All roads led to the Land of Honour, Ekiti State, in Southwestern Nigeria on Thursday, October 14, 2021, for the maiden edition of the state’s economic development and investment summit, which played host to several dignitaries from various sectors of the Nigerian economy.

The summit, which was held at the state’s multi-purpose civic and convention centre sought to position and project Ekiti State as an attractive destination for investors. According to the governor of the state, Kayode Fayemi, the state is gearing for recovery from the economic downturn and is assured of a positive outlook for its economy. The state government is also positioning itself as a people-centric government that is concerned about even growth and development across the region.

Nairametrics held an exclusive interview with the amiable and highly cerebral Ekiti state governor, Dr Kayode Fayemi. Below are the excerpts of the conversation.

Governor Fayemi speaks on milestones achieved and his plans for Ekiti state

Your administration has made remarkable progress despite revenue constraints. How do you prioritize investment projects?

It is basically driven by our development plan. We have a multi-year (25-year) development plan just as you must have heard the Honourable Commissioner for Finance and Economic Development talk about. And for us, there are three broad areas in that plan.

While we recognise that other things may arise if the opportunities present themselves, we focus on our agrarian tradition but mainly on the agro-allied sector. We also focus on our well-known passion for education, so the knowledge economy is very important to us. Thirdly, we are focused on taking advantage of our topography to boost tourism and the potentials of our heritage; so this also features very strongly in our investment framework.

We have an overarching principle of ensuring that we fully give advantage to the private sector in our governance framework, so that sustainability is built into what we do right from the get-go.

Government intervention is important especially in the areas where we feel strongly about protecting the weak and vulnerable members of our society, but we also know that it is often not sustainable just doing it on the basis of empowerment programs or handouts to the vulnerable and young people. There is a need to invest in people because that is a more sustainable investment that would drive itself.

Essentially, these are the things that inform what we support and what we do not.

Your administration is very keen on projects with heavy social impact. How do you ensure that these projects will outlive your tenure in office?

Very simply! For us, the word ‘partnership’ is key. We enter into these projects on the basis of strong partnerships through equity participation in which we are minority stakeholders so that whatever happens, the company remains private. The majority shareholders are the private stakeholders in the operations so that it’s not dependent on who the governor is.

A good example is how we entered into partnership with Promassidor Nig. Ltd, producers of Cowbell Milk. They take 76% of our company that had been moribund for 40 years and we retain 24% so that whatever happens, the person who has 76% is really the owner of the company.

We are more interested in what we get from such partnerships in the areas of employment for our people, and also dividend to the state.

In what ways has your government improved the financial performance of the state?

One of the things that is important to us is ensuring that we plug leakages in the system. We have a new Internal Revenue Service Law that promotes the autonomy of the Internal Revenue Service and also gives it the opportunity to be the single collector of taxes whether at the local government or at the state government level; so that we avoid multiple taxations which is a big bane to investments in many places.

Also, we are very clear about the role of the public service in promoting efficiency; so we have what is described as a Civil Service Transformation Strategy in which we improve the capacity and transparency of our public service and the accountability framework in our state. We were the first state to domesticate the Freedom of Information law in the country, and we release records frequently.

If you go to our website or go to our Bureau of Public Procurement website, you will see contract information to the minutest detail because for us, transparency is key and the value addition that every project brings to the table is very important.

We also ensure that we find a way to address the misalignment between our recurrent and our capital expenditure. It has been a huge challenge but we’ve managed to cover a lot of grounds in that regard as well.

You mentioned transparency as being very key. Your administration has identified several initiatives that will transform the state. Can you speak on these initiatives?

Firstly, on agric and rural development, I’ve mentioned how we prioritise commercial agriculture investors but we don’t leave our smallholder farmers behind in that space. We actually work with them, we capacitate them, support them, provide financial incentives, and also act as an enabler for them to have access to initiatives like the Anchor Borrowers Program from the CBN and a number of other initiatives from the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development and also from our development partners.

We also link them to the commercial operators in the state who sometimes are looking for smallholders that they can offtake products from, on an automatic basis and at guaranteed pricing. This is one thing that we do clearly.

Secondly, we are very strong on ensuring sustainability, so we set up a college of agriculture and technology, for example, specifically focusing on producing middle-level technical people who can assist those who are coming into that space, because we need skilled labour. We are doing quite well in that regard, just as you heard the vice president say that Ekiti ranks very high in the enabling business competitiveness annual program. This is another key thing that we do.

Thirdly, a major impediment that farmers encounter is how to ensure that their products get to market without constraints, so rural roads are major for us. We are fixing about a thousand kilometres of rural roads in our state, just to ensure that farmers can move their products to the market without losing them to rot in this process. This is a critical component of our agric and rural development initiative.

We are also improving all our dams in the state. We are rehabilitating and resuscitating all our dams and getting them ready for irrigation purposes as well, particularly in our agro-processing zone.

We have equally been doing a lot of work in improving partnerships between our state farmers and farmers associations like the Rice Farmers Association who we entered into a partnership with, together with a number of rice mills in order for them to offtake what our local rice farmers are producing.

The fourth is our social investment programs. I stated earlier that we have a duty to protect the weakest and most vulnerable of our population. In line with this, we take our free education program very seriously, not just for the fun of it. Our free education is not only free but compulsory and also qualitative. So, it’s about building the capacity of our teachers, it’s about improving the learning environment by improving the schools, providing instructional materials and providing running grants for the schools. This has seen our enrolment figures jump meteorically by at least 40,000 new pupils. We also ensure that we pay for the public examination of our students like the WAEC examination for all students who qualify for that.

In the area of healthcare, we’ve improved all our primary health centres, our secondary health facilities and even our tertiary health facilities. For instance, if you go to the Ekiti State University Teaching Hospital, you will see the amount of effort that we have put into that place. We are recruiting new doctors, we have graduated our first set of doctors from Ekiti State University; and now, also, the second set of doctors have just graduated.  We are also ensuring that we retain them by recruiting them into the services of our public health system.

There is also the social security component. Way back from my first term in office, we have pioneered the social security stipend for the elderly. That is, our “owo arugbo.” We also do the “ounje arugbo” program just to target that segment that I spoke about, who are not catered for by anybody because they either don’t have kids that are well to do or maybe even no kids at all; or who just don’t have someone to look after them in their old age.

We feel a sense of duty towards the elderly and we are constructing a multi-million naira elderly people’s home for our elderly population who may need a space where they can be taken care of by the government. We are doing this in partnership with the Ekiti Council of the Elderly.

We are also partners with the federal government in the school feeding program for our young kids in primary school.

All over the state, we support pregnant women; and children under the age of 5 are also a major responsibility for us.

The fifth is the area of infrastructure and industrial development. We have resuscitated Ikun Dairy Farm and entered into a partnership with the private sector. We have concessioned our Ikogosi Tourism Institution, and also resuscitated the Ire clay factory which is in the process of being concessioned.

We are very focused on supporting our SMEs and we have an agency of government that drives our work in this regard. We have the Microfinance and Enterprise Development Agency in the state and we provide all manner of assistance to struggling businesses, new SMEs and particularly SMEs in the agric sector where we support them with AGSMEIS Fund which is also CBN related.

In addition to these, because our resources are limited, we are very deliberate about priority roads, that is, roads that lead to our special agro-processing zones and those roads cuts across all our senatorial districts. We have managed to reconstruct all those roads. We have the Oye Ekiti, Ayede, Ikun roads which are almost about 41km that we have fixed. We have the road going to Ikogosi which has been bad for years now. This road, which leads to the tourism belt of the state is now brand new. We’ve fixed the road to the Ire factory that I talked about, Ilupeju, Ire, Igbemo Ijo road as well, which cuts across the three senatorial districts of the state.

Further, we’ve fixed the road that links us to Kogi State. We are also dualizing the Ado-Iyin road, an alternative road that leads from Ado Ekiti to Iyin, still going as a bypass to Igede and right off to Ita Ore which I hope my successor will take up and continue as a logical extension to the work that has been done now.

On the knowledge economy, what the vice president said encapsulates everything because we believe that this is an area where we have a comparative advantage. If you speak to the average Nigerian who knows nothing about Ekiti State, the first thing he will tell you is “Oh, that state where they produce professors and they all go to school and have PhD and even their governor has a PhD that is not an honourary one.”

This is what we are known for, so why don’t we leverage it? It shouldn’t just be about having a collection of degrees but understanding how to create wealth from that especially in an age that has become literally virtual with technology playing a very central role. We have our EKZ – our Ekiti Knowledge Zone that has just won a grant of $250,000 to develop a full business case and a feasibility study from the African Development Bank. This in itself, is an indication that if we get it right, the same AFDB is ready to put money into the venture which we believe will cost of about $100 million dollars to create the space and make it conducive for anchor tenants to take over. It can then be utilized as a tech hub and a hub for startups in the biotech, healthcare, medical fields, Agritech, business outsourcing, etc. This is how we envision the hub of our knowledge economy agenda and we’re very confident that with the way we are going about it, we will at least put it in the right place before this government exits in another year.

Finally, on infrastructure, there are specific things we have done. Water reticulation and resuscitation is major and we have revived all our dams that had gone moribund and restored equipment that had gone into disrepair with the help of the World Bank. We have also done a lot of work around erosion management in the state, we’ve done quite a lot in our new map program, helping communities that have been ravaged by erosion, bringing them back to a stable state and also supporting them to cope with the vicissitudes of climate change. We are reforesting in many of our old forest areas and about 350 hectares have been replanted so far.

We are also putting in place, certain infrastructure that we think will have multiplier effects. The civic and convention centre, for example, is a multi-purpose convention centre with an amphitheatre, halls, gallery, cinema houses, eateries and many other facilities that would be open for business and we’ve concessioned it in line with our sustainability and partnership drive.

We’ve done the same thing with our central market. We are redeveloping our central business district and building a bus terminal similar to what is obtainable in Lagos, incidentally being done by Planet Projects, the same people responsible for the Oshodi and Ikeja bus terminals in Lagos.

We have all these projects either nearing completion or fully completed and because we are so passionate about using technology to boost revenue and efficiency, we are also completing a Geographic Information System on our land management so that we can track everything happening in our territory.

We are doing the same thing with our security initiatives with CCTV installed around the state and linked to our emergency control centre in partnership with the Nigerian Communications Commission in the state, so that whatever is happening, we can see it at the emergency control centre and I can also see it right here on my desk in the governor’s office. The over-reaching intention of all these is primarily to make Ekiti the place to live, work and play.

Compared to other southern states, Ekiti has had some challenges attracting foreign investors. What are the reasons for this and the steps you are taking to reverse this trend?

There are a variety of reasons. Discontinuity always discourages investors because there’s no predictability and investors are very wary of coming into such places because they can’t plan. We have had situations where investors left this state when I stopped being governor. Coca-Cola left this state, GTBank and Eco Bank left also. Virtually all development partners left the state. So lack of consistency and predictability would always create situations that investors would not like to put themselves through.

There are also challenges that come with geography, but we don’t want to be prisoners of our geography. We are a landlocked state and when you are landlocked in a security-challenged environment, the likelihood is that there is limited access to your state and people are very wary of travelling by road. So, we decided we were going to build an agro cargo airport with passenger capacity as well. This project is ongoing because we need to open up the state. If people can’t access your state, it’s very difficult to convince them to come and put their money into the state. So, we first have to provide the enabling environment for that to happen.

We need to also protect the sanctity of contracts. For example, we are creating a small claims court where investors with issues can go to seek redress. In addition to that, we are also creating (courtesy of our judiciary), alternative dispute resolution mechanisms which can help resolve commercial issues that may arise between investors and government and amongst investors as well.

In conclusion…

To conclude the interview, Governor Fayemi told Nairametrics that his government recognised the unique challenges of the state but while taking steps to circumvent these challenges and make the state attractive for investors, his government made it a point to underpromise but overdeliver. He cited the example of power supply in the state, highlighting that while his government may be unable to assure an investor of uninterrupted electricity supply, the state had put an independent power project in place to supply extra megawatts of electricity.

The objective of this is to support businesses particularly in the agro-processing zones of the state. These mini-grids are intended to help investors accelerate the opportunities available in that space.

Governor Fayemi noted that these steps had been effective in addressing the wrong notion that Ekiti is not investment-friendly and stated that investors who have come had also attested to the fact that the state is in reality, the hidden gem. This paradigm shift, Fayemi said, was majorly what the investment summit set out to achieve.