To the Enugu State Governor, Mr. Peter Mba, deploying his management expertise and experience in the private sector into governance is critical to the delivery of his campaign promises. In this exclusive interview with Daily Telegraph Publishing Company Limited’s Management, he explains how he confronted insecurity and addressed the age-long water scarcity problem in the state along with his collaboration with South-East governors for the development of the region
What informed your decision to end stay-at-home from the day you assumed office?
Given my background in business or entrepreneurship where, if you say something to people they could take it to the bank, so we had to deliver. And it’s quite emotional for me that just at the point where we’re just beginning to deliver on some of those promises, our efforts are being recognised. It’s touching and moves me. I feel very humbled to be honoured by what we’re begin- ning to do. Again, there are quite a number of impressive things that we promised our people which we believe that in a few weeks or months, a number of those things are going to be realized.
I’ll say that the honour is going to go more to the team of people I’ve assembled to work with me. But for them, we would not be able to achieve what we’ve achieved. Again, because we wanted to turn the state’s economy from a public sector economy to a private sector-driven economy, we recognised that private businesses have certain risks they’re not able to take. So, security became a priority. We identified insecurity as a big elephant in the room when we took over.
Within 48 hours after our swearing-in, we made the consequential pronouncement that the sit-at- home thing must come to an end because of what it represents to an investor out there. You cannot go to an investor, trying to convince them to come and invest in your state and that things are okay and the first question they ask you is what about the Mon- day sit-at-home, because it gives the impression that the government is not in charge. If you could have non-state actors give orders and the people will obey, it sends a very negative signal. You talk about the impact it has on our school children, the amount of learning hours lost as a result of Monday’s sit-at-home and you’re going to ask the investors to pay the workers on days that they’ll not be productive.
So, we had to do something. We had to elicit the support of the security agencies and the President. I had to meet with Mr President for support considering the promises we’ve made to our people. On the water project, I told them in one of our meetings to just count the number of days I’ll be losing in achieving it, because by the time I said 180 I didn’t discount Mondays. I included Mondays and if you all refused to work on Mondays are you still going to hold me responsible for failing to deliver? So I got them to take ownership and see the value in ending Monday’s sit-at-home and with the support we got from Mr President and the heads of security agencies, today, what we’re doing is trying to erase that sad memory from our history and imagine that it never existed.
It doesn’t represent who we are as South-Easterners. We are known as people who work extremely hard. We are known for commerce and industry. We are not known for laxity and indolence. So, we felt that we should deal with that.
Now, what follows?
And once we’ve done that, the next thing for us is to begin to mobilize investors in Enugu by showcasing the investment opportunities we have in Enugu. I’m pleased to inform you that since we took over, we’ve had frankly the influx of investors and a number of companies that are setting up here since we took over. So beyond providing the security and the enabling infrastructure, we also go the extra mile of helping them to derisk the investment. Since we came in, we’ve created over fifty investment opportunities up to the extent that we’ve derisked the technical aspects of the investments.
Most investors worry so much about spending money to do a feasibility study, only to discover that the investment is not viable. So, make sure that we remove such risks by doing the feasibility studies by our- selves and then tell the investors that such opportunities exist. So, even if you’re coming as an investor, you don’t need those baseline data. All you have to do is review and interrogate the validity of our feasibility. That’s not as expensive as putting together all the technical review and analysis and gathering of the necessary data for the feasibility study. That’s because of our background of knowing that businesses are not charities. They’re in this be- cause of the return on investment so, if we don’t make it attractive for them they may not come.
So, we’re deliberate. We know that this investment flow will not happen by accident. We needed deliberate steps put in place, targeted policies that’ll help attract investors. So, that’s where we are today and what has enabled that is exactly what you picked as the reason for finding us worthy of this award. And that’s addressing the challenges of insecurity and doing it frontally and if not for that, you would have been having a lot of troubles. We have some verifications for investment from different countries that we’ve closed on and some will be coming from East Europe by December into the state to set up businesses and produce from here. We also have companies coming from Asia.
We’ll have an investment summit by January and we’re not relenting. Just yesterday, (Wednesday), I met with the President and we discussed how to improve our logistics infrastructure because if you’re talking about ease of doing business, ease of transportation is very important in how the investors can fly from their destination to your state. We’re fortunate as a state to have an international airport, but the international wing of that airport is not operational, so we desire to get it operational. And to do that we need to collaborate with the Federal Government.
We are also desirous to ensure that the planned cargo terminal which has been in the works for the past many years comes to light. I want to thank you most sincerely for the interest you picked in Enugu State and the very humble efforts we are making to see that the lives of our people improve. We welcome you to Enugu, the homeland of the entire Igbos. I’m sure you know that Enugu is to the Igbos what Ibadan is to the Yorubas and Kaduna is to the Hausas.
How does this affect investors coming into the state?
We know that investors will not come where there’s insecurity so we invested hugely in security and we’ll also continue to do so. Don’t forget that when we promised to grow the economy sevenfold. We knew that would not come from our local activities like our Internally Generated Revenue (IGR). We knew clearly that it would come from external investment. We knew it would be from global, national and local investors coming into our state. We didn’t need to be rocket scientists to understand that we have to tackle insecurity. Today, we’re on track in the number of promises we made.
We’ve realised that exponential growth is possible. Even in terms of mobilising our domestic revenue, what we’re doing today is beyond what we projected. What may be seen outside today. We’ve awarded the construction of 81 roads, 260 smart schools and 260 primary health centres. What people do not realise is that we’re investing heavily in tangible things. We’re also thinking of institutions that’ll visibly sustain these investments. So, we’re now moving our administration and management platform to digital space and we are aggressively developing our e-governance solutions and we’re doing that organically. What most states do is buy e- governance software and begin to see how they’ll fit in theirs.
But what we’re doing is organic. We’re building from scratch. We’re writing the software ahead of ICT with some guy we poached from Togo. We seek out the best wherever we can find them and it doesn’t matter where they’re from. For instance, the guy who heads our water corporation is an Austrian. We have a number of people from the South-West of Nigeria and the North of Nigeria who are part of this government. The man head- ing the delivery unit of this government is not even from Enugu, but from Imo State. We don’t even care to know where they’re from as long as they’re delivering. Our interest is finding the best to work for us. Enugu State Broadcasting Services (ESBS) is headed by someone from Ondo State. My SPN in Health is from the South-West.
No matter how great your ideas may be, if you don’t have experts working with you it’ll be hard to deliver those ideas. The man handling our trade and investment is from NSIA. The SSG came from an arm of STDA. Our transport Commissioner is a core transport person and doing so very well and has raised hundreds of millions of dollars to support this ICT solution. That’s the attitude. Find the best wherever they’re and bring them in. So that’s why we’re able to commit to this specific output.
You just inaugurated a 70 million litre per day water scheme for the state. How did you accomplish that, within the first few months in office?
I don’t think you’ll ever be able to understand fully the dimension of what we’ve accomplished in the water space. But just to give you some snippets, this has never been accomplished anywhere in the world. You wouldn’t be able to produce from scratch a water production facility that’ll produce 70 million litres of water daily within six months. That’s the time it’ll take you to do the designing phase if you sort out to do that. What we’ve done in Enugu is that today, we’re able to produce 120 million litres of water nonstop.
The reason we’ve not opened it is because we’re replacing some old pipes as most of them have not seen water for ages. Apart from replacing the old things, we’re also expanding the coverage. The original network used for the channeling has been here for the past 50 years or so and the New Layouts were not captured during that time. So, in the past two months, we’ve been expanding the piping to the new layouts making sure that it gets to the whole state. What we also did was to build water schemes in those areas water has not gotten to, so we have a gallery of water for the schemes so that people can have access to water.
You don’t need to walk more than five minutes to get access to water while we work to get the network to their points, but they must get water while we do that. One of the major challenges you’ll have when you’ve built such a facility is electricity because it has to be powered daily. So, what we also did was to build a brand new gas power plant, 4.4 megawatts within the same period which is just the time it should take to design such a huge project, but it’s functional.
We built a brand new substation to upgrade our transmission line to Tier-A which allows us to have 20 hours of electricity. So, we did all that at the same time. Ours is not to sit and take credits. We still think we have a whole lot of jobs to do because our job is not done yet. If we’re talking about reducing poverty, it takes a whole lot of work to do and we still have a lot to do. That’s where we’re focused on to ensure that we’re achieving those deliverables.
When you talk about insecurity, would you be satisfied that you have achieved peace in Enugu, when there is insecurity in Imo, Anambra, Ebonyi and even Abia? How are you collaborating with other South-East governors to put a closure to the menace in the region?
We’re not unmindful of the general problem of South- East. If you can recall, a few months ago, we had a Security and Economic Summit for the South-East in Owerri. And before then, we already had a discussion during the South-East Governors Forum and that sum- mit was a fallout of our discussion. There, we agreed to bring the entire South-East together to know that we have a common problem in those two areas of security and economy. We cannot be great if we don’t think as a whole. We cannot be great If we don’t look at the South-East as a common market and how to bring huge investments into the Southeast and see the security problems as that of the South-East in general.
If you focus just on Enugu, they’ll just have to go somewhere within the borders to hibernate and regroup and return. We saw the need to come together, we saw the need to have a common security network with one command and control centre that looks into the operation of these activities across the South- East. We need to also do the same for the economy by looking at the South-East as one big common market where we can attract huge investments that’ll unlock the economic potentials of the zone. I can tell you without equivocation that we’re collaborating very well. So, it’s all about the South- East and even the sit-at-home thing we’ve ended is all over the South-East.
It’s not effective anywhere in the South-East. The South-East governors do have a regular engagement. We believe there’s a need for that communication. We cannot be successful security-wise if we don’t share actionable intelligence. We must pull out resources together to put an end to it. So, there’s a collective approach to it.