By Kayode Crown
Ondo State Ministry of Commerce, Industries and Cooperatives is led by Otunba Timilehin Adelegbe.
The ministry has its hands full now as the cry of the state for industrialisation is going and higher. We are tired of being called a civil servant state, with all the negativities it connotes.
It will require great vision to lift the state up from this level to the level where Lagos State is. We cannot get there by wishful thinking, and least of all by giving excuses.
We need an industrialisation roundtable comprising of Ondo State indigenes who are holding their own in national, continental and international business. We need to court moneybags of Ondo State extraction. They will serve in advisory role for the government and asked to put their money to work for the state.
This is because, as it stands now, industrialisation in Ondo State is comatose. And if we got where we are by doing certain things, we cannot get out until we do things radically different.
We need those who are industry practitioners in this wise to chart an industrialisation path for Ondo State that would not involve government’s commitment in cash.
In this era of severe cash crunch, we cannot have the government using scarce resources to establish an industry.
The old romanticised era of the late Governor of Ondo State, Chief Adekunle Ajasin, who set up industries all over the state is over. That era is far gone and it is not coming back, no matter how frugal you are with funding and how much you increase the Internally Generated Revenue.
The old lesson should not be put out of mind, that good intention does not necessarily translate to sustenance and the project initiated by one administration can become the white elephant of the next.
We need to stop confusing government with businesses saddled with getting jobs for everyone.
The best government can do is to remove impediments to businesses, and collect it’s due in taxes with as much human face as possible.
It includes provision of utility, ensuring security, with particular attention given to being proactive.
It bears repeating that to seek to pump government money into setting up industries would be a wild goose chase.
To set up big industries needs big money and the banks ready to lend at relatively low rate to grow the industries. We want banks that would be partners in progress not ones that demand cut throat interest rates.
But the banks have become blood sucking demons sucking the life out of the businesses.
This needs to change. The government can take advantage of its status to ensure that banks offer favourable rates to businesses in the state.
This is the way it can work: government should leverage its much coveted deposit accounts in some banks. Those banks won’t want to stop dealing with government, and there are competing banks on their heels.
So let’s dangle the carrot. The banks that are willing to give Ondo State businesses loans at very low rates would host the government accounts, while those who refuse to bend would be left out in the cold.
They should be asked to fund electricity projects in the state and the loans repaid from what is collected from those who use the power generated. Because, it is merely a joke to talk about industry when power supply is epileptic.
There can be a monthly repayment plan in the medium term range, in which taxes paid by people making use of the power would be channeled towards loan repayment.
So government should put its size and position to work for the people, rather than only think about spending money, dishing out money, as the national cake is no longer enough to feed everyone, if it ever was.
As much as possible, government bureaucracy should not be the clog in businesses’ wheel of progress. This should be impressed on all government employees. Government should not constitute an hindrance, rather an enhancer, going out of its way to do that.
As much as possible, government procurement should be from businesses that pay taxes to government, have businesses here and employ people here.
And the idea of government buying things on credit should be a thing of the past. It should stop biting more than it can chew, continuing to take on more internal debts, suffocating local businesses, while being pressed by the external ones.
Things Ondo State Government must source for internally must include all food items, including juices, etc. All cloth materials, furniture, building construction parts, manpower etc. Enough of outward orientation, while we decay on the inside.
We need to key into the federal executive order regarding getting things locally, including laptops, softwares etc.
Whatever is nonessential that we do have, we can do without. If this is implemented, we are our way having a vibrant local economy.
This would help the local businesses that are patronised to expand their businesses and take on more employees.
The government should work on means to bring in experts to train business people on things that are in demand but the knowledge is low in the state. This is definitely something the Ministry of Commerce can work on.
We may need to put some of these things into law. Like the idea of limiting how long government can owe the domestic businesses, before it had to pay; And the matter of local procurement by government.
The foremost businessman in Africa, Aliko Dangote recently shared the thoughts below about Africa and entrepreneurs with Bloomberg Markets.
“What you have to understand is that in Africa, going back 25 or 30 years, the majority of businesses were actually owned by government. And government has never been good at running any business. That’s the issue we have. Government’s job is not to drive the process. We have entrepreneurship now, and that’s what we are trying to do. We are not as lucky as Asia, where they already had a lot of entrepreneurship dating back generations and caught that wave. In Africa, when you really look at it deep down, we lack the entrepreneurship to match that boom in Asia. And we don’t have the capital markets to help drive the process. But it’s happening, slowly.”
See what he says about oil: “In Nigeria, oil has really damaged our thinking. Everyone is thinking about oil, oil, oil.”
Also on industrialisation, he said: “There are quite a lot of industries which we do need in Africa. We create a lot of raw materials and export finished goods. It is actually easier for us to think about what to do here because, whatever you do, the majority of those decisions will make a positive change. There are a lot of opportunities because of where we are starting from. In the Western worldthe U.S., Europeyou have almost everything.”
So Africa is clearly the next frontier. And Ondo State should not lag behind. As Aliko Dangote has said and I paraphrase: anything we do will make sense.
And it should not be about government taking the initiative, but by courting entrepreneurs, nurturing them, creating an environment where many Aliko Dangotes can come from Ondo State and be in Ondo State.