Governor-elect of Enugu State, Peter Mbah speaks to Arise News about his plans for the state. Excerpts
In your acceptance speech, you called on Ndi Enugu to come together because you are all brothers and sisters and that there will be no difference between Nsukka and Nkanu, referring to the circumstances during the election. Can you expatiate?
Thank you Reuben. First of all, we thank and congratulate Ndi Enugu for making us their preferred choice because in the build up to the campaign and the electioneering process, we took a bold view of what Enugu state could achieve if we work together as a people and the message resonated with them. So, what we did immediately was to begin to put those campaign promises into actionable plans and policies. We said to Ndi Enugu that we want to grow the economy in a manner that Enugu state has not witnessed in the past and obviously that means that there are specific things that we must do and we have to be deliberate about it. We also said to Ndi Enugu that we want to kick poverty out.
And there are a couple of promises that are specific because we didn’t just make vague promises, but those that are tied to timelines so our people can hold us accountable. We know that Ndi Enugu are expectant. We are already working to ensure that we accomplish those promises. And in doing that, we have invited all my brothers that we ran the race with. The truth is that we may be running on different political platforms, but we are united in our passion to ensure the growth and development of Enugu State; and that is why I have extended the Olive branch to them.
A lot of people are still commenting on what happened regarding the Nsukka and Nkanu East results. One of your opponents and candidate of the Labour Party has said he would go to court to retrieve his stolen mandate. It was a neck and neck, just 3,000 votes difference. What do you say about all of that is going on?
I believe that the democracy we practice has bequeathed us with that infrastructure of ventilating our views. It is very difficult for anybody in any race, who lost to give credence to the process. We believe that the voices of Ndi Enugu have been heard and they have shown their preference, which is us. We believe that our message resonated with them and that is the message of “Tomorrow is here”.
Let’s talk about some of the things you are promising the people of Enugu State because even in that your acceptance speech, you had so much packed into it. You said you wanted to build economic zones, schools and make sure that there is water in every part of Enugu metroplis within 180 days; and that the incoming administration is in a hurry. In your manifesto, you said you wanted to raise the GDP from the value of $4.4bn to about $30bn in a space of eight years. Isn’t that a bit on the ambitious side? And before you joined us, we were discussing the public debt profile of the states and the federal government. Enugu seems to be heavily indebted. Where will the money come from?
Great point. The truth is that we acknowledge that going by our current revenue model, there is just no way on earth that those campaign promises can be met, which is why we said from the onset that we are going to disrupt the current revenue models, positively. We recognize these current revenue models that focus on a rent-seeking approach where we have to rely on revenues from the Federation Account, come back here and spend it. And of course, the money we collect and the fraction of it that we get from the internally generated revenue is hardly enough to optimally intervene across all the critical sectors of our economy, hence we said that we will have to tweak our revenue model and unlock our rural economy, for example, and explore the resources we have in the state, which we haven’t done in the past.
And there are a number of things we have to do in our revenue part of things. We didn’t just come out and make those promises or pick them from the blues. They are numbers that we have carefully reviewed and numbers that we know that based on the disruptions that we are going to witness in our revenue model, we are able to basically grow our economy, not just by the government activities, but also making sure that we provide both the policy and the physical environment to attract private sector investment. So, that growth side we talked about in our GDP, you are going to see that coming from both the public and the private sector.
Again, if you look at what we have done, we have not quite optimally addressed our rural economy like agriculture, which only contributes a fraction to our GDP. But that fraction again we believe is suboptimal. So, what we need to do is to essentially look at ways to scale up our activities in the agricultural sector. But beyond just the production, we are going to process, package, market, and export. There are a lot of value chain we want to tap into in the agriculture sector. For us, the agriculture will be migrated from just being a sector to agriculture and agro-allied industrial sector because there are a whole lot of economic activities that we have not tapped into in that sector and we are going to be looking to do that. We also have the energy and the mineral resources sector, which is something new.
We have not explored all the mineral resources we have in the state and also the energy resources. So, those are the things we will be looking at. But above all, we believe that we want to make Enugu State the preferred destination for investment, business, for living. As I have always said to people, businesses are not father Christmas. They are obviously interested in returns on investment. So, they want the environment, both the policy and the physical environment to be friendly; and because of my background as a private sector person, I know how to work with investors and prospective investors and businesses and attract them here because we know how to help them de-risk the investment flow.
Are you going to be raising bonds and raising more debts because you simply do not have the money. Your IGR was about 26 billion, which is disproportionate to what you get from the Federal Accounts Allocation Committee, FAAC, which is about N60bn. So, in a year, you get about N86bn or N90bn or thereabout. But you have so much to do. So, the first question is: Are you going to be raising a bond, how soon are you doing it, sought of like a way to give you a headroom or leeway to be able to do some things. You talked about the fact that you wanted to provide water that has been moribund for so many years in 180 days. How much is that going to cost you to start with?
Rufai, I am glad that you are going into data, which is something you do frankly if you want to craft strategies. You want to look at the trend and perhaps the growth pattern and maybe also get data on the economic side of things. But the truth is that if we were to do a trend analysis, our growth pattern over the years, we cannot be talking about a seven-fold. If I told you that I will do exactly what we have always done and expect to grow the economy seven-folds, of course that will not be true. But we actually want to disrupt innovatively the current revenue model. We are going to get a head start because there are a couple of things we want to do. In terms of bond, that is not our immediate focus.
Attracting investors will require you providing some basic infrastructure. If you look at the way we have explained the things we want to do in the agric sector, we said we want to attract commercial farmers and to do that, it means that we have to create that environment for them to come. Most times, the hurdles that these commercial farmers have are the friction they have with the communities and we have said we are going to address that by making sure that we legislate the harmonization of these rural lands and ensure that we parcellate them and get them ready and build access and feeder roads so that these commercial farmers will find it attractive.
In terms of even the current farmers we have in the state, we also want to enhance their skills and provide them with extension services. These are the things we are going to do that will disrupt our revenue model. The current revenue model that focuses on the FAAC and IGR may have served their maximum potentials. So, in order for us to do the things that we have promised our people, we have to rejig that model and attract funds from these sectors.
We made the promises of getting water to our people in 180 days based on a robust study that we have done in the water resources sector. This current government has already been able to access funding from the French Development Agency. They have already been able to draw a part of that and a lot of things that are required, for example, the engineering, GIS mapping, procurement of the mechanicals and electrical components of the supplies of the water schemes that we have, have all been done. So, some of the items that we needed to essentially frontload, like the pumps that we need. First of all, it is important to note that we have already existing water schemes in Enugu like the Oji River and the Ajali schemes, which can produce over 130,000 cubic meters of water to Ndi Enugu and our daily consumption today is about 100,000 cubic meters. So, what are the problems? They are largely with the mechanicals and the electricals, the M&E.
Those mechanical components, we have constantly gone back and forth on repairing, which has not quite served us. Some of those pumps may have lived out their lives. So, what we want to do is to order them and make sure that they arrive here in good time. They are items that are built to specification. So, we are going to get them and we are confident that as we did promise Ndi Enugu that in a 180 days, which is our pessimistic case.
How much is that going to cost. We also want to know what the revenue model will be because you are talking about agriculture. We both know that it will take about a year or two to materialize even if we have all the infrastructure and attract all the businesses. What will be the initial jumpstart revenue model? You are going to take more debts, talk to investment bankers or have a leeway? What is going to be and how much is the water project going to cost?
Because we have promised Ndi Enugu that this will happen in 180 days, we have had to front load the orders of the pumps because it takes three to four months to get them delivered here. In terms of our revenue model, the state has already accessed about 50 million dollars, which is available. So, we are not looking to find money to fund the project. We have started drawing on it to be able to deal with the water challenge. On the revenue model, don’t forget that we do not have challenges going to engage the financial institutions, if we are able to show them that this is the financial model we have and we need to access this amount of money and this is how we will repay the money from the project for which we are borrowing the money if have to.
I am coming from a very strong private sector background and project management and project development are my forte and I understand how to engage the financial institutions to be able to get a head start in the area of funding because again, what you want to show in your financing model is that this project is viable and we are not doing this for charity.
Enugu State has very low IGR and is heavily indebted. Unemployment rate in the state is over 31%. Is it correct to say that this revenue model you are talking about to address all the projects that you have outlined is to go to financial institutions and borrow more money?
Borrowing in itself is not the issue. What is important is do you want to borrow the money for production or consumption. That is the question you have to ask yourself and is there a model that shows how you repay the money you are borrowing and how you grow your economy, reduce unemployment that you have pointed out and also get people who are living in the pit of poverty out of the pit. What we are saying is that we have sectors that we have identified as growth productivity sectors and those sectors, we are not performing optimally there, hence we need to scale things up; and in order for us to do that, we need to attract private sector investment and to also do that, there are key infrastructure that the state must provide and there are key things that the state must do to de-risk this investment inflow.
And in order for us to do those things, we may need to access funding to be able to make sure that we provide that attractive environment for investors to come and for us to produce more and process what we produce and export. So, it is a model that will address unemployment. I have only just narrowed down on one sector. We have a couple of other productivity sectors that we have not delved into. We have just been talking about agriculture. But don’t forget that we also have tourism, commerce and industry, energy and mineral resources, creative industry, among others. We have to basically make them attractive for private sectors to come and invest in those sectors.
Let us go back to the political question. How confident are you that the Certificate of Return will remain with you because the margin of victory is just about 3,000 votes. The Labour Party candidate, Chijioke Edeoga, is saying that he will challenge the result, particularly in Nkanu East and your party, the PDP is saying they will challenge in Nsukka, Isi Uzo, and others. So, it looks like it is a big battle ahead from the tribunal, maybe to the court of appeal. How confident of an eventual victory are you?
We are confident that our people spoke in one resounding voice on March 18 and that they showed their preference in electing us as the next government of Enugu State. There were things that we believe and we have also had to speak to our lawyers about that. We would also be taking them up at the tribunal, and this may not be the right platform to begin to talk about the details of our approach to these things. But we believe that we won the election resoundingly. The measures that the umpire took in coming back to revisit the collation of results are things that we believe may require us to cross-petition. But these are obviously things that we are going to all address at the tribunal.
We have no doubt that our message, going round the 68 development centers and engaging the people in town hall meetings, going to the universities, engaging with the professional bodies, trade unions, trying to unpack what the tomorrow we refer to as being here holds for the young people rsonated with the people. Wewent round tellling our people about how we would help migrate the economy of the state to a digital economy and also create an opportunity for them to flourish as the world is shifting rapidly. If we do not enhance the skills of our young people, perhaps, the skill sets that they have today will expire and we would be struggling. We have spoken to them about movement to the world of robotics, artificial intelligence, virtual reality, augmented reality and how we can create an opportunity for them to flourish in those areas, enhance their skills and set up innovation incubation centers across the three senatorial zones and also set up special agro-allied processing zones, industrial parks, clusters and hubs and how we are going to transform our young people from being job seekers to wealth creators and employment generators. These messages resonated quite frankly with our young people and we are confident that the outcome of the election was truly the reflection of the voices of the people of Enugu State.
What are you going to do about the Coal industry to be able to resuscitate it. Are you talking to some possible partners, can there be a possibility to be able to use coal to generate electricity and industrial development?
It is a good thing that you just pointed out the consequential roles that Coal has played in the economic and historical trajectories of Nigeria. We believe that that is essentially where we want to take the state to. It may also interest you to know that Enugu has the best grade of coal in the world comparable to what you have in Japan. So, we have two approaches to our coal. It is something that we will either use to power our industries, create power plants that you can fire with coal energy or we can also begin to negotiate Coal as a stranded asset that we are warehousing in Enugu.
What are the low hanging fruits that you can quickly deliver because the water project that you have said you will achieve in 180 days, I am not sure that the pipelines are in place. So, that will be quite challenging. Again, why do you want to go through all these troubles when you were already making your money in the oil sector?
Let me start by dealing with the quick fix. There are a couple of quick fixes that we could get on with. You just mentioned water. And by the way, regarding the reticulation/distribution side of things, what we did was to segment our water supply into three parts. So, we have the upstream, mid-stream, and downstream. The up stream is the supply side of things which is the production. The midstream is the transmission. So, moving the water produced to the storage and of course, the downstream which is the distribution and involves making sure that the pipes to distribute to the different locations and estates are in place. In Enugu, we are fairly okay with the distribution.
So, once we are able to address the production, which is the major challenge we have and is a quick fix that we want to quickly tackle and that is why we said to Ndi Enugu that in 180 days, you are going to have water. That for us is a low hanging fruit. There are other low-hanging fruits. We want to convoke a diaspora and investment forum within the 100 days of coming to power. We are also going to get on with making sure that those things are in place, including the infrastructure, needed to attract investments are in place. You know that Enugu has been adjudged to be one of the safest and secure places to live. We are going to ensure that we build on that and make it a safer place for people to live.
On the question of why I left the relatively safe corporate and private sector environment and get into the murky waters of Nigerian politics, I want to say that it is driven by the urge to serve and the transcendental value. It is something that is beyond self. If you look at it from the point of view of earning, you know that the space where I play in, the downstream sector of the oil and gas sector, which is again a mature sector that we came into and displaced the incumbents and became the number one in terms of the volume and the market share in that space. So, leaving that to come into the public sector space is a sacrifice that can only be driven by a value that is beyond you.
How many primary health centers do you have in Enugu State? What is your assessment of the state of these primary health centers and what will be your plan for these centers and how much do you intend to devote in revamping the sector?
We have about 400 primary healthcare centers in Enugu State and so, you have them in almost all the communities in the state. But the question is how do we ensure that all the health centers are operational. The current government has already started working on refurbishing and re-equipping those primary health centers. We are going to build on that. I know that as at the last count, over 100 have been refurbished, renovated and re-equipped. We will ensure that we get all of them working. But above all, which is the major challenge, is to make sure that we have the proper staffing in the centers. So, we have community health extension workers and the objective for us to make sure that the PHCs are operational 24hours daily so that at each shift, you have a minimum of two community health extension workers. We want to ensure that our maternal and infant mortality rate are taken care of. Our objective is to also be in line with the SDGs.