Bayelsa State is seeking to explore opportunities in regional trade with the Gulf of Guinea nations as part of ongoing efforts by the Governor Henry Seriake Dickson-led administration to grow the local economy.
Director-general of Bayelsa Investment Promotion Agency (BIPA), Patience Ranami Abah, disclosed this to BusinessDay in Yenagoa on Tuesday, saying the state has already concluded arrangements to embark on a trade mission to the Gulf of Guinea nations.
Abah lamented the current poor regional trade among African nations, asserting that, “Rather than having this international focus, like thinking of bringing investors from the UK, the US, what about our neighbours?”
Continuing, she stated: “I think Africa has the lowest statistic for interregional trade. African countries only trade with countries like the UK and the US. Can’t we do any regional trade? We in Bayelsa State have noticed that and we don’t want to go in that direction; we want to strengthen regional investment, strengthen regional trade and regional businesses, and at the end of the day, that’ll be the best thing for us.”
According to Abah, BIPA not only promotes the abundant investment opportunities in the state, but is working hard to ensure investors remain to do business in the state hence the state government drive to ensure enabling environment exists for investments to thrive in the state.
She emphasised that the agency had a different focus on attracting investments to the state, saying, “Now, we are changing our focus to say let’s stay locally. We don’t care how that investment comes as long as it gets the desired effect, which is, one very important effect is job creation. We don’t care if that job is created by an American or a Nigerian, as long as jobs are created. We are adjusting our focus to be sure we are not only looking at international investors, but regional and local investors.”
She said Nigerians in the Diaspora, who have a lot more options than foreigners, might think of investing their money back home as they have family back here and “might think of legacy projects they want to do for their family, for their children. So that’s also one of our main targets, Nigerians in the Diaspora.”
The BIPA is also focusing on areas of comparative advantage like gas, which is in abundance as it will be cheaper and more secure for any industry that has to do with gas to set up business here than elsewhere, she said.
“There are other incentives”, she stated. “It depends on the strength of the project that is coming in. You don’t use the same approach for every single project. For all investors we can consider things like tax, we might even consider access to land depending on the size of what they’ll be bringing into the state,” she said.
However, she noted that speedy access to justice was an important incentive as agreements and other issues could be speedily enforced, while BIPA had been set up as a one-stop investment centre.
“And then, this is another area where BIPA comes in very handy, because we’ve set up a one stop investment centre where we have all the agencies that we feel are most relevant to the running of a business. You’ve got Immigration there, the FIRS, people from lands and survey and CAC, so that assuming now there is a foreign investor, you walk in here, in one place you can have almost all your needs attended to, incorporation needs, taxation needs and all of that,” she stated.
Abah, who also noted that rice cultivation is wonderful, said they were taking a holistic approach to every economic activity in the drive to bring investors into the state, including Anchor Borrowers Programme, while discussions were ongoing with Thai and Malaysian investors on rice.
She said the state chose cassava and fish in the Anchor Borrowers Programme but that does not mean other areas are not being looked at just as she highlighted Bayelsa potentials in medical tourism with the world-class diagnostic centre and forensic laboratory among others.
On the state economic policy, Abah said there is a document that was developed with UNIDO and a gas utilisation master plan, which is being prepared as the state is looking at areas of comparative advantage.
She described the false perception about the Niger Delta region as a major challenge as it sometimes discourages people from looking in this direction and urged people to come to Bayelsa State to see the facts for themselves.
“People should really come to see the real facts, see the real picture that exists in Bayelsa State and not base their beliefs on false perceptions and false things that cannot be substantiated by the fact. People should come and experience Bayelsa State, people should come and see how much progress has happened in the state over the last five years or so. Once they do that, they’ll be convinced,” she stated.
Samuel Ese, Yenagoa