Nseobong Okon-Ekong and Femi Ogbonnikan interact with Otunba Bimbo Ashiru, Ogun State Commissioner for Commerce and Industry, who flaunts his achievements as the trump card that should help him clinch the governorship ticket of the All Progressives Congress
Why do you have the conviction that you have what it takes to contest for the office of Governor of Ogun State?
I spent close to 30 years in the banking industry, where I served in different areas. I am the longest serving Commissioner for Commerce and Industry. And my people have said, ‘you have done very well in government in the last seven years’. Ogun State was a civil service state, but now, Ogun State is the industrial hub of Nigeria, because 25 percent of Foreign Direct Investments (FDI) that comes to this country, berths in Ogun State. These are the things you need to look at. Even if you look at the succession plans that we have, I am most qualified. Chief Olabisi Onabanjo was governor of this state between 1979 and 1983. He left the throne as a result of a military coup. Chief Olusegun Osoba too, came in and after sometime the military took over. Again, Osoba was returned into the office in 1999 through the ballot box. In 2003, Otunba Gbenga Daniel came in. He met a hostile environment because we were from another party. We were not going to allow Daniel remain in power or have his stooge as the governor. In Ogun State, there was no continuity, like Lagos, where Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu was the governor and Fasbola took over from him and Ambode is there now. So, you could see the trend of continuity.
I am the right person to continue the good work of Amosun. It is true that Ogun west has never produced a governor. What we have now is a bi-polar situation. The people of Egba/Egbado are clamouring for the office of governor. We, in the Ijebu/Remo, are saying that, it is our own turn to produce the next governor. But we are not going to fight the governor over that. He has done very well. He is a visionary man. At the same time, our leaders are saying he should consider us too. He should let us have a level-playing field and let everybody can go to the primary and then, let us choose the best among all of us. The track records are there. It is not that, someone wants to be governor because of the glamour of the office. I want to leave a legacy. I don’t see it as a matter of life and death. I have a good relationship with my governor. He is my friend. He is my brother. He is my boss. There is no way I am going to confront him.
In terms of visibility or actual achievements, can your ministry enumerate some tangibles that may be accredited to you?
There are tangibles. When we came, Ogun State was rated 35 by the World Bank, in terms of doing of business. We were a state that was not friendly. I led the delegation to meet with the World Bank team on the February 14, 2014, to tell them of the reforms that we have done, which clearly showed a lot of improvement. We moved from number 35 to one of the best five in the country. It is a landmark achievement. When we came in here in 2011, Ogun State was a civil service state. Today, Ogun State is the industrial hub of Nigeria. Over 300 companies have opened shop in the last seven years and many of them must have invested in excess of 100 million Dollars. We have been able to create that wealth and jobs for our people.
Is that a function of your ingenuity or your proximity to Lagos?
It is the function of creating that environment. If you come to Ogun State and you are frustrated, you will look at other alternatives. We are not an option. We are the alternative. It is not because we are close to Lagos. Someone can leave Lagos and go to Ibadan (Oyo State) or go to Ondo State. An average businessman is looking for areas where his business will prosper. Look at the Nigerian Sea ports, the congestion would still put them off, but by the time we put Olokola in place, people will go to Olokola. Bbusinessmen are looking for comfort, where they can do their businesses. When we came in here, banks were shut because armed robbers had sent them packing to Lagos. They (armed robbers) were in Ogun State and they were having a field day. I was part of the committee that met with the bankers’ forum. We brought in 14 Armoured Personnel Carrier (APC) vehicles and put them at different locations in the state. That is why Ogun State is one of the most peaceful states in Nigeria today. It is just like saying, you are from a rich family, if you don’t utilise the wealth, judiciously, you will not find the money anymore. If you come from a poor family and you can make the best of a bad situation, you can change your bad fortune to good. Whether we are closer to Lagos or not, it is not the reason. We cater for the businesses that are attracted here, by creating that enabling environment for their businesses to thrive. We made Ogun State a construction site because building industries must go with development of infrastructure. It is important for companies to move goods and services from one place to the other. If the journey that should take between 10 and 20 minutes is taking you three to four hours, you will be distracted and discouraged. You would not want to do business in that place. If you want to build a company and they don’t have good roads and proper infrastructure, you will look elsewhere. Every businessman is looking at the protection of his assets and investments. It is not just that we are close to Lagos, we have also identified lapses that we need to seal. When I was in the banking industry, I hated going to ministries because I knew that, they would frustrate me; that they would want to take advantage of me. These are the loopholes and leakages that we have blocked.
Is that within your ministry?
Yes, in my ministry. In most cases, in the past, especially in this state if the governor was not happy with you, he sent you to the Ministry of Commerce and Industry. I am the 23rd Commissioner for Commerce and Industry. I tell people, it is the character that determines how you will run your show. If I am put in the Ministry of Local Government and Chieftaincy Affairs, I will still make my own reforms there. I will make the best out of the situation there.
Your ministry is one of the first contacts for people who want to business in Ogun State, what are these reforms you are talking about?
We introduced a one-stop-shop. When business people come here, they probably go to Lands Ministry. They are looking for land to locate their business. What we have done is, we make them write a letter, to let us know their immediate, medium and long term plans. If you are asking for five hectares, you probably may need 10 hectares. On other hand, you may be asking for 20 hectares and probably, you just need only five hectares. We guide you through till you take ownership. It is similar to what is done in the banking industry, where you have the business relations manager. Luckily, I was in the first set that started private banking in the then, Chartered Bank. We know the importance. That was why people rushed to Chartered Bank because they had somebody who they could interface with, who would take over their problems and go to all ministries and other departments. That is the same thing, we are doing here. We take over your responsibilities to ensure that, all the areas where you need things to be done for you is done; that you have somebody you can trust. That is why we decided to introduce that kind of reform. We also introduced the ‘Investors’ Forum’.
The ‘Investors’ Forum’ has become one of the biggest forum for businesses in Nigeria. How did you grow it to such a standard?
My Ministry packaged it. The Commissioner for Budget Planning is usually the chairman. It is driven by my ministry. We were able to do that, because we have done four of such in the past. It clearly shows areas where we have comparative and competitive advantage. We have been able to showcase what we have in Ogun State. There are so many things here. For example, out of about 40 million metric tonnes of cement that are being produced in Nigeria today, Ogun State produces 20 million tonnes. That clearly shows that Ogun State is the largest producer of cement in Nigeria today. We have Lafarge, and they have been operating in Sagamu for the past 50 years. And you can still mine it for the next 100 years. It comes from Oloworo down to Olokola. If we don’t showcase it, nobody will know. We have granite. All the granites they used to construct the Lagos Third Mainland Bridge, came from Saje in Ogun State. If you drive on Lagos-Epe road, at the Eko Atlantic Estate that in Victoria Island, you would see them, carrying granite from Saje (Ogun State) to the place. We have so many quarries. Then, Ogun State has the largest steel industries in Nigeria. We have about 35 steel industries in the whole of this country. That is 37 percent. There are other areas that, you won’t even know that, Ogun State has. If you don’t project those things, nobody would know you have them.
Should this not be seen as a collaborative effort, not an advantage you ascribe to yourself, because you want to be governor?
I have been part of success story for the past seven years. Seventy five percent of foreign direct investment that come to this country actually, berth in Ogun State. For a better continuity, it is good to have somebody who has been part of the system. You don’t want to bring in somebody else that would come in and start finding his way for the next two to three years and that is one of the problems that we have in this country. Somebody who has been part of the success story can settle down easily to continue the good job of Governor Ibikunle Amosun.
Are you concerned about the Nigerian system where we to pay too much attention to zoning and such other considerations. What if it doesn’t favour you?
I will move on. It is not a matter of life and death. They screened nine of us from the All Progressives Congress (APC) in Ogun East and I came tops. It is the good people of Ogun State that will determine whoever they want as their governor. If it doesn’t favour me, I will move on. That means, God doesn’t want me there. If it is given to somebody else, no bitterness,I will pray and support whoever they believe is going to be their candidate.
When you assumed office over seven years ago, in terms of figures, how much has this ministry been able to make for the state government?
Under my leadership in the Ministry of Commerce and Industry, the business environment of the state grew beyond imagination, with well over 1,279,84 percent increase in Internal Generated Revenue (IGR). We have over 300 factories/companies that established their presence here in Ogun State, with a cumulative investment profile of about N691.77 billion in 2014, compared to N377 billion in 2013. And this placed Ogun State in the first position in Nigeria, according to the Manufacturers Association of Nigeria (MAN). During this period, approximately, 75 percent of the manufacturing foreign direct investments that berthed into the country, between 2011 and 2016, came to Ogun State.
IN THE MIRROR
*He is the Honorable Commissioner for Commerce and Industry in Ogun State. A position he has held since 2011 after being re-appointed to the same ministry in 2015. Under his stewardship, the business environment of the state developed beyond imagination with over 1,279.84% increase in internally generated Revenue of the State. More than 120 new companies established their presence in Ogun State with a cumulative investment profile of about N691.77 billion in 2014, compared to N377 Billion in 2013. This placed Ogun State in first position in Nigeria, according to the Manufacturers Association of Nigeria. During his time, approximately 75% of Foreign Direct Investment into the country between 2011 and 2016 came into Ogun State.
*During his tenure, the World Bank Group, in its ‘Doing Business in Nigeria 2014 Report’, ranked Ogun State as one of the best five States in term of ease of doing business against the 35th position in its 2010 report. He also facilitated the creation of a One-Stop Shop Investment Center (OSSIC) which sits within the Ministry of Commerce & Industry to assist potential investors with procedures for investment and documentation processing.
*Holds a degree in Marketing, Purchasing & Supply, and a Masters’ Degree in Strategic Management. With this background, he entered the services of the then Chartered Bank in the year 1989. In asuccessful career that has spanned two decades and taken him to various institutions, he has served in various capacities of Management (Head, Private Banking Unit; Branch Manager; Head, Institution & Professional Banking; Regional Coordinator; Country Director, Personal and Business Banking; Director, Corporate Affairs and Corporate Social Investments; until his last position of Group Head, Public Sector with Stanbic IBTC Bank. He was the pioneer head of the department.
*Representative of the Awujale of Ijebuland on the Ijebu Development Initiative on Poverty Reduction (IDIPR). He has distinguished himself in this field and represented his people favorably to the best of his ability. He was also on the Technical and Communications Committees of the 17th Nigerian Economic Summit (2011).
*He is a member of The Metropolitan Club, Ikoyi Club 1938 and a member of the Ijebu Heritage Group and Ijebu Renaissance Group.
*He is a Fellow of the Institute of Strategic Management of Nigeria; National Institute of Marketing of Nigeria (FNIMN) and Chartered Institute of Commerce of Nigeria.