Mr. Akinyemi Ashade is the Commissioner for Finance in Lagos State. Before his deployment, Ashade was in charge of the Ministry of Economic Planning and Budget. At some points, he was steering the affairs of these two strategic ministries. In this interview with Gboyega Akinsanmi, Ashade speaks about the upcoming Lagos-Kano Economic and Investment Summit and other issues. Excerpts.
Lagos and Kano States will hold economic and investment summit this week. What actually informed the summit?
The evolving practice all over the world is for cities to partner in the identified areas of interest. Cities have become very important because they are the centres of economic activities all over the world. From findings, in the next couple of years, about 600 cities will account for 70 percent of the world’s GDP. This tells us how important cities will be in the nearest future. Lagos and Kano are the two most populous cities in Nigeria today. What they say is the charity begins at home. If you look at Nigeria and big cities, we believe quite sincerely both Lagos and Kano have opportunity to collaborate. This arrangement started more than two years ago. Since then, we have been discussing on areas we can explore. Both governors of the two states have been meeting. They have agreed that it is a good idea for Lagos and Kano to collaborate. First, Lagos is Nigeria’s commercial nerve centre. It is also a financial hub of Nigeria and even West Africa. Second, Kano is known for commerce. In terms of agriculture, Kano is also well-known. We both have connectivity. There is an international airport in Kano. There is also an international airport in Lagos. If you look at Lagos-Kano rail line, it has been there since the colonial era. It is therefore imperative to really enhance relationship between cities. We believe sincerely we can collaborate better with the population we have, our comparative advantages and our combined GDPs. This can help us grow the GDP of our states and that of Nigeria.
As you said, the two states have been on this partnership for more than two good years. Why did it take the two years to organise this summit?
We have been on the partnership for two years. The governors of the two states have been talking and working on the areas the two states can partner. It is the partnership that is now leading to the Lagos-Kano Economic and Investment Summit. During the summit, we are going to formalise the partnership by way of signing a memorandum of understanding.
What are the objectives the two states intend to attain through the forthcoming summit?
We have broad objectives we intend to achieve through the summit. First, the summit will ensure that both states put our potentials and profile out there. This is to enable people know what Lagos has and what Kano has to offer. Second, the summit will provide a platform for potential investors to come around and discuss areas that interest them. Third, the summit provides opportunities for even non-governmental agencies and international development agencies to come around and see areas they will be willing to collaborate with each of the two states. This is what the summit is all about. With these objectives in mind, we are going to have a successful summit. A successful summit will be when we have the number of investors that indicate interest in those focus areas that we are interested in.
Beyond the objectives you outlined, what are the focus areas the two states have already identified?
We are interested in security and governance. We equally interested in education, skill acquisition and ICT. We also interested in tourism and agriculture. We are interested in building strategic infrastructure with focus on power, transport and urban waste management. So, when we say we are successful, it means conversation will start during the summit on how investment – foreign and local – can find their ways into the two states. It equally means the conversation will continue after the summit. If we meet this benchmark, it means we have had a successful summit.
Inter-state cooperation is a viable instrument of development. But proximity is key in building inter-state collaboration. Why is Lagos State not strengthening regional integration in the South-west rather than seeking a new partner in the North?
Nigeria is not an accident of history for nothing. Even before the colonial masters came, we had always been having relationship with different city-states and empires that we now called Nigeria. There had been that kind of arrangement before the colonial masters eventually came. For us in Lagos, we have been taking certain steps since Governor Akinwunmi Ambode came to office. We have strengthening our relationship in the South-west. For instance, we are now a member of Odu’a Investment. The process to finalise our membership is on-going. We have become active in the Development Agenda for Western Nigeria (DAWN). We have had series of meetings. In the South-west, we are talking. We are equally strengthening our regional collaboration. But Nigeria is not all about the South-west. It is beyond the South-west. If you ask me, are we better than the way we started in strengthening our relationship with states around us? Definitely, we are better. Should we restrict it to the South-west alone? No. It is equally important we extend the hand of fellowship to other states outside the South-west. That is the thinking behind the Lagos-Kano Economic and Investment Summit.
Lagos is in partnership with Kebbi State in the area of rice production, which has been quite successful. Can you do cost-benefit analysis of the Lagos-Kano partnership?
The partnership we have with Kebbi State is narrower. It is based on agric value chain. How do we exploit it? We know Kebbi has comparative advantage in terms of agricultural produce – rice, onion, tomato, maize, sorghum and animal husbandry. But Lagos has the market. Once we strengthen that relationship, we can see where we have surplus and where those things are required. It is just to provide this opportunity to grow the GDP of our states. It is based on agric value chain and how we develop that between the states. But the Lagos-Kano partnership is broader. It is more encompassing. That is why we are going to sign a memorandum of understanding at the end of the summit to concretise our partnership. When we talk about the ease of doing business rating, the two states the World Bank concentrate on are Lagos and Kano.
If Nigeria must continue to make progress on the ease of doing business, Lagos and Kano are vital. Our ranking improved in the last rating. Both Lagos and Kano States contributed to our improved ranking on the ease of doing business. If we must sustain that progress, we must really focus more on Lagos and Kano States. We think our partnership will yield better result in terms of our ascendancy in the ease of doing business. If we can achieve that alone, we have achieved a lot for Nigeria. Our focus is not just on the ease of doing business. We are also focusing on security. Everybody is now contributing to the discussion on the state police. We want to talk about all aspects of security. If we do not have security, we will not be able to attract investments. We want to talk about governance at large. What has really worked for Lagos in terms of how we approach governance? What lessons can Kano learn from Lagos State? What is even the best practice globally? We will talk about what the two states can learn from each other. We are focusing infrastructure. We cannot have enough infrastructure. There is quite a lot of deficit. We need to renew our infrastructure. We also need to build new infrastructure. How can we do it alone? Or should we take advantage of public-private partnership (PPP)? Which approach is the best for Kano? Which approach can Lagos adopt? Currently, the federal government is talking about Lagos-Kano rail redevelopment. It is really strategic because our comparative advantages and population of the two states. We will talk about transport and connectivity. We will talk about urban waste management. Likewise, we will talk about tourism. They have their own comparative advantages. Kano has been there for more than 2,000 years. Lagos has also been part of discussion since the colonial era.
There have been some kinds of relationship between the two states. We want to talk about our tourism potentials and agric value chain. We will even talk about education. We have some advantages in terms of education. What can Kano learn from us? Or what can we learn from Kano? What kind of investment do we really need to attract to education sector, ICT and vocational training? For the benefit of our people, we really need to invest in the future of our youths. We need to invest in their future and provide employment opportunities for them. That is why we are focusing on education, ICT and vocational training.
A good number of northern youths are migrating to Lagos State daily. These youths do not have spectacular skill; neither do they have formal education. They are only coming to Lagos to engage in commercial motorcycle operation or cart pushing. Is the summit going to address this issue?
I do not think we should narrow the summit down to migration. Lagos used to be the capital of Nigeria. It is currently the commercial capital of Nigeria. It is a financial hub. It has a lot of manufacturing industries. When the current administration came in at the federal level, we found ourselves in economic recession because of what happened previously. Despite all these economic challenges, Lagos continues to excel. With these records of excellence, it is just normal people migrate from different parts of the country to Lagos. What we have been saying is that we are concerned about the rate of migration into Lagos State. That is why partnership and collaboration among states become very important so that we can share ideas on our challenges and provide a platform where investment opportunities can be attracted to different states. When you create employment in these states, people will naturally state there. And by implication, we reduce the rate at which people migrate to Lagos State. We must be positive about it. If we continue to partner and attract investment opportunities to other states of the federation, it will go a long way to address the migration problem we have been facing.