Agriculture was the chief support of the Nigerian economy in the past. It was then the country’s major source of revenue and foreign exchange earnings. Nigeria was a large-scale exporter of cash crops such as groundnuts, palm oil, cocoa, rubber and cotton. She was also a major exporter of hide and skin.
But agriculture gradually began to lose its status as Nigeria’s economic backbone in 1956 when crude oil was discovered in commercial quantity at Oloibiri village in present day Bayelsa state. However, it was the oil boom of the 1970s that led to the final displacement of agriculture as the mainstay of the nation’s economy.
With the oil boom came doom. That is the paradox of the natural asset and one of the tragedies of Nigeria as a nation. Nigerians and their governments became lazy. Every government in the country relies solely on the Federation Account. State governments, except three or four of them, cannot run their affairs unless they get monthly allocations from the Federation Account. The citizenry developed a terrible sense of entitlement, wanting everything free from government. Productivity became low.
The heavy dependence on oil revenue rendered the country’s economy fragile. If anything happens to crude oil prices in the international market, it will fundamentally affect the country and her people. Today, revenue from petroleum has shrunk. Two days ago, the Federal Government warned that the days of dependence on crude oil were numbered. And to think that the natural resource is a disappearing asset makes any thought about the future of the country frightening.
The world is fast approaching a future when crude oil will no longer contribute significantly to any nation’s economy.
But Ondo state governor, Arakunrin Oluwarotimi Akeredolu (SAN), has envisaged this future and is preparing the state for it. The governor has a vision of prosperous and self-reliant Ondo state. In the past three and a half years, he has been working tirelessly towards this vision. One of the five cardinal programmes of his government is job creation through agriculture, entrepreneurship and industrialisation. Today, massive industrialisation is one of the notable feats recorded by the government. It is an unprecedented milestone in the history of the state.
The state now has an industrial centre in Ore in Odigbo Local Government Area. No fewer than seven investors have brought their businesses to the Ondo-Linyi Industrial Hub. This development has ensured the mopping up of about 16,000 job seekers from the employment market.
One of these investors is Dongfeng Trucks, one of the China’s leading truck brands. Its truck-assembly plant at the industrial centre has commenced operations. The company produces heavy and medium duty trucks. This is the first time the state will be hosting a vehicle-assembly plant.
Also at the industrial hub is the Cassava-to-Ethanol Plant. The plant requires about 400 tonnes of cassava daily and one million tonnes of the product annually. Not less than 2000 farmers supply the company for daily production. Nigeria’s import bill on ethanol is put at N160billion. Since the company began operations, it is helping to reduce the country’s import bill on ethanol.
The MDF (Medium Density Fibers) company at the hub is the first and only one of its type in Nigeria. The company produces boards and particle boards in various colours. Before now, MDF products were solely imported from either Germany, China or Singapore. Sawdust is one of the materials used by the factory. With this, sawdust is no longer a waste in Ondo state. It is now a source of wealth. Also located at the industrial hub are textile and paper mills.
With the commissioning of the Sunshine Chocolate Factory, Alade-Idanre, by Arakunrin Akeredolu last week, the state now boasts of eight new industries. Highly spiritual people will not gloss over the symbolism of eight, the number of the industries. It symbolises the years Governor Akeredolu will spend in the Alagbaka Government House.
The chocolate factory is a Public-Private Partnership between Ondo State Government and a United States company, SPAGNVOLA CHOCOLATIERS. It has initial processing capacity of about 28 Metric Tons of Cocoa to 2.8Million of Chocolate.
The project was initiated by the immediate past government. But it was abandoned by its initiator. What the Akeredolu government inherited was a caricature of a factory. It was bereft of modern equipment, making it unsuitable for a chocolate factory. With the importation of new equipment, the story of the factory has now changed for better. It is now ready to contribute to the economy of the state and provide jobs for the teaming jobless youths.
Now a reality is the exploration and exploitation of the bitumen reserves in the state. Estimated to be about 42 billion barrels, the natural resource was discovered in the year 1904. For decades, exploration and exploitation of the bitumen deposits appeared to be a hard nut to crack. The jinx, however, was finally broken by the Akeredolu government.
An indigenous company, the South West Bitumen Exploration Limited (SWB), has commenced modular exploitation of the bitumen deposits regarded to be the largest in Africa. SWB has secured a 25-Year renewable Operational Mining License. The firm has its operational base at Lamidifa in Irele Local Government Area of the state.
The Akeredolu government has also established a modern cocoa farm at Ijugbere Camp in Ilale, Owo Local Government Area. This is to strengthen the position of the state as the number one cocoa producer in the country. The Ijugbere Cocoa and Oil Palm City is sitting on 20,000 hectares of land. It has capacity to accommodate 2,000 youths.
There is an egg factory at Emure-Ile. It was commissioned by Governor Akeredolu some days back. Operated under Food Processing Concept Limited, the factory is worth N4.2 billion. The stake of the state government at the egg factory is 55 percent while that of its partners, the Imperial Capital, is 45 percent. The daily need of the factory will be 500,000. When completed, it will save the federal government 30 billion dollars used to import eggs annually. It will also create more than 10,000 jobs.
With the industrialisation efforts of the Akeredolu government, the future of Ondo state is secured. But the biggest industrialization effort of the government is the planned deep seaport in Ilaje Local Government Area. This is a project that will open up the economy of the state. With the seaport, a glorious and prosperous future will be assured. The state will be self-reliant economically. It will exit the club of states which go cap in hand to Abuja for fund.
As at today, all the studies required for the implementation of the seaport have been carried out. The studies were conducted by reputable local and international consultants. Hundreds of millions of naira have been expended on the required studies by the state government. In November, last year, the Project Implementation Plan for the Deep Seaport was received by Governor Akeredolu from the project Consortium comprising a Spanish firm, Ocean Infrastructure Management (OIM) and Franchise and Business Solutions Limited (FBS), its Nigerian partner. The plan spells out milestones and timelines for the completion of the project.
Also in February, Governor Akeredolu met with traditional rulers and representatives of the area where the seaport will be cited to solicit their support for the project. At the stakeholders’ forum, the governor spoke on the Environmental Site Investment Assessment (ESIA) and Resettlement Action Plan (RAP) for the deep seaport.
What remains now is to obtain Port Declaration from the Federal Government. The cheery news is that the Port Declaration will be obtained before the end of this year. Governor Akeredolu gave the assurance some days ago.
Also in the offing are Ondo Guadong Free Trade Zone in Ilaje, Minco Industrial Hub, Ore, and Ore Industrial Park Expansion. There is OFL Marble and Granite Limited. It is a collaboration among the state government, the federal government and private sector.
All these industries have the capacity to swallow up 70,000 direct and over 300,000 indirect jobs and significantly transform the economy of the state. Under the Akeredolu government, Ondo state is looking beyond crude oil and preparing for a glorious future.
Ojo Oyewamide is Senior Special Assistant to Governor Akeredolu on Media and Publicity.