Provoking economic revolution in Edo State

Provoking economic revolution in Edo State
December 11 17:39 2016

By Elvis Ogah

I was thrilled to bit when His Excellency, Governor Godwin Obaseki kicked off what he called “Edo State Government Strategy Dialogue”. Participants at this workshop were charged to brainstorm on six thematic areas namely: Economic Revolution, Infrastructural Development, Institutional Reforms, Social Welfare Enhancement, Environmental Sustainability and Culture & Tourism.

These areas, according to the Governor, were the pillars upon which his administration shall deliver dividends to the Edo people. As I applaud this rather broad approach, what truly arrested my attention was his intent for economic revolution. Obaseki occupies the most important office in Edo at a time when the state, with a population of over 3 million people, is awash with massive unemployment, sickening poverty levels and infrastructural decay.

To make an already bad situation even worse, the drop in Federal revenues has stifled funds accruable to the state treasury. Internally Generated Revenue (IGR) has not been impressive in recent time, leaving the government standing on a precipice. What a time to be the Chief Executive of a State!

Throughout history, periods such as this, have presented men of incredible intellect and boundless vision to etch themselves on the very fabric of the soul of those they govern. Obaseki must see this as an opportunity rather than a brick wall of some sort.

It is important that the development of Micro, Small and Medium Enterprise (MSMEs) be made the centerpiece in our quest to cause a massive shakeup in the Edo state economy and provoke an economic revolution. The massive unemployment that is fast turning our able bodied youths into pawns in the hands of criminal elements can best be addressed by putting in place a vibrant MSME sector.  Achieving the economic growth we so desired requires a boost in industrial and services sector, spurred by MSMEs.

Small businesses are recognized as the main engines for growth and development because of their ability to create a middleclass. In Edo state today, you are either among the rich or extreme poor. Middleclass has been eroded.

But we all know that a strong middleclass provides a stable consumer base that propels investment. A robust middle class is a fundamental factor in encouraging entrepreneurship and innovation; a source of trust that lubricates social interactions and civic engagement.

The potential of SMEs to promote community-led growth in new and existing industries and to strengthen the resilience of the economy in a challenging time such as what we are faced with in Edo state cannot be overemphasized.

Some few solutions can be proffered. I have had the opportunity of travelling across all 18 local government areas of Edo state. From Akoko-Edo to Etsako, from Oredo to Uhunmwonde, each local council has its own unique resources or trade they are renowned for. But they all operate in isolation.

Disjointed and uncoordinated. It is imperative that the government focus on strengthening this sector as well as move to build clusters of small businesses in each of this LGAs. Let each LGA be known for a particular trade; something akin to Ujamaa – the concept that formed the basis of Julius Nyerere’s social and economic development policies in Tanzania.

Implementing such policy, although tweaking it to take cognizance of local peculiarities would ensure potentials of communities are fully tapped, the small businesses in villages would then be able engage in competitive production patterns by building sustainable linkages through the realization of economies of scale and scope. Larger corporations also would benefit from the small firms in LGAs by depending on them for the completion of various business functions through outsourcing.

Practical steps must also be taken to ease the challenge of doing business in Edo state. The state ranks an unenviable 14th on the ease of starting up business index in Nigeria amongst the 36 states and FCT.

It sits at 33 on the ease of acquiring construction permit and on the ease of registering a property it occupies the 34th position. This stats do not appear good. If the state must become the most prosperous economy in the South-South region within the next three years as envisioned by the Governor, urgent measures need to be put in place.

A government sponsored but privately managed organization must be established with the strategic objective of being a facilitating organization that ensures smooth and hassle-free experience for a prospective investor – something more of a one-stop-shop that provides information to the public in general and entrepreneurs in particular regarding the opportunities available in Edo state. This body could be referred to as Edo State Industrial Coordination Bureau (ESICB) or any name the government deem fit.

It would also have the mandate to heighten industrial tempo regarding government’s available facilities and incentive.  It will be the core responsibility of the Bureau to search, encourage and identify prospective entrepreneurs, technicians, artisans and investors and to motivate them towards establishing industrial units in LGAs where they stand to have competitive advantage.

Governor Obaseki is desirous of positioning the state as the number one economy in the country in another seven to ten years. Is this possible? Yes. Will it be easy? No. However, we must roll up our sleeves and be drenched in hard work.

Mechanism to opening up Edo to foreign investors should be devised. A biannual or annual International Investors Summit codenamed “Industrious Edo” could be launched.  The event key objective would be the bringing together of business leaders, investors, corporations, thought leaders, policy and opinion makers to Edo State.  This would no doubt be a veritable platform to understand and explore business opportunities in the State.

Conclusively, I wish to reiterate that Edo state can flourish only to the extent to which it supports and encourages Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises. Activities of these firms are the essential determinant of our economic prosperity. Let the revolution begin. God bless our Governor, Long Live Edo State – the Nation’s Heartbeat.

Elvis Ogah, an Economist and an Alumnus of the Entrepreneurship Development Institute of India (EDII) wrote in from Ahmedabad, India.