Being the text of a speech delivered by the Abia State Governor, Dr. Alex Otti, OFR, on the formal Inauguration of the Abia Global Economic Advisory Council on January 18, 2024 at the Banquet Hall, Abia State Government House, Umuahia.
- I welcome everyone here seated, as well as those joining from virtual platforms, with a great sense of joy and fulfilment. Today’s event is the climax of several weeks of planning, consultations and engagements with several stakeholders and key partners on how to create a robust team of world beaters, first class professionals, accomplished entrepreneurs and enthusiastic global citizens to support and give life to the vision of the State Government as it works to transform Abia into a leading global investment destination, offering unique set of advantages to local and international businesses in multiple industrial and commercial value chains.
- Permit me to specially appreciate the very outstanding men and women who have generously offered to support our dear State in various capacities within the Abia State Global Economic Advisory Council (GEAC). I extend to all of you the immense appreciation of Abia people on whose behalf you have permitted us to bring you together to guide us in furtherance of our vision to turn our State into a favourite destination for all categories of investments leveraging on the many opportunities that abound in our land, including agro-friendly environment, steady supply of skilled and unskilled labour, tax friendly regime, nearness to regional and global markets, a business-supportive government and abundance of varieties of in-demand raw materials.
- Ladies and gentlemen, let me specifically thank the Chair, Arunma Oteh, AEEM, who has worked tirelessly with us to put this together. Arunma is such a great thinker and workaholic that you must have in your team if you want to succeed. Abia cannot thank you enough. I also thank HRH, Khalifa Sanusi Lamido Sanusi for accepting to Co-Chair this council. As always, he is my wonderful brother from another mother. Bolaji Balogun, also Co-Chair has also been wonderful in making this dream, a reality. Victor Onyenkpa and Ifueko Omogui Okauru started this whole process as Chair and Co-Chair of the transition council that worked for several weeks to produce the strategy document that the government has been working with in the last 7 months and a half. We thank you all.
- We are very excited by the knowledge that this team can achieve so much for the present and future generation. Everyone here has been selected on the back of a stellar record of excellence in diverse fields relevant to the accomplishment of the tasks at hand. The mere fact of your presence or membership of this Council has already sent a strong signal to interested observers that Abia is poised to become the next big thing. As I mentioned several times in my writings and other engagements with political leaders before now, you don’t need to travel round the world in the hunt for investors; if the critical enterprise-supporting systems are in place, astute businessmen and women would need no further invitation.
- There is nothing I will say here that is not already known to the members of this excellent team of world class scholars, pathfinders, economic influencers, policymakers, visionaries and leaders in diverse fields of human endeavour. We want to admit that as a government, we do not know it all. That is why we are seeking guidance and advise from those who know better. You have excelled in similar tasks in different environments that it will make no sense to attempt another round of lecture on this day of enthusiastic expectations from Abians and our friends from all over the world.
- You already know what we want to accomplish: making Abia a preferred investment destination for global businesses as I pointed out in my New Year message. Your job as members of this Council is to work closely with the State Government to create practical ways of moving from the vision board to the field of execution, providing intelligent answers to questions around how we can open up the State to those seeking to put their money in an environment where steady returns are assured; in ways that profit the investors themselves, the local economy and ultimately, impact the long term economic prospects of the State.
- We are not just seeking to attract a few big manufacturing outfits in the State to score cheap political points. No. Our ultimate goal is to re-make the entire State into a robust enterprise ecosystem with clear pathways to bigger global and regional markets. We are keen to transform our traditional agro-economy to become a major player in the global agricultural value chain, producing sufficient output to feed the local population and then for export. We did it in the 1950s and early 1960s with crude technology and under-developed supply chain; I believe we can do even better in the 21st century with all the amazing opportunities it promises.
- In Aba, we do not just make quality footwear and clothing. Given the right support, our shoemakers and fashion designers can compete with the best anywhere in the world. Even with very little in terms of supporting ecosystem, Aba shoes and fashion items are sold and worn with pride by people in all parts of the world. Our conviction is that we can effortlessly turn the Abia fashion ecosystem into more than a billion dollar industry in only a few years if the right streams of investments can be attracted. I am optimistic that this Council can help us achieve that vision in the next 24 months.
- Beyond fashion, Aba is also very strong on metal fabrication, wood works and mechanical construction. Sadly, the immense potential of our people has stayed hidden and under-utilised for far too long. This has given birth to a lot of misrepresentation and quackery. The average technician or craftsman in Aba can simply become a world beater if given the requisite training, equipment and exposure that their counterparts from places like Southeast Asia, take for granted. The good thing is that we now have an effective machinery to create a new era of prosperity, employment and layers of opportunities for these resilient and creative individuals.
- Across the State, there are extensive opportunities to exploit in sports, tourism and entertainment, transportation, solid minerals, real estate and property development, food processing and so much more. There is no part of Abia that does not have a unique set of advantages that willing investors can profitably harness. The Council would expectedly work with the State government and other local stakeholders, including the local chambers of commerce, industry, mines and agriculture, to bring these opportunities to the attention of the investing global community.
- Our people are welcoming, peace loving and hungry for development. You would hardly find any community in Abia that is not open to new, genuine investment opportunities. All we had lacked before now is the political will to exploit our advantages to the fullest. Today marks the beginning of a new era. We shall no longer punch below our capacity; going forward, Abia State and its people shall be known for great things and we shall never look back.
- In the last 7 months, we have committed so much to strengthening our comparative advantages by developing the right governance framework and systems to drive our core vision. As you already know, the Greater Aba Development Authority (GADA) has been empowered by law to drive the socio-economic rejuvenation of Aba and restore the pride of the old Enyimba City, an inviting and fertile ground for nurturing and growing enterprises, raising families and enjoying other multiple blessings of the earth. Aba is very dear to our heart, to our vision as a government and to the future of Africa, and this explains why we take everything we are doing in that city very seriously.
- While we are a government with big dreams, we are also mindful of the fact that there are few fundamental things that need to be done to send out unmistakable signal that we are open and ready for business. On assumption of office, we quickly set out to rid our urban centres, including Aba and Umuahia, of mountains of refuse that at the time were defining features of these cities. We committed enormous resources to this endeavour because it was clear to us that most decent businesses cannot function in an atmosphere of filth. I am glad to report that our cities have become cleaner, even though it remains work in progress. We are also paying serious attention to environmental sustainability and reduction of carbon footprints. Our green energy and waste to energy projects are fully on course.
- When we came into office at the end of May last year, we wasted no time in mobilising reputable contractors to begin the reconstruction of roads in our urban centres as a way of improving the business-readiness of the cities. Our ‘outside-the-box’ thinking philosophy saw us engaging the engineering staff of the State Ministry of Works to drive the road rehabilitation efforts in several locations at minimal costs. In like manner, our focus on health and education could be discerned from our 2024 budget where we earmarked 15% and 20% to those sectors respectively.
- On account of our commitment, several roads that had been abandoned for decades have now been either fully rehabilitated or at various stages of repair. We are not just fixing and restoring roads, we are also clearing and opening drainage pathways to tackle menace of perennial flooding, especially in certain locations in Aba, including the world famous Ariara International Market.
- We performed the groundbreaking ceremony for the Abia Industrial and Innovation Park (AIIP) in late September 2023. The AIIP, located in Owaza, Ukwa West LGA of the State, is designed to be the biggest industrial and innovation hub in Nigeria, supporting various categories of industries including oil and gas refining, manufacturing, ICT and so much more. To be supported by world class facilities like gas pipelines, steady electricity and robust transport infrastructure including a proposed seaport in Azumini, light rail, and an airfield for ease of access, the AIIP embodies our vision to open up the State to the world and create an endless stream of opportunities for bold players in various economic ecosystems.
- I am glad that several multinational groups have made commitments in the AIIP, securing their business lots because they have clearly seen the future. The AIIP proposition is compelling because unlike all other similar initiatives before it, our strategy is different. We are building a system that is private-sector driven, independent of political considerations. The Project will outlive our government but will stand forever as a testimony to our vision, ambition and success as an administration. It is our belief that no smart investor will ignore the promises and opportunities that the AIIP offers.
- To the distinguished members of the Council, members of the global and local business communities and fellow Abians, a new dawn is before us. As a government, we are committed to reclaiming the missed opportunities of yesterday while positioning our State strategically for the promises of the future. We are not just determined to set new standards in leadership, we want to demonstrate that like our peers in Asia and in other parts of the world, we have what it takes to do great things.
- We are optimistic that in no time, major fashion brands, big techs and globally renowned manufacturing giants would start setting up plants in different parts of Abia because we have special advantages that can match, or even surpass, what you find in other places including effective, community-driven security, committed workforce and easy access to existing and new markets.
- We are certain that many commentators in the days to come would be wondering how or why we have assembled this special team to advise a state government on investment opportunities. We understand the concern but the quality of the individuals we have in this Council speaks to our vision. We want to make our State economically viable, create wealth for genuine businessmen and women and expand the frontiers of opportunities for our youth population. We are a government that is committed to leveraging the opportunities available to it to do things in new ways.
- We are also aware that there exists, certain limitations that an individual state cannot fully overcome to successfully mine the output of a body like the Abia GEAC. May I assure you that we shall seek assistance and support from the right places including the federal government and its agencies, neighbouring states and even international development partners whenever the need arises. Beyond the challenges that will be inevitable, including difficult macroeconomic realities within the larger economy, the GEAC is encouraged to focus more on the opportunities that are within the horizon and how we can make the most of it to write a new, beautiful story that we hope would inspire greater beliefs, even outside the boundaries of Abia.
- More importantly, my doors will remain open whenever you need me. As I hinted at the beginning, I am very much aware of the great sacrifices you shall be making by your membership of the GEAC for which we may not have sufficient resources to fully pay for. One thing I can, however, assure is the enduring gratitude of Abia’s present and future generations, on whose behalf you shall be doing this work.
- Thank you for accepting the serve and may God bless you all.
Dr Alex C. Otti, OFR,