investments in the supply chain of pharmaceuticals, fertilisers, labour-intensive industries and digital technology. She also advised the stakeholders to take advantage of the benefits of digital trade for micro, small and medium enterprises, online education, health and accounting services.
Okonjo-Iweala urged the region to draw from its diaspora resources to build on the health sector.“I am sure the Southeast governors, coming together, can do some financial engineering and find a way to float a Southeast diaspora bond or fund to capture some loans and tenured to financing some development priorities,” she said.
Speaking on behalf of the Southeast Traditional Rulers, the Obi of Onitsha, Igwe Alfred Achebe, commended the South-East governors for organising the summit.
Achebe said, “The complex security situation in the zone and the economic strangulation of the zone, arising from the insecurity, have greatly affected major markets in the area.”The traditional ruler further expressed the need to set a peculiar agenda for the people shared by all stakeholders above partisanship. She also advocated the need to focus on strategic economic development, organised regional security and rebirth of the Igbo nation through revisiting and repositioning of Igbo values.
Earlier in an address of welcome, the former Senate President and Chairman of the summit, Anyim Pius Anyim, said the event aimed at sending a clear message to the diaspora and Nigerians.
“We are here to send a clear message to our people at home and abroad, and our fellow Nigerians that the Igbo nation strives to become more coercive in order to be more effective in contributing its quota in the search for national consensus on equity, peace and development,” he said.
He said the summit was not intended to dish out directives to the governors but to create a platform for sharing new ideas and understanding on areas of collaboration and integration. Anyim, however, said that since 1999, the attention of governments shifted, adding that “no government in the Southeast had considered it needful to service industrial corridors and attract investors to set up factories.
“The implication is that the unemployment rate had multiplied and could be the reason for the upsurge of crime and criminality in the zone.“We need to rethink our developmental priorities,” he said while calling for the re-engineering of the entrepreneurship sector and realignment of the educational system with the regional needs. The Chairperson of the Organising Committee, Sen. Chris Anyanwu, thanked the delegates from the region to the summit.
According to Anyanwu, the summit, which attracted the five South-East governors, religious, cultural and traditional leaders, is expected to set an agenda for the region’s accelerated economic transformation, social harmony and effective security.