Vice President Yemi Osinbajo once said that a forward looking governor is one who can run his state as if he is running a country. It is a sensible advice on self-sufficiency and the pathway to economic growth in Nigeria that has surprisingly not generate any sort of national debate. On the contrary, state governors continue to depend on handouts from Abuja, an economic model that is patently unsustainable.
A few governors have tried to find a way out. Most have depended on looking for foreign investors which is not a bad idea in itself except that it must align with what you have to offer to make your state attractive to such investors. I remember when the outgoing governor of Oyo State Senator Abiola Ajimobi came into power in 2011 and embarked on a global tour in search of foreign investment. I had advised him at the time that it is a fruitless exercise that will not bear any fruit.
And it never did! Why will any foreign investor want to come to Oyo State in the hinterland, except for agro-allied enterprise, when Lagos and Ogun states can offer lower cost of production because of their closeness to the sea through which raw materials and other logistics will come in? Simple high school economics teaches us that market indices determine the location of industry. Even from the perspective of nearness to market, Lagos with its over 20 million residents represent a bigger market for finished products.
In the Southwest, Lagos State continue to remain the most attractive location for foreign investors and when its lack of space and suffocating taxation policy becomes a problem, then the nearby Ogun State and some parts of Ondo State on the coastline gets the nod. Oyo State is far into the hinterland to enjoy the patronage of foreign firms, except if the industry relies on agricultural produce in which Oyo State holds the edge.
Development models are not a one size fits all kind of thing. The fastest way to develop is for a state or a country to exploit its comparative advantages. Lagos’ nearness to the sea and position as an international gateway are its comparative advantages and its strategic development model, especially since 1999, has revolved around maximizing its strategic location. Ogun has successfully established its development model on feeding off Lagos based on contiguity, an industry-friendly taxation policy and cheap land to attract industrial development. Successive administrations in Oyo State have however been unable to articulate a development model based on its strength. Some of its past governors even thought that what works for Lagos can work for Oyo forgetting that development is based on your strength rather than merely copying your neighbor.
Having keenly observed the political economy of Oyo State for more than two decades, I daresay that turning the state from a beggarly state that rely almost completely on handout from Abuja with little internally generated revenue will require a social engineering anchored on wealth creation by leveraging on its comparative advantages. A little bit of creativeness, planning and sustained implementation is all that is required to develop the agricultural production and tap into the state’s mineral resources. The most significant comparative advantage of Oyo State is its agricultural capacity. Harnessing this, particularly its cassava production, can turn the state into the food basket of sub-Saharan Africa just as the state can become the agro-allied industrial capital of Nigeria.
Nigeria is the largest producer of cassava in the world with a yearly output of 45 million metric tons, constituting 19 percent of world production. Oyo State or more specifically the Oke-Ogun area of the state is one of the largest cassava producers in the country. The industrial potentials of cassava and how it can serve as a trigger for agro-allied industrial development is a no brainer. Fortunately, there are other crops of similar importance that can give the state a turn-around as well as mineral resources that can be exploited to serve as pivot for an industrial take-off.
I firmly believe that with a visionary leadership, Oyo State can transition from a state reputed for extreme poverty into an economic powerhouse anchored on sustained concentration on the development of a strong agro-allied industry sustained by an agricultural revolution. This way, Oyo State’s three major challenges-food security, youth unemployment and industrialization-can be tackled within a single strategy. The nexus between a sustainable agro-allied industry and an agricultural revolution is however central to this development model. This must be based on a value chain strategy, involving the addition of value to raw agricultural produce leading to finished products.
Raufu, former MD/EIC of the National Mirror, teaches at the Texas Southern University, Houston, Texas, United States.