Enelamah: We are Partnering With the Private Sector to Drive the Economy

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Minister of Industry, Trade and Investment, Dr. Okechukwu Enelamah, after inspecting the facilities at Primlaks Nigeria Limited, Lagos, spoke with Peace Obi on his impression, among other issues

With your tour of this factory, what is your observation?
It is a very good experience. You know they say a picture speaks a thousand words. If you look at the strategies of our agro and agriculture-based value-adding industry from the point of view of export, from the point of view of local sourcing, from the point of view of job creation, from the point of view of value addition, from the point of basically being tied into global and regional value chains, this actually satisfies all these. I am very happy and impressed.

So, in a sense, this is a business we should not just identify with but we should use as a poster child of what is possible when people make up their minds to do something. And one interesting thing about it, and that is a lesson in itself, is that when you listen to their story, they have been working on this for several years.

Rome wasn’t built in a day. So, it tells you the power of vision and it tells you why as a government, we have to maintain the kind of policies that can sustain such longer effort. You can’t really do this thing in three months, even if you are a genius.

So, you have to send the signal to people that you will be there with them. I was talking of the Export Expansion Grant (EEG), which clearly is an important part of their strategy since they are manufacturing for export and government has to support them to ensure that they can keep investing because they want to go much further than where they have gone. So, I am very happy to be here and I also think that it shows that this whole agro-processing story can work and is working.

You talked about policies, but in terms of ease of doing business in Nigeria, many investors are finding it really, really difficult, how does government policies take care of this?

I was having a discussion with the management earlier and I said to them that it is not just about incentives, that the role of government goes beyond that. We need to give incentives no doubt, but we also have a responsibility to work with the private sector and businesses like this to reduce the cost of doing business and make it easier to do business. Because this is a business where they are exporting to other countries, so they have to be competitive whether it is the cost of power or they are manufacturing their own power, gas or they are still using diesel.

Whether is the cost of export – the ease of export, trading across border, they have to be able to get across borders quickly, particularly for a business that relies on a cold chain. In other words, the products have to stay cold and frozen till it gets to the store over there.

This is something country like Kenya has done extremely well. We are lagging and I have to tell you, we intend to partner with people like this to actually understand their experience, and what they are going through and what the actual setbacks, roadblocks, bottlenecks are. So that we can solve the real problems confronting real people as opposed to theoretical problems that are based on paper work.

What is your word for potential investors into Nigeria?
Well, I think first of all, when you think about potential investors, you have to start with existing investors, you have to make them happy first. This is a family that has been investing in Nigeria for a long time. My view is that the people who are already here have to be made happy. In other words, they have to be motivated to keep investing. And then on the back of that, you are attracting investors. It is unlikely to get new investors if those that are already there are either disinvesting or even struggling to make it with what they have invested.

So, I will say, charity begins at home. Give a lot of encouragement to existing investors like Primlaks and others and also, and then, let them go and tell our stories. Because if they are doing well, they will share their success story that Nigeria is a very potentially attractive country to invest in. And that is why as a government, we are focused on solving these problems that inhibit investment.

Some observers are somehow skeptical, what is the economic outlook of Nigeria by 2017. What are we looking at?
I think that is a very good question because obviously that is what we are working on right now. There is a budget that is coming out but it is not just the numbers, not just the financing of the budget, expenditures and all of that, but it is also the policies that underpin the budget. And there are three things I will like to highlight.

One is that the budget is underpinned by partnering with the private sector. If you look at the areas we want to invest in, infrastructure is the major, ease of doing business we talked about, special economic zones and so on and so forth.

If you look at what we are doing with the oil sector, that is another big one. All those things are very much part of the story of 2017. The other big one we want to go into the budget is the relationship with the oil industry. The oil industry in the past has had a chronic shortage of funding to fund the actual development of the sector which is important for developing the other sectors by the way.

So, we have reached a landmark agreement with the international oil companies. We are doing the same for the independent oil companies to make sure that the funding of oil operations is sustained and that it is not sort of episodic, haphazard or ad hoc. I think you will see that in the budget, it is going to create a win-win situation.

The first thing I want to say about the budget is that a lot collaboration has gone into it within the various units of government to make sure we work collaboratively and synergistically to make sure we deliver on the budget. Because it is not just about budget, it is about delivery. So, we want 2017 to be a delivery year. So it is a budget of delivery, that is what it is all about. And hopefully when we meet again in a year’s time, we will be shaking hands and saying, “what a good year it has been for Nigeria!”

Honourable minister, are you worried that the industrial sector contributes about four per cent to the Gross Domestic Product?
No, it is not four per cent, I think it is 10 per cent now but even what is more important is that, it is has the potential to be 20 per cent. So, we are not looking back. And it is not just industrial sector, it is also about quality of industry. For instance, one of the benefits of the industry we are visiting today or the business we are visiting today is that their input are local, local sourcing, local labour.

The technology and all that has come from the rest of the world, but adapted to fit here. And we want more and more of this which is why I am very happy to be here today, like they say, a picture speaks a thousand words.