Bayelsa State Commissioner for Trade, Industry and Investment Kemela Okara speaks on the state’s investment drive. WALE AJETUNMOBI met him
The Bayelsa State Investment andEconomic Forum comes up later this month; what exactly are you looking at?
The Bayelsa State Investment and Economic Forum has been put together to create a platform for investors within Bayelsa State, within the country and investors from outside the country to come to Bayelsa State and explore the various opportunities for business that the state presents.
What is the target audience for the event?
We are targeting five main areas and a major one is power, because as you know, power generation is perhaps one of the most vital components today in ensuring that the economy, not only in Bayelsa State, but also across Nigeria is really able to perform as desired.
As you may know, Bayelsa State is not just only an oil rich state, but it is also rich in gas. In fact, we have more gas deposits than oil. As you know, gas is a major feedstock to generate power, so it is one major hope that we have from this conference and we have actually commenced discussions with a number of companies and some with whom we have signed MoUs, who would want to come and site power generation plants in Bayelsa State.
We know that we have a mid term objective of being able to generate 3000 megawatts of power, so we are looking for investors, who would want to come and take advantage of the investment opportunities in power genertion and gas deposits here, to feed into the national grid to supply the entire country.
Another major area is agriculture. Bayelsa has major potentials in rice farming, aquaculture and these areas also have a direct impact on the livelihood of everybody, from the small farmer to the big farmer. In the rice sector, for instance, we have investors we believe will come, if we set up rice mills here, working in partnership with the local farmers, we can increase the opportunities for business for local farmers and opportunities for employment, so that’s the second segment.
The third area we are focusing on at the investment summit is in the area of hospitality and tourism. The fourth area is, of course, what we are already known for, which is oil and gas. We know that we can expand the value chain in the oil and gas sector, increase local content in oil and gas. So, this is also an area where we are seeking to attract investors through this economic and investment forum.
The final one seeks to look a bit ahead. We know that e-commerce is the future and you may be aware that in Nigeria today, we have companies like Konga doing for the Nigerian market what companies like eBay and amazon do in foriegn markets. So, we want to also provide a platform where businessmen in Bayelsa State can take advantage of e-commerce to extend their goods and services beyond Bayelsa State to the entire country.
Can you give us an idea of some of the big investors that are expected to be in Bayelsa for this forum?
We have companies like GE; we have gotten responses from the UK trade and industry department, which represents the UK business interest. We have gotten from Italy, Belgium and Poland. These are some countries that have already indicated that their trade missions will ensure that the chambers of commerce in their respective countries send representatives. Also, I had meetings with the Nigeria-Canada forum, which represents business interest in Canada, they have also indicated that they will be coming.
There is also a U.S.-based interest in the power sector, that has indicated that, they would want to partner with us, they are taking a very strong role in this. So, we have a wide array of different interests from different countries, different trade missions and different chambers of commerce, who want to attend this event, so we are looking forward to a very good event.
Sir, you said earlier that you had an interactive session with some of the interest groups back home. From your discussion with them do you think they are ready to welcome this investors, because one problem we have always had back home is that our local investors hardly go into big investments.
So, how prepared are you to host the world?
In terms of preparation, we are at advanced stages. Our preparation covers a wide range of activities in terms of giving the right information to those, who are arriving the country. They need the right information about visa, transport logistics arriving into the country and getting to Yenagoa, the hotels we have and the quality of the rooms. We also have to give information in terms of local security on ground which is important, so that people have a full sense of being safe and secure, when they are here. So, we have a checklist of all sorts of things that have to be done and we have a local organiSing committee, working to ensure that all these different things are done. I am just here perhaps as commissioner, the spokesman, talking to the public, but there are many people working in different aspects of what we have to do and all of that is going on very well.
To the people of Bayelsa State, what would be your message to them, especially those on the streets?
My message to them is very simple; the whole essence of growing an economy is to provide employment. At the end of the day, we want job security, we want to know that we can afford the basic necessities of life, we want to know that we can send our children to school, we want to know that we can give them a quality education and a good job and the options business offers. At the end of the day, what all of this is about is to increase the amount of money we have in our pockets, because if a business comes into an environment property prices will appreciate. People will have an incentive to take out loans from the banks to build houses, because they are sure of having tenants, because the business will employ people and people will be coming in. So, if we make Bayelsa State attractive for business, everybody benefits; it is as simple as that.
15th July 2014