Laleye DipoÂ looks at the first Niger State economic summit held recently in Minna, which drew prominent entrepreneurs and political leaders from across the country to the North-central state with the theme: â€˜Impact Investing for Advancing Agricultural Economy and Innovationâ€™
For two days, prominent political leaders, captains of industry, members of the organised private sector, top civil servants, especially those that manage the economies of the states, and people from all walks of life brainstormed at the Justice Idris Legbo Kutigi International Conference Centre in Minna. Their focus was how to move Niger State forward, transform it economically, and make it less dependent on monthly hand-outs from Abuja.
Â The attendance was like a roll-call of Nigeriaâ€™s most prominent business, political, and traditional elite. They included Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, then acting president, who declared the summit open; former President Olusegun Obasanjo; former military Head of State, General Abdulsalami Abubakar; Minister of Agriculture, Chief Audi Ogbeh; former Chief of Army Staff, Lieutenant General Mohammad Inuwa Wushishi (rtd); and the governors of Sokoto and Adamawa states, Aminu Tambwal and Bindo Jubrilla, respectively.
The Sultan of Sokoto, Alhaji Saâ€™ad Abubakar III, and the Etsu Nupe, Alhaji Yahaya Abubakar, led prominent traditional rulers from across the country to the summit.
Focus on Agriculture
Â Niger State has about 10 per cent of the total landmass of Nigeria, which is arable and believed to be suitable for the cultivation of virtually all food and cash crops. How to use this God-given resource to transform the economy of the state and take it to a level where it can provide employment for the huge youth population in the state was the centre of discussion at the summit.
â€œAt last the hen has come home to roost in the sense that agriculture is taking a centre stage in Nigeria,â€ Abubakar declared in his address. He said in the next 33 years the global population will hit nine billion mark, with Nigeria having at least 5 per cent of the population, a development that will make food â€œa serious challengeâ€¦
â€œThis is why this summit is coming at a right time in our national history.â€
Â In his own speech, Obasanjo said, â€œIf there is anything that will take Nigeria out of recession it is agriculture.â€
Â The two former leaders were unanimous that commercial banks in the country should join in the crusade to transform agriculture by reducing the interest rates charged on agricultural loans, which currently stand between 18 per cent and 25 per cent. They agreed that commercial banks were out to make profit but for agriculture to witness the type of change that will impact positively on the state and national economies, the interest rate on agricultural loan should not exceed 2.5 per cent.
â€œDouble digit interest rate is to promote failure, Obasanjo declared.
He went further to challenge the commercial banks that co-sponsored the summit to go beyond mere rhetoric and make categorical promises that they could be held accountable for at the next summit.
Uninterrupted electricity supply and good rural and urban roads are critical in the economic and industrial developments of the agricultural sector, Obasanjo and Abubakar also said. Obasanjo advised members of the National Assembly to stop diverting funds meant for road construction to constituency projects while carrying out their constitutional duties of approving the national budgets.
Chairman of the North South Electricity Company, Alhaji Ibrahim Aliyu, speaking in a similar vein, said the problem with electricity supply in the country was distribution, not generation of electricity.
â€œWe can generate enough electricity for Niger State and Abuja 24 hours a day and for seven days a week, the problem is distribution,â€ Aliyu stated.
He said the Distribution Companies and Generation Companies â€“ Discos and Gencos, respectively â€“ in the country recently met with the federal government on how to improve electricity supply nationwide. â€œThe meeting was fruitful, all the grey areas were identified and steps are already being taken to correct identified problems,â€ he said.
Â Perhaps, the first gain to be recorded by Niger State as a result of the summit is the decision of the federal government to collaborate with the state government in agriculture.
Osinbajo, who announced the collaboration, said the federal and Niger State governments will cooperate and execute a plan that will make the state the hub for the cultivation and export of food to at least 50 per cent of Africa countries.
The vice president said Niger State could feed the whole of Africa because of its vast arable land.
â€œAgriculture is the surest way of diversifying our economy. Our development is not in hydrocarbon; our problem is how to translate our vast agricultural resources to wealth.â€ Osinbajo stated.
Â The vice president said the Minna- Suleja road, which has become a nightmare to motorists and continues to hinder free movement of agricultural goods and other services, was receiving serious attention.
Completion of the dual-carriage road, which the federal government has promised, will enable small and big-time farmers and other investors to move their goods to â€œthe readymade market in Abuja and other cities in the country,â€ he said. This will also make potential investors to tap the favourable investment climate already created by the state government.
Ease of Doing BusinessÂ
As part of the steps taken to open up the state to investors, the government has reduced the cost of obtaining land titles for both local and foreign investors and other land owners by about 95 per cent. Obtaining Certificate of Occupancy in the state capital for any type of land now costs just N15, 000 while in the local government areas it costs only N5, 000.Â Â
Besides, developers and other entrepreneurs would wait for only three weeks to obtain this vital document.
The new policy will also rub off on local farmers as well as small and medium scale business men and women in that with the C of O they will be in a position to access government loans to boost their businesses.
Similarly, the Niger State government is creating well serviced industrial parks in Minna, Suleja, Kontagora, and Bida to make the establishment of industries easier.
All this, coupled with the fact that the state is a major link between the southern and northern parts of Nigeria, and is among the most peaceful states in the country, have made it a major attraction for investors.
The governor, Abubakar Sani Bello, stated at the summit, â€œNiger State being a pioneer member of the Global City Indicator Facility (GCIF) programme and foundation member of the World Council of City Data (WCCD), our urban renewal policy is on course in all major towns of the state.
â€œSimilarly, we are fixing some critical infrastructure in the state: we have carried out massive township, inter and intra city/rural roads
â€œAs part of efforts to reposition the state for investment, we have expanded access to good quality healthcare service.â€
The state government, according to Bello, has â€œreinvigorated the activities of micro, small and medium scale enterprises to promote private sector development in the stateâ€™s economy.â€ He said 5, 000 youths had been trained to be self-employed.
As a result of the favourable investment climate created by the Niger State government over the years, the state is now rated sixth in the World Bank Doing Business Report.
â€œOur target is to be rated among the first three states in the next World Bank Doing Business Report expected to come out next year,â€ Bello said.
The Dangote Group has acquired 116,000 hectares of land in two local government areas of the state for the cultivation of rice and sugarcane. Executive Director of the group, Alhaji Mansur Ahmed, who disclosed this at the summit, said 16,000 hectares of land in Lavun Local Government Area would be for the planting of rice while sugarcane would be cultivated on the remaining 100,000 hectares in Lapai Local Government Area.
Â Not less than 27,000 workers, including out growers, would be engaged in the next 15 weeks when the scheme will take off, Ahmed revealed. He said not less than 160,000 metric tonnes of sugar will be produced by the sugar factory to be established near the sugarcane plantation, adding that $450 million would be invested in the state before the end of the year.
Â Another benefit of the summit is the signing of a memorandum of understanding between the state and Afro- Investment Consortium for the construction of an agri-city at Tegina in Rafi Local Government Area. Under the MoU, 42,000 hectares of land has been allotted to the consortium for the construction of not less than 4, 200 housing units, apart from the establishment of farms.
Executive Chairman of the consortium, Mr Chinedu Nbakwe Obi, signed the agreement for his firm while the Secretary to the Government of Niger State, Alhaji Isa Ladan, signed for the state government. Obi said after signing the agreement that about $3.2 billion would be spent on the project and that the ground breaking will take placeÂ in six monthsâ€™ time.
The signing of another MouU with Dangote Group was put off as a result of the absence of the Chairman and Chief Executive of the Group, Alhaji Aliko Dangote. The MoU is expected to be signed soon, according to the organisers of the summit.
Â The Commissioner for Commerce and Investment, Hajia Ramatu Yaâ€™ardua, said, â€œThis summit will not be another talk shop.â€ This, she said, is because â€œthis administration will implement all the suggestions and decisions from the summit
â€œOur focus is to expand our economic frontiers and create the enabling environment for businesses to thrive, thereby creating jobs for our youths.â€
The summit was, certainly, a success. The Niger State government has assured that it will implement the decisions taken at the meeting. Time will tell how this would impact on the economy of the state.