BY SAMUEL OYADONGHA
Last week, Bayelsa State hosted its first Investment and Economic Forum.
For the governor, Seriake Dickson, it was an opportunity to explain to the world the giant strides of his administration. Here are excerpts:
How Bayelsa is being made safe for investment
As I took the oath of office as governor, most of the critical initial steps my government took were aimed at building this cardinal imperative upon which our policy thrust as government will be delivered. Accordingly, prime among this was the issue of insecurity, which made it impossible to live and do business in Bayelsa.
By deliberate and determined deployment of legislation and policy, backed by decisive and clear-headed leadership, mobilizing the security asset of our country and the citizenry, our state within the short period of two years has now become one of the safest places to live and do business in the country.
Our investment in the three components of a viable security system, which include people, platform and processes – are undeniably world class, a fact that is clearly attested to by Wikipedia. In this state, we have rolled out statewide security communications across all our communities. We are rolling out with the support of the Electronic Surveillance Law, the first Safe City Programme and work is ongoing for the installation of electronic surveillance equipment across the State.“
We have made investment in the security task force code named Operation Doo Akpor, which is adequately equipped to burst crimes at very short notice with a response time of not more than three minutes, a fact that I authenticate every morning from automatically generated system call logs.
Operation Doo Akpor has become a household name in Bayelsa and beyond because of its services which even go beyond just meeting security distress calls but majorly any kinds of distress calls which has further given the people of the state greater confidence in their abilities. It has earned the reputation of an internationally acclaimed security outfit, having won the best security award in Africa held last year in South Africa. We now have a purpose built command and control centre which coordinates activities of our security unit and receives distress signals on a continuous basis from all over the State.
On the gains of a secure environment
As a consequence of our effort and the huge investment in security, nightlife and businesses have returned to Yenagoa. Indeed, as a result of the prevailing peace, our state is witnessing an influx of people, families and businesses now relocating to Bayelsa. Tourists and investors are daily streaming into the state.
The peaceful and serene atmosphere pervading the entire State is so strong and contagious that it has attracted many prestigious events such as the International Jazz Festival, African Academy Movie Awards (AMAA), Caribbean African American Nations, (CAAN) Music Awards, African Fashion Reception, the Most Beautiful Girl in Nigeria(MGBN) pageant (which you will be witnessing the event during your time here at the end of the forum)among others.“ Every month, the state is hosting one major event or the other without any adverse security situation recorded.
While we are battling with funding on-going projects, we are committed to hitting the Atlantic Ocean where our real wealth lies from three flanks. These projects include a road and rail project fromYenagoa – Ekeremor – Agge, a distance of over 110km where a deep seaport will be built. Feasibility studies and preliminary designs have since been commissioned on the deep seaport and are in the process of being finalized. We have surveyed 20,000hectares of land for this support to host a new port city coming up in that vicinity.
Incorporated within this city will be a Free Trade Zone for which the process of obtaining Federal Government approval has commenced.
The second road is the Yenagoa – Ogbia – Nembe – Brass road and rail project a distance of over 105kmwhere series of investments in the Oil & Gas sector will be taken place connecting the East Senatorial Zone. Projects like the renowned Brass LNG project, Brass Fertilizer Project with investment value of $3.3billion and BP/Banner Gas Gas Aggregation Terminal with Mini LNG will all be taken place along this corridor.
With our renewed support and intervention now, our development partners SPDC/NDDC will be able to take the road from Ogbiato land in Nembe by December 2014.
The third road is the Yenagoa – Oporoma – Koluama road project opening the central senatorial zone and our forest reserves for agricultural business and lumbering.
Our government will be committing the state later this year into a PPP arrangement that will enable the completion of these all important road and rail projects and we seize this opportunity to call on willing partners to co-invest with us on these projects, as the roads when completed will be concessioned and tolled.
Advancement in education
Even more important than physical infrastructure, is our investment in human capital development. At the inception of my government, during my inaugural address, I declared a state of emergency in the educational sector. Knowing the primacy of education as far as the promotion of the economy is concerned, our restoration government in two years has executed major educational programmes, spread across the state, raising real hope of a bright future for our children in the acquisition of quality and requisite education thereby creating a better society.
Today in Bayelsa State, education is free from primary all through to the secondary level. Education is free in every sense of the word as essential materials such as school uniforms; school sandals and textbooks are given to students without a single kobo being paid by them. We have built over 600 primary schools with headmaster’s quarters.
8 model secondary schools and 25 constituency schools with boarding facilities across the state, built from scratch by the restoration government and fully equipped with science laboratories and modern facilities required for 21st century learning. We have in addition re-built and upgraded St. Jude’s Amarata Girls School, the oldest girls’ school in the state and BDGS.
We have expended over N6 billion in the state scholarship programme, where we now have 140Bayelsans are on fully paid government scholarships to study for PhDs in highly rated Universities in Europe and America. In the last two years since the inception of our government, we have been paying W.A.E.C, G.C.E, N.E.C.O, science & technical practical fees and JAMB fees for all our students in the state, which amounts to the tune of over N3.2b.
It is noteworthy to also mention the State’s partnership with the prestigious Lincoln University, Pennsylvania, which aside from our students learning on its campus, also extend technical assistance and support to the state-owned Niger-Delta University.
Indeed, our state is fast becoming the educational hub and epicenter of human capital development in Nigeria especially with the establishment of the following institutions of learning:
•Teachers Training Institute,
•School of Agriculture,
•International Institute for Tourism and Hospitality, Elebele
•International Institute for Driving, Yenagoa
•Music school, Yenagoa
•School of Nursing,
•Re-establishment of BYCAS, to prepare our students for remedial studies and which has now acquired a student population of over 3,000students
•Isaac Jasper Adaka Boro College of Education, Sagbama
•The multi-billion naira Youth Development Centre, Kaiama
•Newly established State Polytechnic, to address vocational and technical education
All of the above institutions are built like universities of their own and require partners to strengthen their curriculum and human capacity to ensure the production of world-class graduates. We are currently partnering with a Canadian Group on our Teacher Training Institute for which work has already commenced in earnest.
Firstly, on Tourism development, it is clear that in the past two years Bayelsa State has consistently hosted world acclaimed events. We have hosted International Jazz Festival, African Academy Movie Awards (AMAA), Caribbean African American Nations (CAAN) Music Awards, African Fashion Reception, the Most Beautiful Girl in Nigeria (MGBN) beauty pageant and a host of other international events.
We have beautiful tourist sites such as the White Man’s graves at Akassa in Brass Local Government Area, beautiful lakes with the famous OX-Bow Lake the only natural OX-Bow Lake in the country, mangrove serene environment with one of the longest coastlines of beautiful white sand beaches. The reason why we are constructing the most ambitious Tourism Island project, a New Yenagoa City with a 20,000 hectare area comprising of choice residential and leisure spots.
Already, the Castle Rock Hotel a 24suite 100 bed six star hotel with an Amphitheater, casino, wellness centre, chapel and other facilities will be completed and commissioned within the next two months; a Golf estate with an 18holeInternational PGA Golf course; a world standard Polo turf and Club; Helipad and Conference Facilities, A film village etc. Our vision is to be the tourism, sporting and conferencing headquarters in Nigeria. A major road show to raise funds for the New Yenagoa City project will commence soon. This project is intended as a private sector led initiative and we invite you all to partner with us to realize it.
We have 3 hotel projects (the Bayelsa Castle rock hotel, Bayelsa Tower hotel and the Ox-bow lake hotel) that will deliver over 500 world class rooms by the end of next year for which we invite willing investors to take advantage of. Our investment team is on hand to organize site visits and inspection to these hotel sites.
Adding value to land ownership
It is interesting to note that we have liberalized the land title system in the state with the setting up of Bayelsa Geographic Information System (BAYGIS) by which we have simplified the process of obtaining Certificate of Occupancy for land titles. Within 60 days, we will be able to process and issue C of Os to cover land titles and I have signed several of them to date already.
The state is also investing in a mortgage bank to enable access to mortgage facilities by our people to easy development of properties for investment, business and residential purposes.
Bayelsa State has comparative advantage in large-scale production of rice, palm produce, aquaculture, banana, plantain, cassava and vegetables. The state has invested in mega aquaculture projects with two Israeli companies, which are presently under construction to produce 3,000 tons of fish annually. Our vegetation is suitable for three cycles of rice production.
We have major rice farms of our own which produces the Restoration brand of Rice. Currently, we have 4,000 hectares of rice farm at Peremabiri, 5,000 hectares at Isampor and 2,000hectares at Kolo. We have the capacity to grow and produce rice that will feed the entire Bayelsa State, Nigeria, West Africa and for export oversea.
We have established in conjunction with Ostertrade Engineering & Manufacturing KFT/DPP International APS, a Hungarian/Danish consortium a cassava starch processing plant with a capacity to produce600 tons of industrial starch per annum and an out growers scheme of 600 hectares cassava farm. We have concluded a seed multiplication farm on a 40 hectares at Ebedbiri for this cassava farm.
The state has a palm plantation of 1,200 hectares with a potential to grow the palm plantation to 2,000 hectares at the current location. In addition, Bayelsa is the natural home of organic banana and vegetables in Nigeria. That is why we are building the Cargo International Airport to prepare the state for the export market. From Bayelsa to anywhere in Europe is less than six hours in flight time.
On power, this is one of the strongest selling opportunities for investment in this state. We are the home of Oil and Gas in Nigeria. Indeed, 40% of the nation’s gas deposit is located here in Bayelsa State. Our aspiration is to be the energy centre of the nation. It is on record that our state is the first to build an Independent power plant in the early 70s in Nigeria, which is still in use today.
The gas turbine investment by previous administration which we are in the process of overhauling and increasing its capacity by an additional 83 megawatts to bring the total capacity to a 100megawatts.
Furthermore, we are pleased to report that the state has attracted the following investment in power as follows:
1. IPP Energy Limited of Canada raising $200m for over 100megawatts.
2. Proton Energy Limited to create 500megawatts.
I have accordingly directed the investment and power teams to conclude all discussions with prospective investors in the power sector to enable us make investments in the sector.
With the availability of power we are projecting by December 2014, it has become imperative to have an industrial layout that will house heavy and light manufacturing investments. This project we expect to commence next month. There is a plan to establish an inland port with warehousing and storage facilities around the corridor linking Bayelsa State and Anambra State to take advantage of the legion of importers and the business community prevalent in the eastern part of the country.
We have surveyed 400 hectares of land for this purpose. Our desire is to build industrial parks with the most modern facilities required for businesses in the modern world today to attract all classes of businesses to the State. We are looking for co – investors to partner with the State to develop these industrial parks and layouts.
One of the greatest problems of this state even with all the developmental strides by our government is the need to get our people engaged in productive enterprise outside of government. Presently in our state, relative to our population, we have the highest number of workforce employed by any state government in Nigeria. As a result we are confronted on a monthly basis with a bloated wage.
We have battled with the issue of payroll fraud and we have been able to reduce it from N6b to N4.3b. Similarly, our political wage bill is also the highest in the country. Even with this, we have a high threshold of political patronage that is not sustainable in anyway and has not proven to be beneficial to the system. There is a limit to government’s patronage.
I know that access to capital is a problem. I also know that not having title is a problem. But we have addressed all these through the measures we have put in place to enable them process title document and have access to capital. We are creating an SME development fund of between N20b to N30b. We expect our people to seize this opportunity to make the transition from seeking and waiting for government jobs and appointments, which is not sustainable, to becoming self-reliant by owning their own businesses.
We have started the development of a cargo and passenger airport in conjunction with the Federal Government, which we intend to complete by the end of 2015. We like to thank the Federal Government for the partnership with the State to construct the Terminal Building of the airport. This airport will open the State to ease of entry and exit from the State which will stimulate traffic into the State.
To further open the State for development we are building a deep seaport at Agge area of Bayelsa State. Bayelsa is in the middle of the Gulf of Guinea and is in prime position to service the countries of the Gulf of Guinea. We look forward to investments in the deep seaport and airport projects.
The health sector is another primary area where there exist opportunities for investment by would be investors. We have invested over N25billion directly into a 380bed hospital with specialist capacities. A world class diagnostic centre. We have built several primary healthcare centres around the state. To ensure quality healthcare for our people, we have established a Health Insurance Scheme, which guarantees demand to healthcare providers in the state. We are looking for partners that will collaborate with us and invest in the provision of other healthcare facilities like Optical clinics, dentistry other healthcare projects.
The State Government is in the process of investing in a Mortgage Bank to ensure access to mortgage for the people of Bayelsa State creating capacity to acquire their own houses. The State Government is investing the sum of N2.5billion to acquire and recapitalize the target Mortgage Bank. Thereafter, the State Government shall be developing a Mortgage Fund in the sum of N25billion to funding the construction of residential and commercial real estate in the State. With these initiatives taken by Government we wish to invite potential investors interested in investing in the housing sector in the State to build residential and commercial real estate for acquisition by people of the State.
The State Government is also interested in the development of an information technology backbone in the State, which will provide facilities for data transmission and telephony services. The State has invested in a telecommunications company called Suntel Telecommunications Limited, which provides broadband, fixed lines and wireless telecommunication services in the State.
Availability of financial services
It is the intention of the State Government to set up a Bayelsa Financial Services Centre (BFSC) to create a centre for the provision of capital and financial services in the State -
The Bayelsa Development & Investment Corporation (BDIC), Establishment of an Oil & Gas/Commodity Trading Market, Business Process Outsourcing and Contact Centres, Role of Bayelsa Development & Investment Corporation (BDIC)