The Governor of Osun State, Mr. Adegboyega Oyetola, in this interview with journalists in Lagos, spoke about the various investment opportunities in the state and the forthcoming Osun Economic and Investment Summit. Obinna Chima brings the excerpts:
What is the forthcoming economic summit being organised by the state all about?
We are trying to expose Osun to the entire community of investors, because unless you have the opportunity of knowing what goes on, you won’t know what is happening. Osun State has a lot of potential and it is a place to be in the area of agriculture. If you remember, in the past, our state was the leading producer of cocoa, which used to be the major revenue earner for even the Western Region and even Nigeria. So, we have quite a lot of opportunities for agriculture and we are blessed with abundant mineral resources. There have been lots of illegal mining and what we are trying to do now is to regulate it and ensure that we provide the enabling environment to invest in mining. There is also the ICT hub. Perhaps we have the largest number of tertiary institutions in Nigeria. The culture and tourism. We have quite a lot of other tourist attraction sites – the Olubirin waterfall and quite a lot of other sites available for investors. My attitude to business generally is that government has no business in business. So, the best concept is to drive these investments through public-private partnership (PPP). So, we would create the enabling environment for people to come and invest. We have a very secured environment and our state is adjudged to be the most peaceful state in Nigeria. In addition to that, we have beefed up our security arrangement. We have just acquired additional 20 vehicles in collaboration with the South-west states, that would be launched any moment from now.
In terms of the people, they are very hospitable and the Ease of Doing Business is high in the state. We are ready to sign-off certificate of occupancy within 90 days, from the time of processing to the completion date. The hiccups witnessed have been clearly removed. So, when you look at the totality of what we have, we have created a good environment for businesses to thrive. We are conscious of our state development plan, which is based on four pillars, namely – economic development, infrastructure development, human capital development and security and sustainable environment. All our programmes have been designed to address all these areas. But in doing so, we have a lot of opportunities for investment. And you may want to ask, why Osun State? Osun is a place to be for a number of reasons. Firstly, we have expanse of land for agriculture, our vegetation id very good agriculture. Then, we have abundant mineral resources. There is gold, granite and not less than 10 mineral resources waiting for investors. What we have now are mostly artisanal miners, but we want to fully regulate them and encourage investors, both local and international to come and invest. Again, we have a very secured environment. We place a lot of premium on security. Also, we have not less than 18 hours of electricity supply daily. Most of the companies that relocated to Ghana, did that because of electricity. But they are not aware that in Osun, we have at least 18 hours of electricity supply. You may ask why? That is because we have the distribution centre in Osun. It is from Osun that every other state enjoys electricity supply from the national grid. Then, we have the political will to guarantee your investment. I am from a private sector background. I spent about 30 years of my postgraduate work experience in the private sector, so I know what it takes to ensure that you allow business to thrive. And in any case, it is the private sector that drives the economy. Government should always private the enabling environment and policies to ensure that you have the opportunity to drive the economy. So, with all that, I believe our state is the best for investment and that was why we decided to go all out to showcase the potential in Osun to the entire world.
What kind of incentives are you offering investors?
In terms of incentives, if you talk about agriculture, we have a lot land and we have made them available for investors. That would save them the problem of going to the communities to start to talk about land. So, the government is providing land to the investors. That is part of the incentive. We are a state that believes in the rule of law. Once agreements are made, they are binding on the government and government is a continuum, regardless of the term. Once an agreement is made, we keep to it. So, I don’t see any problem with that. Once you make an agreement on behalf of the state, it is binding on whoever comes after my tenure.
When you talk about regulating the artisanal miners, how do you intend to achieve that?
The federal government has actually put up a presidential artisanal miners’ initiative. Two of the states are the pilot – Kebbi and Osun. The intention is to actually encourage our youths to go into mining and find a way of accommodating the artisanal miners, train them and even fund their activities. The federal government has provided an intervention fund for that. Since the federal government is diversifying from oil to non-oil, mining is a key aspect of that diversification. So, even the federal government is trying to ensure that artisanal miners are trained. When we talk of regulation, if we leave them entirely to continue to do exactly what they are doing, there would be a lot of destruction on the environment. Again, you might end up realising that investors, particularly international investors, might be discouraged, if we don’t sanitise the sector. Again, it is not by driving them away, but by accommodating them by regulating their activities. As I speak, we are registering all miners in Osun, to ensure that we are able to flush out criminals that come under the disguise of mining. That was the problem that had at Zamfara. Most of the criminals came in as miners and decided to do a lot of crimes. So, we want to ensure that, that does not happen in our case and we are doing that by ensuring that we register every miner in our state, whether artisanal or large scale, so that we can precisely know whoever is doing business in the state and they can be protected. So, our case can never be that of Zamfara. I think they left it unregulated for too long. We have learnt from that and we are regulating right away. Again, we are trying to protect the environment so as not to have a situation like what happened in the Niger Delta.
So, Osun is taking steps to ensure that the normal conflicts that occur in resource-rich areas don’t reoccur. During the time of the Zamfara crisis, we heard that on the average, about 15,000 artisinal miners migrated down south when they closed the mines in Zamfara. So, the proactive step we took was to start enumeration. So, right now, we have registered a few thousands of them and we are giving them an RFID-enabled card which gives us the opportunity to track what they are doing.
Although mining is on the exclusive list, but Osun is one of the very few states that proactively reached out to the federal government and got its own mining titles, which is about the largest currently in the country. It will interest you to know that one private sector operator is already in Osun and has put the state on the global mining map, as the only recognised gold mining company in Nigeria and in one of their sites that have discovered gold worth over $2 billion. So, we have about 16 mining titles and about eight of it are already in Osun. In Zamfara, Niger, Kaduna and even far in Ebonyi, we have titles that belong to Osun as a government.
Some other states did organise economic summits in the past, but what we see after such summits, does not give course for joy. So, can you give us timelines as to when you anticipate the benefits from this summit would come to fruition and do you have multilateral agencies you are working with to achieve some of your plans for the state?
We don’t have the luxury of time for a talk show. What we are trying to do here is to bring Osun to the entire world. So, it is not a talk show. Again, the abundance of mineral resources in the state may not be known to a lot of people. Secondly, the fact that we enjoy 18 hours of electricity is enough incentive for anybody to come and invest in the state. So, this is all about showing what we have to the entire world. I must tell you that an investor is ready to sign a memorandum of understanding on mining with us, and has actually deposited a huge sum of money. The company we are talking about is already listed on the Toronto Stock Exchange. It is a Nigerian company as well as an Osun company. So, people are showing interest in what we have and we are serious about what we are saying and I can assure you that after this summit you will see the benefits. Talking about donors, we have relationship with a lot of donor agencies such as the World Bank, DFID, the French Agency and we are doing a lot with them and they are supporting us massively on a lot of things, both technical and in terms of grants.
What is the state of the Itagunmodi mines and is it one of the mining sites you have gotten investors for?
Itagunmodi is one of the major mining sites that we have a lot of artisanal miners and I believe it is part of where some of the investors are willing to invest in. That is why we believe that the first thing is to create the enabling environment for investors to do their business without being molested by the artisanal miners.
What is the plan to have business hubs in the state to encourage economic activities?
Part of what we are trying to achieve after this summit is to see people that want to invest in industrial parks. We are looking for people that would be interested in investing in industrial parks, where you have opportunity for businesses to be cited with some degree of amenities. Another area is the free trade zone that we already have and is already available for investors to come in and start their business, whenever they are ready. We are not just looking for people that would just use our base for raw materials, but we are already creating opportunity for value chain, for cassava processing for instance, to ethanol.
Since you are expecting investors in the mining sector, how prepared are you to confront the environmental challenges that are always associated with such activities and do you have the infrastructure to support these investors you are trying to attract?
The new partners that we are taking on board, we are ensuring that the MoU that we are signing, we are integrating the International Finance Corporation’s benchmark to contain environmental and social risk. Part of things we are equally doing is to study the livelihood sustainability around our mine areas to ensure that the social and environmental risks are considered and heavily integrated in the MoU that we are signing. Currently, we are speaking with Solid Minerals Development Funds (SMDF). They are supporting us in looking at the current damages ecologically to the environment, by the activities of artisanal miners. This part of the reforms that we are already putting in place. In terms of infrastructure, we have done so much. If you have been to Osun recently, you would have a seen a lot of what we have done in that area. In addition to that, the federal government is constructing the rail line that would still pass through the state to the north. So, in terms of transportation of goods and services, we can do that by rail. Yes, an airport project has been conceived even before we came in, it was supposed to be a partnership arrangement between the federal government and Osun, as far back as the time of Governor Oyinlola. It was supposed to be a 50-50 arrangement. Osun started, but the federal government was not forthcoming. But realising the fact that if you want to encourage movement of produce, particular in creating a value chain, a cargo airport is desirable. So, that was what informed the previous government to go into that. But what we are looking at is to go for investors that want to take it over and we give them 25 or 30 years lease, as the case may be, they build, operate and transfer the project. So, the government is not willing to put money into it, other than what has been invested so far. And quite a number of investors have shown interest and they are willing to partner with us to complete the cargo airport. Perhaps, it is part of what would be marketed to the whole world. If you look at DHL, the company has a lot of cargo. So, if we are able to have that, it would create opportunity for employment. So, it is desirable, but we are not looking at putting more money into the project, other than asking investors to come and take it over under a lease agreement.