Chairman, Zinox Group, Leo Stan Ekeh has charged the five Governors of the South-East to take up the release of Nnamdi Kanu, detained leader of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) as a one-point agenda to President Bola Tinubu, noting that a positive outcome will quell the restiveness in the region and usher in sustainable prosperity.
Ekeh made the call on Thursday, September 28 at the 2023 South-East Summit on Economy and Security in Owerri, the Imo State capital.
In what was the highlight of the day’s session, Ekeh, a Forbes Best of Africa Leading Tech Icon and major investor in the South-East and other regions across Nigeria, disclosed that no concrete investment or development can take place in an atmosphere of tension and insecurity. Consequently, he urged the governors to put aside party affiliations and forge a common front to press for the release of the pro-Biafra agitator, Kanu. Ekeh, whose speech drew a standing ovation and a rapturous reaction from the audience, submitted that the South-East is a huge economy waiting to happen, added that the region is blessed with an abundance of human capital, a new breed of outstand leaders and willing investors ready to turn its fortunes around for good.
‘‘The average Igbo youth is smart, energetic and imbued with a dose of spirituality. Equipped with the necessary tools in an enabling environment, these qualities can transform our youths into world beaters and global champions. We also have quality leaders as Governors in the five South East states with the confidence to transform the region, an example of which I witnessed yesterday with the unprecedented gesture of the Imo State Governor, Hope Uzodinma to youths in the state. Working together, I believe we can site a centralized digital hub in the region which will produce certified billionaires in the next few years.
‘‘However, we must first take steps to secure the release of Nnamdi Kanu as this will instantly bring about a measure of calm and sanity in the region. Kanu is a critical factor in the security issues of the South-East. President Bola Tinubu is not a stubborn or inconsiderate leader. I am sure he will listen. When he was Governor of Lagos State, he took the advice of some of us to include deserving Igbos in his cabinet and this was how Ben Akabueze emerged,’’ he counselled.
The well-attended summit had in attendance notable Igbo sons and daughters from various spheres of endeavour, including the five South East Governors, serving Ministers and Members of the House of Representatives, captains of industries, top ranking officers from the military and other security services, academic dons and corporate eggheads, representatives of women and youth leaders, among others.
In his welcome address, Imo State Governor Uzodimma, who doubles as Chairman, South-East Governor’s Forum, harped on the need for unity and oneness among people from the zone to rescue it from implosion. Uzodinma cited the spate of insecurity and the antics of non-state actors in the region. Nevertheless, he promised that the Governors of South-East are working together to ensure that Igboland returns to its previous glorious era.
‘‘Participants must rise from the summit with a clear road map that our people will follow to regain the lost freedom and businesses without molestations and harassments. We must stop the senseless sit-at-home,” he stated.
Uzodinma suggested the floating of South-East Development Fund to fund development research. He also hailed the planned dredging of Oguta Lake to Atlantic Ocean as a step in the right direction, while also commending the Nnewi, Aba and Onitsha businessmen and women for exhibiting and sustaining the business spirit of Ndigbo.
On his part, Anambra State Governor, Chukuma Soludo called for a 100-year development plan for the region. Soludo said the region must make all efforts to thrive despite the ongoing insecurity, adding that the South-East zone is not the most insecure place in the world.
‘‘It is very good to lament but I would rather like to see a glass as half full than half empty. The South-East is ready for business. We must all believe in our ability to turn things around and get the South-East going again. We need not just ourselves, we need Nigeria. Ndigbo needs Nigeria and Nigeria needs Ndigbo. Ndigbo needs Africa and the world and the world and Africa need Ndigbo. As an itinerant people, we cannot be an intolerant people. We need the partnership of everybody, partnership of the rest of the country, partnership of the diaspora and partnership with the international community.”
For Abia State Governor, Dr. Alex Otti, dialogue represents the way forward in addressing the insecurity in the zone. He called for an understanding of the anger in the land, adding that leaders in the region must pursue justice, stamp out all forms of violence and stop the extortion of the poor by the rich.
Also speaking at the summit, Enugu State Governor, Dr. Peter Mbah talked up the need for a connecting road to all South-East states and a unified market to aid the region enjoy comparative advantage for specific products. He also encouraged the need for regular meetings between all stakeholders in the states.
The Ebonyi State Governor, Rt. Hon. Francis Nwifuru, who was represented by his Deputy, Princess Patricia Onyemechi also buttressed some of the points raised by the other speakers, while also recommending closer monitoring of children to nip nefarious associations in the bud and the need for the people of the South-East to believe in themselves.
Equally important, the keynote speaker and Director General of the World Trade Organization, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala lamented the regressing fortunes of the South-East and the negative impacts of the insecurity in the zone on potential investment.
Nevertheless, Okonjo-Iweala, who spoke via Zoom, referenced the rich human capital of the region. Among her recommendations to the Governors is the convening of an investment forum, the creation of an apprenticeship scheme from which talented youths can secure gainful employment, set-up of a digital infrastructural centre in the region, leveraging the connections and competencies of professionals of South-East technocrats in the Diaspora to come back home and help in developing the region, establishment of a financial bond by the governors and optimization of the opportunities in Agriculture, Oil and Gas and other sectors.
Earlier, Anyim Pius Anyim, a former Senate President and Secretary to the Government of the Federation, has also lent his voice to the call calling for a review of the Biafra agitation. He also emphasized the need for better strategies to rid the region of the prevailing insecurity which he described as brutal.
The summit also witnessed goodwill messages from the leadership of Ohanaeze Ndigbo Worldwide, with its President Chief Emmanuel Iwuanyanwu calling for more investment by the Federal Government in the South-East. There were also goodwill messages from other key stakeholders including traditional rulers and other establishments, while the Summit Planning Committee, led by its Chairman Sen. Chris Anyanwu also received praises from virtually all the speakers for the professional organization of the event.