• Sunday, June 16, 2024
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Why first Rivers economic summit in 11 years brought excitement

Why first Rivers economic summit in 11 years brought excitement

…Summit seemed to mop up negative airwaves of months

…Showed hidden treasures and hanging fruits

Introduction:

The Rivers State Economic and Investment Summit has just ended but the effect looks like where rain fell after much sun and heat. The whole place seems calm.

Communication experts that worked behind the scene to get the summit done have been chuckling in happiness because of the major gain which is restored hope in the citizenry and the ignition of excitement in the body of investors and entrepreneurs in the state.

Hidden gain

Ease of tension in the state seems to be the first gain. Many may be looking at the investment landscape in the state to see where gains of the summit would spring up from, but they may not know that one hidden gain is fundamental. This is the ease of tension in the state, at least temporarily.

The narrative and major news content from Rivers State since October 2023 have been about impeachment, threat, tension, violence from cult killers, and many more. At a point, the governor, Sim Fubara, voiced out his frustrations with negative news from the state in the narrative about the attacks on him from his godfather. He urged people to talk about development and progress, not about what one camp said about the other. Unfortunately, the governor was dealing with a time-tested news theory which says that bad news is good news, and that when a dog bites a man, it is now news, but when a man bites a dog, it is big news which nobody can stop.

What communication experts advise is that the leader or newsmaker who may not be happy with negative news should move fast and create good news to dampen bad news. They must have advised Governor Fubara this way because the governor damn has many strong media experts from many administrations that have come up to defend the territory.

The governor thus rolled out 20 days of one year anniversary celebrations around the state even close to the Atlantic Ocean (Ngo and Oyokotoro) with outlandish project commissioning and flag-offs. He did this in grand style. He invited many national figures including Goodluck Jonathan (former president) to the state to help grace the occasions. These immediately attracted media flies and positive news vibes.

An investor told newsmen that when he watched the thanksgiving services and the governor and the commissioning ceremonies, that what he saw was rare joy and happiness on the faces of the masses. He said investors look out for such signs in places they want to go to.

The economic summit thus seemed to introduce a bang in the state that drowned any negative vibes. The speeches of hope and wealth seemed to stir dead and deadened souls that had forgotten about prosperity. The reeling out of new projects started, now deals signed, more deals coming, and many other hanging fruits that look real seemed to cause happiness and excitement.

I wish to especially welcome the chairman of today’s event, my dear older brother and friend, His Excellency Donald Duke, the former Governor of Cross Rivers State, and all other brother Governors who are here or represented for finding the time out of their busy schedules to be with us today out of their love for the progress of our State. I assure you that we do not take these kind and lovely gestures for granted.

The governor set the tone of the summit when he began to mention the key persons that graced the occasion to show that Rivers State is awake again and that investors and economic minds can now gather and talk. He mentioned Donald Duke (chairman of the summit) who has not been in the rather in these parts for long. He also the Special Guest Speakers, professors, Magnus Kpakol and Kingsley Moghalu, as well as the emir of Kano, Lamido Sanusi II.

He said: “Today’s event aims to advance investment opportunities in Rivers State. It provides an opportunity for us to hear from the experts, exchange ideas, raise questions and receive answers to the economic and investment challenges we face as a State.”

Fubara throws bombshell

Fubara caused stir when he mentioned that his team commits to the re-industrialisation of Rivers State in partnership with the informal and organised private sectors through necessary policy, legal, and other support measures, and systems.

He said that was why he approved the Rivers State Economic and Investment Summit 2024 as the first of several measures to unveil the economic potential of the State to both local and foreign investors and markets.

Against this background, he went on, he said he felt very optimistic that Rivers State would emerge from this summit and position itself as a premier investment destination, offering boundless economic opportunities for domestic and global investors.

The reasons for this optimism are clear and realistic, he noted, and said as a State, Rivers State is blessed with enormous human and natural resources, including oil and gas, fertile soil, solid minerals, and an extensive coastline with great water bodies.

“The State is the centre-point of the oil and gas industry in West Africa. We account for over 40% of crude oil production onshore in the country and 100% of liquefied gas that the country exports.

“The State also is the second largest economy in Nigeria, and with a nominal gross domestic product (GDP) of over $28.4bn, the State’s economy ranks in the top 25 economies in Africa comparable to countries like Botswana, Rwanda, and Gabon.

“The State has a relatively robust infrastructure, including good roads, two seaports, an international airport, and a free trade zone, and with a population of over seven million indigenously diverse, educated, highly hospitable people, and a business-friendly environment, Rivers State stands at the centre of diverse economic opportunities.”

The governor said Rivers State provides several investment opportunities across diverse sectors of our economy, including oil and gas, agriculture and agro-processing, manufacturing, hospitality and tourism, education, ICT, and healthcare, infrastructure development, glass products, and garments production, and power generation and transmission, to mention a few.

“With over 40% of fertile cultivable landmass, Rivers State has the potential to make a significant contribution to national food security with commercial investments in mechanised agriculture and the agro-processing industrial value chains.

“Several state-owned but moribund companies, farmlands, and business infrastructure, including oil palm estates, rubber plantations, poultry, and fish farms are available for interested private investors to take over and revitalise. Additionally, Rivers State presents lucrative opportunities for the commercial production of highly valued cash crops for the export market.”

Given these advantages and many other attractive opportunities, he said the economy of Rivers State has great potential for serious investors to tap into, exploit and be rewarded with huge profits and lucrative returns on investments.”

He upped the excitement when he began to reel out what he has done in the short period in office (some say one year, some say it’s from February 2024 that he actually began to decide). “Since assuming office, we have prioritised peace and security and focused on growing our economy through partnerships and collaborations in line with our belief that it is the private sector, not the State government, that grows the economy, creates jobs, and guarantees wealth and prosperity for our people.

“Our commitment is to make Rivers State the best place in the country to invest and do business by creating a vibrant, investor-friendly business environment, and improving the ease of doing business to boost investors’ interest and confidence in the state.

“We have already implemented certain policy initiatives and reforms, including the prompt allocation and issuance of land titles and certificates of occupancy to prospective investors and a moratorium on state taxes and levies on new businesses.

“We are also working on the harmonization of State and Local Government taxes to eliminate double taxation and the imposition of multiple levies on investors.”

Two weeks ago, he went on, they launched the N4bn matching fund loan scheme with the Bank of Industry for small, micro, and medium-scale businesses to drive financial inclusion and enhance the growth and development of support these businesses to grow our economy, create jobs and wealth for our people.

“Furthermore, we have also approved the establishment of the Rivers State Investment Promotion Agency to provide one-stop-shop investment services and facilitation to investors in the state.”

This caused huge applause. He went on: “In the first year of our administration, we received an appreciable number of expressions of interest from local and foreign investors to invest in diverse sectors of our economy, including agriculture, real estate, power generation, and manufacturing.

“We have signed a development agreement with TAF Nigeria Limited for the construction of 20,000 mixed houses in the Greater Port Harcourt City. We signed another development with Gosh Nigeria Limited for the construction of an international spare parts market. The state government provided hundreds of land as its equity and work has since started at both sites.

“Apache Aluminium LLC of America has started the acquisition of land to establish a multi-billion-naira aluminium rolling mill (plant) in the Ogoni axis of Rivers.

“We have opened discussions with Imagine Adama Agricultural and Technology of Israel to support the State in developing our huge agricultural potential, including reviving abandoned agricultural projects and infrastructures such as the Rivers Songhai Farm, the School-to-land farms, fish farms, feed mills, oil palm estates and poultry farms across the State. We have earmarked about 10 million USD for this project this fiscal year.

“Last week, the State Executive Council approved the proposal by Rainbow Heritage Group to build the New Port City in the State on about 1000 hectares of land in collaboration with the Greater Port Harcourt City Authority.

“We have also concluded arrangements for the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding with Planet One Holding Limited of Dubai for a $10m Mangrove Forests Conservation and Carbon Capture Project under the Private Public Partnership arrangement.

“By and large, we are the economic heartbeat of the Niger Delta region and the South-East and our focus at this time is to grow our economy to greater heights so that we can derive more tax revenues to deliver quality social services to our people.”

He said the mantra of his administration is “Rivers First.” He went on to say: “Our covenant and commitment are to serve our people to the best of our ability with compassion, honesty, and responsibility.

“I assure you all that our intentions are right; our commitment is unwavering, and with the collaboration and support of all, we will collectively harness the economic potential of Rivers State to achieve considerably high and sustainable economic growth and prosperity in the coming decade and build a brighter future for our children and grandchildren.

“As the saying goes, and I quote: ‘When there is light, there is hope. When there is light, there is strength. When you can see into the future, you can muster up enough strength to hold on today.

“Therefore, as we embark on this collective journey to economic prosperity, I call on all to join us to invest in the social and economic greatness of our State and secure the future for us and the next generations.”

The emir finds favour in the summit hours

Sanusi came to the summit as former emir or 14th emir of Kano but left the summit as a substantive emir. This is because his return to the throne of his fathers was announced in Kano right in the summit period thus provoking more applause in PH than in Kano.

Choose between 13% allocation or viable economy – Sanusi

The Emir, Muhammad Lamido Sanusi underlined his talks with a charge to Gov Fubara and maybe to other oil states to choose between a legacy of 13% derivation or a viable economy that would launch the state to one of the best economies in Africa.

Sanusi told Gov Fubara to think of a legacy but urged him to choose to transform the economy and give the state an economic standpoint to compete in Africa, rather than the craze for roads and bridges.

He said; “It is therefore, not enough for us to want to bring investors or achieve economic development in Rivers State, we have to lay some foundations for the economy to stand firm. What kind of state does His Excellency want to leave after his tenure: Federal allocation? The 13% derivation? Or a viable state or commercial industrial hub which provides decent life to all citizens?

The former CBN boss also said sitting on oil is not enough for a state or nation because even if we dig up all the oil reserves, sell them, share the money out, it would still not make Nigeria a wealthy nation. He said roads and bridges would decay and call for more spending.

He said the key is about developing a strategy to create sustainable wealth and keep every youth engaged economically.

He went on: “Embrace innovation, create capacity of institutions to manage the sectors of your economy.”

He said leadership, not oil, is cursed. He named countries that became global powers with natural resources. Infrastructure, he said, is not everything, but policies and programmes that create wealth.

He warned governments not to think of taxing Nigeria to wealth, saying it is growth that you tax, not income. “Tax is important, broadening the tax net is important, having a tax net is important, but taxes must be streamline, must be sensible, and we must tax growth and not income.”

Sanusi made reconditions for Rivers State to become a big economic player. “The key to development is human capital. Investing in the people is paramount. Rivers State needs robust education and skill training programmes that are essentially aimed to prepare its youths in the future workforce.

“Reform the primary and secondary schools, colleges, polytechnic and universities to become real incubation centres that produce engineers, technicians and artisans that provide an efficient workforce for Rivers State and to produce and retain medical doctors that works class healthcare for residents in the state so that no one had to travel abroad for treatment. For technological advancements the regulatory and physical possibility.

“The third is the legal and judicial system and efficient legal and Judicial system is vital for economic growth, enhancing the system deficiency effectiveness can be achieved through ADR and expedition and equity dispensation of justice and law reform.”

He said a productive criminal justice scheme that promotes Obedient of law and other or make Rivers a sustainable business environment is very important.

“Rivers State should commit to building and strengthening institutions that will promote prosperity.

“It should set up agencies for geographic information services, promoting residency right and investment opportunities, quality assurance and management of data and statistics to monitor performance.

“Monitoring performance in such critical areas as urban and rural development, delivering essential services is important. These are incentives and support that will make Rivers state a preferred destination for business ventures.”

He called for strategic infrastructure. “But what type of infrastructure. As much as roads and bridges are important for ease of business and goods and services it should not be made in isolation from other imperatives.

“When ministers of work said they build roads of thousands kilometers of road, but 10,000 km of road from where to where and that is the key, yet farmers can still not get to their farms, markets, cities are not link to each other, the hinterland is not linked to the coast, until we begin to think strategically about infrastructure, just building infrastructure itself alone will not bring development.

“We must invest in renewable energy, build a more power generation for instance and this is to ensure sustainable and reliable energy sources driving industrial growth, especially with the current Electricity act that empowers states to generate and distribute electricity.

“Economic zones and industrial estates are the new best practices for competitive development, but the utmost importance for state like Rivers due to their natural geography, is a need to concerning themselves on environmental protection infrastructure, like clean water, waste disposal and pollution control issue of all village industrial pollution and other climate hazards.”

He said that Rivers must invest in strategic transportation systems that includes metro airlines, water transportation, ports and cargo airlines and airports which facilitate trade and mobility.

“The part to prosperity for Rivers state is in the collective efforts and collaboration of his people, the state must embrace innovation and reform, diversifying its economy and strengthening its institutions doing this will unlock the full potential of the state, ensuring sustainable growth and a prosperous future for all. The state should seize this moment with determination and vision driving forward the innovative part ways on secure place as a driving dynamic state.”

He called for a paradigm shift in harnessing efforts towards sustainable economic growth and prosperity with tenable decisions that strengthen governance around economic development in order to improve investment promotion.

The former CBN Governor noted that implementing reforms of an economy at any level of either state or nation can hurt mere politics, and indeed, painful because it will appear unpopular but added that it must done to guarantee a better future the people.

He said: “As the second largest economy in Nigeria after Lagos, Rivers State has a unique opportunity to emerge as a beacon of progress in all places.

“It has the opportunity to operationalize ideals of the concept of the sub-nationalism in a federal context by building a resilient, dynamic, modern and effective system that fosters economic development and prosperity.

“But sitting on oil or any natural resources is not enough for economic development. Oil is a resource and is not enough to make us a wealthy country.

“To achieve development, it is imperative that we recognize the need to take specific steps that transcend natural resources, to diversify and institutionalize foundational economic framework to fully reap the blessing of all in stock.”

Sanusi said in order to harness the abundant resources into real blessing, leaders must stop being accursed so that they can make the right choices to foster deep thinking, deliberate and strategic actions with political will to perform and achieve sustainable development.

“Human capital and good governance are why countries that are complex in their characteristics such as India, Brazil, China and the US, have developed through innovation, intellectual probity, education and strong public institutions.

“We must put a stress on human capital and design education and skill training that are fit for this century.

“You need innovators and entrepreneurs that will supply services across all value chains and industries, and it is important to raise the quality of schools by investing in teaching capacity, learning tools and pedology that will nurture a culture of creativity and problem solving.

“It is critically important to invest in vocational training and apprenticeship to close education gap, aligning with the needs of our economy.”

Welcoming quests to the Day two, the Secretary to the Rivers State Government (SSG), Tammy Danagogo said that the ongoing discussions and exchange of ideas on economic growth are geared towards securing a promising future for the state.

Represented by Head of the State’s Civil Service, George Nwaeke, Danagogo, noted the statesmanship of Governor Fubara, whose mind is set on the sustenance of the next generation, adding that he was laying the foundation that will drive the State on the path of economic prosperity.

He said, “The Governor is a statesman because the benefits of the economic summit and things that will be put on ground will benefit our people and make the future generation more responsible.

“His (Fubara) commitment to sustainable development, his foresight in planning for the long-term, and unwavering dedication to the betterment of our State now and for the future, truly places him as a true leader.”

Danagogo said further: “I, therefore, urge each person here present to draw inspiration from the ethos as we continue our discussion today. Let us channel our energies towards finding solutions that will not only benefit us today, but will also lay a solid foundation for generations that will follow.

“Together, we can create a legacy of progress, prosperity and sustainable development that will define the future of Rivers State and give her the pride of place in the comity of states.”

In her goodwill message, the Director of International Operations at the Dubai Department of Tourism and Commerce Marketing, Stella Fubara, expressed delight that the news of the summit has started reverberating at the global stage.

She pointed to the commendations elicited for the Governor Fubara for his commitment to laying the foundation for a renewed economic growth of the state.

The global tourism expert urged the citizens to realise that they are the greatest resources and the answer to the expected economic development, which demands that they must be involved in the process, critically and passionately in their contributions to ensure growth.

She thanked the Governor for placing the State on the global map for potential investors to explore, given the diverse opportunities available, and charged him to sustain the momentum in order to realise the vision of turning the State to the best investment destination of the present and future generations.

Engineer of uncanny ability, Adokiye Tombomieye, speaks

The chemical engineer graduate of the then Rivers State University of Science and Technology now Rivers State University gave a view of the Rivers State’s economic landscape. He said: “Rivers State boasts a youthful population exceeding two million individuals, with a prevailing mindset favoring employment over entrepreneurship. The existing economic climate cannot sustain a heightened tax burden on residents and businesses.

“The shift of International Oil Companies (IOCs) away from swamp operations has led to the stagnation of industrial zones like Trans Amadi and Witt & Bush. The rapid pace of development by the populace surpasses the regulatory capacity of the Rivers State government.

“A lack of a comprehensive, publicly available integrated development plan hampers coordinated growth strategies for the state. Anticipated infrastructure improvements, such as enhanced access to Bonny Island, will soon transform riverine communities like Bille and Kula into viable economic hubs, poised to attract investment and compete for limited land and accommodation resources.”

He proposed some strategies for economic empowerment in the state, thus: need to develop a comprehensive roadmap development; to streamline land ownership processes that would expedite approval of Certificate of Occupancy for land in the state; conduct an infrastructure enhancement and trade facilitation.

He urged the government to engage the presidency to order that 20% of all imported goods must come through Port Harcourt ports.

He further called for an agricultural revitalization and value chain optimization; enhanced security measures; environmental audit and conservation partnership; etc, be done.

“Additionally, initiatives such as daily air and water quality monitoring broadcasts and a concerted reformation of the healthcare sector can be implemented to address any adverse effects of environmental pollution on public health.”

Other voices:

Greg Ogbeifun, who is a seasoned maritime guru, gave tips and said the state can take over Nigeria’s shipping line. He also showed a huge project his company is building in Onne and invited the state government to join.

Ibifiri Bobmanuel, president of the Rivers Entrepreneurs and Investors Forum (REIF), showed how electric cars have already entered the state through his firm and how his company is manufacturing and exporting tractors.

Appeal:

Investors made different appeals for the state government to assure them. The Mayor of Housing, My-ACE China, commended Gov Fubara for steadiness and determination but demanded for clarity of policies and choice of non-politically exposed technocrats to man the new agencies that would regulate and promote investments. He warned that other states are wooing investors over to their areas. He also advised fellow investors to adopt his module which was also canvassed by the professor, Kingsley Moghalu, for investors to make host communities to be equity holders in what is in their land. He said he had since given 10% equity of the upcoming Alesa Highlands in Eleme near Port Harcourt, other than other goodies given to the aboriginal land owners.

Conclusion:

Investors appealed to the state government to endeavour to implement the good promises made at the summit.