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Bayelsa - We're Targeting U.S. $1 Billion Investments From Investors' Forum

July 9, 2014

Babajide Komolafe

Bayelsa State Commissioner for Trade and Investment, Barrister Kamela Okara, in this interview says the state hopes to attract over $1 billion investment through its first investment forum, holding next week.

What are the preparations for the first Bayelsa State Investment Forum slated for next week?

I can tell you confidently that we have gone a great length to ensure that we have a successful programme next week in Bayelsa State. All the key elements that will make it a huge success have been put in place in terms of the speakers being invited, the participants who will attend and in terms of logistics. So we are ready to host the world at the First Bayelsa State Investment Forum.

What is the role to be played by the private sector at this forum?

The private sector is the key and central force in this event. The theme of the event is "Unlocking Bayelsa State Economic Potential, Opportunities and Challenges". As you know, to unlock the potentials of a state requires active participation of the private sector.

This forum provides an avenue for the private sector to partner with the government in unlocking the potentials of the state. What the government is doing is to facilitate dialogue with the private sector. We are saying that the private sector can come from the comparative advantage of Bayelsa State from the economic point of view. And how they can benefit from this is the entire objective of the Forum. Private sector is very key. They are the target audience for this event.

What are the economic potentials available in Bayelsa State?

The major area which is not only of benefit to Bayelsa State but to the entire country is power. As you may know, Bayelsa State generates one quarter of the total oil production in Nigeria. Gas is what we have in great abundance. Gas is also the feedstock for power generation.

What we are doing is to encourage power companies that want to set up in Bayelsa State to take advantage of the accessibility of gas and site their power plant in the state because we want the state to become the power hub of Nigeria. We know that in the short time, if we are able to get power companies to site and generate as much as 3000 megawatts, if we add that to the current 3,500 to 6000 megawatts, it will make a huge difference in Nigeria.

Bayelsa has a natural geographical environment for cultivation. If you look at rice cultivation belt across the globe, it falls within the same belt such as Thailand, Vietnam and other countries. We have the same kind of environment-mangrove forest which is good environment for rice farming. That is another major area.

Aquaculture is another area. We are rich in fish and all of that. We also want to expand the value chain in oil and gas through the Nigeria Local Contempt Development and Monitoring Board (NCDM). In partnership with the NCDM, we also want to expand the access of small and medium scale enterprises into the entire value chain. There are lots of opportunities in the state. These are few examples of opportunities that are available in the state and we are ready to explore them.

What concessions are you offering to prospective investors in Bayelsa State?

Take the power sector for instance, we are currently working on an industrial masterplan, which has provisions for areas that will be assigned to power. We are already making the preparation, making the land ready, doing the acquisition and getting ready for industrial park. That way, it will make it easy for them to determine their area of focus. That is one major area. If you look at it, the cost of land and the cost of preparing the land is quite huge. Land preparation is going to be a major capital discount.

Is there anything like tax holiday for prospective investors?

In reality, tax holidays do not form a major incentive to investors. I have found that what most businesses want is the ease of doing business in the environment. Bayelsa is one of the safest places in the country because we have worked really hard to put the issue of militancy, kidnapping and pipeline vandalisation behind us. Even if you look at the issue of tax holiday, strictly speaking, it is really the incentive of the Federal Government. Taxation is within the jurisdiction of the federal government. It is under the Nigerian Investment Promotion Council (NIPC) and Export Promotion Council, among others. But we will try to ensure that there is no local taxation in those free trade zones. One will be in a place called Elemebiri and the other one is planned for a place called Agge. There is also the site for a deep sea port because we have a natural deep sea port environment.

How achievable is the ambition of Governor Seriake Dickson to turn Bayelsa into" Dubai" of Africa?

It is very achievable if we remain focused on our drive for human capital development. Aside other things we are doing, we are focused on providing training so that we can build the skill level. What makes an economy really very strong is the quality of human capital.

That is the key backbone. When the Governor came on board, one of the first things he did was the emergency in education and there has been a major drive to build more schools. Not only that, we also have high number of Bayelsa people pursuing various degrees and PhDs in various universities across the world. Our bill alone for 2013 was in the region of N6 billion in scholarship for students studying abroad. This effort is geared to ensure we have qualitative human capital.

The second thing we are doing is massive investment in agriculture. We are linking the entire state with road network, this is in addition to the seaport I mentioned earlier. The airport, as we speak, is under construction in the state.

These are the key things-infrastructure, human capital and creating the needed conducive environment for business. It is like creating another Dubai. Dubai ensured there is infrastructure, that they have qualitative human capital, and their laws are business friendly. That is the same approach we are adopting and with that we are sure we can become the Dubai of Africa. We want to be the model of African business success story.

How is Bayelsa doing in terms of internally revenue generation?

In Bayelsa, the IGR is still on the low side. It is not what we want to achieve yet but we are not so concerned about IGR today because we are now concerned with what we can build for the future. So our focus is how can we transform Bayelsa economy to what we want it to be. Our major focus today is to grow the economy and once we do that, internally generated revenue will grow so our plan is to diversify the economy, provide opportunity, provide the jobs, the foundation will have a knock-out effect on the IGR that will accrue.

Are you saying the government relies essentially on revenue from oil?

There is no state that relies solely on oil. Most states apart from Lagos and Kano rely predominantly on oil resources because they base what they do on revenues from federal allocation. That is the fact for most states in Nigeria. But what we want to achieve in Bayelsa State through this forum is economic diversification because we realise we cannot depend on only one source of income.

If the IGR is on the low side, how can the state survive other than revenue from oil and gas?

This forum is not about government's responsibility. This forum is to grow the private sector. It is to encourage the private sector to take advantage of the opportunities in the sector. We aren't asking the private sector to come and build schools for us. We are capable of doing that and we are doing so. We aren't asking the private sector to come and build hospitals or roads for us. Those are the responsibilities of the state government. What we are saying to Nigerians is that we want people who are successful, who have jobs to come and create jobs, create business opportunities and to do that we have to grow the private sector.

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Source: AllAfrica

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