Ajimobi’s Unrelenting Initiatives to Make Oyo New Economic Hub

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Akin Oyedele

That the country’s economy is currently experiencing a downturn, a situation largely precipitated by a reversal of oil fortunes, is no longer news. No thanks to decades of overreliance on a monolithic economy and the utter relegation of agriculture, once the country’s cash cow. Since this reality jolted everybody into retrospection, the federal and state governments have gone back to the drawing board to explore other means of revenue generation aimed at rejigging the floundering economy. Quite unsurprisingly, agriculture, the stone spurned by the country’s builders has now become the capstone of the building, nay the beautiful bride. At the end of a two-day national economic council retreat held in March, last year, it was agreed that each state should make specific commitments to crops in which it has comparative advantage and request Federal Government’s intervention.

As a firm believer in the ability of the country to scale the pervading economic precipice, Oyo State Governor, Senator Abiola Ajimobi, had since the inception of his jinx-breaking second term taken several remedial steps to regenerate the state’s economy. Such pragmatic steps include the repositioning of the state’s Board of Internal Revenue Service to halt the hemorrhage and loopholes within the system. The move was also intended to expand the state’s tax remittance base by capturing companies currently evading this statutory obligation.

The governor also strengthened the Bureau of Investment Promotion and Public Private Partnership to make business easier for prospective investors coming to the state, apart from mulling over granting of tax holiday to core investors. Other incentives being dangled at investors are easy acquisition of land and procurement of Certificate of Occupancy in record time. The end result of these efforts will begin to manifest in the foreseeable future. And this will add fillip to the governor’s determination to grow the state’s internally generated revenue from the current N1.6 billion to about N5 billion in the next three years.

In furtherance of his multipronged approach to buoying the earnings of the state, the governor had embarked on foreign trips, not only to woo investors, but to understudy models that have helped other countries to get out of the mire.

For starters, Oyo State is blessed with a vast landmass measuring 27,249 square kilometres and a population of about 10 million people, among which is a working population of 4.3m. The state is also proud to be a reservoir of skilled and unskilled labour ready to feed existing and potential industries. The large concentration of agriculture research institutes in Oyo is also a blessing capable of providing the needed intellectual support for the projects, including the renowned International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA).

Agriculture is the main occupation of the people of Oyo State. The climate in the state favours the sustainable cultivation of crops like maize, yam, cassava, millet, rice, plantains, cocoa, palm produce, cashew, soya beans, leafy vegetables, poultry and aquaculture among others, in commercial quantities. In fact, Oyo is the largest producer of cassava in the country, while the state is located in a strategic business hub that serves as a gateway to the Northern and Southern parts of the country.

It is therefore, not fortuitous that the governor had made the exploitation of the agriculture value chain the fulcrum of his second term economic blueprint. Ajimobi is taking the bull by the horns to liberate the state from economic stagnation triggered by the dwindling revenue allocation from the Federation Account.

Last year’s two-day NEC retreat in Abuja had coincided with the inauguration of a major agriculture initiative by the governor, tagged AgricOyo, which suggests that the governor had long before the FG’s initiative envisioned the agriculture rebirth. The initiative is targeted at creating one million direct jobs across the agriculture value chain.

Before the launching, the governor had met separately with large gatherings of key stakeholders at different fora, including traditional rulers who are believed to be custodians of lands, agric experts and investors to harvest their input, ideas and suggestions.

The launching, which was strategically held at Paago, an agrarian community in Oke Ogun area of the state, attracted investors, outgrowers, beneficiaries, institutional partners, outtakers, traditional rulers, and top officials of the state.

At the event, the governor said that the project would reduce overdependence on oil, create wealth, alleviate poverty, encourage productivity, create jobs and bring about the overall socio-economic uplift of Oyo State. He told the gathering that farming was very profitable and vowed to do everything possible to make it attractive in Oyo State to diversify the state’s economy.

It was this passion that inspired the governor to lead a delegation to Dublin, the capital and largest city of Ireland, in March, last year. The trip was principally aimed at partnering investors in the areas of agriculture, tourism, employment generation and regional development strategies, as well as information communication technology (ICT) and business process outsourcing. The choice of Ireland was informed by the country’s status as a leading agricultural exporter. Not only this, Ireland is the second largest exporter of software in the world and a major tourist destination.

The governor’s trip was a follow-up to an earlier one by a delegation from Oyo State to the Irish government in December 2015. The delegation was then received by a team led by the country’s Minister of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Mr. Simon Coveney. The discussions then centered on ICT, tourism and agriculture. To further cement the relationship, the Irish Ministry of Agriculture, Sustainable Food Systems Ireland and International Development Ireland Limited, in conjunction with Enterprise Ireland, invited the governor to Dublin last year to explore opportunities for collaboration between the country and Oyo State.

Similarly, in August last year, the new agriculture initiative of the state received a boost with the proposed investment by an Australian agro-processing company, which has since acquired 50 hectares of land in the Oke Ogun area of the state.

The new entrant thus swelled the list of Australian companies that have already entered into partnership agreement with the state government in mining, agriculture, education and vocational training.

To underscore the preparedness of the company to hit the ground running, the company’s promoters had visited the governor in company with the Australian High Commissioner to Nigeria, Mr. Paul Leymann, in his office.

Lehmann had announced at the meeting that the governor’s earlier visit to Australia had brought about fruitful agreement between his country and the state for mutually beneficial returns.

The envoy said, “The visit of your team to Australia is quite appreciated and we are delighted to assure you that the relationship would enhance development in agriculture, mining and industry in Oyo State.”

In another development, late last year, the state government sealed a partnership agreement with a Chinese conglomerate, China Polaris, estimated at about N636bn ($2bn), for the establishment of a free trade zone for the manufacturing of automotive products, solar power generation, among others.

The first phase of the project comprising five factories and estimated to cost about N159bn ($500m) is expected to commence by the end of the first quarter of 2017, while the entire project has a two-year completion period.

Tagged the ‘Polaris-Pacesetter Free Trade Zone,’ the project occupies a thousand hectares of land along the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway, Ibadan, and has been described by the governor to be ‘the new hub of the African economy’ when completed.

In his avowed commitment to bequeath a lasting legacy on the state and to leave it more prosperous than he met it, Ajimobi has not taken his foot off the pedal as he continues to crisscross the globe in search of genuine investors that share his vision for the state.

It is expected that as soon as these efforts begin to crystalize, the state economy will be revitalized and the citizens will be better for it. But then, as the saying goes, Rome was not built in a day, indicating that patience and support of the citizens are key factors to the successful implementation of Governor Ajimobi’s grand industrialization designs for Oyo State.

.Oyedele is Senior Special Assistant (Media) to Oyo State Governor