Is the South South BRACED For Good?
BRACED is an acronym formed from the six South-South states namely: Bayelsa; Rivers, Akwa Ibom; Cross River; Edo and Delta. BRACED is the crystallization of the desire of the leaders of the South-South states to foster deeper socio-economic cooperation and integration amongst the member states. Their decision to work more closely was the result of the first South-South Economic Summit at the Tinapa Business Resort, Calabar, in Cross River State from 22nd to 24th April, 2009 organized by South-South Economic Summit. The BRACED States are to jointly explore the opportunities within the south- south, encourage growth and development, build a strong regional economy and be nationally and globally competitive.
With such a noble vision and series of retreats afterwards, citizens of the BRACED states ought to have started feeling the result of that integration programme especially those aptly described as the low-hanging fruits but it is with regret that I discovered that though the Commission had been in place with a complement of staff not much has been achieved. Even many elite of these member states have at best only had a fleeting mention of BRACED and do not know or understand its vision and purpose. One can only adduce this to either unfavorable political considerations of the leaders or inadequate faith in the laudable vision by leaders of some member states. But the truth is that it is in the interest of all the states to integrate. There are both short term and long term benefits many of which I outlined in my presentation but I will list a few here.
They can leverage their Strengths/attributes which include but are not limited to the following: available and untapped mineral wealth: great land assets; great aqua assets; huge market potential (22 million strong); highly educated and enlightened elite; highly receptive populace and the evolving visionary leadership. Naturally, there are opportunities regional integration for development through leveraging of economies of scale, cross-state development platforms on socio-cultural and economic issues and peer review platform to foster better and deeper cooperation as well as healthy competition in order to create a stronger, bigger and brighter single BRACED brand.
The above will however not be realized unless the BRACED Commission is properly tooled up with adequate staffing, funding, political support and clearly defined mandates. This was aptly captured in the communiqué which emphasized the strengthening of political commitment to the BRACED Initiative by doing the following: (i) Individual States to pass an enabling legislation for the institutionalization of the BRACED Commission agreement. (ii) Individual States should include their share of financial contribution to the BRACED Commission in their annual budgets. The need for the BRACED States to fully fund the regular budget of the BRACED Commission was emphasized. (iii) The BRACED Commission Investment Fund should be established at the earliest opportunity.
For BRACED to deliver on its vision, it must enjoy the unwavering commitment of the political leadership of the states. This includes the Governors, legislators, the judiciary and political appointees of the states. Others are the bureaucratic, economic, intellectual and professional leadership of the constituent states.
As stated in my presentation, however, this buy-in by the various core stakeholders will not be possible unless some social integration projects and programmes are introduced. These are both legacy and enduring projects that will galvanize and bond citizens of the states. They include BRACED Model Schools; BRACED Sports Festivals; BRACED Cultural Festivals; BRACED Radio; BRACED Television; BRACED Trade Fair; BRACED Lottery; BRACED musical Festival and Song Contest and so on. These social properties will be the basis for communications campaigns that will keep BRACED top-of-mind and engender non-prompted recall of the BRACED brand by name, project, programme and purpose.
My love and support for the BRACED initiative is hinged on my desire for a vibrant and virile Nigerian economy especially at the SME level. This is when real growth and prosperity will flourish in the land. I believe that if states are put together in economic clusters the component states will have no choice but to put their best foot forward on all the issues of governance. The political leadership will not only be assessed by the voting public but by peer leadership from other states within the union. There will thus be pressure to perform.
Meanwhile this is wishing the South-South people, which include my humble self, the very best of life in a BRACED world.