Ngozi Okojo-Iweala, the director-general of the World Trade Organisation (WTO), has urged South-East stakeholders to foster joint leadership to tackle the challenges bedevilling the region collectively.
Ms 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 theme of the two-day summit is ‘South East Beyond 2023, Time for a Reset’.
Ms 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 chief underscored the need for the region to improve its internally generated revenue, keep borrowing down and improve capital expenditures.
“Governors, state legislatures and local government chairs must continuously ask themselves, are we using our FAC allocation wisely, transparently and effectively?” said Ms Okonjo-Iweala. “Can we generate more revenue internally, and how do we do it while motivating our productive sectors and factors? Are we taking on too much debt? Are we even spending the amount borrowed effectively?”
Ms Okonjo-Iweala advised the region to seize the opportunity of privatisation in the electricity sector to look towards solar and gas solutions to improve 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 South-East region and what we can do to block these leakages,” Ms Okonjo-Iweala explained.
The WTO boss 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.
Ms Okonjo-Iweala urged the region to draw from its diaspora resources to build on the health sector.
“I am sure the South-East governors, coming together, can do some financial engineering and find a way to float a South-East diaspora bond or fund to capture some loans and tenured to financing some development priorities,” she noted.