By Jonathan Eze
The staccato ring of heavy metals will rent the air. Machines run non-stop, as workers in industrial wear line corridors leading to different lots in the industrial complex, which spans deep into the orange evening horizon.
A new visitor will be astounded by the level of industrial work, amused by the delicate planning that went into the construction of the layout that will surround what used to be a cluster of sleepy villages around Iyanomo, close to Benin City.
Welcome to the future, to the brainchild of Edo State Governor Obaseki: the Benin Industrial Park (BIP).
But this wasn’t always the case. So, we rewind to where and when it all started – the present.
Though development experts argue that the country’s new status is a fluke as very little productive activity is not enough to merit the tag of a big economy, efforts are being made by government at all levels to accelerate the march to industrialisation. While the Federal Government has pursed reforms and projects to reflate the economy, many state governments, in the wake of exit from hard-biting recession, devise means to diversify their earnings, pull off the apron strings of federal allocations, and increase their capacity to attract foreign direct investment.
So, from the early days as the Chairman, State Economic Team, Obaseki developed an acute understanding of the developmental needs of Edo State, perfected which holes to plug for the state’s economic resurgence and only bided time to be on the saddle to actualise his dreams.
For instance, from his close study of the state, he understood that the state possessed several strategic assets that make it an investor’s delight. He deployed this skill in brokering for investment for the globally-acclaimed, record-setting 450MW capacity Edo Azura Independent Power Project (IPP), among others.Grand plan for Edo industrial corridor
More so, the industrialisation plan pursued by the Edo State Government is quite grand and encompasses a wide range of strategically connected projects which, when completed, will not only see to the rise of the state as an economic hub, but as a cynosure of all those seeking to make an industrial city from a lowly civil-service state.
In what can be termed a declaration of intent at the 2017 Alaghodaro Investment Summit, Obaseki was unequivocal about his dream to industrialise the state. “We are pursuing an aggressive industrialisation drive. Our goal is to utilise our endowments, particularly the available energy and logistical advantage so that we can become a major industrial hub,” he said.
Experts believe that what makes Edo stand out is the centrality of its location, its closeness to onshore gas and other supporting structures and the extensive raw material deposits. But many have wondered how easy it is to pull off a ‘revolution’ in such a place.
The plan for the Benin Industrial corridor is quite elaborate and easy to relate, in a manner of speaking. Little wonder investors are falling over themselves to get a cut from the pie. For instance, there is a lot of talk about the Benin Industrial Park and how it will attract big companies across the world to the state to do business.
Critics are wont to ask, who are those to work at the park? But the governor has that covered. As he goes around courting investors, Obaseki has commenced an extensive overhaul of the Government Science and Technical College, formerly known as Benin Technical College. The revamp is in order to train a new breed of technicians and scientists that will be absorbed by investors in the new companies expected to sprout from the Industrial Park and other projects that will be requiring technical manpower. The government has, in the same vein, been training youths in enterprise development and other critical skills required in the 21st century workplace through its EdoJobs platform.
What does Edo have in its basket of goodies?
During the commissioning of Okomu Oil Extension II Plantation, Obaseki revealed that his government is committed to pursuing a number of legacy projects that will usher in unprecedented and rapid socio-economic growth in the state. This, according to him, include the Gelegele Seaport Project, the Benin Industrial Park, Modular Refinery, expansion of plantation size and capacity of the two Nigeria Stock Exhange (NSE)-listed oil palm companies in the state, Okomu Oil Plc and PRESCO Plc, development of critical manpower, exploitation of raw materials and conversion into finished goods by private investors and many more.
The Benin Industrial Park, hailed as a landmark project, is to be handled by three co-developers, who have indicated interest to partner with the state government in development. To be sited at Iyanomo, the park is expected to house a wide range of industries that are looking to source raw materials from the state and convert them into finished or semi-finished goods.
According to the governor, “Three groups have registered to be co-developers and by October 2019 the first tenant will move in. When the park is ready, we will have over 1,000 companies in that park, generating an excess of $3 billion annually.”
The Gelegele Seaport being built by China Harbour Engineering Company (CHEC) Limited is already on course after initial hiccups. Preliminary soil testing has been completed and the CHEC are ready to commence to move to the next phase of the project. But the story of Gelegele is that of persistence.
Once renowned as the port through which the Portuguese entered the ancient Benin kingdom, the port facility suffered neglect all these years until Governor Obaseki decided to reinvent the area’s old legacy. He set up a committee that was peopled by the best brains in the land to draw up a road map for the building of the port. Immediately the report was submitted, the governor set machinery in motion to get investors for the project, which resulted in CHEC partnering with the state on the port’s development.
Ever since, it has been a beehive of activities at site of the project. The Gelegele community has welcomed the team from the company for the preliminary work and the pace of the work is said to be steadily progressing.
The consortium is made up of Peiyang Chemical Equipment Company of China (PCC); Sinopec International Petroleum Service Corporation (SIPS) which is a subsidiary of Sinopec, the top Chemical giant in the world and African Infrastructure Partners (AIP), a Nigerian Infrastructural company.
Speaking at the signing of the MoU, Governor Obaseki expressed delight at the local content component of the deal, which will ensure that Edo citizens are trained in welding, refinery operation and fabrication works to enable them participate in the construction of the refinery as well as its operation, post-commissioning. Obaseki also assured that the refinery construction will provide jobs for several unemployed Edo youths including the Libya returnees.
He added that the modular refinery will solve the problem of inadequate petroleum products in the country and will turn Edo State into the preferred source of petroleum products considering the gateway status of Edo State to other parts of the country. He expressed deep appreciation to the management of PCC and SIPS reiterating that with their support, Edo State is well on its way to becoming a hub of skilled manpower for the oil and gas industry and give boost to Nigeria’s local content policy.
Industrial city: Where is the manpower?
A critical sector that the state government has beamed light is the education sector, which is expected to supply the needed manpower for the lofty ideas of the government. Reforms in basic and technical education are ushering in a new breed of human resources to drive the state’s development efforts.
The Government Science and Technical College (GSTC) is particularly tipped to be a rallying point for sourcing manpower for the industries. Undergoing an overhaul, the college is expected to train artisanal and technical hands, and also serve as a retraining ground for engineers to be deployed at the industrial clusters.
The governor said the project would be an example of sustainable development pathway, stressing that students at the College get the best of technical education, work with latest tools and equipment, and provide the essential technical expertise needed in the state and the country at large.
“My long-term vision for this site is to ensure that we build a light Industrial Park. This will ensure that business and knowledge seat side-by-side, working for the benefits of the Edo people. We are including solar power, harvesting water in the design. We have ensured that there is a strong framework for local participation at the project design stage,” he averred.
As this is ongoing, the state government, through the Edojobs platform, is building a database of unemployed youths and organising skills acquisition training for them. The youths are being retrained for jobs in the 21st century workplace.What do investors get?
Investors in Edo State stand to benefit from the state’s unparalleled support for businesses. The state plays host to the two biggest oil palm companies in Nigeria, both of which are currently expanding their plantain size rapidly due to the state government’s unflinching support for their business. The guaranteed investment-friendly climate provided for investors by the state is also attributable to successes recorded by the 450MW Edo Azura IPP.
Joseph Eboigbe, Special Adviser to the State Governor on Economic and Development Planning, said that the state is committed to supporting investors and providing them with the needed guarantees and infrastructure to do business.
He noted that a lot of the participants at the Alaghodaro Investment Summit have expressed interests to invest in the state, particularly the industrial park, and explained that “the state government has taken note of investors who are ready to hit the ground running and has given them the needed attention. We are processing their expressions of interest.”