…SAM DIALA writes on the recently held Kogi State investment summit
Undaunted by a deluge of criticism and negative media reports, the Kogi State Government braved a two-day Economic and Investment Summit February 13-14, 2018; the first in the state’s 25 years of existence.
The event was to draw attention to the massive economic opportunities and potentials in the Confluence State that, when tapped, could it into the league of Nigeria’s topmost economies, and end its appendage of a civil service state.
However, various stakeholders and industry experts, within and outside the state, argue that the summit might not go beyond the podium rhetoric it generated. They maintained that the timing, execution, ‘body language’ of the organisers, socio-economic and political realities of Kogi, showcased the summit more as a package of “political propaganda” – far from the objectives it was meant to achieve.
Coming at the peak of unfriendly voices, it is to the credit of Alhaji Yahaha Bello, the state governor that a quantum leap of faith was taken to host the investment summit “to highlight Kogi State’s economic opportunities and potentials to an international audience comprising policymakers, business leaders, academics and finance professionals to debate what must happen now for the state to overcome its challenges, mitigate the risk in a downturn, and ensure its lofty hopes for future prosperity are met.”
Kogi is toeing the lines of her counterparts. The dwindling fortune of oil revenue has put the nation’s economy on edge. Since mid-2014 when prices of oil in the international market slumped, Nigeria’s three tiers of government (federal, states and local governments) have experienced acute revenue shortfalls. The imperative of diversifying the economy thus became more compelling than ever as governments embark on survival strategies to stay afloat. Kogi seems to have tapped into this unfolding narrative.
According to the Governor Bello, Kogi has worn the appalling appendage of ‘Civil Service State’ since inception and his administration is determined to change the narrative: “Twenty-five years ago, Kogi State was created and ever since then, it is often referred to as a civil service state. Under this administration, we will no longer take that narrative because Kogi state is full of potentials.”
Sounding confident about his vision that underscored the imperative of the summit, Bello linked the necessity and outcome of the event to the expectations of dividends of democracy under his leadership. “How can the government deliver on its bold promises – from increasing ease of doing business to making it easier for firms to raise capital—to improve the climate for foreign investment?”
“Our geographical location, natural water bodies, variable vast and arable land, human capital and solid minerals are great potentials. I refer to Kogi State as the solid mineral capital of Africa. All these potentials will remain so long as we continue to see Kogi State as a civil service state and nothing is done,” Bello said at the opening ceremony in Lokoja, as if preempting the views of Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, who represented President Muhammadu Buhari at the occasion.
Osinbajo said, “This summit is both timely and strategic not only to draw attention to the confluence of opportunities in Kogi State but also to reinvigorate and inspire the people of Kogi; as you are reminded of your prospect both as a state and what it has to offer and the possibilities that are so unique to this state.
“A fertile arable land that makes Kogi the largest producer of cashew, potential major rice producer, a respected fishing community among others as well as a bed of some of the most prolific solid minerals including coal, limestone, iron ore and tin makes undoubtedly, the confluence state.”
Minister of Solid Minerals, Kayode Fayemi, urged Kogi to explore partnership opportunities for immediate exploration of the huge mineral deposits in the area. “There are opportunities for Kogi State to partner with private sector players to exploit the vast value chain of mining in the state. Kogi state, in partnership with private sector entities can invest in beneficiation plants that encourage the expansion of mining activities within the state, thus creating jobs and economic opportunities for indigenes.”
Different opinions have, however, been raised concerning the two-day summit that attracted the Vice President, state governors, top government officials, eminent religious and traditional rulers, and members of the diplomatic corps among other dignitaries.
They majorly criticise the state governor for alleged “anti-people” initiatives that, contrary to his pronouncements, do not show convincing evidence that he walks his talk.
A newspaper columnist had on February 18, 2018 used his back page column to throw uncommon punches at Bello saying: “It is obvious that the idea of an economic summit is an abstraction to him, a distant idea with no ties to either his own vacant mind or economic and social reality. The state is in decay, its people groaning in abject poverty and government-inflicted pains, and he has engineered an oppressive air that envelopes the state.”
But, the Director-General, Nigerian Association of Chambers of Commerce, Industry, Mines and Agriculture (NACCIMA), Kebbi State, Malami Kebbi Guruza, noted that the success of such economic development initiatives is tied to the goodwill of the government of the day.
“The success of the summit will depend on the goodwill that the people enjoy from the government of the day. When salaries are not paid, it affects the commercial activities of the state; even the market women are affected. The workers who will implement the policies, are affected”, Guruza told Weekend Leadership on phone.
The Chairman, Kogi Chapter, Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), Comrade Edoka Onuh, told Weekend Leadership that Labour was not involved in the Investment Summit, a pointer to possible hurdles towards achieving the objectives of the exercise.
“Government needs the civil servants in implementing the policies and programmes of the investment summit, even if it is going to be private-sector driven. If government has commitment to the summit, it must use the civil servants to drive it. But in a situation where many of the civil servants have either been sacked or prematurely retired, how will the government go about it? Labour was not part of the summit; we cannot say if government has the capacity to drive the initiative or not”, Edoka said on phone.
The Chief Press Secretary (CPS) to Governor Yahaya Bello, Petra Akinti-Onyegbule, had told Weekend Leadership that government would launch a small and medium enterprise (SME) clinic alongside the summit to demonstrate its determination to take the project beyond podium rhetoric and make it beneficial to the people, irrespective of the numerous challenges and oppositions. This SME launch was performed by Vice President Osinbajo.
Beyond The Podium
The question begging for answer is: After this podium rhetoric, what next? How would the vision of the summit and the efforts invested in the project be translated into concrete action to deliver on the seven-point objectives of the Summit? Is Kogi ready to move out of its undesirable orbit of a ‘civil service state’ – an appendage that conveys laziness, cluelessness, lethargy, lack of creativity, being allergic to entrepreneurship and not in a hurry to seek the way to the next level. Perhaps, the questions raised in the summit document are better posed here.
“How can Kogi State navigate these complex policy challenges successfully to ensure an economic revival? How can businesses ride out the current slump, mitigate the risks and impact on the bottom line? What are the consequences for regional cooperation and what, if anything, can foreign investors do to help?
“What do these new circumstances mean for foreign investors engaged in ongoing or planned projects in the state, and where do the key opportunities lie? How can the government deliver on its bold promises – from increasing ease of doing business to making it easier for firms to raise capital — to improve the climate for foreign investment?”
There are three defining factors considered germane to achieving the objective of the summit and translating the plethora of rhetoric by various speakers into result-oriented, measurable, programmes. These are human capital; security; and micro, small and medium enterprise (MSME) development. Without strategic policy frameworks to articulate, execute, monitor and review these economic advancement imperatives, the 2018 Kogi Economic and Investment Summit will end an exercise at blowing penny whistle.
Human Capital Imperative
A key challenge of Nigeria’s economic development is poor human capital status. We lack skilled labour to tackle economic development challenges and that is why our unemployment rate is high – heading towards 20 per cent. Kogi is not one of Nigeria’s educationally developed states and this reflects in the poor state of its economy.
The state should develop a well-articulated human capital development plan, preferably in 10-year parenthesis tenure, to determine what is required, when and at what level. What are the mineral deposits? In what commercial quantity are they? What is required for exploration? What is needed for development? Who will do the marketing? What about the processing? Who is monitoring the environmental factors as well as tax and other regulatory policies guiding business in the country?
It is time to revisit the status of the technical colleges and other skill acquisition centres. There should be a total man concept in human capital development strategy of the state. This is to ensure that everyone is relevant and contributing.
Insecurity is a tremendous threat to development. Although, crime rate has dropped significantly in recent times in Kogi, according to reports, however, the area is notorious for heinous crimes like armed robbery, kidnapping and assassination. The strategic location of the state is a huge asset. As Vice President Osinbajo noted, “The state is also the undisputed gateway between the north and south. This state stands in a strategic position making it the only state that shares boundaries with ten other states including Abuja”.
Besides “equipping and inspiring the security agencies”, government should consider the neighbourhood security network system of Lagos and adapt it to its (Kogi) peculiarities. A local arrangement that produces Kogi neighbourhood security network watch will go far in crime prevention and detection. Besides, it will serve an avenue for job creation for the teeming youth who would be excited at being part of the developmental process.
Government should vigorously drive the micro, small and medium enterprise clinic it launched at the summit. The Economic Recovery and Growth Plan (ERGP) pattern is recommended. A strategic partnership with the Bank of Industry (BoI) will be relevant at this stage.
The Ooni of Ife, Oba Adeyeye Ogunwusi, emphasized this during his speech at the summit: “We make that mistake a lot in this country. We have versatile youths who can manufacture equipment locally but we will focus on how to discourage and pull them down. Why can’t we urge the government to set up a research and development unit so they can be schooled?”
Kogi is a struggling state. Its gross domestic product (GDP) is among the lowest among the 36 states: $32,719,347.57 as at June 30, 2017, according to the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS). Its population as at 2006, is 3,595,789, Per capita is circa $1,500 Its productive age group (15-64 years) as at 2006, according to National Population Commission (NPC) is 1,715,165.
Kogi is fifth best state to do business in Nigeria: Starting a business takes 28 days in eight procedures, ranking second after Abuja F.C.T. Registering property takes nine procedures and lasts 33 days. In registering property, Kogi merges three procedures into one i.e., assessing the deed at the Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS), paying the stamp duty, and stamping the deed, by allowing applicants to pay the stamp duty at FIRS directly, rather than at a commercial bank.
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