By Gabriel Ewepu
Ambassador Godknows Igali, one of the governorship aspirants of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, in Bayelsa State, in this interview, says he will transform the state into an industrial and agribusiness hub if elected governor. Excerpts:
What is your economic blueprint for Bayelsa if elected governor?
My economic plan is tied to my social development plan, it is tied to my physical infrastructure development plan, it is tied to my plan for security and it will all be benchmarked by the Sustainable Development Goals, SDGs, template set by the United Nations General Assembly in 2015 for the year 2030. What I want to do is to surpass Nigerian’s expectations of SDGs and go to what are the global benchmarks so that by the time we finish our first four years, we are already ahead of every other state in the country in terms of the attainment of SDGs. Fortunately, the SDGs cover every area of human existence: physical development, security, environment, infrastructure, education, health and others so the SDGs is our benchmark.
How are you going to attract international community to put their money in Bayelsa?
As an ambassador, I have started reaching out to other foreign ambassadors in this country and also some ambassadors who are outside the country to change their perception of Bayelsa as too rich, having sufficient income or revenue. Something comes in but they also need to know that we are a development zone where there are a lot of challenges, so I have created that synergy. We have received good responses; about four countries have given me solid assurance of diverting some of their development support and encouraging their investors to come into Bayelsa if I am elected governor. This morning, an ambassador in a very important country in Asia said he is sending things for support of female maternal health worth between $50,000 and $100,000 to us in Bayelsa and he also said he has the capacity to facilitate a grant of $1 million to us to do whatever we want to do and I said I want that $1 million to go into urban renewal in Yenagoa, opening up the town and cleaning up the town. He has also directed one of the biggest companies in his country in Nigeria to relocate its headquarters to Bayelsa and two other heavy investments are coming from that country.
How will this translate into job creation?
Like the man who said he would give me $1 million, that money will not be thrown into the sea, it will be used to create drainages in Yenagoa, we are doing foot path. Yenagoa is an old town that we have adapted into a state capital, so you have to build pathways where people can walk comfortably into their houses in a marshy environment. We have to sand-fill some areas and all that will involve human capital, which is labour. This will create jobs for people and this particular country has done a $10 million dollar project in Abuja: building a school that they will soon hand over to the Federal Government and it is how you use the $1 million that will determine what next they will do and the discussions are going on well.
Are you saying you are already in touch with big countries and big companies?
I believe that when you come in, you announce the people that will work with you. Day two, you are already going to site and I think one of the governors that have gone that way is Governor Ben Ayade of Cross River and people are seeing the impact, a state that does not have much money, industries are coming up. So, you don’t have to wait to see how much money will come from Abuja. I have my network, I know people and they are excited that I am throwing my hat into the ring. They are excited that they have a place where they can come and work and Nigeria is so important to the global community but because of insecurity and bad perception; because they don’t know the people they want to work with, they have been staying away from Nigeria. A lot of foreign investors and governments are interested in our country, but with people like me that they know they are now happy to come to work with us.
What do you think these partnerships will translate at the end of your four-year-tenure in office?
Government is expected to make life better for the people. If I tackle the issue of the poor environment in Yenagoa, if I tackle access to housing, even many houses in Yenagoa do not have good toilets; people are still using pit toilets; if I tackle those things and open up the whole place, people’s lives will be better. So, I think that the ultimate at the end of four years if investments come, people will get the work to do and capital formation will take place.
How are you going to unlock the potentials of the various sectors of the Bayelsa economy?
The most important thing in any process of governance is to make life better for the people, provide solution to human existential problems. What we will do is to look at the major areas of the economy, where the outgoing governor has reached; we will now look at certain areas that are critical where the state has comparative advantage and work on them. One and most importantly is agriculture. We sometimes look at the narrative of Niger Delta from only the point of view of oil and gas endowment, no. The Niger Delta provides the best agriculture lands in this country because the Niger Delta technically is on a flood plain and flood plains are areas where typically civilization has always started all over the world. Niger Delta, particularly Bayelsa, which is the most riverine and coastal state, has land that is prepared by God already for agriculture.
What we need to do is for government to first acquire as much land as possible, not acquired in terms of owning it but in terms of leasing it on long term because small land owners don’t want to give up their lands permanently. After government long lease of the land, we will now further make this land available to young people who want to go into agriculture. Secondly, we are already in discussion with original equipment manufacturers around the world; I have been to Spain, Denmark where we have spoken to people that have tractors and farm equipment and they are ready to partner us. Some to give us the arrangement where equipment will be made available and they get payment in products. So, we are in discussions for the funding of agriculture, we are not going to rely only on what comes from federation account, we are already talking with partners, it will be PPP, it will be innovative, rigorous in different formulas. There are some crops that we have comparative advantage. Sugar cane grow naturally in the Niger Delta. We have been talking about Peremabri for almost 50 years now the actuality will be seen. We will go beyond that and make Peremabri an industrial hub for rice. Go to Sampo, which is at the border with Delta State and into all the Ijaw communities in those areas; Kolo axis right up to Otuoke is a big rice axis which has already been identified by the Niger Delta River Basin Authority. We will give the people real education and our young people will be very active.
How are you going to harness the marine resources optimally?
I have been talking about blue economy for the past four years; the marine ecology and marine resources, resources in terms of the fact that we cannot be fishing off the shores, we have to go deep into the ocean. The Ministry of Agriculture has a department that gives out fish quota when the Ijaw man’s life is in the water, we are going to get these things in order and we are going to get our boys into deep sea fishing. When I was the ambassador in Scandinavia, Governor Timipre Silva came to me and we went to some fishing communities in Denmark and we signed agreement with them for them to give us vessels and we sent some of our boys for training, we are going to improve on that. Another area of marine resources is the aspect of sea transportation. The Cabotage Act in Nigeria says that vessels that come to Nigeria must have a particular percentage that must be manned by Nigerians. Local Content Act says that even in the oil sector and related sector, local content must be there. When I was the secretary to the government under my initiative, the state government sent of our young people to Norway to be trained in seamanship. When I was the ambassador in Sweden, where you have the world maritime academy, they brought hundreds of our boys and girls to be trained. So these are things we have done before, we are going to train them and make sure we put them on vessels. The third area still on marine is the exploitation of the sea. We are a coastal state, 1,800 km of Nigeria coast line is in Bayelsa and with that kind of large coast line; we are already talking with partners. The laws allows for Nigerians to apply for permit to exploit solid minerals, so we are going to apply. Finally, the aspect of oil and gas; Oloibiri is in Bayelsa where oil exportation started in 1958, there is no presence, no inclusiveness as far as the oil industry is concerned. We must take part in oil and gas; we will focus on the midstream gas in particular, there are so many small things that we can do with gas.
Does Bayelsa have any tourism potential?
We have some of the best beaches in Nigeria in Bayelsa; we will develop the tourism potentials so that Nigerians can sail there. While we are starting new businesses, we are also going to help existing businesses. I did it when I was Secretary to Government of Bayelsa State. I said to the governor: we have hotels that are two stars and one star, let us give them cash so that they would be able to upgrade to three stars and four stars so that we don’t have people coming to Bayelsa State for programmes and activities and going to sleep in Port Harcourt or Warri and we did. The same thing with entertainment industry because in entertainment, the big challenge is equipment, so we gave cash to various artists who are in creative art and they did very well and they are still doing very well in the country.
What other strategies will you put in place to attract investors into Bayelsa?
One of the strategies is to create an enabling environment so that investors come and see that this state is very safe. Don’t forget that under President Olusegun Obasanjo, I was the middleman for peace in the Niger Delta. The same thing during Yar’ Adua’s time and I brought all the parties to the table and this later culminated in the Amnesty Programme. When President Buhari came in, Avengers from nowhere came up. I was in the forefront, working with Chief E.K. Clark to bring Avengers and others to the table and I think that brought a ceasefire. We have the capacity and experience on how to galvanise community support for security. We will work on security. More importantly, if I am in charge as governor, I will be able to do this, so that Bayelsa will become peaceful. The other strategy is the issue of power. Power in Nigeria is a big deal but it is also a small deal because the solutions are known. Thank God Mr. President signed an agreement with Siemens on how to improve power. When I left the sector we had done a peak generation of 4,500mw but unfortunately today generation is 3,800 mw and the President said our target is to get to 5,000 mw to achieve stable power supply.