From Magnus Eze, Enugu
Abia State has overcome the challenges posed by the Coronavirus pandemic to emerge the third most preferred investment destination in Nigeria.
According to the latest release by the Nigeria Bureau of Statistics (NBS), the state had the third highest foreign capital inflow among the 36 states of the federation and the Federal Capital Territory for the year 2020. Lagos had the highest of $8.3billion followed by Abuja with $1.3 billion and then Abia with $56 million.
Abia’s rise on this index was not accidental but a result of deliberate policies of the Governor Okezie Ikpeazu-led administration. Some of these were targeted long term programmes meant to redefine the business environment, while others were short term measures to support firms to sustain, grow their businesses and retain employment despite the pandemic that ravaged the world particularly in 2020.
Government officials said the strategies were indicative of the state government’s commitment to overall macro-economic stability, security of lives and property, strategic approach to dealing with the pandemic, promotion of MSMEs and amicable resolution of industrial disputes, among others.
They listed some of the measures put in place to help firms sustain their operations, grow, and attract new investments to include tax palliatives to investors during the pandemic; waivers to small businesses in filing pay as you earn (PAYE) and all forms of personal income and other direct taxes as well as for issuance of first time tax clearance certificate.
At the height of the pandemic, the Governor rolled out mouth-watering tax waivers to both existing and potential investors. In particular, the government gave soft landing to all firms that were in arrears of any form of tax obligation to clear them at much reduced rates. “For those in arrears of Abia Property and Land Use Charge (AbiaPLUC), the government waived two of the three years for all arrears paid before end of July 2020 and one of three years for payments made after August 2020.
“For payments associated with Change of Purpose Clause for property use, the government provided for reduction of the registration cost from a flat fee of N30,000 to N20,000 for payments made in July 2020 and N25,000 for payments made in August 2020.
“For issuance of Certificate of Occupancy (CofO), the Government collected only 50 per cent of assessed fee for payments made in July and reduced the proportion of waiver by 10 per cent for each month up till October, i.e. collecting 20 per cent of assessed fee by October 2020.”
One other factor that brightened Abia’s investment clime was the prudence brought to bear in the management of the finances of the State.
Commissioner for Information, Chief John Okiyi-Kalu explained: “Abia’s finances have never been better managed than it presently is. The Government is careful with its priorities, ensuring appropriate utilization of scarce resources to create value for potential investors. This has made it possible that the State’s meagre resources are ploughed in areas that directly complement private investment.”
He also said that the State Government has signalled unmatched commitment to due process and proper support to industrial growth through the commencement of a process of industrial policy in collaboration with United Nations Industrial Development Organisation (UNIDO).
On long term development plan, the state government, in collaboration with the Foundation for Partnership Initiatives in the Niger Delta (PIND), has put together a 30-year development plan. This innovative plan has helped in strengthening the state’s position as a stable investment destination.
Abia is among few states with functional investment one-stop shop which presents potential investors opportunities to start and process all local aspects of their investments within few days.
According to the commissioner, Ikpeazu, early in his first tenure, constructed Abia Investment House located at Ogurube Layout, Umuahia, which houses the one-stop shop that was commissioned by Vice President Yemi Osinbajo in one of his visits to the state.
“Ikpeazu’s Abia subscribed to the World Bank sponsored States Fiscal Transparency, Accountability and Sustainability (SFTAS) programme with the state enjoying the highest rating within the South East and South South regions of the country as well as being in the top five per cent of best performing states in Nigeria.
“Through this programme, state governments are assessed for transparency in financial management and reporting with the World Bank and Office of the Auditor General of the federation, leading the assessment,” Okiyi-Kalu further explained.
Aside that the state government evolved protective protocols that allowed industrial concerns to remain in production while ensuring strict observance of the relevant COVID-19 protocols; it was at the heat of the pandemic that the governor mobilised Abia garment and leather makers to launch into the mass production of quality Personal Protection Equipment (PPE) such as face masks, protective gowns, and other consumables used by health workers and the public in the prevention and management of the novel disease that posed danger to lives and livelihoods of people.
So, while other states struggled to access PPE both for personal and industrial use, Abia had them readily available in abundance to the extent that she sold them in commercial quantities to other states and even other countries, hence, firms in Abia and their workers felt sufficiently safe to continue operations despite the challenges posed by the pandemic.
The mass production of these PPEs by local manufacturers in Abia was boosted by grants advanced the producers by the Ikpeazu administration which also promised to buy off all the PPEs in the event they were not all sold out in the market.
The effect of the Enyimba Economic City (EEC) project also contributed to investors’ confidence. Fully licensed, gazetted and supported by the Federal Government, the project comprises the only Free Trade Zone in the entire South East region, inland port and other investment friendly infrastructure, with the promise of uninterrupted power supply to investors.
Although Abia’s planned physical development in 2020 was, somehow, hampered by the effect of the global pandemic, it is expected to further boost inflows into the state in the coming years.