With depleting allocation to the states and an ailing national economy, the Abia State government is leveraging on solid minerals to boost its internally generated revenue (IGR). Chinedu Eze spoke with the state Commissioner for Environment and Solid Minerals, Gabe Igboko on this and other issues. Excerpts:
In what ways do you think the new Ministry of Environment and Solid Minerals will boost revenue to government and impact positively on the lives of the people of the state?
Our objective is to bring in the private sector to partner the Abia state government to explore solid minerals in the state with the objective to boost internally generated revenue (IGR). Our state has many mineral deposits, and the federal government has graciously allowed states to have part participation in exploring such minerals located in various states of the federation.
When we came in, we met experienced technocrats in the Ministry, from my permanent secretary and my experienced directors and heads of departments. The first day I came in here I told them that from my own experience coming from the private sector and having lived in various places that I had seen things done with public private partnership (PPP) initiatives; that when you adopt this system you impact more on the public; that is when you invite the public to buy into your agenda or initiative.
I told them it would be the vision I would want us to toe in this Ministry and by also appreciating the fact that civil servants have their own rigid ways of doing things. Sometime when we come from private sector we tend to be unorthodox and to make it a win, win situation for every person we will go by way of incentivizing efforts. It is only someone who is impervious to ideas or changes that would be doing the same thing over and over and expect a different result in the positive direction. So what we are doing is just fine-tuning things and pulling in knowledge of experts to help us. One of such experts is Dr. Chuma Igbokwe, who is now one of the people we have done concession arrangement with, which is going to make waves in this state in terms of revenue generation.
So the government policies are there; even in this country the problem has never been lofty policies; it has been the implementation of such policies and also the will to say no Sir, this is the right place to go. And our Governor prefers people who think outside the box, who will tell him Sir, with this we will achieve a better result; we will be more impactful to the people.
In what ways do you think Dr. Igbokwe’s company will generate revenue in the state under the PPP arrangement?
I said Dr. Chuma Igbokwe came in to us with a totally different idea of what he and his team could do for us. In the course of discussions, as passionate as he is, an astute professional, it didn’t take time for both parties to realise that we have a meeting point, hence we are here today. He and his company are highly rated and respected by this government, particularly by this Ministry. This is because he has dovetailed with the ideas of our chief consultant. In the solid minerals aspect in the first place, our idea has been that government cannot keep doing the same thing it has been doing over the years. And the results are quite obvious and glaring. So our chief consultant came up with a template to achieve maximum, which is to go into concession with identifiable, competent outfits.
While doing this we met both administrative and operational resistance. And in fairness to Dr. Igbokwe and his company, it will appear as if we the government who have come to engage him, even solicit his assistance as it were, forget that it is a concession, he is not just looking at it as purely contractual. I have come to see him and his company as partners to us in the progressive road map we are charting in this sector. Of course those who had been there before are either seeing it as probably you are indicting them but unfortunately it has to be that because if for instance a ministry in one year generates N2 million from this sector and I said look I have brought some experts that have better technological know-how, with comparative advantage to make that N2 million to N20 million.
What made the Governor separate the Ministry of Petroleum from the Ministry of Environment and Solid Minerals?
When this Ministry was created, I found out from the records in 2000, it was known as Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources. But perhaps the Governor himself, apart from being a cerebral scientist, he has core competency in the environmental sector. He was a very successful deputy general manager of the Abia State Sanitation and Environmental Protection Agency; he did very well in Aba and brought a lot of innovations.
Immediately he became the chief executive, he knew which Ministry ought to be what, especially this environment where he had pioneered some trail-blazing activities. Of course, he now needed to situate it where it rightly belongs and that is why he extracted that solid minerals aspect of it to go back where it originally belonged. And when I went to Kaduna for a national conference on solid minerals, on the adoption of the road map on solid minerals which the Federal Executive Council approved about a couple of weeks ago, every other state had environment and natural resources, environment and solid minerals, so it would have been an anathema if Abia was different. So I am happy Dr. Okezie Ikpeazu saw the vision, even petroleum is supposed to be under environment, it is just that in Abia here it is a ministry.
I am not speaking for the Governor but in most places it is supposed to be a department in the governor’s office or a department in the Ministry of Environment, just like you see at the federal level, you have Ministry of Power, Works and Housing. So sometimes dissecting these things as it were ends up not being in the best interest of the people and government.
How do you intend to attract more investors to explore business opportunities in your Ministry?
The Governor has given a mandate and we are imbibing the PPP initiatives, which have started yielding fruits in our various ministries. Some ministries generate revenue; some expend these revenues on projects and services. We in Environment and Solid Minerals Ministry are in revenue generation; the same with Lands and Agriculture, then Works is execution of projects; they don’t generate revenue. But perhaps if Works now brings in innovation of building paved highways and begin to toll, they combine revenue and execution.
So we have numerous core investors like Dr. Igbokwe who have shown positive signs. We project that in the next two years we will multiple our revenue base in the Ministry. We had a public hearing with the tipper drivers, the quarry workers and others; everybody participated in the public hearing. The taxes and other charges were discussed. All these were reviewed. Every now and again laws are reviewed with respect to current dynamics in the industry. They know what they ought to pay. The difference this time is that we trap all revenue that is coming in in a transparent and effective manner so that the loopholes of the past are permanently closed.
So in terms of what every person used to pay they know, the only thing is that we in the government the situation we met on ground, for instance in the solid minerals aspect, which is the main thing we are talking about, you have all sorts of agents, all sorts of revenue collectors parading themselves, some have even gone ahead and printed authorisation for themselves purporting to have been from the Ministry. Some have had expired letters from past administrations that they are still revalidating and intimidating the public, muscling them into complying.
We said no, it is high time this thing was channeled in a formal way. We now brought Dr. Igbokwe’s company, introduced him formally to the operators in the sector, that this is the only person the government of Abia state has authorised, not just because we are appointing him, but he paid for it because this is a concession; it is a partnership. And we the government must do our own part of the contract.
There is what is called part performance and specific performance. So he has done his own part; our own is to now do the specifics. Every person that is an operative in that sector is under the government directive. But every person in the industry or in the sector knows what to do. Our own is that it is Dr. Chuma Igbokwe and his company that is the only authorised company they should do business with.