By John Mayaki
Edo State is more than ever before becoming a cynosure of not only all who have eyes for enduring development, but also for organisations and institutions which are concerned with the business of human and infrastructural development anywhere it is genuinely taking place. The reality of this was evident in the recent visit of the officials of the Bank of Industry (BOI) to the helmsman in Edo State, Governor Godwin Obaseki.
In his remarks during the visit, the Managing Director of the bank, Mr. Kayode Pitan, cut to the chase and said that their bank sees in the State Government of Edo a dependable partner and as such remains committed to working with it to complement its development efforts. The MD noted specifically that the bank was ready to support the medium and small-scale enterprises in the state and other major companies. “We are putting together a package to raise substantial funding from 500 billion to one trillion for us to move forward what government is doing,” he revealed.
BOI’s partnership with the state, the Mr. Pitan observed, has been on for some years. The renewal of the corporation, as he explained, was predicated on the need to expand the frontiers of development. Said he: “Part of the reason for our coming here is for us to show we can move this partnership to a higher level. We want to see how we can expand the scope of what we are doing in Edo State. We would like to know the areas of emphasis of your administration and how we can partner with the state to help industrialists, the market women, people who have small businesses and how to work to move the state forward.”
That request of BOI to know the prioritised areas of development of the government he heads was all Governor Obaseki needed to fire on all cylinders. He was comprehensively articulate in his presentation. The ease and readiness with which he outlined those core areas his administration is working on for the good of the people evidenced a leader who is clear about what should be done to make governance meaningful to the people. He comes clearly across as a man with a workable plan for truly beneficial programme for the people of Edo.
Not one to speak tongue in cheek, the governor first clarified that the state’s collaboration with the BOI as the MD recalled had not yielded the full expectations “for several reasons”. He acknowledged that the progress the state had made in the last eight years was due to the efforts of “the visionary leader we had in the person of Comrade Adams Oshiomhole, who worked on key challenge of expanding the political space, because everything starts with politics. Without a stable political environment, it will be difficult to have economic growth.”
He moved on to outline what stands Edo State out as a viable investment destination: “As you know, Edo State is so strategically located within the context of Nigeria and that’s why it’s called ‘the Heart Beat’. With a landmass of approximately 20 million square kilometres, over 70 per cent of it is arable. We have swamp, rain forest and Savannah. So, in reality, there is no crop that we cannot sustain in Edo State in addition to our water bodies. We have about 263 mining licences which span a whole variety of solid minerals. We have approximately 4.2 million people with an annual growth rate of three per cent, which is typical of Nigeria.”
He spelt out to his visitors that, “in terms of GDP” rating among the states in Nigeria, Edo is about “the sixth and our goal is to push to be among the top three in the next four years. Our state capital, Benin City, is one of the top 10 cities in the country in terms of population and the one key advantage we have is that we are a nodal state and a logistic hub. Because of our location, you cannot go from the Western part of Nigeria to the East or Southsouth without coming through Edo State. There is also an access to the North. From our logistic standpoint, we are right there as a node.”
As for infrastructure, the governor did not fail to regale his audience with how his state set the pace. With the deep understanding of one who was not out to impress, this capable administrator pointed out that “Edo State is perhaps the only city that has the connectivity in terms of national road infrastructure. Other infrastructure like the electricity network and transmission network follow the same pattern. So, you have the lines transmitting power from generating plants from Delta into Benin and from here it’s distributed across the country. The gas network also follows the same trend. We have a gas hub, Oben. It’s the largest gas aggregation and distribution point in the country and it’s in Benin”.
Moreover, his administration, he explained, prioritises investment in infrastructure, “considering all the key advantages we have. For us as a government, our role is not to be involved in business. Our role is to create a suitable environment that enables businesses and industries to thrive. The other advantage we have is manpower, better than any other country in the world”. He added, “Our other core advantage is electricity, using gas to drive electricity. On the large end is Azura power plant, and it’s due for completion by March next year. So, between the first and second quarter of next year, we would have 900 megawatts power”.
He has a point to emphasise about electricity as it concerns the progress of the state: “When you think about electricity generation, that it cost you a million dollars a kilometre of gas line and a million dollars a kilometre of transmission line, it therefore makes economic sense that when both intercepts, it’s an ideal place to generate electricity. In addition, we are one of the very few states whose gas is onshore – the bulk of the gas in Nigeria is either in the swamps or offshore. We then have an opportunity to locate generating plants right on the gas fields to generate electricity.”
Should anyone has any doubt about the focus of his administration, the governor made it clear that under his watch the state is becoming one-choice stop for manufacturers and industrialists. According to him, “We have seen a lot of people, including some of the biggest manufacturers in Nigeria today, now locating and setting up warehouses and parks in Edo, from where they can quickly distribute their products to the other parts of the country. We intend to create trailer parks and hubs. The Shippers Council has come to find a location for that. Our development drive also involves creation of zones in the area of solid minerals. The Honourable Minister of Solid Mineral Resources is coming to help us drive the workshop on solid minerals.”
No stone, Governor Obaseki to his visitors, would be left unturned in improving the fortunes of the state. He said that his administration was making meticulous efforts to maximise the use of the resources and opportunities available in the state. The big picture, he added, is to transform Edo into a really “modern and progressive state where every citizen is empowered with the opportunity to live life to its fullest”. It is for this reason that citizens’ participation, which he argued was critical to lasting development, becomes a key focus of the current administration. For an “inclusive and sustainable prosperity”, citizens must be effectively mobilised and carried along.
The governor equally spoke on the criticalness of institution reforms to the development he and his team are working towards. He contended that without it, no development would endure. As he maintained, since he gained office, he has initiated a couple of reforms in the various institutions in the state. For him, economic prosperity, the type that will bring vast change to the state, would only be feasible if institutional reforms are concretised.
Functional education is another area Governor Obaseki identified as the focus of his administration. He told his BOI guests that education constitutes the bedrock of the development he is carefully working out for the people of the state. “It is the key,” he stressed, “to the development we are seeking to achieve”, noting further that “basic education is the foundation on which every development will rest and it is one area we are emphasising without apologies. If you do not fix the basic education system at the public level, whatever we are doing will not work. We are lunching the teachers’ training programme immediately schools go into vacation this summer. We can talk about industrialisation and all the things we want to do, but if you are not training the children to be engineers, to have the tools to engage, then we will be wasting money.”
As anyone knows, the present administration in Edo pays premium attention to agriculture as a driver of economic growth and prosperity. It is one initiative that Governor Obaseki took off with after his swearing-in in November last year. He furnished the BOI top brass with some of the major steps his administration has been taking in that sector. Among other points, he expounded that “Presco and Okomu are located in Edo State and our thinking is to encourage large commercial farms as a means of sustaining the smaller farmers because they bring in farming practises and all the things you need to do to grow agriculture.
“Our goal is to work with large farmers who understand what to do, who have the capacity to invest and will now support the smaller farmers. In the area of agriculture, we ran a series of lectures and we have come to the conclusion that what we need to do is help de-risk part of the agricultural chain. And today, we have about 3000 hectares for maze farmers this season. Cassava is our goldmine. Cassava is water and we are doing water and power together. In rubber production, we are the largest rubber producing state. We intend to continue to grow that by making more land available for it.”
The governor did add that his administration is minding environmental development gravely to avoid a repeat of some of the losses of the past. “In the 1963 figures,” he explained, “we had one of the largest farm reserves. Unfortunately today, we have less than five per cent of our forest reserves left, and that is creating serious environmental challenges for us. We never used to have erosion problems. This is why we are emphasising environmental sustainability.”
There are also the industrial clusters being created in the state “because of the advantage in electricity. We are looking at electricity in large and small spectrums. From Ologbo we have partner and have signed a PPA with OSSOMON Power. The power will be used for government lightings and public facilities like street lights. Because of the transmission line available, we would then be able to feed a few industrial areas. We have found out that on that gas corridor, Chinese company is already located. So what we want to do as a government is to enable and stimulate it some more.”
One other area the Edo State Government is looking to modernise the state involves issue of water. In a recent visit he paid to the water installation facility in the state, the governor said he was shaken by what he saw. The summary of what he was confronted with at that facility is that he was challenged to see to it that something meaningful is done to revamp that sector. To this end, he said State Government was ready to work with any willing investor in that area. With “the right investment,” he reasoned, “we will be able to supply pipe-borne water” across the state.
Housing matter was not excluded in the governor’s discussion with his callers. He told them, “Because of our location, we have been inundated with proposals. We have done flyover Benin City and we are flying over the state. So we have enough special data to do planning and other things investors need and require to make decisions.”
Similarly, he talked about the renewed interest his administration is according the tourism sector. Being itself a money spinner wherever it is taken seriously, the Edo government is poised to generate good money from that sector, hence the attention being given to it. To make sure that nothing upset the plan, the governor disclosed that security in and around the state was being more seriously engaged. For, as he argued, tourism cannot flourish in an insecure orbit.
Governor Obaseki also explained the plan of his administration on healthcare to his partners in development matters. In his words, “We as well need to revamp our healthcare system. We have the University of Benin Teaching Hospital. We have psychiatric hospital and other hospitals. We rebuilt part of our hospital last year and it is ready. We are getting investors on PPP basis to now run the hospital and focus on the treatment of the ailments which most of our people go abroad to take care of. By the end of this year, that will kick off.”
The role of technology in socioeconomic development came up in the governor’s account. “Our development drive does not exclude technology,” he disclosed to the BOI team. “We are effectively involved in the use of technology. We are working with Google Earth, Facebook and others. We are rebuilding our Benin Technical College to put in an industrial cluster there because it is close to a lot of schools and also expect that we can nurture it into a small Silicon Valley for young people to go and enjoy themselves.”
Will Edo in the time of Governor Obaseki have shopping malls? Here is his answer: “As for commercial retail outlets, we do not have any big one here yet. But as we speak, there are four transactions that have passed incubation stage and hopefully in the next six months we should see construction commencing for at least one or two shopping malls.”
Being so committed to upping the ante of all-inclusive development, the governor revealed that a renewed relationship, one that would be “radically different from what has been”, with the BOI was inevitable. “We want to be smarter in managing the limited resources we have,” he emphasised. It is for this reason that the government is teaming up with institutions like BOI and other similar ones. The partnership, squarely, is for the rewarding progress of Edo State.