Writes from Aba
This was the key question posed to the promoters of the 1st Aba Investment Summit, the Aba Chamber of Commerce Industry Mines and Agriculture and Abia Think Tank Association. These two bodies are partnering with the Abia State Government to put together the very First Aba Investment Summit holding from Thursday October 25 to Saturday October 27, 2018 at the prestigious Hotel Du Golf Old GRA Aba. Responding to the question the promoters took the journalist and the audience through a journey that x-rayed the giant strides of Governor Okezie Ikpeazu’s administration in Aba within the past 3 years on the saddle.
Aba as a city occupies a pride of place in the commercial space of Eastern Nigeria in particular and the Country at large. Right from the 1920s, Aba has remained a commercial and industrial hub, home to the largest concentration of MSMEs. Its no longer news that over 2 million leather products leave the shores of Aba weekly, another one million garment products including other fabricated items. Housing a good number of entrepreneurs, the volume of economic activities that go on daily within the confines of Aba can no longer be ignored by all and sundry.
However, prior to the Ikpeazu administration, Aba was an unsung hero, a wounded giant, limping and struggling to finds its space under very harsh operating environment. Aba was unadvertised, the productivity of Aba remained unknown. From beginning, Ikpeazu made it clear that rebuilding and rejuvenating Aba will be a major anchor of his administration’s economic revival of the state. He understood the axiom, “if you get Aba right, you get Abia right”.
After inauguration, the new Governor of Abia state Okezie Victor Ikpeazu Ph.D resumed work on the streets of Aba, flagging off reconstruction of 7 roads on his first day as Governor. That bold action spoke volumes of the determination of the governor to reposition Aba as the economic powerhouse of not just Abia State but indeed the country at large. 3 years down the line the critical roads leading to major economic centres in the city have felt the caterpillar revolution of the Ikpeazu administration, added to this ambitious infrastructural drive was the two brand new roads that lead out into Akwa Ibom to Calabar and of course servicing the Ariaria customers that come from Cameroun. That singular trade route is very key to the survival of Aba entrepreneurship and artisans. Today less than 30 minutes drive all commuters from that route finds themselves in the city of Aba. Recently the entire country was immersed in flood, Aba survived this year’s flooding tragedy owing to the ingenious piping of over 6 km into the Aba river from the infamous Ifeobara Pond, a water collection point that had in the past defied all engineering construction efforts. Weeks into his administration when Governor Ikpeazu began dredging the Aba river, naysayers mocked his effort, but recent events have shown that the man was on top of his game. The efforts to revamp critical infrastructure in Aba especially roads, was to prepare Aba as investor’s delight. The quality of roads with accompanying furniture including drainages and streetlights spoke to the thinking of the administration to prepare a city that would have capacity to house investments in a sustainable manner. The Governor pioneered the Rigid-Cement-Pavement-Technology, a costly but most efficient way of recovering roads that have suffered years of flooding. It was important that investors knew that while incubating their businesses, the infrastructure will last the life span of their businesses.
While the Governor was building durable and sustainable infrastructure, he had his eyes on the big issues- marketing Aba and its creativity to the global community, thereby engaging key stakeholders to understand the volume of entrepreneurial activities that go on daily in Aba. This gave birth to the famous Made-Aba-Campaign. Today, the Governor is appropriately dubbed Mr. Made-in-Aba. Again, when he began this campaign to promote the creative and ingenious energy of the typical Nigerian youth using Aba as the metaphor, Governor Ikpeazu was raising awareness to the abundance of middle cadre skilled manpower that can produce anything in the world. He attracted the federal government to host the maiden edition of the Nationwide MSME Clinic in Aba, hosting over 3000 entrepreneurs to the chagrin of the visiting Vice President Professor Yemi Osinbajo, then the Acting President who declared “Nigeria has no business in China if Aba is developed to its full potentials”. The aftermath of that event led to several Executives Orders particularly, Executive Order No 3 that gave a boost to Aba entrepreneurship. MDAs, turned the way of Aba for products that could be locally sourced. Trust Aba, it didn’t fail in its bidding to live up to expectation. The military, para-military and others came along while the Aba entrepreneurs smiled to the bank. Multilateral agencies and international NGOs like the World Bank, ADB and importantly the Ford foundation began to take more than a cursory look at activities in Aba and its environs. The exposure the Governor gave to Aba after his bold efforts at addressing the infrastructural deficits, met gratuitous response from the Aba business community. Statistics showed that at the close of business in 2016, more that 2 billion naira additional income found its way into the purse of Aba leather manufacturers. To any investor anywhere in the world involved in the leather value chain, such economic report will elicit attention.
With increased market share came the need for expansion in production capacity. The Governor began the automation campaign. Observing the need to retool and reskill the existing operators to meet up with increasing demand for made in Aba goods led the Governor and his team to China, a deal was struck, 30 out of the 100 selected shoe makers have since returned to soon begin the first ever fully automated shoe factory in Aba. The federal government is supporting that effort with the approval of the installation of a 200 million naira shared facility centre to service key sectors in the city. In addition, the Rural electrification Agency was charged to provide uninterrupted power supply to major production centres in Aba starting with Ariaria where a section have already enjoyed such privilege for the past 7 months. The Governor did not just stop there, he had engage major stakeholders including, the ADB to untie the impasse between the Geometric Power and EEDC. At some point he had to visit Egypt the headquarters of ADB to show his seriousness and commitment to deal with the power situation in Aba, a major issue that affected investment in the city.
Having tried as much as possible to dot all the i’s and cross the t’s, then the big picture- the Enyimba Economic City. Incubated as a free trade zone, the economic city offers all the opportunities and privileges investors all over the world run after. Situated on a 9,800 hectres of land within an environment that confers on it huge advantages including the largest gas deposit in the country, proximity to 3 seaports, minutes away from 3 airports, a captive population of over 25 million commercially active people, EEC, promises to be the most lucrative, audacious and ambitious economic development in Nigeria today.
Having laid the necessary foundations, the Abia State government in collaboration with the organized private sector with whom the state government have formed a very deep and mutually beneficial partnership decided to put together the First Aba Investment Summit 2018. This Investment Summit with the array of activities and speakers lined up to address the key issues, will be a harvest of opportunities for all participants especially the business and investing community.