7 march 2013
Edo State Development Blueprint: Just a draft please. This is a work in progress and I am awaiting input from the other two members of this committee, but I feel we should have something to show as a rough draft at best, and when the committee meets, we can update our report.
This assignment carries so much wait for me and I feel the elders that tasked us on this errand should not be kept waiting for too long before we turn in a draft, at least. This draft covers real estate and tourism, while work on the other areas are ongoing. Please read and make your inputs. Many thanks.
The area called Edo State today was bequeathed a good number of trained human capital from result-oriented administrations led by Samuel Ogbemudia and later, the late Dr Ambrose Ali through their high premium on education and skills acquisition.
The universities and other lower educational institutions are concrete evidence of these efforts, same for the large army of Edo sons and daughters that accessed quality education and in some cases free of charge.
The result as we saw later was a state with very educated and exposed individuals who were masters of their trades, professions and vocations driven by progressive cultural values handed us by our rich culture and traditions.
Between the last purposive Ambrose Ali-led govenment and the current Adams Oshiomhole government, which is on a rescue mission, the consequences of bad governance over the years stare at us in the face- a large army of illiterate young men and women, armed robbery, kidnapping and other crimes are rife (though not peculiar to Edo State), dangerous street gangs that are armed and kill themselves and others at the slightest provocation. All of these are happening with the huge natural resources-land, solid minerals, rich soil for Agric, a great weather for tourism etc. The missing link is no doubt, a lack of capacity to harness all these resources for our collective good.
The economy is merely struggling because the state is still largely a civil service state, the opportunities to enhance once socio-economic status are very few because over the years we failed to discover the inherent gains in investing in businesses. The elites in our midst did not come together to form partnerships that will play by the rules and outlive them. Much of what we have were and regrettably, still, are pockets of small businesses that do not grow into medium or large scale businesses, and with very short life span.
But the economy which is driven by foreign remittances from edo sons and daughters is in the hands of non-edos. In my estimation, foreign receipt is what is driving the Edo economy today, supported by the humble agricultural activities and real estate, trade in consumables, transport, crafts etc.
However, the commission charged on these remittances is collected by non-edos, yet Edo men and women toil for the money abroad. Then the question begging for answer is, is it not possible for some rich edo people to float an investment bank, through which these remittances can be coming to edo? Such a bank will employ edo sons and daughters.
Much of the money sent for housing projects goes into the pockets of non-edos who control the building material business from iron rods, cement, zinc etc, except for sand, trucking and land. Happily our sons and daughters are coming up strong in the building materials trade, but I must admit that non-edos are still largely in charge and call the shots.
Our tourism assets and wealth are in dire straits, the most visible being the Benin Moat. The Oba Akenzua Cultural Centre is under utilised because its management is still in the hands of government. The museum is a federal government facility, but the heritage objects are being stolen by the management who are largely federal government officials. Because there is no comprehensive tourism masterplan, the few hotels in benin are not graded, some are not even registered with the appropriate authority, cannot create programmes with tour operators(if they exist at all) and attract tourists to our undeveloped sites. The museum is rich in heritage objects, but are being stolen by non-edos and some edo people alike in the museums commission, who take them abroad and exhibit them in foreign museums. There are several rivers in Edo, but Edo has no beach. When friends of Edo people abroad, including our European and American in-laws visit with their spouses, there are no beaches for them to relax.
WHAT CAN BE DONE ( Real Estate).
Edo economy can be revamped if government can partner with private individuals and groups to take over core areas of the economy through public private partnership. Any government practicing a mixed economy like ours is largely a regulator and enabler for the core private sector which drives the economy using world class practices. These private players pay taxes and royalty to government for the supervisory role it plays. On housing, government has not fared well in this area because it has left it in the hands of individuals who sell lands at will without any plan for infrastructures.
What government can do is to come up with new layouts( The New Benin City Project) with plots for hospitals, schools, markets or shopping malls, playgrounds, community halls, water etc and sell to individual and corporate developers. After selling, government officials must ensure that people build to specifications. Some ingenuity is needed here. To illustrate, if the governor says today that there is a Michigan layout in the proposed New Benin City, I know all the Michigan-based benin sons and daughters will buy up all the plots even before sales will open, same for those in other cities and countries in Europe and America.
Also, we need special layouts for all trades, vocations and businesses as obtained in civilized countries. From Mechanic Village, Building Materials market, Computer Village, Vegetable or fruit market, Fashion City for designers, cosmetologists etc and should be of world class. To be part of the climate change debate, we should develop green areas across the state especially areas that are waterlogged.
My suggestion is that all these should not be concentrated in the same area, instead they should be evenly spread across the city so that their resulting socio-economic impact will rub off on the communities hosting these industrial hubs. Each local government area should be made to also replicate this at the local government level.
The Edo Development and Property Authority (EDPA) is very crucial to this plan because Edo is a fast developing state, and if development is not controlled and properly managed, the resultant chaos in the housing sector will be too much burden for any governor to handle. Taxes collected from these housing estates and industrial parks should naturally increase the internally generated revenue of the state. New ring road in other parts of the state, including stadia, fun spots etc will open up benin and Edo state so that everybody does not have to go to ring road and increase the human traffic there.
At the local government level, there should be business layouts, residential areas, GRAs/ high brow areas, markets, stadia, etc just as we have in the state capital. In fact, there should be a local government housing development authority like the EDPA in benin city in all the local government areas to design new plans for emerging towns across the state. Tuangya farming is recommended to help replace the stock of timber and other cash crops currently being depleted.
Real estate will thrive in benin, but there is currently no framework to support this. Instead people build at will without a grand plan for infrastructure like road, water, school, bank, and other support facilities that we find in estates. So we see masterpiece housing projects scattered all over benin, but no road leading to them, not to mention street light, and the feeling of insecurity is rife. But this can be reversed if some areas are marked out for estate development with all these facilities included in the package.
This should be our strongest selling point and again government through a proactive culture and tourism commissioner must upgrade its regulatory oversight and come up with a state tourism roadmap or master plan.
The master plan must explain in clear terms the role of government( Federal, state and local) which is regulatory and supervisory. All the rivers in Edo State (except those rivers with strong spiritual significance or value and connection to the customs and traditions of our people) would have to be concessioned or leased out to private beach and hotel developers.
These developers will build operate and renew their licences after a given period of time and government must first give priority to edo sons and daughters who want to do this business and ensure the jobs to be created will go to our sons and daughters and not foreigners. Government must also support the private development or management of the benin moat, through public private partnership arrangement, the proceeds from gate takings at the moat after development can go to the management of the moat and charity/the underprivileged (edo sons and daughters).
My suggestion for the moat is a simple one. Let as many interested groups and individuals come together under one umbrella( Can be called The Benin Moat Project, with a secretariat in Benin which will work with as many interest groups, individuals and governments).
It will be the job of the secretariat to plan a programme of action for the moat which will include adoption of architectural design (design should include a lift to propel tourists to the highest point of the moat, could include a zig zag foot bridge across some portions of the moat etc.).
The secretariat will work out a memorandum of understanding that will be signed by the federal government granting the state the power to approve the work of the secretariat. This way all constitutional barriers to the moat development will be taken care of.
The next stage will be to organize a fund raising dinner across the world for the moat development after costing and adoption of a design, after which the direct development of the moat will commence, with support from the state governor.
Dragging the federal government to court will not produce any immediate positive result, instead we should sign a Memorandum of Understanding with the federal government that will allow us restore the moat and manage it. The Bauchi state government did same with the Yankari Game Reserve. Later we can move to fully reclaim it from the government. So the moat needs all the money we are using to hire lawyers abroad now, to physically develop it.
We can commission a 5 star hotel project around the moat, a world class beach and a green park where the moat meets Ikpoba River.
From my humble experience, this is how tourism works-If the major tourist site is the moat, then as many tourists that come to see this human wonder from far and near will impact on the transport sector as transporters convey the tourists, food vendors will make brisk sales as the tourists will eat our pounded yam and Ogi soup, hoteliers will make a kill from lodging, craftsmen will smile to the bank as tourists will buy bronze works and carvings from the craft village, fashion designers will also sell the benin traditional dresses-our royal regalia and other souvenirs, night clubs and other fun spots will have their share, the beaches will be full as water sports will excite the tourists.
So to achieve these goals, all these beneficiaries must come together and support all tourism initiatives knowing they are the greatest beneficiaries. In fact on their way home, the tourists will buy foodstuff, fruits and vegetables fresh from the fruit market along the benin business corridors whether along Auchi Road, upper sokponba road, oredo, Lagos Ore Road etc.
Our job as a state will be to give the tourists value for their money and if possible make them exhaust and borrow more money as they enjoy benin. That is the idea! The players in this industry must continue to work with the state tourism board in creating more programmes during valentine, yuletide, easter, Igue and must have their own calendar. It will be a brilliant idea to build all these around the moat, which will be the major tourism offering with the beaches, clubs and hotels as support products. This is the way to go.
We would want to know the route Oba Ovonramwen took on his way to calabar (exile). We must identify the route and designate it a tourist site to be developed, because his exile reshaped our history in no small way. Then branding the moat using all mass media of communication will be next and I am sure the moat project will attract all edos and non-edos alike because there is nothing spiritual or fetish about it. It will be a rallying point for everyone despite our different religious convictions. From CNN to BBC and all local media, a catch phrase like “What a Wonder” or “Simply Magnificent” will put the moat in the hearts of all. Later we can design other events around it, like a golf tournament, motor sport, cycling etc. We must not also forget Okomu National Park. We can do same with it, it holds a lot of tourism promise for the state.
Lastly, government must upgrade the standard of our hotels and intra city transportation in line with current global trends.
However, it must be mentioned that we cannot continue to wait on government to do everything, because the truth is that government itself needs direction.
I suggest we collapse all the small business support groups into one organized business support group that will have experts in all trades and professions that will continue to guide who ever becomes the governor or commissioner with time tested policies and economic programmes. This group of experts will convene quarterly or annually economic summit that will address core issues of development of the state. It must resist the temptation to get so involved with the government of the day so that it does not lose its focus. This critical group will liaise with edos in the diaspora and seek areas of partnership in the development of the edo economy.