Bassey James is the Chancellor, Akpabiosm Centre for Leadership, (ACL). He is also Founder of Southern Youths Development Forum, (SYDF). He was a member of Dr. Goodluck Jonathan’s Presidential Campaign Committee. In this interview with select journalists in Lagos, he emphasises on the need for states to develop other sources of revenue apart from federal allocation. He also speaks on the industrialisation project of incumbent Governor of Akwa Ibom, Deacon Udom Emmanuel. Peterclaver Egbochue was there. Excerpts:
Udom’s administration tends to pay more attention to industrialisation which ultimately will create jobs in the state. What are your thoughts on this?
Two weeks ago, His Excellency, Deacon Udom Emmanuel went to Pickup Paints. Pickup Paints happens to be one of the best paints manufacturers in Africa, not just in Nigeria. But unfortunately that industry was allowed to die. For Udom Emmanuel to have visited that factory gave a lot of hope to us that he is coming with a basket of industrialisation in the state. Of course, every bank develops business, markets, manufacturing and whatever. So, I think that it does not take N100million or N200million to own an industry. All it takes is the attitude, the character and the mindset to do it, because most industrialists we have did not start as billionaires.
So with Udom, I think that the Pickup Paints will hit the market, and the ceramics industry may be coming back. Independent Power Plant has already started working. So, cottage industry is the way out. Small and Middle Scale Enterprises is the way out, and I challenge the bank of industry to come to Akwa Ibom State. If they don’t come to Akwa Ibom State, we would force them to come to Akwa Ibom State. Why do we have to force them? It’s because the Bank of Industry cannot just service a particular area of the nation. It is going to service the North, service the South West, service the East and service the South-South. If you talk about the South-South in Nigeria today, to avoid mistake, we are the major player in the Nigerian economy or the major player in Nigerian politics today. So, the Bank of Industry and any other bank cannot ignore us.
Given the scenario we have in the country with regards to payment of salaries, do you not think that Local governments should be drafted into the industrialisation project?
That is very important. I want to advise the local government chairmen and those who are coming on board that you cannot just pay salary. You must tie your salary to development. Any state that depends on federal, state and local government fund cannot function very well. You’ve seen that some states cannot even pay salaries in some of the South West and other states, because if you depend on what comes from Abuja every month, you cannot make headway. Supposing Abuja can no longer pay. What do you do? So, there is the need for us to bring in the local governments together and give them a marching order of developing even if it is the cottage industry. We have 31 local government areas in Akwa Ibom State. For instance, they say every month, we are going to contribute three million. Three million would have given us almost hundred million naira. Hundred million can set up an industry in any area of Akwa Ibom State. If you do that, I can assure you that in less than one year, we should be talking about 12 industries. And you bring in indigenes who have the wherewithal to manage the industries. One of the most painful things in the Nigerian society today is the death of Cooperative Bank. I found it difficult to forgive those who gave that bank out just like that, because Akwa Ibom State must have a bank they can run to. Our population is getting larger by the day. Our children, most of them, are getting education in very strategic schools all over the world. So, what are they coming back to do? They are not coming to be PAs and Local Government Chairmen, because there are only 31 Local Government Chairman, few councillors and all that. We cannot have more than 20 commissioners or more. So, there must be a deliberate drive for investors.
The commissioners must also look at the way they can do partnership. Because you know in this century what we discovered is that government has no business in business. Government can only create an avenue for industry to thrive, give security, give infrastructure and give the necessary support like C of O, which my government is ready to do. Our government is ready to do that for investors to come. So, whoever comes into Akwa Ibom State, the people are ready. You have always called for investors to come into Akwa Ibom and take advantage of investment opportunities.
What incentives are there for investors who may wish to come into the State? We started this journey several years ago by inviting investors to come to Akwa Ibom. We have clearly stated that Akwa Ibom State in Nigeria is the best place to invest, because we have stability in terms of economic development, stability in terms of politics, stability in security, and we have a willing government that listens and the people there are ready to work.
So, everything that an investor needs is already in place. Akwa Ibom State is strategically positioned by God to service the needs of the entire South-South, South East and the Gulf of Guinea. So, for us, we have done several seminars in Lagos, Abuja and some other parts of Nigeria. Under Akpabiosm, we had the opportunity of having the present governor, Deacon Udom Emmanuel, speak on the investment opportunities in Akwa Ibom, in Lagos and in Abuja, even when he was not the governor. So having become the governor of Akwa Ibom State, it behoves us to go to the streets, to the markets, to the entire world to announce the Akwa Ibom project for everybody. So, the Akwa Ibom project is a project for all and sundry, especially Akwa Ibomites. If you talk about the most stable state in Nigeria, it is Akwa Ibom State. If you talk about hospitality, you can find it in abundance.
If you talk about a conducive atmosphere for investors, the place is Akwa Ibom. We also have some people from Turkey who are coming with an idea of doing a project with the government on housing. In all of these, would you say that the former governor, Godswill Akpabio, laid a solid foundation for the incumbent? Definitely.
Whenever people re-enact the good story of Akwa Ibom, we cannot forget that former Governor Godswill Akpabio, has already placed Akwa Ibom in the world map. So, every state, every part of the country wants to identify with us. But we really discovered that the government cannot do all things. Udom administration cannot do everything. The people of Akwa Ibom must team up with him to do so many things. We also have the biggest conference centre in South-South. We are reaching out to investors to come. One of the things we are trying to do in that centre is to give it an international outlook. We are working on what we call Uyo Shopping Mall, where companies all over the world can come in to display their goods and services, so that anybody that wants to identify with their services can just walk into Akwa Ibom Shopping Mall, discuss business and just what he or she wants. So, that is the package.
And I think that with the infrastructure that we have on ground, with the level of development that my governor has done across the state, there is need for people to tap the untapped resources. In terms of agriculture development, the land is wonderful. In terms of human capital development, the people are ready. In terms of sustainability, it is perfect. So, we are ready, and coupled with what we have already put on ground, in the next few days, we will be having what we call Akwa Ibom Investment Forum, where most of these investors will come in to look at what we have in our state. We believe that His Excellency, Governor Udom Emmanuel, will also be part of that project.
Udom, the past governors, the Professors of Business and all that, we are bringing them all to Akwa Ibom State, both Nigerian and foreign investors. We’ve done this over the years. We want to make sure that we take the bull by the horn by creating more avenues for people to come and invest in Akwa Ibom State. So, Udom having worked as a banker at that height is going to make sure that Akwa Ibom State makes profit. has learnt so much about the politics of banking, the politics of the economy, strategic movement, re-engineering, human management, capacity building, intelligence set-up, profit making and all the good things you can see in entrepreneurial ability of an emerging personality that qualifies to be a governor is in him. The greatest thing anybody can offer his state is to put the state on the level of less dependence on the national cake that is coming from Abuja. So, we want to see how we can add value to what is coming into the state to create an identity for ourselves. Akwa Ibom State can generate funds to cater for its needs.