Benin Enterprise Park to attract major investment, boost Edo State economy – Osayande

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Ikponmwonsa Edward Osayande, is the Managing Director of Benin Enterprise Park Limited. He speaks on the mandate by Governor Godwin Obaseki, to build an industrial park designed to boost the Gross Domestic Product of the Edo State, provide opportunities for training and employment, and to enable efficient, effective, responsive and innovative utilisation of the natural and geographic endowments of the state. Excerpts:

What gave birth to Benin Enterprise Park limited?

I have been with Mr. Governor since 2017, as a matter of fact, the Benin Enterprise Park Limited, which was initially the Benin Industrial Park, was one of the first projects he assigned to me.

Mr. Governor had a vision which was thoroughly researched and ultimately converted to a strategic document, which gave birth to the Six Thematic Pillars that have guided the deliberate reform that is the MEGA (Make Edo Great Again) Agenda. I have the privilege to be involved in the economic reform and infrastructural development pillars by virtue of my mandate.

The Benin Enterprise Park project came up as a result of the need to create commerce, improve commerce, increase commerce, increase trading, increase businesses, create a system, and a situation where businesses come into Edo State and set up seamlessly.

Our first Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) was with Mahindra Engineering Group, they came in and spent about six months with us here, chose the location for the park, which most people do not realise is equidistant from all over the state, including Delta State, thus taking advantage of our geographical location for intra and inter-state commerce.

We also chose the location because of the raw materials readily available in the state to support the 14 sectors identified in our Master Plan, which I must say is a dynamic document.

What informed the choice of these 14 sectors as starters for the park?

The criteria for choosing those 14 sectors have to do with the amount of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) potential for the state, the amount of jobs that they will create for the state, and also the Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) for that area of the State that will benefit the local communities.

Which part of the State is BEPL located?

The location for the Benin Enterprise Park is in Ikpoba-Okha Local Government Area of the State, about 10-minute drive from the by-pass. It is 997.71 hectares of land and we have decided to develop it modularly.

How was this enterprise park set up to function?

The initial thought process was to do a Public-Private Partnership (PPP) arrangement. We explored that possibility, and then we had the interest rate issues. As a foreign direct investor, when you go into any economy, any country, or anywhere you want to invest your money, there must be an exit strategy.

Now, it is a problem if you don’t know how you are going to repatriate your investment and profits at the end or you are not sure how that is going to happen. You now have a situation where you are reluctant to come in.

The major issue we had with Nigeria at that time was that we did not have an exchange rate that you could rely on or use to hedge. There was the black market; there were so many different values until we came up with this single-digit exchange rate system now, which is in its infancy.

Secondly, COVID-19 came about, and then elections. Nobody goes into a new environment during elections because of the uncertainty.

“We have two anchor tenants coming in, we are preparing for them, and once they come in we would now be able to market more effectively”

Has that focus, in terms of leveraging on PPP, changed now?

Yes. This is so as Mr. Governor has decided that we should go in a different direction.

We should take some part of that land and then we as government provide the horizontal infrastructure such that businesses will now come in there and set up. Therefore, once we start having those first mover advantages, the anchor tenants coming, it will be easier to now market to other people to come in.

Lagos is congested, and Onitsha is congested. The cost of doing business there is very high. If we can provide electricity, water, security, gas, which we are already in talks with the different providers, then we can have a situation where we now bring in small to medium-scale businesses, low polluting because it’s a community, to come in and then take parcels of land, that part of the policy is being developed also, and then we start to do business.

To what extent have you gone with this new plan and the prospect of getting businesses to buy into it?

The idea is to get them in as quickly as possible. We have two major anchor tenants coming in already that we’re working with right now. So, we’re trying to get it from greenfield to brownfield as quickly as possible.

What is the level of the ease of doing business in Edo with reference to the Benin Enterprise Park Limited remix?

The ease of doing business has an office already and it’s a committee. It’s actually the third, I believe, major committee in government after the EXCO and the Security Committee. It is a committee made up mostly of commissioners and a few of us and the Secretary is the Managing Director of ESIPO, the Edo State Investment Promotion Office.

So, there’s already a consistent effort to create a compendium of what we call tax incentives and other Federal Government initiatives that can be applicable to the State and even others, that the States will generate on their own, like when we give waivers to farmland owners not to pay land rent or moratorium for two or three years.

Those are things that will help bring them in quicker, because when they look at their costs to come in to do business here, as opposed to somewhere else, it is lower for them here. Therefore, they will come here naturally.

The Benin Enterprise Park project is in phases as we understand. What phase are you now and what are the elements contained therein?

What we are working on now is our phase One, which is probably about 250 hectares right now, it might change if we get more people interested, or when we get more people interested. It is where we want to now provide those infrastructures I was talking about, so that they can now come in.

You cannot go and sell an idea to somebody and when they get there, you are just looking at a fallow or bushy area. They have to see activity going on, they have to see bulldozers, pay loaders, drainages, and offices being built, so that they will know that they are coming in here just to come and plug in and play.

Just like how you develop suburbs abroad – you go in there, you check, you have all the survey plans done, you have your C of O process because if you come in, you bring me a proposal, and I give you my due diligence checklist. You bring me all the documents that are on the checklist then we go through a process because I need to see your design layout to know exactly how much land you need.

The method by which we allocate the land has to be systemic and deliberate until we get there, because by the time we get to Phase Two, whoever came in Phase One would have come in, probably at a cheaper or lower rate.

Now there is competition, we have to respond to the market. So, we have to manage all these things because the ultimate plan is for the Benin Enterprise Park Limited to be a sustaining company of government where the government at the end of the day, will have oversight over it continuously, and will also get revenue from it going to its Internally General Revenue coffers.

Does that mean the level we are in now is creating the base work and laying the foundation for its eventual take off?

We have two anchor tenants coming in, we are preparing for them, and once they come in we would now be able to market more effectively.

You see, comparative advantage states that you must be efficient, effective, and responsive to your customers, which are all our tenants, and also be innovative. So, we are putting all those things in place, to say okay, what are we going to get from this process now, what is within our reach in the next two or three years? What do we need to capitalise on right now? And then remember, we also have certain components; like for example; the Environmental and Social Impact Assessment (ESIA), we have to get approval from the federal government too.

So, those things that are not under our purview, we have to use extra effort and means to get them done quickly so that we can get all these, because I want a situation where; when you apply to come into the park, I can tell you that in 30 or 45 days, you are either breaking ground or at least you have gotten everything you need from Edo State Government.

Any targeted time then for the two anchor tenants to mobilise to site yet?

None yet but we are anxious and eager for them to come in and start as quickly as possible. Some might even take 18 months to financial closure. We are aware of all that, but as long as the process has started, we have gotten to a point where your diligence and ours are on point, are at par, then we would know that, okay, yes; this one: see where you are, we have demarcated, it’s just for you to come in.

Sustainability is key to this project, given that this present administration just has about one year to end its tenure, what are you closing with in terms of this innovative and gigantic project?

I was at the last government retreat in Lagos, and the theme was Obaseki Finishing Strong. It was clear to everybody there from Mr. Governor’s speech that what we have achieved so far will not make any difference or any sense if we don’t finish strong. What we have that is left for us to do with the time that we have, we must do the best we can to get to a point where it’s irreversible.

Let me give you an example. This tag of MoU government, MoU government, is funny because a lot of people don’t realise or have started to realise that a Memorandum of Understanding is more or less a gentleman’s agreement between two people or entities that want to do business (it is usually time bound).

The idea is for you and I to put our responsibilities; what we are responsible for on the table, such that we have a clear understanding of what is required from me, and what is required from you.

So, what that does is, irrespective of which government or whoever takes over, some of these projects domiciled in the private sector will continue to grow. They will not have that much interference from the government anymore. The government is not even supposed to be in business in the first place, but needs to focus on certain sectors that actually help the economy to grow, then at some point, they will even step back.

What are the benefits to the communities where this project is domiciled?

We would probably have a policy document that requires most of the tenants to have some sort of pledge or contribution to the CSR for the communities.

The communities are going to benefit from employment, they are going to benefit from training. We have always had the community people, the community representatives from the grassroots to the leaders of the communities involved in the process.

We are not going to the communities and telling them this is what we want to do for you. If I go to Iyanomo for example, I am not going to tell them that company A wants to come and build a hospital when I know their problem is water.

So that is the type of interaction that will continue to take place, and then the young people in the area too will be empowered. You can’t come and take and then exit, you are going to take what you need to take to exit, but you must leave a lot in the community.

Looking at where this government is coming from when it took over power in 2016, how would you assess its performance over time?

I have to commend Governor Godwin Obaseki for his steadfastness and doggedness. He is one man, but he is handling so much in doing all of these for the state.

You see, when you look at all the thematic pillars that we have, the six that we identified, I mentioned two that I was actually involved in, but you have to think about education, health, and how he prioritises all these things and gets most of these things done.

Our TVET (Technical and Vocational Education and Training) programme is running very well, as well as EdoBEST, and EdoJobs. We have a lot of things going on. We have the new town development, which is another company, just like the Benin Enterprise Park, but that one is for residential, it is also ongoing.

So, we have a lot of initiatives that we have started, that have kicked off and have benefited a lot of people, but we are not telling our story as quickly as we should.

Going forward, some of these things need to be documented such that whoever comes later will realise that His Excellency, Mr. Godwin Nogheghase Obaseki, will always stand on the right side of history.