Professor Bart Nnaji, FAS, FAEng, OON, NNOM is the Chairman & Chief Executive Officer of Geometric Power Ltd.

The 2009 Ahiajoku Distinguished Lecture

Venue: Imo State, Nigeria

27 November, 2009


Let me first thank the organizers of the Ahajioku Lecture for giving me the honour of being the Distinguished Lecturer at this year’s lecture. Ahajioku Lecture Series has continued to contribute to defining us a people, our culture, our heritage and our common destiny as the Igbo Nation. I feel highly privileged to follow on the footsteps of Igbo Icons who have served as eminent speakers at the lecture series especially of our very own legend, Prof. Chinua Achebe whose 2008 lecture was delivered early this year.

I especially thank His Excellency, Dr. Ikedi Ohakim, the Governor of Imo State for your kind sentiments while informing me of my nomination as the 2009 Ahiajioku Distinguished Lecturer, the Deputy Governor, Her, Excellency, Lady (Dr.) Ada Okwuonu, the state Commissioner for Culture and Tourism, Chief Chuma Nnaji and organizers of this conference for your unwavering commitment to the noble objectives of the Ahajioku Lecture and untiring work to successfully accomplish this year’s lecture. I salute Prof. Michael Echeruo, the William Safire Professor of Modern Letters at the Syracuse University, New York, and the first Ahajioku Distinguished Lecturer. Your very stimulating lecture “Ahamefuna -A Matter of Identity” and your moderating influence in subsequent lectures have helped to determine the tenor, enrich the intellectualism, and maintain the verve and enduring legacies associated with Ahajioku Lectures today. To our distinguished audience today, I am inspired by your presence and thrilled to share my thoughts with you.

I speak today on “Ka Ihe Di—The Power Of Light

Energy As A Fundamental Instrument for SocioEconomic Development”. Ka Ihe Di translated Let There Be Light in English and Fiat Lux in Latin inspired the great Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe who had as the motto of West African Pilot newspaper – “Show the light, and the people will find the way”. Perhaps, greater than Zik’s inspiration is the fundamental role played by the power of light in the supernatural account of creation as recorded by the Christian Holy Writ, the bible. God in His infinite wisdom knew that to proceed with creation, he had to give a mandate for light to illumine the universe and bring order to an otherwise chaotic cosmos.

However, I will not dwell on the mystical nature of light. I guess the principal reason why the organizers of this annual intellectual feast agreed that I speak on “Ka Ihe Di—The Power Of Light Energy As A Fundamental Instrument for Socio-Economic Development” arose out of my preoccupation in the last few years with building a power generating and distributing facility in Aba, the commercial nerve centre of Abia State. Of all the basic infrastructural facilities required for modern existence in Nigeria, public electricity supply is probably the most challenging. Electricity is rarely available; and even when you receive it the quality is scandalously poor, hardly able to light a four-feet fluorescent tube, let alone power the machines in a factory. The consequences of this state of affairs are well known: closure of industries, stifling of businesses, escalation of the unemployment crisis, damage of costly machines including heavy industrial machines and hospital equipment, rising cost of business, etc. For a place like Aba, which has for decades enjoyed the reputation of being Nigeria’s foremost city of indigenous technology and manufacturing, nothing could be more frustrating than inefficient electricity supply.

In response to this dire situation, my colleagues and I resolved (about 2005) in the middle of this decade to take advantage of the Federal Government’s liberalization of the country’s economic space to contribute our quota to the resolution of the energy crisis by building in Aba a 188 megawatt facility to generate and distribute constant and quality electricity to industries, commercial firms and homes in Enyimba City at competitive rates, which will end up being a mere fraction of what individuals and businesses and government organizations spend currently to self generate power. The Geometric Power project is gearing to completion and will be commissioned next year. We are already thinking of how to make critical manufacturing centres like Nnewi and Onitsha, both in Anambra State, have uninterrupted electricity supply.

Much as our Independent Power Project in Aba has attracted considerable attention, I would like to point out that this is not the first electric generation initiative undertaken by Geometric Power. Shortly after the return of democratic rule in Nigeria in 1999, the Federal Government was faced with a severe challenge of electricity right in State House, Abuja, as a result of a major electricity development project. A new electricity arrangement was thus needed as a matter of national emergency. Geometric Renatech Nigeria Ltd, a special purpose vehicle which I chaired, was assigned the task of building a 22 megawatt Emergency Power Plant in the Federal Capital Territory to supply power through the existing facilities of the National Electric Power of Nigeria (NEPA, as it was called) to such places as State House, the headquarters of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) and the Central Business District of Abuja. It is a thing of joy that for three years that we were entrusted with the national assignment of providing electricity to these critical places, not for a second did any of them experience power blackout. We hope to maintain this record in Aba from next year when Geometric Power commences commercial production.


I fully understand the frustration Nigerians go through every second of the day as a result of inefficient power supply. I am a victim, too, in the office in Abuja, in the plant in Aba and in my residences in Abuja, Enugu, and in my hometown of Umuode, Nkanu East Local Government Area of Enugu State. The power situation in the Southeast geopolitical zone is the worst in the country, despite the fact that this part of the Nigerian nation arguably holds the key to Nigeria’s technological and industrial revolution. In a two page interview published in The Guardian newspaper in 2002, the then Minister of Power and Steel, Dr Olusegun Agagu—who later became the Ondo State governor—noted that though the electricity infrastructure all over the country was a mess, that of the Southeast was just intolerable! Therefore, if there is so much expectation in the Southeast more than the other parts of the country as regards the commissioning of the Geometric facility in Aba as the first step in the effort to end the electricity blight in Nigeria, it is understandable.

Factors Critical to Development
Still, I will seek your permission at this point to examine one or two other factors which are critical to the socioeconomic development of the Southeast as electricity before returning to the theme of this lecture, “Ka Ihe Di—The Power Of Light Energy As A Fundamental Instrument for SocioEconomic Development”. Much as these factors are fundamental to our development, they are scarcely discussed apparently because a lot of people do not seem to recognize their importance. I am taking the liberty to bring them to the front burner through this lecture because they have been neglected for long. If we fix the electricity challenge without addressing these issues, we cannot make much progress as a people. These issues include crisis of values in present-day Igboland, the need for Igbo unity in practical terms, the imperative of joint planning of development of Igboland in the context of 21st Century challenges, and development of appropriate courses and programmes in educational institutions in our place.

Let us start with a cursory look at the collapse of culture. As many high-minded scholars and thinkers have demonstrated eloquently in recent times, culture is at the centre of societal development. Societies which have a high stock of social capital develop faster than those which have a low stock of such values as trust, loyalty, honesty, solidarity and cooperation. In the early 1970s, an American sociologist named Edward Banfield published a book entitled The Moral Basis of The Backward Society in which he showed that developed societies like the United States and Japan have high ethical standards for their leaders, unlike poor countries where their leaders’ moral excesses are excused, if not celebrated, for all manner of reasons. Vices like nepotism, financial corruption and fraud generally are fundamentally incompatible with development. Shortly after he published in 1997 the magnum opus, The End Of History And the Last Man, Francis Fukuyama wrote another classic which for some strange reason did not receive as much international attention as his first work. Yet, his book: Trust: The Social Virtues And The Creation of Prosperity is far more relevant to a low-trust society like contemporary Nigeria than the philosophical speculation in his more famous work.

Fukuyama cites the arresting example of Italy to show how a society which does not take an uncompromisingly combative stance against criminal and immoral behaviours can never make as much progress as a high-trust society. The northern part of Italy where world class cities like Rome and Milan exist is like any other part of the First World, but the southern part where Naples and Sicily are located is called the Third World of Italy because it is not developed; the activities of the mafia and other criminal organizations have kept southern Italy perpetually backward.

Distinguished ladies and gentlemen, I’m afraid our beloved Igboland runs the risk of becoming the Sicily of Nigeria if the current sustained assault against our sacred cultural values is not fought with all our might and talent. Our culture cherishes honour, integrity, trust and profound respect for the dignity of the human person. But these values are fast being eroded. There is perhaps nothing which dramatizes the collapse of values than the new phenomenon of kidnappings for ransom. Kidnappings began in Nigeria in the last few years in the South-south region by young men and women who were ostensibly protesting against official neglect of their area which is the oil-bearing part of the country; petroleum resources account for up to 95 per cent of Nigeria’s foreign earnings and some 75 % of government earnings as well as 33% the Gross Domestic Product. The process of extracting these natural resources leaves in its wake acute environmental problems. The protesting youths started with kidnapping of expatriate foreign workers in an attempt to draw international attention to their campaign for a greater share of the national oil wealth and for the protection of their environment. In no time huge sums were demanded for the release of the oil workers. The youth then turned to kidnapping wealthy Nigerians, including indigenes of the Niger Delta, for ransom. Where they could not catch the wealthy ones, they captured their children, wives and even aged parents.

Today the phenomenon of kidnapping for ransom is more pronounced in the Southeast than the South-south. This is one instance where our people have displayed in a negative manner what Professor Chinua Achebe calls in The Trouble With Nigeria, one fantastic burst of energy. The kidnappings in the Southeast are not carried out under the guise of people protesting against any form of social injustice, but as acts of sheer criminality. The situation is such that it will be a pleasant surprise if Igboland does not record this year far the lowest number of returnees during this Christmas. For a people known to enjoy celebrating the Christmas and New Year holiday season with their kinsfolk in their various towns and villages, only a war or its equivalent can stop many of them from going home during this festive period. The rash of kidnappings is equivalent to a declaration of war against our people. A failed mass return during Christmas will have far-reaching economic and social implications. A substantial percentage of the money used to develop Igboland is from remittances from our people outside our homeland. Many of the development projects at home which get accelerated during Christmas will be affected adversely. Social bonds will be far from deepening.

We have seen how a lot of oil and gas businesses have in the last two years moved from places like Bayelsa and Rivers States to Lagos State as a result of the spate of kidnappings for ransom. Businesses based in our homeland could well experience an exodus if the situation is not arrested early enough. An expatriate engineer working for Geometric Power Ltd was last November kidnapped by a group which called itself international terrorists and demanded a huge ransom. Once he was released, the expatriate soon left Nigeria. It is painful that some of those indicted for their roles in the ugly phenomenon are people in their 70s who hold high traditional titles, just as village chiefs were fully involved in the Trans Atlantic slave trade even after its abolition by the British parliament in 1807. The modern kidnapper is a reincarnation of the slave raider, as can be glimpsed from the 1789 classic, Equiano’s Travels by Olaudah Equiano, a native of Isseke in today’s Ihiala Local Government Area of Anambra State, who was kidnapped at the age of 12 while playing with his sister and sold into slavery. Like the slave raider, the modern kidnapper is guided purely by material benefits, and has no respect for human life. Like his precursor, the modern kidnapper is more a victim of greed than of acute hardship. The ransom he demands is not the type to enable him to get by but to engage in opulent lifestyle, indulging in all kinds of debauchery. He does not typically belong to the class of poor people whose offences can be excused on moral grounds, as the Catholic Bishops Conference of Brazil tried to do in the mid 1980s during the heyday of liberation theology when it argued that it was acceptable for the desperately poor to steal from the rich in order to eat and survive.

One other critical challenge facing the Igbo people is the imperative to draw up a long-term development plan with all the Igbo-speaking people, including those in Delta and Rivers states as well as the Diaspora, fully involved. The Igbo nation may be divided into states for political and administrative reasons, but we remain one people linguistically and culturally, and we share a common destiny. It is critical that we plan our development programme jointly. After all, there may be five fingers in one hand, but the hand remains one.

This is the time to dream big. This is the time to think of how to bring big businesses, including state-of-the art hospitals, to our area which will enable thousands of our people working in places like IBM, General Motors, Ford Motors, General Electric, Motorola, Boston General Hospital and the rest to return home. As most of us here know very well, many of the engineers and scientists and medical doctors helping India to develop very fast were bright Indian students sent to study in Europe and America who could not return immediately because, apart from the fact that they were offered good jobs in top universities, research institutes, research laboratories and leading corporations, the opportunities to practice cutting edge technology were not available in their country of origin. New Delhi pursued for decades the socialist economic policy which did not encourage innovation, creativity and enterprise. But with the liberalization of the economy, particularly in the last two decades, so many opportunities have been created and the Indians in the Diaspora who have for long grown home sick grabbed them with both hands. India now leads the world in software technology. Its Maruti vehicles are a common sight on Nigerian roads and perhaps at least 50% of pharmaceuticals consumed in Nigeria are imported from India. People from all over the world go to India for advanced medical treatment, including complex surgeries.

There is no reason why Igboland cannot replicate the Indian scenario. Up to the time the first military coup occurred in Nigeria on July 15, 1966, the Eastern Nigerian Region had one of the fastest economic growth rates in the world. Its successful agrarian revolution inspired the establishment of farm settlements in the Western Region. The path-breaking establishment in 1960 of the University of Nigeria at Nsukka, whose products were to be internationally competitive, inspired the establishment of the University of Ife in 1962 and Ahmadu Bello University at Zaria the following year. The revolutionary founding of the African Continental Bank (ACB) led to the establishment of the National Bank by the Western Nigerian government and the Bank of the North by the Northern Nigerian government.
Well-run manufacturing firms like Nigersteel, Nigergas, Nigercem, Golden Guinea Breweries, Standard Shoe Industries, Aba Textile Industry, and the glass making industries in Aba and Port Harcourt were springing up all over Eastern Nigeria. Across the Niger, the premier of the Midwestern Region, Chief Dennis Osadebey, was establishing big and successful businesses like Asaba Textile. In other words, the Igbo were setting the standard in leadership and good governance, and the rest of the Nigerian nation was responding to the Igbo initiatives. Ironically the Eastern Nigerian government was receiving less revenues than those of the Northern and Western governments because palm produce, the main foreign exchange earner, was commanding less prices in the international market than cocoa and groundnut which were the main sources of revenues for the Western and Northern governments, respectively.

During the 30-month civil war when the rest of Nigeria took on Eastern Nigeria plus the Igbo-speaking community of the Midwest, our people displayed authentic ingenuity in the face of near insurmountable odds. Biafra, declared the late distinguished American sociologist, Stanley Diamond, was the first nation in the modern world where the Blackman was in charge from head to toe. In the moving and poetic words of Chief Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu, the leader of the Biafran revolution, ““In the three years of war, necessity gave birth to invention. During those three years, we built bombs, we built rockets, and we designed and built our own delivery systems. We guided our rockets, we guided them far, and we guided them accurately. For three years, blockaded without hope of imports, we maintained engines, machines, and technical equipment. The state extracted and refined petrol, individuals refined petrol in their back gardens, we built and maintained airports, and we maintained them under heavy bombardment. We spoke to the world through a telecommunications system engineered by local ingenuity. The world heard us and spoke back to us.
We built armoured cars and tanks. We modified aircraft from trainer to fighters, from passenger aircrafts to bombers. In three years of freedom, we had broken the technological barrier. In three years, we became the most civilized, the most technologically advanced black people on earth.”

The political, intellectual, religious, bureaucratic and professional elite of the Igbo throughout the world should feel inspired by the heroic history of their people. If we could do so well a few years after independence and during a three-year brutal war, we should do better in peacetime. Our people should feel challenged by the giant strides which nations and territories like India, China, Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, South Korea, Brazil, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Indonesia, among others, have been making.

Still, we must acknowledge that the present generation of students trained at various tertiary institutions cannot be relied upon to drive the development vision of our people in the 21st Century. Their technical capacity is, to use a euphemism, suspect. Professor Chukwuma Soludo, the immediate past Central Bank of Nigeria governor, has publicly stated that 80% of Nigerian university graduates are not employable. Prof Soludo obviously is referring to the ability of the graduates to apply their skills in the fields for which they have been trained. No less worrisome is the moral standards of the graduates. Many of them were members of secret cults on campuses, which means they have killed fellow students in a raw show of power. Some of them obtained good grades in tests and examinations through outright cheating and different forms of gratification. How can people with these kind of values be expected to lead Nigeria’s development? Dr. Pascal Dozie, the founding chairman of Diamond Bank plc, is fond of saying that there are two forms of requirements or qualifications which a professional needs to succeed, namely, technical competence and ethical standards. Dr Dozie is absolutely right. None of these requirements is more important than the other. There are instances of how some chief executives with excellent degrees sabotaged, for purely selfish gains, the very institutions which hired them.

To make Igboland a developmental territory, as Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Doha, Hong Kong and Taiwan are, we need to have educational institutions in the class of the Indian Institutes of Technology. Given the fact that internationally recognized institutions cannot emerge overnight, we can start training the human capital needed for the transformation of our land by developing certain courses, programmes and schools in both existing public and private universities which are critical to the realization of our developmental vision. Courses should include engineering, pure sciences, mathematical sciences, information, communication and technology, as well as management sciences. Asians have an effective presence in top engineering and computer schools worldwide. It is no wonder their respective economies have been doing very well. The Igbo have also displayed over the years impressive skills in these disciplines.

The importance of management studies to modern society may need to be explained a little. Africans generally have not displayed tremendous management acumen either in the public sector or in the private sector. But great management capacity is needed to create, sustain and develop big and international businesses, including their subsidiaries. Is it a cultural factor that can explain the collapse of state-owned enterprises like Nigeria Airways, Nigerian National Shipping Lines, Nigeria Railway Corporation, Nigeria Coal Corporation, Hotel Presidential, etc? How about privately owned enterprises like Okada Air, Triax Airline, Kabo Airline, the Abiola group, the Ojukwu group? If Nigeria Airways failed because it was a state-owned enterprise, why are Ethiopian Airline, South African Airways, and Singapore Airline doing well? If the performance of the Power Holding Company of Nigeria is anything but satisfactory because, as it is often explained, it is government-owned, why is the state-owned power company Eskom of South Africa doing reasonably well? Why is the NNPC not what it should be when other state-owned petroleum companies like Petrogas of Brazil and Petronas of Malaysia are world class? These questions underscore the importance of management science.

All of us here are daily confronted with serious management questions in our offices. A professor of fine and applied art who is appointed the vice chancellor of a university may not have time for his sculpture or painting any more, as he grapples with challenges of bank charges on credit facilities extended to his institution, of a restive workers’ union, etc. An engineer appointed the head of an engineering organization like NITEL may never have time to practice engineering, as he is preoccupied with human resources, financial management, marketing and public relations issues. Since I left the university system in America to lead the establishment of the Geometric Power in Aba and in Nigeria, I have not had as much time for systems and industrial engineering as I have had for negotiations with local and international financiers and bankers, accountants, community and political leaders, bureaucrats, lawyers and the rest. All this demands considerable management skills.

In view of the critical importance of management in today’s economy I suggest it is made compulsory for all students in the last two years of their undergraduate programmes, irrespective of their areas of specialization. It should also be compulsory for post graduate students. The idea is not to make all university graduates in Igboland professional managers, but to enable them to acquire basic theoretical knowledge of what obtains in the larger society, whether they work as doctors or engineers or journalists or civil servants or entrepreneurs.

Other courses which should be made compulsory in the higher institutions in Igboland are English and communication as well as philosophy, especially ethics and logic. We must ask, what happened to the civic classes in primary schools? We are choosing English because it is the lingua franca in Nigeria. I do not think there is anyone who disputes that the quality of expression and communication has deteriorated alarmingly in Nigeria since the mid 1980s when Professor Michael J.C. Echeruo, while serving as the vice chancellor of the Imo State University, bemoaned that contemporary Nigerian students “are suffering from intellectual kwashiorkor.” It is common to find undergraduates speak and write “I doesn’t know. As for that boy, he don’t know and he don’t care to know”. Even people with the master’s degree in English write “u” rather than “you” in formal and official correspondence. But it has not always been so. Gabriel Okara did not have to see the four walls of the university to become a highly accomplished poet. Elechi Amadi studied physics and mathematics at the University of Ibadan, but emerged a solid novelist and essayist because, like Okara, he acquired enough literary and communication skill at Government College, Umuahia.

I want English and communication to be compulsory in the first two years of an undergraduate programme not because I expect every graduate of a higher institution in Igboland to compete with the Chinua Achebes, the Wole Soyinkas, the JP Clarks, the Chukwuemeka Ikes, the MJC Echeruos, the Ben Obumselus, but because I want every graduate to have the skill to express himself or herself without tremendous difficulty. A good engineer or skilled doctor who is an assistant director in the ministry but cannot express himself or herself would feel grossly inadequate; he or she may never get to the top. Such a person would even find it difficult to present a paper even in his field before his colleagues. How can such a person defend the ministry’s budget before legislators if appointed a minister or commissioner? Can the person make effective contributions on the floor of the House if elected a lawmaker?

The next course that should be compulsory in the first or second year is philosophy, with emphasis on ethics and logic. Nigeria is a low trust society because of the low stock of social capital. Rampant corruption, for instance, is the greatest impediment to the country’s emergence as a major power. Things will get out of hand if deadly campus cult members are allowed to grab the reigns of power. It is, therefore, incumbent on us to work towards making ethics a compulsory course for all undergraduates for the first two years, irrespective of the discipline of specialization. Let the virtues of integrity, honesty, patience, loyalty, selfless service, working for the common good, delayed gratification (as opposed to instant gratification, as we see with most of our political leaders) be inculcated in them. It is gratifying that the Pan African University in Lagos emphasizes ethics in its MBA curriculum.

Logic is the branch of philosophy concerned with critical reasoning. And if there is anything our people need right now, it is critical reasoning. Many of us have strangely become naïve, gullible, too believing, irrational and superstitious. The ability of some otherwise educated people to evaluate issues in a reasonable manner leaves much to be desired. There are people with advanced degrees who cannot go to their towns and villages because they have been warned by a witch doctor or evangelical pastor that all their kinsmen are vampires. A few years ago the nation was enveloped by a show of shame as international broadcasters showed footage of frightened male bankers, corporate executives and other professionals in the streets of Lagos putting their hands firmly in their pockets in broad daylight to prevent their genitals from disappearing while their female counterparts used headscarves to cover their chests so as to protect their breasts from escaping into thin air. It was strongly believed that there were some elements patrolling the streets of Lagos who were using magical power to take away the organs of people –by merely touching their victims– and used them to prepare charms for acquisition of sudden wealth or political power or both. Absurd as the belief appeared, some people were hacked to death on suspicion that they had successfully caused some others to lose their vital organs. We are living in interesting times. In this era of hyper religiosity but little spirituality, do not be surprised if a professor of electrical engineering tells you that the ultimate solution to the electricity crisis in Nigeria is to consult two or three “powerful men of God who will cast out all the marine spirits, witches and wizards in high and low places and bind them after two days of dry fasting and dangerous prayers”. We truly do need a paradigm shift.

My suggestion for new courses or strengthening of existing ones in higher education in Igboland so as to produce the human capital required to leapfrog development in our place may sound pretty revolutionary, but no one very familiar with the curricular of prestigious universities in the United States would be surprised at it. I am aware that Nigerian universities offer General Studies as a compulsory first year course, but I am afraid that the programme is not well developed.

Earlier in this lecture, I remarked that though Igboland may be carved into different states, we remain one people. The unity of our people should always be uppermost in our collective and individual minds. As someone has noted recently, it would look like a contradiction in terms to be deeply concerned with the Nigerian national unity without, first, achieving Igbo unity. Can we really take an introspective look and beat our chest in satisfaction in respect of unity amongst Igbo people?

The Igbo people are proud of their past, of their liberal disposition and accommodating tendencies even when Nigeria was dismissed elsewhere as a mere geographical expression. A Nigerian citizen of northern extraction named Umoru Altine was in the First Republic elected mayor of Enugu, the political capital of Ndigbo. In the Second Republic, Governor Jim Nwobodo of Anambra State struggled with Governor Solomon Lar of Plateau State over whether Mrs Janet Akinrinade would serve as a commissioner in Anambra or Plateau State following the collapse of the working accord between the ruling National Party of Nigeria and the Nigerian Peoples Party. Mrs Akinrinade, an NPP member, became a minister in the Shehu Shagari administration on the basis of the accord, so when it failed she left the government. Chief Nwobodo, in addition, appointed indigenes of what is now called old Imo State into key positions in old Anambra State. They included the Director of Information, Sampson Amaku, and the governor’s Special Assistant on Information, Chike Egbuna. Some of the most popular and powerful figures in the Anambra Television Authority were Onyeka Onwenu and Dan Ibekwe, indigenes of Imo State. Why can’t we continue with such appointments in order to deepen Igbo unity? I honestly subscribe to the view that every Igbo state should be home to all Igbo people.

Now, back to the theme of this lecture proper. Nigeria is a nation of some 140million people. It currently generates about 5000 megawatts of electricity, according to the latest figure released by the Ministry of Power. According to the Minister, this means that the PHCN may well meet President Yar’Adua’s target of the country generating 6 000mw by the end of 2009. But the PHCN cannot evacuate all the electricity because of the poor state of the transmission infrastructure. Distribution facilities are not better. By 2012, the government hopes to increase the output to 10 000mw, and consequently stabilize power supply. Still, experts consider this target not good enough, all the more so for a country that wants to be among the 20 biggest economies in the world. South Africa, a country of less than 50m people, generates some 43 000mw.

In a lecture to mark the 10th anniversary of Toyota Nigeria Limited in 2006, I made the following observation:

“There is little chance that Nigeria can achieve mid-level economy with its population without significant diversification of both its export products and its domestic consumer products. In Germany, there are over 2 million different products sold by the country each year, and automobiles of all kinds are just one single product. Germany is the country that produces Mercedes Benz, BMW, Porsche, and Volkswagen; and yet all these products constitute a single product. A country such as China which is a relatively new economy can boast of a diversified economy where its exports to the United States alone annually amounts to over 600 billion dollars.

I crave your permission to conclude this lecture by repeating a story I narrated on the Igbo Day of 2007. It is a story of two friends who studied chemical engineering and went on to receive MBAs from a prestigious university in America. Kaouglu is Turkish while his friend John is Nigerian. John always came first in class while his friend Kaouglu was usually second. Both had made a pact upon leaving school that they would both set up in their various countries a plastic pipe manufacturing business after 5 years of gaining experience from a pipe manufacturing company in America.

Industrialization Requirements

The Nigerian returned to Nigeria and proceeded quickly to employ his skills to building a company he called Niger Plastic Pipes Limited (NPPL), whose primary purpose is to manufacture plastic pipes for domestic use and export. His Turkish counterpart established a company he called Istanbul Polymer Pipes (IPP) with the same objective.

In the first place, John found no difficulty registering Niger Plastic Pipes as a limited liability company. His challenges however started after he developed a bankable business plan. He found that he could not borrow money because he had no collateral. After trying for about a year, the Managing Director of a bank who knew his father, mother and grand parents on both sides decided to take a chance on him, but for a price…his interest rate would be 21%! He was so excited he immediately called his friend in Turkey who told him that he had gone very far in building his factory…that with his own bankable business plan, his education etc, the Turkish Small Business Administration was able to guarantee a loan for him at a significantly reduced rate of LIBOR + 2% which came to approximately 5% after all costs had been calculated. Immediately John knew that he would have serious problems competing with his friend in the international market selling plastic pipes. He however felt that he could balance out with labor costs, he employed frenetic energy to catch up.

He acquired land but suddenly just when he was about to clear the land, the youths of the area appeared! He had to negotiate with them, and it took him the greater part of one month to arrive at an agreement which included employing 20% of his staff from the local area. The community leaders would send him those to employ whenever they wanted, regardless of his requirements.

He quickly ordered his equipment. When they arrived at the port, he found that he had to pay huge bribes to clear them from the port.

He was counting on the local government to provide him with access road to his factory especially with the investment he was bringing to the area. He was surprised to find out that he had to build a half kilometer access road to his factory which would cost him a lot of money if he were to tar it. He therefore decided to compromise and use gravel.

He finally brought his equipment and proceeded to build his factory. In the business plan, he was counting on the electric power company to provide him with adequate, reliable quality electricity for his factory. The location of his factory is near the urban area, so it has public electricity.

In his plan he needed to hire two expatriate engineers. One key requirement for them was healthcare of the quality obtained in their country, United Kingdom. He found that he could not obtain anywhere, the sort of quality healthcare his expatriate engineers would trust. Therefore, for minor illnesses, they would have to be flown abroad for treatment. But he was determined to get this industry started especially since he could get rid of the expatriates after a couple of years of training the local staff at his plant.

He employed four engineers to understudy the two expatriates. He found that on paper, they all looked very good, each had a first class or second class upper in engineering, but after their first month of working in the company, he discovered that two of them did not really understand basic engineering and with the stories he heard, he concluded that they must have obtained their certificates by “sorting out” their lecturers. The other two had basic theoretical knowledge and were willing to learn. The company decided to invest further resources in training them.

The location of NPPL is such that they could get easy access to telephone services but it would take up to a month to connect them, unless they provided cash incentives to the workers, which they did, and were quickly connected. They found however that they would receive bills which were very bloated and management could not understand how they incurred such large bills. After some investigations, they found out that their lines had been compromised and they had other non-company users on the same line, but they had to pay!

Finally, NPPL quickly discovered that they could not rely on the public electricity company. Their process would suddenly be interrupted without notice, requiring the scrapping of all the raw materials in the production process and subsequent delay in order to clean the equipment for new raw materials after the plant cools down. Each interruption cost them about two hours. So they decided to invest in generators. Their calculation showed that they needed about half a mega watt of electricity to operate their manufacturing plant. They decided to invest in power generating engines totalling one mega watt. For reliability, they bought three engines (1 x 400KVA engine, and 2 x 300KVA engines).

John was now happy because he believed that he was in control of his future. However, he subsequently realized that he was now also in the power production business and had to deal with the logistics of diesel delivery to run his generators. He also quickly found out that the diesel supplier would collude with his staff to under-supply him with diesel at the same price. After operating his generators for a few months, he found that it cost him approximately N45.00 (forty five Naira) to generate one unit of electricity whilst supply from the public electric company or a private electricity producer dedicated for that purpose, where available, could sell him electricity for one quarter of that amount! After about two years of struggles with finance, road, boreholes for water supply, telecommunications, the youths, retraining of staff, and supply of electricity, his company was now operational, and producing plastic pipes.

After about 6 months of commercial operation, a gang of 20 armed youths raided his plant. They came prepared with a vehicle and tools to cart away the company safe and dispossessed every worker with whatever money they had. They also took the vehicles of the top management staff and vanished. All reports to the police and efforts to find the robbers and recover their property came to futility. The next morning after the robbery, the two expatriate staff members announced their immediate departure back to the United Kingdom for good!

Our friend, the dedicated Nigerian investor John had now been “baptized” in the challenges of doing business in Nigeria. He decided to take a vacation to Turkey to see how his friend was doing. On arrival there, he found that his friend had been producing pipes for 3 years and was getting electricity at less than half of his price in Nigeria. He had superbly trained technical and dedicated staff as well as staff at all other levels. Kaouglu also informed him that the Turkish government had eagerly provided all sorts of incentives for him, including the access road, pipe-borne water, significantly reduced taxes, and that he never has any fear for his life or property.

John became certain that his friend’s company IPP was now way ahead of NPPL. The company was now expanding with much support from the relevant authorities in Turkey. Their product was internationally competitive. NPPL could no longer compete with IPP.

John took time to reflect on his predicament and his experience. He thought to himself, it certainly was not his intellectual capability that was the problem since he was ahead of his friend in school; it was not his energy level or his business acumen either since he performed better than his friend Kaouglu at the American pipe company where both gained their experience, so he concluded that it must be the Nigerian environment. He then narrowed it down to lack of adequate infrastructure in most of the relevant areas and policy inconsistencies by the government.

John started to consider the option of returning to America where he would still command high salary in the private sector. But then he began to wonder whose responsibility it is to rescue the 140 Million Nigerians, many of whom have the same basic intellectual capability as he, though without the good fortune of having studied abroad. He felt that if all those who met with his experience just cut and run, the country would never develop, therefore Nigeria would continue to flounder, and so would Africa, and so would the Black race. John being a focused man and a believer in his country Nigeria decided he would go back and face the challenges with greater caution and mitigate against them.
Since I told this story, my company in Aba has experienced similar challenges as John and many more.

Distinguished ladies and gentlemen, as we go forward here today, we should be asking ourselves, how our children will interpret our footprints in the sands of time. Shall we say that the odds are too great, we could not mobilize ourselves to formulate an agenda to make their world a more civilized, secure and prosperous one? Will we say that the forces of Nigerian life and our own personal interest militate against their heritage of prosperity and respect, and we send them our deepest regrets?

I believe that we will not leave them with an empty basket when we did not find an empty one upon our arrival here on earth. I believe that we will weave an iron basket that is even bigger and stock it with all sorts of amenities; so that tomorrow they will be talking of what their forbearers left them with great pride.

If this is to be achieved, we must evolve a method which rejects the notion, “if it is not me, then no one else, ” and adopt one that builds our brothers and sisters as we build ourselves. Igbos must begin to dream mighty collective dreams – the realization of which – greatly empowers the whole in fantastic synergistic ways.

I refuse to accept the idea that the Igboman is going to remain a mere ‘workabee,” a hewer of wood in the vast forest of Nigeria. I refuse to accept that the Igbos are so tragically bound to the starless midnight of un-cooperation and selfishness that the bright daybreak of Igbo land becoming the African Tiger can never become a reality.

I believe that even amid today’s individualism and its attendant self centeredness, the Igbo man has it inscribed in his genetic makeup that he is a republican being; and that republicanism is synergy; and that synergy is far greater than the individual elements in disarray.

I believe that our quest for political leadership of this country is quite achievable if we agree to refocus ourselves, and take our fate in our own hands: employ all the great gifts God bestowed on us – incredibly talented people, great natural resources – and put them to our collective use in ensuring that future generations of Igbos can be proud to be born here. The Jews have done it so eloquently even with a population that is one quarter of ours. Aside from being dominant in the Middle East, their own have achieved top cabinet posts in America and other nations. Many ethnic groups have done it too.

• Let us be the minds to dream up the tools and technologies that power Nigerian and Sub-Sahara Africa development
• Let us be the hands that mold the economic landscape of Nigeria for our own prosperity and that of the whole Nigerian nation.
• Let it be that whenever we send someone to the federal government, the person must be one of our first ELEVEN— just as the nation admires our best when we put our bests.
• Let us set ourselves goals similar to what J. F. Kennedy set for his people: that they will land someone on the moon within a decade.

I am confident that we can build that finely tuned unstoppable region that will be admiration of others, if we can find the WILL.

I am looking forward to seeing that day. It will be a day filled with reflections of our trials and tribulations along the road to our common salvation. It will be a day of joy for how we overcame great odds in our way and became a people of great dignity, strength and compassion, and of course prosperity. Now, I ask you, let us seize the moment and realize this dream sooner than later and travel the good road to respect, competence and know-how.

Let each one of us think of what we can do to help us take a few steps towards this good road. Each person has
responsibility to move us forward along this road. Together, we can make some giant strides along this road and build a new Igbo civilization that is a benchmark of progress and development around the world. Let us crown the Obama sentiment: We can because we can!!

May God give us the eyes to see our way, the ears to hear the truth, and the will to find the answer.
Thank you.

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