From OLUSEYE OJOI, Ibadan
In the beginning, Oyo State was named the pace setter state. The landmarks that earned the state the appellation came from its unprecedented records because. The state houses many ‘firsts’ in the country.
The landmarks include the premier university in the country, University of Ibadan, (U.I); the first teaching hospital in Nigeria, University College Hospital (UCH), Ibadan; the first stadium – Liberty Stadium, Ibadan; and the first television in Africa – Nigerian Television Authority (NTA), Ibadan.
The list also comprised the first skycrapper – 25-storey Cocoa House, Ibadan; the first housing corporation, Ibadan; the first private television station, Galaxy Television, Ibadan; the first dualised road – Queen Elizabeth Road, Ibadan; and the first parliament, Ibadan among others.
But the state, according to analysts, is no longer holding the ace. Though many ‘firsts’ it has recorded cannot be erased, some other states in the country have beaten the state in many spheres of life, especially in recording ‘firsts’ probably in the past three decades.
The state has become one of the states in the country that cannot pay its workers’ salaries regularly since October 2014. The situation was caused by the dwindling allocation from the Federation Account accrued to the state. Also, the internally generated revenue of over N1billion every month in the state is not enough to bail the state out of its financial predicament since the statutory allocations began to nosedive.
This has culminated into the economic downturn being experienced by residents of the state. Civil servants are shedding bitter tears. Traders are complaining of low patronages. Many parents can no longer fulfil their responsibilities in payment of school fees and house rents.
The question questions agitating the minds of many people include what can be done for the state to reclaim its lost glory, how can the state be positioned to be economically viable and create a lot of job opportunities?
The questions have begun to receive answers as the administration of Governor Abiola Ajimobi in the state and a development partner, China Polaris Group, are working on a Free Trade Zone (FTZ) that will gulp $2billion, which is N636billion.
The FTZ, according to its promoters, is expected be first of its kind in Africa. It is place where helicopters, cars and buses will be assembled. The zone, where 8,000 manufacturers are expected to operate, is also expected to provides automated solar energy within three years for the people of the state.
The ground breaking ceremony of the FTZ, which has been named Polaris-Pacesetter Free Trade Zone, at quarry axis of Lagos-Ibadan Expressway in Oluyole Local Government Area, was performed by Governor Ajimobi recently.
It is said to be part of government’s efforts to facilitate industrialisation and job creation. The project is also aimed at ensuring the overall social and economic development of the state and showcasing business and economic potentials of the state.
Special Adviser to the governor on Bureau of Investment Promotions, Ms Folake Akinleye, said the public private partnership between the state and the China Polaris Group that was consummated in the recent foundation laying ceremony of the FTZ, which she described as the catalyst for industrialisation in the state.
“I am excited at the benefits of employment generation, foreign exchange earnings, and inflow of export oriented industries and other derivables that will come into the state through this project,” Akinleye stated.
The project facilitator, Dr. Mufu Raheem said 120 factories have registered interests in the first phase of the project, adding that FTZ would the first of its kind in Africa, as it would have a sister FTZ in China.
The FTZ in Ibadan, he explained will be an automotive hub, where 15 automotive companies will assemble cars, buses and trucks. He added that the FTZ would also be a hub manufacturing hub, electronic hub for manufacturing; electronics; healthcare products; creative and animation industry and integrated logistics.
The Head of Chinese Delegation, Miss Zhang Xuemie, said the government of China is in support of the project, adding that she was optimistic that in the nearest future, the state will be a better place.
The President of China Polaris, Mr. Zhang Wendong, confirmed that the automated solar energy that would power the state would be ready within two to three years and the expected presence of at least 8,000 manufacturers, adding that Oyo State will be a viable economic hub and the FTZ would be completed soon.
His words: “Polaris-Pacesetter Free Trade Zone will encompass light, medium and heavy manufacturing lines of $2billion. The first phase will cost $500m (N159billion), which will involve production and assemblage of vehicle parts and solar energy.
“We are targeting solar energy that will power the whole of Ibadan and its environs. This is the first of its kind in Africa and it will be replicated in other African countries.”
Ajimobi, who performed the ground breaking of the FTZ, said the state donated 1,000 hectares of land for the project, saying: “What we are doing is a journey of five years. When I became governor in 2011, I prayed to God to help us in making the state better. We have four cardinal objectives, which are agriculture, education, industrialisation and security of lives and property. We also add infrastructure.
“During the period, I was in China for two weeks to seal the agreement, which culminated in the groundbreaking ceremony. I’m happy to announce to the people of Oyo State that the groundbreaking berths the result of a five-year intensive hunt for genuine investors to come and partner us in the state.
“Polaris-Pacesetter Free Trade Zone is an industrial revolution with the total package of $2billion investment aimed at pushing the state to the top notch, not only in Nigeria but in Africa. The multiplier effect of the project is the imminent massive job creation and financial freedom for the government and the good people of our dear state.”
The governor appealed to the Chinese investors to fast-track construction works at the trade zone, with the target of completing the first phase in the next three months.
Describing China as the fastest growing economy in the world, Ajimobi said that the industrial template to be propelled by the Polaris-Pacesetter Free Trade Zone would enhance agricultural, commercial, educational and infrastructural development in the state.
Ajimobi was upbeat that the project would be a source of envy to states that border Oyo when completed.
The governor said that the time had come for the state to add value to agriculture by ending the regime of wastages besetting the sector and the state’s natural resources.
The FTZ, according to Ajimobi, will be developed in three phases, adding that the China Polaris Group has approved $500million for the first phase of the project.
“It has always pained me that our state reputed as a pacesetter state, where we have the first university, the first residential estate, television station and a lot of others. Why are we backward?
“So, the fastest way to growth and development is through industrialisation. The industrialisation should be built on the template of the Asian Tigers.
“This FTZ is our injection into reviving the ailing economy of the country. The future belongs to those that prepare for it today. So, we are preparing for a beautiful future for the economy of the state. It represents our future and milestone in our strategic development of repositioning of the state. We will complement the FTZ with parks in every part of the state.”
The Olubadan of Ibadanland, Oba Saliu Adetunji, Aje Ogungunniso I, who spoke through the Balogun of Ibadanland, Chief Owolabi Olakulehin, commended the government for the project, saying the FTZ would help in reviving moribund industries in the state. According to him, there were many thriving industries in Ibadan during his youthful age about 50 years ago.
He is optimistic that the initiative will help in reducing unemployment in the country, saying: “We want Oyo State to be industrialised like Lagos and Ogun States.” He, however, advocated quality in the products that will be brought to the state.
President of Oyo State Chambers of Commerce, Industries, Mine and Agirculture (OYCCIMA), Asiwaju Olaitan Alabi, said: “On behalf of the organised private sector in Oyo State, we congratulate Governor Ajimobi on this project. This is a fantastic thing happening in the state.
“Most cheering news is that the Polaris is coming with solar energy. Many companies in the state have either folded up or relocated to other countries because of epileptic or lack of power supply. The essence of free trade zone is for export. We will generate foreign exchange. We have inland depot in Ibadan that will also help in cargo transportation.”
Few days after the groundbreaking ceremony, Ajimobi travelled to China for several days in respect of the project towards wooing investors to the FTZ. He meet with about 1000 Chinese investors at the Great Hall of the People in China, on the need to participate in the Polaris-Pacesetter Free Trade Zone Development Limited. He assured them of their individual safety and that of their valuable assets.
The FTZ, according to him, was a significant departure from previous experiments in Nigeria as it was being anchored on the China-Africa Industrial Capacity assistance and cooperation model, saying that the project has its bilateral as well as functional sister relationship with the Guye-Tangshan Free Trade Zone in China to form a ‘sister’ Free Trade Zone platform and that it would further the deepening of the bilateral relationship between China and Nigeria.
“Oyo State is genuinely and sufficiently interested in the Chinese industrialisation model. To this end, we recently kick started an industrial revolution in Oyo State, Nigeria, with the turning of the sod of the $2.5billion POLARIS – PACE SETTER FREE TRADE ZONE on a 1,000 hectare parcel of land in Ibadan the state capital.
“The Government of Oyo State is on a mission to improve the quality of lives of its people by bringing development to the state that will leap frog the economy. We are conscious of the fact that this can be better achieved in conjunction with proven and tested investment partners,” the governor noted.
He explained that a ready local and national market awaits the investing partners, adding that with a largely youthful state population of approximately 10 million people and a national population of over 180 million, there are huge potentials for manufacturers and service providers in this barrier free business environment.
Ajimobi continued: “The state’s economy is an emerging one. This presents no limits for the investing public as the economy can be expanded and stretched without limitations. The future of the market and economy will therefore be controlled by the activities of today providing enormous opportunities to our investing partners.
“Investors are also assured of up to 100 per cent foreign ownership of businesses in a zone where foreign capital investment can be repatriated at any time, with capital appreciation thereon. Profits and dividends are also allowed to be remitted offshore in this ready export market that serves as a platform for strong international competitiveness.”