One of the memorable titles of Newswatch magazine in the hey days of its media presence was the two – part edition, ‘Shagari’s Last Days’ published soon after the aborting of the second republic. In that compelling story on the seduction of presidential power masterfully crafted by Ray Ekpu, there is an allusion how Shagari as President had once introduced Ishiaku Rabiu as Nigeria’s number one business man in the course of a state visit to Britain. That is a recommendation any business man will savour. Nations and their constituent states too also crave such powerful promotion as investment haven. Yet, it is a long walk to an investment boom for any economy; which hard fact renders media reports of an investment rain in Anambra State in the past one year interesting and deserving of closer attention.
For Marxist leaning thinkers, so comprehensive is the economic question that it suffices to define politics as concerned with the authoritative allocation of resources in society. And while we may use the extent of wealth utilization to denote rich and powerful countries and poor and weak countries, the sustainability of resource creation itself shatters the notion of developed and underdeveloped economies. For the developed as well as for the developing world, there is no end to the growing of national economies.
The end of the Cold War has not diminished the economic content of nations’ foreign policies. Whereas the ideological orientation of governments may from time to time still be reflected in statements and actions on the world stage, the determining influence of economic interest is even more predictable. In 1982 Britain and Argentina fought a war over the Faulkland, an island with oil and other mineral reserves. The 1990 Gulf War was as much a rejection of forced territorial acquisition as it was a campaign for lower oil prices. Russia is involved in the current conflict in Ukraine because of the economic implications of Ukraine’s pro European Union and NATO moves. Where violence has been averted in the prosecution of competing policies, the use of sanctions was often applied by those in strategic advantage to advance their interests.
Bilateral talks between nations are often a review of their trade and economic relations. The thrust is usually to balance the flow or shore up the items and volume of trade and investment. Indeed, economic diplomacy seems to have taken the front burner of diplomatic service. Developing countries especially tend to view the inflow of foreign investment as one of the indices for measuring the resourcefulness of their foreign missions.
But while it is recognized that modern economies are driven by foreign and local investments, realization of the enabling climate for this intervention is often a tall dream. Since 1960, Nigeria’s federal and state governments have sought expansion of their economies through multinational infusions and corporations with little success here and there. In recent years, increased cost of running government and the volatility of oil prices has made diversification of the economy an inevitable task especially for the 36 states sentenced to paltry allocations by a unitarist – oriented revenue law. It is therefore cheering news to learn that in under one year of his administration, Governor Willie Obiano had attracted direct foreign and local investments in Anambra State’s economy to the tune of $1. 8b.
A glance at the investment sheet shows that a broad range of critical sectors from agriculture, manufacturing, hospitality and tourism to power generation are beneficiaries of the capital inflow. The joint ventures with Coched Farms; Ekcel Farms; Joseph Agro Industries ;Grains & Silos; and Delfarm Limited & Songhai Regional Centre with a combined worth of over $600m, is significant for its statement on food security. In various stages of development, the chain value of the agro – allied enterprises offer soothing economic and social potentials in the face of unemployment concerns. What is striking in these partnerships is the evidence that they are not ad hoc but in pursuit of the administration’s inaugural objectives to make Anambra State a leading producer in rice, cassava, garri, palm oil and fish.
The other outstanding legs of the investment bang are the $100m natural gas project being undertaken by Falcon Corporation Limited and the $50m vehicle assembly plant by Richbon Nig Ltd. The strategic importance of these ventures in the quest for an industrialized economy cannot be over – emphasized. In the face of the nation’s energy crisis and the statutory limitations of state governments on power, a gas distribution initiative represents about the best intervention in the power supply chain. With this facility, the Obiano leadership aims to shore up energy delivery to the state’s industrial zones, thus, boosting capacity utilization of entrepreneurs. The Agreement with Richbon shows that its automobile plant will assemble buses, light and heavy duty trucks, construction as well as agricultural equipment. It is of much significance that some of these ventures have capacity for ripple effect on other new and old investments such as the assembly plant promises to impact on the agricultural revolution in the area of equipment. It is also interesting to note that the location of the vehicle assembly plant is Oba, close to the Nnewi auto industrial centre. Oba incidentally is the site for the proposed commercial airport for the State.
In January this year, the State played host to a 13 man – strong business delegation from Thailand with vast economic interests spanning oil and gas; agriculture; electricity generation; waste conversion; water management; mining and manufacturing. At the end of a six day tour of the state during which the team listened to presentations on the state’s economy and business opportunities, the members signed Memorandum of Understanding with the state government on investment partnerships.
Is this engagement sustainable or a flash in the pan? This doubt seems all the more cogent by the exception Governor Obiano has proved in this aspect of governance. The trend had been that new governments spend the first six to twelve months learning the ropes and adjusting their programmes based on the reality on ground. Indeed, the negotiations leading to the take – off of SabMiller Breweries at Onitsha, Anambra State, in 2012 gives a sense of the odds in getting prospective investors to part with their money. It had taken some six years before the crystallization of the plan. Former Governor, Peter Obi had first invited the South Africans to take over the Premier Breweries at Onitsha. This was declined on the consideration that the facility was too small. The offer was later reviewed to include another privately owned brewery in the commercial city. The response came in the startling observation that Anambra was unstable! When Obi remonstrated that the state had moved on from the battle ground of previous years, the South African brewers cited his impeachment as evidence of instability. It would take more years of persuasion before the South Africans agreed to come and build their own structure.
Obiano’s feat in winning investor confidence in so short a time and on such an unprecedented scale seem to be the product of his experience as an investment banker and the spirit of leadership transformation. Either way, it is a vindication that Ndi Anambra made the correct choice when they elected him governor in 2014. It may well be that Obiano’s emphasis on standards defines the stability that has attracted investors to the state.