Governor Dapo Abiodun, in this interview, states why Ogun State is attracting the largest investments in the country. Anyone who travels through the state will see factories springing up like button mushrooms. What is more gladdening, apart from the roads his government is constructing to facilitate the growth of the real sector, is the agro-cargo airport. In his words:
“It is much more than a cargo airport. It is an aerotropolis. There are indications that it will soon be declared as the non-oil export terminal of the country. That airport also sits in what is our Special Agro-Processing Zone. We have been nominated by the African Finance Development Bank as one of the states to jump-start the special Agro-Processing Zone project. We bidded for it, qualified, and it was not an appointment. We had to make a business case to justify that and we are doing just that. We have that in that airport. It means that we will have the airport and processing companies, agro-processing companies will be there because the airport is located at the centre of the state, bound by Lagos-Ibadan expressway on one side, Sagamu-Benin expressway on the other side, and so access to the airport is right there. More importantly, we have our plantations there.”
What guided your administration’s philosophy on development and did anything prepare you for the initial actions taken when the realities of office dawned on you upon assumption of office?
When we assumed office, we were faced with the realities of what Ogun State lacked. We started appreciating the audio development that preceded our coming. We saw the need to intervene expeditiously in what we saw as a yawning gap in infrastructure facilities across the state. Immediately, in the course of our transition, we defined our vision, which is to provide focused and qualitative governance whilst creating an enabling environment for public-private sector partnership, believing that is very fundamental to the economic growth of the state and the individual prosperity of our people.
This vision was arrived at because of our comparative and competitive advantage. We are the Gateway State. We also call ourselves the Gateway to Nigeria’s Prosperity because we are the only state that borders Lagos State. You cannot go to Lagos or out of Lagos, Nigeria’s commercial capital, from any part of the country without driving or flying through our state. So, knowing that this is our advantage over other states, we decided that we must find all means to ensure that we further facilitated the ability for people to come and live and work in our state. We also bore in our minds that it would be nice, right, fair and proper for people to live in our state and work in adjacent states or to just come and do business in our state.
We appreciated the fact that, yes we have the industrial hubs that earned us the respectable status of being the Industrial Capital of this country. But sadly, by the time we assumed office, companies were beginning to leave that industrial corridor to go to Lekki (in Lagos) and even neighbouring countries because of the parlous state of infrastructure leading to that industrial hub. Ditto for the road that goes from Sagamu to Ikorodu, which also passes through another industrial corridor and also the road that goes from Lekki to Ijebu-Ode. We decided that these roads must be fixed.
Were you only concerned about the roads leading to the industrial areas? What about the township and intra-city routes?
We also identified the roads within our major towns and cities. For instance, we have done justice to the road that goes from the Sagamu Interchange into Abeokuta. We sat down and thought that these were very important inter-state roads and indeed if we wanted to create an enabling environment for people to come here, we must be able to facilitate their driving into Ogun State and make it as pleasurable and hazard-free as much as possible. We have always been guided by our ISEYA mantra and all we do is to give a better lease of life to our people through infrastructure development, social welfare and the wellbeing of our people; education of our future leaders and youth empowerment, as well as agriculture. Our goal is to ensure food security and employment. That is everything that ISEYA encapsulates. This, to us, was very important in our quest to increase the ranking of the state on the ease of doing business index, which we have been able to successfully do. We called it changing the push factor from Lagos to what we call the pull factor. So, all these things are what made us arrive at our ISEYA pillars and our mantra is Building Our Future Together because we appreciate the fact that we can only do this by joining hands with everyone and it is only by doing that that we would be able to achieve any success.
But without security, all of this would have come to nought. What did you do in that regard because there’s usually a nexus between security and development?
When we assumed office, we hit the ground running. We rolled up our sleeves. We looked at the area of security. We felt that all our lofty ideas would not be achievable if there was no peace and security. We strengthened and repositioned our Security Trust Fund. We made it private sector-led. We appointed the Chairman of Lafarge as the chairman of the Trust Fund. We funded it more generously with counterpart funding. We provided vehicles and communication equipment for the police and other security agencies. Today, Ogun State is noted as probably the safest state in the country. The President and Commander-in-chief said so. The Inspector-General of Police and his immediate predecessors attested to that. We also looked at the issue of unemployment and we immediately created a job portal that allowed us to document how many people we had in the state who were unemployed or underemployed. That has been very successful as well because what you need to do is go to that job portal, put in your name, address, local government, your skill sets and we will begin to match you with potential employers in the state because we also made it mandatory for them to advertise on that job portal for job availabilities.
On the part of the government, we began different projects in infrastructure, including housing infrastructure which is geared towards providing affordable housing to our people. To date, we’ve built over 1,100 affordable housing units across the length and breadth of the state. And we beat our chest to say that that is more houses than all our predecessors in office combined built. Not only are we building these houses, but these houses are also being bought faster than we are building them. When we assumed office, we met houses that were not purchased by those they were intended for. But these that we are building now, we can’t even build fast enough. But the good thing and important part of building the houses, besides turning tenants into landlords, is the fact that it allowed us to harvest people from our job portal and begin to offer them employment. So, regarding the skilled and semi-skilled ones like the carpenters, welders, painters, bricklayers, etc, we were able to enumerate them, identify different opportunities for them, as part of the own implementation of our own state economic sustainability plan, particularly during COVID-19. We aim to build 2,500 units between now and May 29, 2023. We are on the path to achieving that dream. We have taken into cognizance the education infrastructure, knowing full well that we are the education capital of the country. We have more universities and secondary schools than any other state, so that explains why we must also have a place to allow our youth to express what job opportunities they are interested in.
Ogun is said to be the education capital of Nigeria. Is it still so and what’s happening in the education sector? Is health also a priority because ISEYA is silent about it?
We remain so and we are consolidating our leadership. We have the largest number of tertiary institutions in the country. So, we are serious about education. We looked at the education sector and we decided to begin to intervene right from the basic education level. Our public schools have witnessed massive rehabilitation. We’ve done over a thousand schools and yet it appears as if it is a drop in the ocean. For us, we begin to imagine that if previous administrations had been doing this, surely, we wouldn’t have such a problem on our hands. We are rehabilitating education infrastructure. We are looking into the curriculum. We are employing teachers; we’ve probably employed more teachers in the last 30 months than had been employed in this state in the last 12 to 15 years and yet we still need to employ more teachers.
Health is under Social Welfare and Wellbeing. So the same rule of the total, all-around development applies. We’ve attended to the health sector in terms of providing health infrastructure. We are rehabilitating and constructing primary healthcare centres across the length and breadth of the state. We’ve done about 120; we aim to do 236, that is, at least one per ward, so that each Ogun indigene or resident can walk into a primary health care centre with relative ease. We’ve also provided them with tricycle ambulances for ease of access. Today, we have about 50 ambulances in the state. When we assumed office, we only had five ambulances!
Where does public transportation belong? What are you doing or have done on that?
We commissioned an Ogun State transportation master plan. We also created a full-fledged Ministry of Transportation which didn’t exist before: all we had was the Ministry of Works. For us, the Ministry of Work’s responsibility is just to construct roads while the transportation ministry is the ministry that comes up with policies behind road construction and movement of people across land, air, sea and roads. We identified the fact that not only did we need to build roads, not only did we need to rehabilitate more roads, but we also needed to identify other modes of transmission which is now referred to as multi-modal transport plan. An airport is now being constructed. We need to have a mass transit system for intra-state and inter-state. We need to also explore the rail option and also water transportation. So, all of that was captured by a team of our transport ministry, the Transport Department of our state-owned Olabisi Onabanjo University and the United Kingdom Foreign Development Office. That is a classic case of town and gown relationship. It is also about our inclusive approach to governance.
This is the first administration in a long time that has built roads in every local government of the state. Those roads are prioritized in our inclusive nature. We ensure that our citizens have a role to play by ensuring that they take ownership of the roads. We consult them: our team speaks with the traditional institution, religious leaders, and community development associations in their domains to decide the roads in their order of importance. I don’t sit here to dictate which road should be done in a community. The people decide. And so far, we’ve done over 300 kilometres of new roads; we’ve done another 300 kilometres of rehabilitated roads and that is ongoing. We are about to launch our Mass Bus Transit System which is air-conditioned, Wi-Fi-enabled buses. At the launch, you will see how we demonstrate how that Mass Bus Transit System connects with the rails, etc. Fortunately, we have the privilege of the rail link between Lagos and Ibadan that was constructed by the Federal Government. That rail line has five stations in Ogun State; we have more stations in the state than any other state, just like we have more federal roads than any other state. We are taking advantage of that as we are collaborating with Lagos State. I am sure you know we have this Lagos Ogun Joint Development Corporation to extend two lines, red and blue lines. The one that comes from Alagbado; we are going to be extending it to Kajola. So, that will be a line that sort of complements the Lagos-Ibadan railway, because these are limited stations that may not serve our people efficiently. We’ve jointly identified with Lagos the need to have a parallel line with other stations that are more conveniently located for the benefit of our people together. We are also doing another line that will go from Okokomaiko to Agbara, so, all the way from Apapa, you can put your containers on a rail and you receive it right there in Agbara. So, these are things that came up from our Multi Modern Transport Master Plan.
More importantly, is our airport project which is at Iperu-Ilishan. This was conceived by a previous administration but it came up in the transportation master plan and we immediately began to implement it. We are sure that planes will start landing and loading by the end of this year. That will probably be the first truly International Cargo Airport in Nigeria. It’s being built to a world-class standard. The consultant to that project is the same consultant that designed the Dubai Airport and other international airports around the world of such standards, including the one in Abu-Dhabi Airport. It will probably be the fastest built airport anywhere. It will mean that we built our airport in about 18 to 19 months. We are confident from all indications that it will be an alternative airport to MMA because it is an International Airport. It will be the only international airport besides the Lagos airport in the South-West; as a matter of fact, all the way to the Mid-West, quite frankly.
But why an agro-cargo airport?
It is much more than a cargo airport. It is an aerotropolis. There are indications that it will soon be declared as the non-oil export terminal of the country. That airport also sits in what is our Special Agro-Processing Zone. We have been nominated by the African Finance Development Bank as one of the states to jump-start the special Agro-Processing Zone project. We bidded for it, qualified, and it was not an appointment. We had to make a business case to justify that and we are doing just that. We have that in that airport. It means that we will have the airport and processing companies, agro-processing companies will be there because the airport is located at the centre of the state, bound by Lagos-Ibadan expressway on one side, Sagamu-Benin expressway on the other side, and so access to the airport is right there. More importantly, we have our plantations there. We have our palm oil, rubber, cocoa plantations there. I am sure you know we are the number one cassava producing state in the world right now. The Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) has indicated its willingness to come to the place. We expect an Air Force Base there too. So, Agro Cargo Airport will provide means of livelihood for an estimated 25,000 people.
You went on an investment drive to Egypt and Ethiopia recently. How would you say that has benefitted the State?
Let me remind you that the Nigerian Investment Promotion Commission has rated us as the state attracting the largest investments in the country. According to their report, Ogun received 30 per cent of the announcement with a prospective $500 million investment. For us, accelerating intra-African trade and boosting Africa’s trading position in the global market is a priority. We can only do that by strengthening African countries’ ability to do business with one another. So, we are committed to boosting the industrial development and revenue base of our state by trading and doing business with other counties on the continent. The determination to ensure the industrial development of the state is embedded in the mantra of collectivism, driven by public-private partnership initiatives. That trip was not our first. We had gone to Europe and South Africa and North America to invite investors to come to Ogun State and they are coming. We think African countries need to do more. Some of these genuine investment initiatives have started yielding positive results and they have better repositioned the state as the foremost investors’ destination of choice. Do not forget my background as a private sector player. Like I told you, I was displeased with the way and manner businesses started relocating from our State and I had to take the bull by the horn.
On this last trip, we had interfaced with Afreximbank’s President, Dr Benedict Okey Oramah, and private sectors operatives in the two countries. I can report that significant investment opportunities across Africa and Europe are already berthing. Elsewedy’s investments are coming to Ogun State. They are a global leader in healthcare, industrial park development, real estate, intelligent transport systems network and management, tolling systems and the power sector. Indeed, the group is the largest producer of prepaid meters in the world. The President & CEO of Elsewedy Group, Ahmed El Sewedy, was on the ground to receive us. Our team also met with Peter Emil, the Chief Business Development Officer – Áfríkà for Wadi Degla Holding, a Cairo-based multi-business conglomerate that is into real estate, telecoms and sports services. While the meeting lasted, we discussed some key investment opportunities available in the areas of creative arts, entertainment and sports development. Already, a Dutch firm, Danone Company, signed a partnership agreement with us to establish its flagship dairy farm at the Odeda Farm Institute in the Odeda Local Government Area. The partnership, an alliance with the state, is to introduce global standards in dairy farming, empower local communities and reduce unemployment rates. It signifies Fan Milk’s commitment to enhancing the impact of the Central Bank of Nigeria’s backward integration programme and reinforcing the Federal Government’s initiative to achieve food self-sufficiency in the country. We are going into ranching and the cumulative effect of this on our food security agenda is huge. We are poised to be the nation’s food basket.