By Festus Ahon & Ochuko Akuopha
WORRIED by the dwindling receipts from oil which has affected it’s monthly allocation, the Dr Ifeanyi Okowa led Delta State Government convocated an Economic and Investment Summit to chart a way for the prosperity of the state.
The summit, the first in the state, which attracted business, financial gurus and top government functionaries from across the country, including Vice President Yemi Osibanjo, Governor Aminu Tambuwal of Sokoto State, Chairman of Zenith Bank, Mr Jim Ovia, former Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, CBN, Prof Charles Soludo among others, was part of activities to mark the 25th Anniversary of the creation of the state and was sponsored by the private sector.
All the speakers at the summit spoke with passion, putting forward ideas on how to diversify the economy of the state.
Plagued by the poor monthly allocation from the Federal Government and internally generated revenue, which is barely enough to run government and execute projects, Governor Ifeanyi Okowa has been working hard on how the economy of the state could improve with or without oil.
On assumption of office, Governor Ifeanyi Okowa set up a very powerful economic team to come up with a very dependable blueprint on how the government and the people could survive looking beyond oil. His SMART agenda is centered around this premise. The job creation office, which he established few days after he resumed office as Governor has trained over 1,500 youths in agriculture and other areas. Of significant note is that at the training, these youths including women were also given starter packs and money to setup businesses in their areas of specialisation.
Besides, the Delta State Government under the watch of Governor Ifeanyi Okowa has created over 7,000 indirect jobs in line with his prosperity mantra and efforts towards making the economy of the state less dependent on oil. Senator Ifeanyi Okowa in the last 15 months of his administration has strengthened and properly positioned the Ministry of Agriculture and the job creation office to effectively and efficiently serve the needs of farmers in the state.
Speaking at the summit, Prof Yemi Osibanjo who flew into Asaba at about 10:30 am from Abuja on the first day of the summit, stressed the need to beef up and strengthen the country’s institutions, noting that peace and security were crucial to economic growth.
“There is a huge dividend when we are able to maintain law and order in the society. When there is security and when there is safety, when people can rely on the police, people can rely on the law enforcement agencies, there is huge dividend on the economy.
“That is not the case when there is no security, people do not want to invest or invest in where they spend so much money on security at the expense of whatever they are producing; So, we need to beef up our institutions, we need to strengthen our institutions”, he said.
Lamenting what he described as a huge trust deficit between leadership and electorates, he said: “people hardly believe their leaders anymore, mostly after years of betrayal of trust, and the truth of the matter is that we cannot really lead especially in difficult economic times where we are projecting an economic future, purely based on trust if the people cannot trust their leadership.
“So I think trust deficit creates a problem and we see that, overtime the trust deficit has increased because, by and large, politicians, people in government have made the people to believe that, whenever a politician speak up or people in government, they must be telling a lie”.
Osibanjo added: “When you create those kind of trust deficit, it is extremely difficult to galvanize people behind the ideas and visions of government, and I think that is very important, that our leadership, both at the Federal or at the sub-national level, that state level, must understand that we must build the trust of our people; and we can only build their trust by ensuring that we are trust worthy ourselves.
“Business move faster when people trust each other. Credit facilities are given to countries and businesses base on trust. Trust plays a critical role but it has to be built overtime. When there is trust, government policies even tough ones will be accepted by the people.
“Let me say that today we all recognize that we are in probably the worst economic crisis in the history of our nation and I am sure that you are familiar with all the facts and figures. Outside of the fall in the oil prices, oil production which stood at about 2.2million barrels per day, has dropped to 1.2 barrels per day; a drop of almost a million barrel per day. So it means that the country is earning almost 60 percent less than it was earning even less than a year ago.
“Vandalization of gas pipelines in Focados in Warri, in Ughelli has led to 60 percent more drop in gas production, which means that the power assets of the country cannot run. As of February 2016, we were producing for the first time in the history of this country, 5000MW but today we are slightly back to about 3500MW and about a month ago we were about half of that, 2500MW.
“An economic of this size, 170 million people, 2500MW does not really make any sense. But we must accept that a lot of the problems that we are experiencing, like I have just mentioned, at least a good part of the problems lies in our hands to solve. A lot of the problems, we can solve.
“I know that with the continuous engagement of the young men in the Niger Delta, who are causing the disruptions and vandalization, we will resolve that and we will be able to move along. But everything else that we are confronted with are problems that we can solve. I believe very strongly that with the
kind of focus and the time of commitment we have, we are going to move out of this problem.”
In his remarks, Governor Ifeanyi Okowa, noted that the State had over the last 25 years, grown to become a strong, vibrant and strategic component of the Nigerian federation and carved a niche for itself as a pioneer in many respects. He noted that with the size of the its economy standing at approximately $24.6 billion, the state was perhaps the fourth largest economy in the country.
The Governor said: “Delta State is perhaps the only state in the federation with multiple urban centres, numbering as many as 12. As a coastal state, it has four sea ports in Warri, Koko, Burutu and Sapele even though about three are challenged at the moment.
“Beyond the pomp and pageantry of Silver Jubilee celebration, it is also an occasion for sober reflection, a time to pause, think deep and chart a new growth trajectory for the future of our great state. It will be superfluous to belabour you with the facts of the current economic crisis. The evidence is all around us.
“The need for foresight, careful planning, innovation and creativity has never been as pressing as today. With our ever growing complexity, disruption and global competition of the 21st century, it is incumbent on us to build a strong, robust and resilient economy that is adaptable to the physical, social and technological changes that are a growing part of the age we live in. We must rise to the challenge now or we lose out.
“As an administration, we are responding to this challenge through policy thrusts and programme priorities conceptualized in our SMART agenda. The SMART agenda embodies policies, programmes and initiatives to aggressively develop the non-oil sector, create wealth, raise entrepreneurial leaders, reduce the worrisome level of youth unemployment, drive rapid infrastructural development and ensure sustain inclusive economic growth and sustainable development.
“Ultimately, our goal is to vigorously develop the non-oil sector of the economy such that they overtake oil and gas as growth drivers. The framework and executional guidelines of the agenda have been articulated in our Delta State Medium Term Development Plan.”
According to him, “to create an investor friendly and healthy business environment, we have sponsored an Executive Bill for the establishment of the Delta State Investment Development Agency. The Bill which is in advanced stage in the Delta State House of Assembly, sets out institutional framework for Private Public Partnership, PPP establishes guidelines to enable easy access to land for private investors and envisions the creation of working committees that proactively engage with the private sector to actualize their investment and business plans. Our objective is to remove the opaqueness usually associated with government business.”
Speaking further, Okowa said “from preliminary analysis, the total private investment to be realized in the next two or three years from the various PPP projects is $500,” adding that “we have created PPP models that are tailored to protect and satisfy the business interest of the investor, while taking into cognizance our growth considerations.”
On agriculture and agro business, the Governor said “from the onset of this administration, we are determined to diversify the economy and make it more resilient to external shocks. We have set a target of 10% annual growth rate in our agricultural sector, especially in commodities where we have comparative advantage, particularly cassava, oil palm and aquaculture.”
Continuing, he said: “we are desirous of attracting high-impact private sector investments along the agricultural value chain through various forms of public private partnership. Our state’s agro-industrialization plan is structured into three major cluster development areas, namely; Uzere agro-industrial area, Abraka-Umutu agro-industrial area and Ogwashi-Uku agro-industrial area.”
While acknowledging that peace, security and public safety were imperatives for healthy business environment, Okowa asserted that the economy of the state had in the past bled profusely from inter-ethnic clashes and violent agitations in the oil producing communities.
“We have established the Delta State Peace Building and Advocacy Council, which has adopted a proactive, people oriented and community based approach in dealing with the issue of security and public safety. Also, the Delta State Government Advocacy Committee against Oil Facilities is working to contain resurgence of pipeline bombings in the State.” Okowa who described the state is an investors’ haven waiting to be harnessed, said “I make bold to say that you can never go wrong when you invest in Delta State.”