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Warri industrial business park a post amnesty tool to ease youth unemployment

By Omoh Gabriel, Business Editor
Warri was a beehive of activities on Thursday the 18th of February. It was the day the Delta state government unveil to the public and investors its pent project, the Warri Industrial business Park. Many Nigerians travelled from far and near to give support to the state government.  On the morning of the event the governor had an interactive session with Business Editors from Lagos. The Governor who was in a hurry to attend to state matters in Sapele before the actual event billed for 11 am met with journalist as early as 7 am. Below are excerpts of the interaction.

What is the idea be
hind this project and what is meant to achieve?
As you all know, this administration came in on the 29th of May 2007 and at that time it was all about crisis, crisis, crisis every where in the Niger Delta, and of course this being part of the region it was at the middle of the crisis.

So we have to put up an agenda to be able to deal with the situation, a three point agenda of peace and security, human capital and infrastructural development. As we all well know, these three point agenda are interwoven, without peace you can not develop infrastructure and without infrastructure human capital can not be developed.|

Our ultimate is economic development; to be sure that a lot of our youths gain employment, that a lot of our people are employed. If you have a lot of our youths employed the few that will be left to be recruited for criminal activities will be reduced to the barest minimal. These are our strategies for the three point agenda.

To be able to achieve economic development and attract investors there are certain basic things we require in terms of infrastructure. As we all know in Nigeria the most crucial thing to attract investor is infrastructure, power for instance has been a big issue.

What is the state government offering in terms of infrastructure at the proposed park?
The federal government through Obasanjo administration has attempted to construct Independent Power plants and the administration of Yar’ adua also took over from there. Despite   the deficiencies of the National Independent power plant, Delta state has been part of it. We have contributed N15.9 billion to the  project so far.

At the state government level we are also embarking on our own independent power plant, which we have already started. It will give us an initial 100 megawatts of power. We will continue to add modular of 50 megawatts until we get to 450 megawatts.

We are hoping that with that plant and the one from the federal government we will get improved  power supply for both individuals and industries in the state.

The second strategy in terms of infrastructure of course is transportation.
For us it is very key, airports, roads, railways and ports. For the sea ports it is federally regulated issue, railway it is also federally regulated, ports and even the airports are all federal structures. Even the key roads that we required for industrialisation are all federal. Every thing about transportation is federal but there is no way we can wait for the federal government to do all of these.

We have started the construction of   Asaba Airport, the town being on the other side of Onitsha, which is a big economic zone, we intend to use Asaba as our economic hub and the airport will take advantage of this huge economic zone. The airport will be completed in another three to four months and plane will start flying in there, so by May commercial operation flights will commence in Asaba.

In the case of Warri airport, the Osubi air strip has a very short run way which has been operated by Shell Petroleum Development Company, all along. We have been trying to get Shell to release the air strip to us. We had initial difficulty persuading them to accept our position but we now agree that we should construct a second run way of about 3.4 kilometers to take bigger planes. This is for the airport infrastructure. The roads infrastructure, we have started the Asaba Ughelli dualisation, taking advantage of Warri Port Harcourt dualisation.

Now, why are we doing  all  of this, we realised that Warri Port can be busy, during the crisis it was virtually empty but now it has picked up and it can do more. Onitsha market traders, who are the big importers in this country, instead of using other ports by going through Benin _ Ore Shagamu road that will take them days, we believe they can bring their goods through the Warri ports and in one and a half hours they can get to Onitsha and so. But to do that we needed good roads that is why we are dualising the road, again it is a federal government road but we are dualising the road.

The second road we are dualising is the Igbedu  Koko road, Koko road is the road from Benin to Sapele. There is a place  called Igbedu that road is going to Koko which is another port, again it is a federal government road we are dualising it. So the transport infrastructure we are paying attention to them all in a bid to attract investors. The third infrastructure we are paying attention to is the ICT.

ICT is now very key in the development process so we have an ICT village close to Asaba in addition to what we have been doing to ensure that our people have the knowledge of ICT. The fourth is the town beautification in which we are trying to make the town as habitable as possible.

We have started with Asaba and Warri. These are what we are doing in terms of infrasteructral development to attract investment into the state. Having said all of these we still require areas to be designated in the state where you have concentration of industries. Now the advantage of this is you designate an area with the entire infrastructure in place, investor will just come like carry their brief case literary and establish their. That is the idea behind designating an area as industrial cluster, and Warri Industrial Business Park is one of the industrial clusters that we have identified in Delta state.

We still have a place in Kwale that we have mapped out as industrial cluster, then another very close to Asaba. Now, in each such industrial clusters we intend to put down the basic infrastructure like water, power, and roads and map it out. Like I said what an investor need do is come and set up his factory. For the Warri Industrial Business Park we have mapped out an area that will serve as industrial business park.

What have we done so far in that area, we called in a consultant from Singapore from an international firm of planners to  plan it out for the state. He came in Last year, did all the studies, and got all the information  required and went back to Singapore and started the planning. As at today the plan is ready that is why we are doing the unveiling today for people to look at.

We have also invited investors so that they will look at it if there is one or two issues they will raise it and the consultant will go back and work on the final master plan. We have also engaged KPMG as the other consultants to do the feasibility studies  which will also be presented today. We believe that the Warri Industrial Business Park, yes it is a designated area, the fall out will definitely affect the larger Warri town in terms of development.

Basically and in summary this is why were are all here today to unveil the proposed Warri Industrial Business Park
Are you assuring investors of security considering the volatile nature of the region and the threat to peace by MEND, how do you intend to sell this industrial park to foreign investors?

Let me tell you this, when you people (media) talk about MEND some of us get a little bit irritated because MEND is a media out fit, it is a media creation. Tell me who is MEND and I will tell you that there is nothing like MEND existing as of today.

We had youths who were agitating and some people took advantage of it and started talking about MEND. We have gotten beyond that stage and I want to appeal to Nigerians that for us to be able to move forward as a Niger Delta region we must play down on trying to popularise MEND and that kind of thing. Mr. President, that is President Yar’ Adua when he was still around had given amnesty to the youths of the Niger Delta and all of them; I mean all of them accepted the amnesty. There are still issues that have to be dealt with, post amnesty issues; they are challenges which are still there.

The Niger Delta is not worse than any other region in the world in terms of security, as you are going out of this country as you come down in any air port around the world,  you see armed men, armed police, sometimes soldiers, whether it America or the United Kingdom, this implies that there is insecurity in those places. But that has not stopped investment in these other places.

Irag today people are still rushing there. South Africa is worse in terms of insecurity but it is hosting the world cup. Until the Africa Nations cup was hosted by Angola and the Togolese team was attacked, nobody knew there was that level of insecurity. Nigeria hosted the world youth tournament was any body attacked? So what are we talking about? In terms of investment what the Central Bank of Nigeria Governor, Sanusi Lamido Sanusi said is good corporate governance.

Insecurity does not stop investment but lack of good governance can. What we require not just in the Niger Delta region but the entire nation Nigeria is to ensure we have good governance. If we have good governance investors will come. The America world trade center was attacked, burnt what insecurity can be higher than that have foreign investors stopped going to America to invest? Having said that, as far as youths in the Niger Delta are concerned, many of them have embraced peace and are ready to work.

We have criminals that have taken over the agitation. This is why I said we should de-emphasize the MEND issue. What is happening and it is what happens every where after a war situation is that you have criminals, as in Somalia today where they take over 15 or 16 ships at a time, so we still have criminals who go to burst pipelines.

In the last few months there has been  increase of burst pipelines. I tell you why, many industries outside the Niger Delta now decides to use crude to power their plants and machines since they can not get fuel. The fuel scarcity has led to increase in the bursting of pipelines. The bursting of these pipelines before is for the export of crude, it has become very difficult for them to export stolen crude.

But unfortunately,  many of Nigeria industries have resorted to the use of crude to power their plants and other machines. So they are now encouraging bunkering in this area. We as government are putting together measures to stop illegal bunkering. So help us to appeal to industries that are outside the Niger Delta  that are encouraging this kind of illegal bunkering to stop encouraging the act, I know that once a pipeline is burst open by illegal bunkering you get an e-mail that MEND has attacked an oil facility. Tell me who MEND member is and let us engage ourselves.

What is the ownership structure of the industrial Park is it owned by the state?
It is a public private partnership arrangement. PPP is the vehicle or the driver of the project. The Delta state government is just a part owner.

In terms of the funding, the Infrastructure will be put there by  Delta state government, as of today KPMG is still working on the total figure that will be required to put infrastructure in place there. We are ready as a state to put those infrastructures in place. If by the time we get the figures we do not have the cash because of competing needs we will source for the funds. The CBN governor is working on an arrangement that will ensure long term funding in the financial service sector for infrastructure. We would like to take advantage of that program and we must thank him for that initiative. If he is able to get some long term funding of course we will key into it to be able to develop our infrastructure not just the industrial park but others.

What is the assurance that this initiative will not be abandoned when you are no longer in government?
That is why the project is being carried out outside the government. I have said that the vehicle to drive the project is not a government vehicle; government might just have shares in it. It is going to be more of a private arrangement.

Right now the process of planning is not in government. It a private outfit as you will notice Arco Petrochemical is involved in the arrangement.  Whether I am in government or not once the legal issues are dealt with any body coming after me will continue with the project.

What happened to government project in the past was that they were directly run by government and once any other government comes into power that does not believe in the project they just kill it.

How much interest has local and foreign investors shown in the project?
In terms of interest like I said we are still at the planning stage but from our interaction with KPMG there has been a lot of interest, they were telling us yesterday that as many as 34 companies have indicated interest in the project.
But we will actually know when all the plans are ready. We are sourcing for an anchor tenant; it is very likely we will get a fertilizer plant to Warri Industrial park. Once we get that done many other industries will follow. Why we are very optimistic is that the area is very close to the raw material which is gas that is required for fertilizer plant.


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