Mr. Gabriel Ukpeh served as a Director at Zenith Bank (Ghana) Ltd. He is an internationally acclaimed consultant in business strategy, risk management, process re-engineering and financial services, who was, until recently, a Senior Partner and Risk Quality Leader for Africa at PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC). He is a fellow of the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Nigeria with over thirty five years experience in Financial Audit and Reporting, as well as a member of the Institute of Taxation of Nigeria.
Now, as Chairman of the Technical Committee on Foreign Direct Investments, Ukpeh is the leader in a team mandated to woo and convince foreign investors to partner the state as Governor Udom Emmanuel walks the talk on industrialization – one of his five points agenda for Akwa Ibom.
In this interview on INDUSTRIAL TIMEOUT, Ukpeh sheds light on a number of issues and explains the magic behind the early success of this administration as far as attracting industries to the state is concerned.
Can you please lead us a little into your background?
Good morning Akwa Ibom Citizens, I’m very pleased to be here to talk about industrialization which is the major thrust of Governor Udom Emmanuel’s administration. A bit of background to me? I am an Akwa Ibomite, from Itu local overnment area, although we grew outside the State. I worked in one of the largest firms in Accounting. I am a Consultant in business strategy, process reengineering and financial services who was until recently, a Partner and Risk Quality Leader for Africa at PricewaterhouseCoopers (PWC). I worked there for a total of 34 years. For over 20 years now I have spent as a senior partner in the firm.
I am an Accountant by profession. I was in charge of financial services in Nigeria- West Africa and then a host of other firms outside the country. Then in 2015, His Excellency asked me to come back and attract foreign direct investment. I and other members including Mr. Offong Ambah, Dr. Elijah Akpan, Mr. Ini Urua, Mr. Akan Udofia, Mr. Andrew Jason, Mr. Udeme Ufot, Mrs. Offiong Ekanem Ejindu were inaugurated into the Committee on Foreign Direct Investment.
We are now ranked second, only to Lagos State in terms of foreign direct investment. How did you arrive at this feat?
We give all the glory to God. It is not as if we advertised. In fact, I must confess this is the first interview I have granted the media. This is because we believe our work should speak for us. We believe anytime we come to the radio to speak, people should go to the sites and see things and verify for themselves. With the composite of people in the committee, we were able to use our networks and attract things. Besides, any investor, the first thing they look out for is : how is the environment? Who is the leader of that place? Is he someone I can do business with? Is it someone that understands the nature of business? Is it someone I can partner with? And the next thing he looks out is how is the environment? Is it an enabling environment for business? Is it peaceful enough? Then they look at the comparative advantage the state has. All these things are what attract foreign investors. We have never advertised anywhere. We have never told anyone look, there’s FDI. But they get to know and they come. That is how the State has been opening up.
Since the committee was setup, what have been your major achievements?
It is there for everyone to see. Since we began, we have met with over 600 investors. In terms of correspondence, we have had over 10,000 in terms of emails and letters. Yes, even though they may express a lot of interest, you have to know Akwa Ibom State is not a country on its own. It is a subset of the country. So, the economy of the country itself does have impact on what happens in Akwa Ibom State despite the fact that we have a lot of comparative advantage. So, they have been coming. We have been talking to them. There are visible signs of industrialization everywhere. If you look at the first syringe manufacturing company in the country, it was started here and it is producing. Well over 400 million syringes have been produced. In the first three months of its establishment we had the order of over 1.2 billion syringes. Within three months of establishment they had that order. They are planning now to expand to meet with the demands. And independently, investor came to me and said he met a distributor in Anambra State and he was surprised that they are being produced here. The distributor said these syringes, the quality is better than what they were getting before. So it is being sought after everywhere.
Apart from the syringe factory, what are other major visible achievements of the FDI?
There is Metering Solution Factory. Again, don’t forget the governor is a professional. He is a professional in politics, not a professional politician. He understands business. He has the business acumen and ability to work with investors and attract business that we will have comparative advantage in the country itself. So most of the industries that are being established are producing goods that were imported. So we also need federal government and CBN support in these areas because we happen to use foreign currencies in doing that. Like the metering factory, we found out that all the meters that were used in this country were imported but now they are produced here. I mean different types of meters.
Are you getting the needed support from the Federal Government?
Well, you know there are 36 States in the Federation. Each State is fighting from one thing or the other from the Federal Government. While the enabling environment also help to attract foreign investors into Nigeria, but because the governor took it upon himself to ensure that there is peace and security in Akwa Ibom, and it has long been declared that Akwa Ibom State is the safest State in the country. I had an investor about two weeks ago, a very prominent man from Niger State and he said the Chinese are bringing in about 15 billion dollars worth of investment. Why they want to bring it to Akwa Ibom State is because when they did their independent check, they discovered Akwa Ibom State is the most peaceful State in the Country. We have a leader, who understands business and can engage with the private sector.
Are these the only industries?
Let me clarify one thing. Many think, when you say industrialization, the State will carry money and invest and establish these companies. Yes, we have done that before in the era of Dr Clement Isong but where are there today? Why dont we have them functional again? The answer is because the best industry is the one that is privately run. What the governor did was that he said ‘I am not going to invest money in the establishment of these industries’. He decided to show the way like what AKEES is doing. Show them the way and then hand it over to them. But for the big ones it is better to prepare the environment and let the investor bring in his money and invest. This is because he won’t allow his money to be a waste. He will follow it. He will make sure his business succeeds. That is how we can have sustainable industrialization and that is the policy governor udom Emmanuel is using. So when you hear syringe factory that’s how we have it. That how we got that achievement in terms of foreign exchange drive into Akwa Ibom State and become second largest besides Lagos. All the investment we talk about are privately driven.
Is it a PPP model?
Yes, what we basically do is when an investor comes, we give you various options. It is your money that will decide. We have an investor like the one that came to establish an Ethanol Plant in Ikot Abasi. They came to us and said we want to start an Ethanol Plant and the Ethanol plant will employ over 3000 women of farmers to supply the raw materials they need. Imagine just that one plant will give employment directly to over 3000 people. I’m not going to talk about the extended family. When they came, they said we want to partner with the State. They said FDI can you help us acquire the land? We said fine! So we worked with them, we identified the land they needed, identified the community, got them together, got them talking, we signed agreement, we paid the money and they are doing their business on their own.
We also have a model where an investor will come in and say we don’t want to do alone. The State why don’t you partner with us? Please bring the land, we say no problem, we bring the land and the value will be translated into the equity of the business. It could be 10 or seven percent. I think the major crux is whether investment has come to Akwa Ibom State. Let it create jobs. Let it create technical and money transfer and every other thing that follows industrialization.
Can you invite Akwa Ibom people to these places, are they visible?
No industry is invisible. You know at the beginning I said I didn’t want to come to the public at all until I see visible evidence of what we are doing. We have well over 100 projects in the pipeline. These are serious investors. But it is like a pregnant woman. If the pregnancy doesn’t come out in the first few months, you won’t know. Some will say no, she is not pregnant until you see it. That’s because these days, you can buy things and put in your tummy and pretend to be pregnant. So what we do is that we wait until there are visible evidence. Take for instance, the fertilizer blending plant in Abak, it is a complete fertilizer blending plant, employing well over 50 Akwa Ibom people and they are recognized and given the license by the Federal Government as a designated and recognized fertilizer blending plant. And in fact, the Federal Government has gone further to give them a contract. The Federal government has given them contract to blend and supply the material and they pay. I hear some people say no, it is a bagging plant. I even challenge them, even if it is a bagging plant, you bring them in and employ over 50 Akwa Ibom people. It will help reduce unemployment.
What about the 5000 capacity market? Is it ready for commissioning?
Those are the things I said by our training, we are not trained to be loud. We are trained for our handiwork to speak for us. I know in politics you also have to talk about these things. The Eket Market is a 45 million US Dollar investment by a foreign investor. The first phase of the market which is about 3000 stalls is about 25 million dollars. The Chinese are pioneering it. There’s a project managemnet committee made up of prominent Eket citizens, we are also members of the committee monitoring the project. The Chinese have imported all the raw materials and equipments they need to complete the market. The estimation is that before the end of next month, the market will be completed. If you go now, they have finished all the pilling work. The structures are up. It will probably be the best market in the whole of West Africa. This will be the centre of distributing Chinese products to the whole of West Africa. These are things good leadership can attract to the State itself. If the Chinese had confidence in any leadership that can do business with them, they could have gone to any other State. We have unique advantages. Take for example, we have the longest shoreline in the country. So when it comes to seaport and all that, the government is actively doing something in that regard. So like I said, that market is going to come up before the end of next month and it is going to be the best in West Africa. And not only that market. In Uyo, another investor is working at the market there and forms are being sold. I will encourage Akwa Ibomites please go and buy the forms. If you don’t know where to buy, come to FDI, we will direct. This is because we have to take ownership of these places. So Uyo market is being built as we speak. It is about N36 billion investment. The Oron market is constructed and that is another N5 billion investment.
Where are these markets located?
The Governor did the ground-breaking months ago. For Uyo Market, it is off Oron road, behind the building material market, behind where they are opening the ring road. For Oron, when you go to Oron, you will see it. All these are carried out by Private investors. They bring in their money to invest in Akwa Ibom State.
How are these markets attracting Foreign Direct Investment to Akwa Ibom State?
The money coming alone is from outside of the State. By the time you open a market, what happens? People come to trade. Not just Akwa Ibomites, people from other States will come. They will bring their goods there. Of course by the time they start every stall will employ one or two Akwa Ibomites to work with. People will come to live around there. People will be travelling into Akwa Ibom. They will stay in hotels to buy things and go back. The economy will just boom. Every market has the potential to employ up to 2000 to 3000 people.
What is the long term vision of the FDI?
I will rather want to rephrase that question. What is the long term vision of Governor Udom Emmanuel? The answer is that by the time he leaves in 2023, the State will be fully industrialized. You know the Ibom Deep Seaport is coming, you know by the first quarter of next year, there will be physical structures on ground. Before he finishes his second term, that project should be up and running. The Federal and State government are committed towards the realization of that project.
Ibom Deep Seaport has been popular for quite some time now and there has been no tangible thing on ground. How are you handling that?
It is like saying you have married a lady for some time now and even though the lady is pregnant you haven’t seen the baby yet. It takes nine months no matter what you do. You have to know that every port is owned by the Federal Government. It is not controlled by the State. So you must work with the Federal government to establish any seaport. And by the grace of God, because of the leadership of the Governor and his seriousness, the Federal Ministry of Transport has been working very closely with the State government and both are doing well. For the first time, they have appointed the Lead Investor. We are going into negotiations with them. Once the final business case is done, and we get approval from the Federal Executive Council, then construction will begin. By the end of first quarter of next year, visible construction will start.
How can indigenes of the state take advantage of this industries springing up and make a decent living from them?
The first advantage is employment, we always work with investors to ensure we sign MOU’s to ensure that spell out the corporate social responsibilities towards the society and communities they working in and that is spelt out. If you check the ethanol plant coming up in ikot abasi, though the investors said they want to own it 100 percent, we’ve worked with them. They paid for the land at about 35million ,they own the company 100 percent, we also worked with them to get MOU’s for corporate-social responsibilities. And what the offered to the community is that they’ll empower about 3,000 of the women to plant cassava and act as up takers on those. They will also provide electricity and water to the whole community, so they’re lots of advantages. Like you said, Akwaibomites we will be encouraging them to also be involved in the value chain of the company itself like in terms of supplying raw materials of acting distributors. If you check the syringe company we have people interested and we’ve directed them to the company since it’s privately owned and they have to meet the requirement just as any other business but we work with them we take ownership as well…. It’s not just a matter of being here.We also have to participate in every value stage of the company itself.
What is the government doing to ensure the ibom deep sea port becomes functional in due time?
The sea port is owned by the federal government,the state can only work in collaboration with them and I must commend the federal ministry of transportation, they have worked closely with the committee his excellency set up.When the governor came in he had to look at the plant again, appoint new consultant that works with the committee.It was redesigned completely and they went through all the processes including getting federal executive council approval. And at each stage the federal ministry of transportation set up a committee to work with the deep sea committee itself and they’ve gone so far. They have reached so far before now. They have appointed a preferred bidder, someone to build the port. They have also appointed a reserved bidder, once that is done you sit with the preferred bidder and negotiate the terms and we believe the last quarter of this year the negotiations should be completed and by the first quarter of next physical construction should commence
What about the Ethanol plant?
Answer :It is privately ran and it will provide direct employment to 3000 farmers. They will be recruited, given seedlings and taught how how to plant and get higher yield and they will act as uptakers to buy from these farmers. So there is employment for 3000people, AkwaIbomites who will benefit from this.
How soon are we looking at this taking place?
We are looking at the first quarter of next year, the site has been cleared at Ikot Akpan in Ikot Abasi, the access road has been created and now in the process of importing equipments to start.
Considering the influx of enquiries on your desk concerning industrialization, how are you coping with the surge to get the best for Akwa ibom?
We have a process. When they come we sit with them, discuss the terms, we enter an MOU agreement with them. We have entered into over a hundred MOU’s but we don’t broadcast this because it’s like getting engaged to a lady, it might result in marraige,It may not. When we sign this agreement we expect them to show us their evidence of financial and technical capabilities. Once that is done we identify the land, go through the process. It’s an spv joint venture
The syringe factory in Onna is said to be the only one in Nigeria. We learnt the company hardly meets its demands for syringes. It’s a beautiful problem to have but will they surmount this challenge?
Again, because it is privately owned every investor wants to make the most of the market. The last time i spoke to the investors, they were planning to add additional lines to increase the capacity they have to meet the demands. Like I said, it’s the only one in the country.
What other companies may be springing up that you may not have mentioned in this course?
There is a starch manufacturing company in Oruk Anam that is coming up. I must commend Akwaibomites, suprisingly, maybe the Dakadda philosophy of the governor has made them wake up. Because most of the companies that are coming are being pioneered by Akwaibomites. The starch factory has empowered over 3000 farmers. It has given them the right stems to plant and working with them. By next month God willing, the plant should be commissioned.
Beyond the Starch Factory, is there any more of them?
Yes, we have more and as time goes on I’ll talk about them.Before now, the state was happily processing palm kernels. We realised over a hundred trucks of kernel leave the state every week.I must commend the governor because we are about commissioning two kernel factories. One in Ukanafun,it has about 1000tonnes capacity installed and the other at Ibesikpo Asutan. This will take back the chunk of kernel taken out of the state and provide employment for our citizens. This are things were built way back, as far as the Ex-Governor Victor Attah but were abandoned, but thank God for our God sent governor, there have been revived.
Where is the FDI office located?
It is located on the Second floor at the Secretariat Annex. That’s on Udo Udoma Avenue. We have an e-mail address. You can send an e-mail to us.
It is Aksginvestpro@gmail.com. That’s the short form of investment promotion. We also have Phone number. That’s 2348027784967. Our office and phone line is open. You can contact or call us anytime. We are open and ready to engage, do business and bring industrialization to Akwa Ibom State.