Southwest Rail Plan, Model for Regional Cooperation

DG Seye Oyeleye receives Southwest Newspaper Editors 1
An ambitious plan unfolded by the regional collaborative agency, Development Agenda for Western Nigeria, to facilitate the linkage of 44 cities and towns in the South-West geopolitical zone by rail enlivens the debate on the imperative of competitive federalism.
Projected as part of its regional integration agenda, the venture aims to provide access to population and production sites and markets, attract investors, raise the internally generated revenues of the states and create job opportunities.
Long overdue, the six cooperating states should move quickly to accomplish this and other initiatives to lift the region and the country from economic distress. Where trains go, big things follow, says the Association of American Railroads. Governors have the responsibility to create conducive environment in their states for economic growth.
The DAWN Director-General, Seye Oyeleye, who briefed journalists in Ibadan, Oyo State, listed overturning the crippling dependence on oil revenues, linking the various parts and economies of the region and forging strong synergies as the objectives. When actualised, the private sector-led plan is expected to boost regional Gross Domestic Product by 50 percent.
As globalisation and technology further collapse physical, trade, cultural and communication barriers, governments, businesses and social groups are more than ever before, pursuing supranational and sub-national integration to maximise productive potential and achieve sustainable development goals.
While Nigeria has signed on to global, continental and sub-regional integrative pacts, formal integration activity within its internal geopolitical regions is largely neglected. Regional or inter-local cooperation involves one or more governments agreeing to plan for their joint futures, say experts.
It is recommended by the UNDP for its benefits in job creation, trade, physical, food and energy security, climate change and in tackling health challenges such as epidemics.
Oyeleye addressed the debilitating hindrance to the country’s progress: “Nigeria needs to restructure in line of development. With the revenue sharing formula that we operate now, the states will perpetually be under the Federal Government. We have tied ourselves to a constitution that is hindering development and this must change.” He is right on target.
Nigeria’s crisis of development is traceable to its faulty administrative structure that has inhibited the component states, created political and economic gridlock, and squelched local and regional integration, creative thinking and initiative.
The union was birthed as three regions — later four — whose economies were once fully integrated. The six SW states constituted the bulk of the old Western Region; today’s 19 northern states were integrated in the defunct Northern Region, nine of the 11 states grouped separately in the South-South and the South-East regions constituted the old Eastern Region.
The Journal of African History recorded how the Northern Region integrated its mining, farming, animal husbandry and traditional crafts sectors into a cohesive autonomous economy with linkages of its cotton, groundnuts and thriving tanneries and textile factories. The Eastern Region leveraged palm oil, coal mining, road infrastructure, farm settlements in various parts to attract investment and a light industrial base.
In the West, pacesetting initiatives integrated the farms and transportation infrastructure to pioneering industrial estates and export markets. Consequently, inclusive GDP yearly growth averaged 6-8 percent 1960-70, according to the Journal of Development and Agricultural Economics. With the loss of fiscal federalism and reliance on oil gas revenues, the “Dutch disease” delivered non-inclusive growth, creating more poor and a few rich.
The self-destructive charade must end. With the abject failure of the current unitary federalism manifested in insecurity, economic deprivation and mass poverty, joblessness and decrepit infrastructure, states within the six geopolitical zones need urgently to collaborate and fashion internal regional initiatives to create economic hubs.
The Amotekun security initiative by the SW should be strengthened, equipped and professionally manned. The North-Central, North-East and North-West where terrorism, banditry, kidnapping and violent herdsmen have laid waste, should urgently create well-funded similar regional outfits to complement the overwhelmed federal security apparatus. The others should help combat militancy, vandalism, cult violence and armed robbery.
States must transform to self-sustaining economic units: as in the SW rail plan, opportunities for extensive collaboration exist in mining and power, where the Federal Government has encouraged states to participate.  As Oyeleye noted, the 1955 Railway Act that concretises federal monopoly on railways, should be repealed forthwith.
Federal monopoly on ports, mining and power should be overthrown by licensing in the short-term and constitutional amendments eventually. Without power, the economy cannot soar; contiguous states need to cooperate urgently for power projects.
Regional cooperation today cannot be along the line of the outdated state capitalism model; it must be private sector-led. States should adopt the twin strategy of competition and cooperation to first, liberalise their environment to compete for investors and markets; then they should collaborate to attract investment region-wide in agriculture, mining, transportation, manufacturing, water resources and ICT.
There are examples elsewhere. Class I freight railroads in the US are supplemented by regional and short line railroads. The World Economic Forum credits the national programme of competition and collaboration among Indian states for its jump in the Ease of Doing Business Index by 65 places. As part of ongoing efforts, the Canadian Provinces of Ontario, Saskatchewan and New Brunswick signed an MoU on nuclear power “to jointly explore new, cutting-edge technology in nuclear power generation to provide carbon-free, affordable, reliable, and safe energy, while helping us unlock economic potential across Canada, including rural and remote regions.” And after years of competitive regionalism helped build top rated infrastructure, Australia’s six states have shifted development strategy to regional collaboration, including in its troubled power sector.
Partisan politics should not stall the brilliant initiative. As the second republic governors like Lateef Jakande, Bola Ige, Bisi Onabanjo, Adekunle Ajasin of Lagos, Oyo, Ogun and Ondo states respectively demonstrated an ironclad resolve to chart progressive course for the region in spite of the central government’s drab and inept governance, the present Southwest Governors should work in the best interest of the people. Critically, the initiatives are private sector-led, designed to bring in foreign investment and technology.
The current structure is hopelessly unsuited to drive development in a natural federation. Competition is an elemental fact of life. Ultimately, government should be organised through institutional competition among the three federal branches and among the federal and state governments. There is, therefore, an urgent need for a political structure that grants the centre limited and enumerated powers. This model will accelerate economic development, ensure political stability and foster social cohesion in the country. In the meantime, governors should exhaust the provisions of the current constitution to the fullest to improve the social conditions of their people.

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