Governor Nyesom Ezenwo Wike met an economy that was on halt by the time he took over as governor on May 29, 2015. All he has done since that day has been to unlock the economic potential of Rivers State and attract investors back to their once-beloved Garden City. He has deliberately created ‘sugar-policies’ to sweeten the city to the taste of businesses and investors.
There may be need to remind businesses how it was by the time Wike came into office three years ago. Rivers State was in economic comatose. No investor was happy because there was total insecurity, the courts had been shut, meaning that all cases that needed judicial intervention had to grind to a halt. The thousands of lawyers that make a living in the Rivers State jurisdiction had to shut down their offices. Some joined their wives in other businesses while others simply relocated. The number of executive kabu-kabu taxis increased. The crowd that mills around the Rivers State High Court area for numerous services such as restaurants, typing, affidavits and other notary services disappeared. That sector of the economy crashed and stopped. It was sad that the state government was no longer able to pay salaries. This is a key economic booster because when the state releases between N7bn and N9bn in any months to the economy, this automatically boosts the economy of the region as buying peaks. Parents pay their landlords who use the revenue to solve their personal problems and leave the government alone. The failure to pay salaries and pensions simply stifled a major sector of the economy of this state. There was gloom and apprehension all through that period, making the populace to wait in high anxiety for rescue which came on May 29, 2015.
It was so sad that the state government was no longer in a position to discharge its obligations to the industrial sector. Business owners were faced with impassable roads, near total absence of power supply, water, social services, security, etc. Industries were fleeing and unemployment reached its peak. The economy had simply stopped functioning. This needed pragmatic approach, determination and focus; which Wike came to represent and to reproduce.
Wike started by launching several wars to liberate the economy of the state and to attract fleeing enterprises, and this needed sweeteners. He began to clear the blocked roads everywhere. He created the Operation Zero Pothole which began to fill all potholes and repair short patches of roads in all parts of Port Harcourt. This was meant to free businesses to be on the move. It is clear that stagnant businesses result to a stagnant economy. Between then and now, the governor has been repairing roads, completing abandoned ones, initiating new ones and creating easy passages for businesses, goods and services. All roads leading into or out of state capital have been rescued. The most recent is the commissioning by the Senate President, Bukola Saraki, of the International Airport Link Road, popularly called Obiri Ikwerre road. Many visitors including leaders of the organized private sector (OPS) especially the Manufacturers Association of Nigeria (MAN) have often hailed the action.
Roads leading to Etche, the food basket of the state, have been built, freeing massive food produce into the city. It has also provided alternative routes to Imo State and other eastern states. Saakpenwa – Bori road is ongoing, internal roads in Isiokpo, Okochiri, Elele Alimini, Omoku have all been constructed and commissioned.
The governor has equally boosted business and created leisure for business people by building the world class Pleasure Park on Aba Road between the Bori Camp (Army) and Airforce Base. The Rex Lawson Cultural Centre in the town area has also been commissioned with a theatre described as one of the best in Sub-Sahara Africa. He has thus continued to fill the infrastructure gap in the state so that businesses and investors can face their own task. It has been said time without number that government does not create jobs but creates the enabling environment that creates jobs. In that regard, the most important aspect is provision of infrastructure. This, the governor is pursuing with every energy in his sinews.
Wike wasted no time in stepping into the rotten Trans-Amadi Industrial Area. This was the pride of Rivers State, the garland in the Garden City. He targeted Trans –Amadi and brought it back to life, being a major hub of economic activities. What did he do there? Knowing it is the centre of attention for investors, he began building all the roads that inter into Trans-Amadi. The most important ones include the Garrison-Slaughter Road that transverses the industrial estate into two. It is from this nerve road that all other roads take off into other sections of Trans-Amadi. It is also from this road that other services are delivered to companies in the estate. If you knock out this road as it was for years, you knock out the entire State economy. This could account for why many businesses ground to a halt there, the others fled to the Onne Oil and Gas Free Zone and other places.
The Nkpogu road and bridge has been completed and it links LNG and Trans Amadi. Wike also linked Trans-Amadi to Trans-Woji area that takes it to Akpajo and Eleme Road by completing and opening the Woji Bridge. He also completed the road that extends from Peter Odili Road through the housing estate that hopes to link RSTV Road in Elelenwo and down to Akpajo and East West Road. The exit through Elekahia road was also constructed and traffic from Trans-Amadi now flows freely to other parts of the city and out to other parts of the state. This is very important and very strategic to investors because of the need to move heavy items in and out of your business base.
Those who would want to visit Trans-Amadi today would know that Wike has cured 90 per cent of problems of the business community in that area. What it implies is that the traffic problems in the area, the inconveniences suffered by trucks and lorries, the security problems that made banks unsafe, the reluctance of security agencies to patrol Trans-Amadi, and all of those factors that drove away a lot of businesses from their places have been removed. Today, businesses are returning. Now, go and see how the gigantic new Next Supermarket recently opened in Trans Amadi area. It is one of the best in Nigeria. That is an endorsement of confidence in the economy of Rivers State. The banks in Trans-Amadi are now booming. Nothing can be a bigger bribe to any investor than this alone.
Wike now gives land certificates between 30 and 90 days. So far, he has given 2093 certificates (C/Os) and about 1070 consents when his predecessor gave less than 600. This gives a lot of leverage to businesses.
Wike is also boosting businesses in a bottom-up approach. His policy is to strengthen the purchasing power of the lower segment of the society by creating several loan packages to different groups. There is the N200 million per month revolving loan to civil servants, N200 million monthly interest free loan to businessmen and young entrepreneurs, N500m to boost private healthcare participation, N500 million grant to market women groups, and other packages to other groups. The state government began in this direction by working hard to draw down the CBN N2Bn SME loan which Rivers State obtained through RIMA and disbursed to about 35,000 micro, small, and medium scale businesses. The objective is to boost economic activities at the bottom level so as to make them economically active and boost purchasing power to engage the medium level entrepreneurs that produce fast moving goods and services.
Tax reforms are another area where the governor is working hard. Tax holidays have been created to boost virgin investors. Rivtamis is now online, multiple taxation is over, tax papers are processed with minimum delay. There is constant intervention in problems of businesses. Now, business groups are happier. There is the tax appeal tribunal which addresses grievances on issues of revenues and levies.
There is a one-stop-shop for questions related to investments and businesses to ensure that start-up is fast and encouraging. There are incentives for partnerships that allow them to take their controlling shares while our equity contributions may just be land. In some situations, we waive all statutory levies and charges relating to land acquisition, urban and regional development levies, etc, within the legislative purview of the state.
This is how Gov Wike is bribing investors back to the state, back to the Garden City and the bribe is working magic.
Okah is the Commissioner for Information and Communications,