By FRANCIS OTTAH AGBO
Last month, precisely Friday, October 26, Governor Henry Seriake Dickson of Bayelsa State and his Investment Team stormed Johannesburg, the business capital of South Africa, on the invitation of President Jacob Zuma. This visit and the power packed Investment summit, which held at the Hilton Hotel, upped the ante in the vortex of investment in Bayelsa State.
The October meeting was sequel to the governor’s visit to the country in May, where he and his team wooed investors to the state. These businessmen are expected to replicate some of the infrastructure that make South Africa a strong economy in Bayelsa State. This novel drive of Hon. Dickson is hinged on his belief that Bayelsa has a lot to tap from the South African economy, which he describes as having all the trappings of a first world economy. Expectedly, the governor’s first port of call was the South African State House in Pretoria.
President Zuma was at the University of Pretoria, where he was delivering a lecture on an occasion put together to honour the longest serving president of African National Congress (ANC), the late Oliver Thambo and others. When he was told that Governor Dickson had arrived, there was no other way the South African strongman could have honoured the governor than to cut short his engagement, after his speech and rushed to his office to receive the governor and his team.
We had lunch with Mr. President and went straight to the business of the visit, which lasted for 30 minutes though memorable. The governor thanked President Zuma for offering credible leadership to South Africans and conveyed the greetings of President Goodluck Jonathan to him. Governor Dickson informed his host that he was currently emulating his party, African National Congress (ANC) by running Bayelsa State from the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) headquarters in Yenagoa, at least once in every month.
The governor advised African leaders to go beyond “political integration to integrate our people economically because it is when we build a strong economic base for our people that we can put food on their table.” While rolling out the investment potentials of his state, the governor proclaimed that government has put in place time-tested insurance policies for all investors and investment.
He said his government has turned the state into a construction site by embarking on massive road networks, the construction of Deep Sea Port in Angge, modern airport in Yenagoa and other infrastructural drives, adding that unlike in the past, the state now has enough savings to meet up with contractual agreements and cater for the rainy day. What appeared to have impressed the president significantly was the free education policy of Bayelsa State and the fact that the governor did not go to the capital market to finance these lofty projects and programmes.
Responding, President Zuma praised Dickson, for enthroning probity and accountability in the governance culture of Bayelsa State. He also eulogised the governor for investing heavily in infrastructure and urged top South African businessmen to take advantage of the conducive business environment provided by Governor Dickson to invest in the littoral state. The President said all was set for the South African Infrastructure Development Cooperation (IDC) to sign a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with Bayelsa State Government this month on capacity building.
While relishing the bond between Governor Dickson and Bayelsans, the president enjoined the governor to sustain his love for his people because, according to him, “a good politician must always be in touch with his people because politics starts and ends with them.” He promised to visit Bayelsa State next year.
After the courtesy call, the governor and his team hosted what a pundit tagged mega Investment Forum at the Hilton Hotel in Johannesburg where the potentials of the glory of all lands were laid bare. Hon. Dickson went down memory lane on why it was crucial for his state to partner with South Africa and assured investors of having a return for their money in Bayelsa State. He however, warned brief case businessmen and contractors to keep off from his state. He averred that he is the first governor in Nigeria to have enacted Compulsory Savings Law and Transparency and Accountability Law, which makes it compulsory for government to save money for the state and render account to the people of the state because in his words, “the electorate have the right to know the resources accruing to the state and how they are spent which to me is a cardinal principal of democracy.”
The governor said these laws and his approach to governance have enthroned probity, transparency, accountability and paradigm shift in governance, a development he stressed has won the confidence of the international community for the state, thereby attracting investors from the West to Bayelsa. He however, averred that the South African investors still have crucial roles to play in his state because according to him, “we want to integrate Africa economically and build African economy with Africans as drivers and in doing so, we have a lot to tap from the South African investors.” Being one of the most peaceful states in the country, as a result of the tight security network put in place by government, the governor said Bayelsa State is safe and waiting to be tapped by investors. Aside being the highest producer of oil and gas in the country, the governor told his audience that the glory of all lands offers a variety of investment opportunities in nine sectors such as agriculture, energy, fisheries, infrastructure, manufacturing, research, solid minerals, tourism, transportation and many more.
The governor declared: “We have a mandate of our people, which is firmly anchored on restoration and development of Bayelsans. To effectively do these, we must diversify our economy to be agro-business and tourism based. Luckily, the land and climate in Bayelsa State support tourism and the cultivation of both food and cash crops which include oil palm, rice, plantation, banana, yams, coco yam, cocoa, sweet potatoes, pineapple, cassava, sugar cane, coconut and many others.” The South African government was represented at the investment forum by the First Lady, Mrs. Nompumelo Ntuli Zuma and the South African Deputy Minister of Economic Planning, Professor Elizabeth Thabelth Mukezi.
The minister looked forward to the signing of MoU between South African Infrastructure Development Corporation and Bayelsa State and emphasised the willingness of South Africa to partner with Bayelsa State because in her words, “Governor Dickson has put in place in-built parameters that are likely to make his state an investor’s destination.” While declaring that the procurement system in her country has undergone reforms, she urged the Bayelsa State Government to tighten up the procurement mechanism, a process, she claimed is often abused to perpetrate fraud in the system in Africa.
The Bayelsa initiative was unique in a number of ways: it was the first time that the South African First Lady would personally attend and endorse an investment summit organised by a Nigerian state government. Similarly, Bayelsa is the first and only state in Nigeria to enjoy President Zuma’s endorsement of its development plan. The organised private sector, renowned entrepreneurs, top businessmen and investors drawn from South Africa and other Southern African countries participated actively in the forum. Prominent among them were Mr. Bart Dorrestein, Chairman, Legacy Group Holding, owners of Michelangelo Towers, Davinci Hotel, Raphael Apartment Suites, Michelangelo Hotels and Nelson Mandela Square. Others are Mr. Bongani Maseko, Managing Director, Airport Company of South Africa, owners of all the airports in South Africa, operators of international airports in India, Bombay, Sao Paulo, Brazil and Mr. Thulani Gcabashe, CEO of Built Africa, a leading Energy/ Power companies.
The interaction was rounded off with a dinner featuring an American international gospel singer, Dr. Jaunita Bynum. The climax of the Investment forum was the signing of letters of cooperation with Naidoo and Associates Consulting Engineers and Construction Management Company and the Black Business Council, which represents the 5th African Black Business Community. The governor also inspected the Bayelsa Development Corporation office billed to be commissioned in January. •Agbo, a public affairs analyst, wrote in from South Africa.