X-raying Bayelsa’s economic romance with South Africa
Some states in Nigeria are stepping up efforts to reduce their dependence on oil revenue. Mike Odiegwu examines Bayelsa’s latest effort in this direction: Economic and financial experts believe that without diversifying the economy, Nigeria will continue to be plagued by underdevelopment and joblessness. They argue that the country is over-dependent on oil revenue with a permanent tag of mono-economy etched around it. Such economic situations, they observe, account for the increasing number of abjectly poor people in the country.
They frown at most states that sit idly every month waiting to be called by the Federal Government to share in the oil windfall. Any month the allocation is not shared on time, everything is paralysed. Workers are not paid, contractors abandon sites and general administration is grounded.
But having realised the uncertainty of depending solely on one source of revenue to run their states, some South-South governors are exploring other sources of income. For example, the Governor of Delta State, Dr. Emmanuel Uduaghan, has seized every opportunity to preach against mono-economy. Though his critics argue that it is difficult to measure the extent to which the governor has matched his words with action, there is evidence that many youths from the state are undergoing training to acquire various farming skills at the popular Songhai Amokpe, Sapele Local Government Area of the state.
In Bayelsa State, Governor Seriake Dickson has not hidden his contempt for the mono-economy. At several gatherings, he spoke on the exigencies of extricating the economy from its overdependence on oil. Shortly after his election, Dickson led a delegation to South Africa, scouting for investors that would help the state to develop other sectors of its economy and reduce its overdependence on oil revenue.
An online statement signed by Dickson’s Special Adviser, Media and Publicity, Mr. Daniel Iworiso-Markson, said the governor held a series of meetings with investors and unveiled the economic potential of the state to them. The governor also paid a courtesy visit to the South African President, Jacob Zuma.
The statement said Dickson and his entourage were warmly received by Zuma at the headquarters of the African National Congress in Johannesburg. They were said to have fashioned out ways to deepen bilateral relations and explore the various investment opportunities between the state and South Africa.
The governor was said to have expressed his intention to establish business contacts for investment in education, security, health care delivery, power, infrastructure and agriculture.
The statement quoted Zuma as commending the investment initiative, drive and vision of Dickson, promising to assist him in view of his relationship with President Goodluck Jonathan.
“Indeed, I feel elated by your visit to South Africa and considering the fact that you are the governor of the state of my good friend and brother, President Goodluck Jonathan, makes me all the more happy.
“I must commend your investment initiatives and drive. Even more profound is the fact that from what I’m told, you are barely three months old in office and from all accounts you are on the right track,” Zuma was quoted as saying.
Shortly after the visit, a delegation from South Africa led by Mrs. Nompumelolo, the wife of Zuma, found its way to Yenagoa, the state capital. After attending the African First Ladies’ Peace Summit in Abuja, Mrs. Zuma was led to the state by Rachael, the wife of Dickson. She was also accompanied by South Africa’s Deputy High Commissioner to Nigeria, Mr. Geoffrey Mulaudzi.
Mulaudzi expressed delight about his country’s bilateral relationship with the state. Mulaudzi, who spoke at a business meeting between the South African team and the organised private sector in Bayelsa, said the partnership would boost the economy of his country and the state of (President Goodluck) Jonathan.
According to Mulaudzi, the state will only realise its potential and become a major economy if the people shun bickering and imbibe the spirit of togetherness. “When the Bayelsa State Government initiated this partnership, we embraced it because of the abundant potential in the state,” he said.
He observed that the eco-tourism subsector, which is one of the key components of the partnership, was the fastest growing sector in the world. He said the sector would be a major source of income to the state, adding that the South African Embassy would compile and send other proposed areas of interest to the state.
He indicated his country’s interest to partner with the Yenagoa Chamber of Commerce, Industry, Mines and Agriculture on its trade exhibition scheduled to hold in the state in October.
Dickson, however, posited that the economic relations in Africa should be driven by the private sector to foster rapid development on the continent. He explained that his decision to visit South Africa shortly after his election was borne out of his desire to seek developmental ideas and new ways of doing things.
He said his administration was pursuing economic diversification through investment in tourism, agriculture and aqua-culture. To actualise the plan, he said the administration had concluded plans to send a bill seeking to establish the Bayelsa State Development Corporation to the legislature. He said the corporation, when established, will manage the assets of the state across the world.
“When established, the corporation will have offices in South Africa, Brazil, United States of America, United Kingdom and India to adequately explore business opportunities in those countries and to the full advantage of the state,” he said.
Similarly, Jim-Dorgu solicited the support of South Africa on the ongoing war against illegal refining of petroleum products. “South Africa can help us to train these youths and reintegrate them into the society. Such training will help the youths to rediscover their potential and make positive contributions to the development of our state and Nigeria,” he said.
But the Action Congress of Nigeria asked the governor to tread carefully, recalling that previous administrations in the state squandered the state resources in similar ventures which later yielded no positive results.
The state Publicity Secretary, ACN, Mr. Christopher Abarowei, observed that instead of improving the economy of the state, previous administrations converted bilateral talks to their private gains, acquiring choice properties abroad for their private use.
The party said such bilateral talks of wooing investors ended as a jamboree and amounted to colossal waste of taxpayers’ money. While describing the development as commendable and laudable, Abarowei said it must be translated to improved infrastructure, job creation and significant reduction in poverty.
He said, “We are watching to see the number of investors from South Africa that will be attracted to the state through this bilateral relation. If at the end of the day, South Africans do not come here to invest, it means that the deal will amount to a jamboree like previous deals by his predecessors, who simply used the opportunity to accumulate wealth for themselves abroad.
Just as the ACN said, those who are following the activities of the governor are waiting patiently to see how the state’s romance with South Africa will add value to other sectors and end over-reliance on oil revenue.