In a meeting with prospective Chinese investors on Tuesday, the Delta State governor, Ifeanyi Okowa, made interesting remarks about seeing to it that Delta becomes the most investor-friendly destination in Nigeria.
The meeting, held in Shenyang, China, was part of a roadshow organised by the state government to build momentum for the impending industrial park in the Kwale region of Delta State.
According to the governor, an initial intervention fund of $10 million from the state government has been set up as a counterpart start up equity to de-risk the investment for investors that are able to make an early decision to set up their plants in the industrial park.
While this is a step closer to creating a sustainable economy for Delta, the writing on the wall clearly shows that the state heavily favours industrialisation as opposed to an ICT-driven economy.
Economies are dynamic and are constantly evolving. Despite its history as an oil and agricultural state, Delta made an effort to be ICT-oriented when the Delta State Innovation Hub was launched in 2016.
Sadly, it has remained the only hub in the state to date. Techpoint also gathers that, having been starved of meaningful government intervention, the hub has become nearly derelict.
Clearly, the state needs to determine whether to prioritise maintaining an industrialised economy or an ICT-driven economy.
Noteworthy is that supply and demand play key roles in investment dynamics. While the technology enthusiasts will advocate for greater emphasis on an ICT-driven economy in Delta State, the cost of setting up and maintenance under the prevailing circumstances outweighs the likely returns on investment.
With the state government looking to diversify its revenue base from solely oil, alternatives promising quick returns and immediate impact would be given preference. Agriculture happens to be a low-hanging fruit. In the past, the state government has assisted farmers in the areas of fishery, forestry, product planning, and research.
Also, the few industries in the state participate primarily in the processing of raw materials.
With ICT development, the state government will need to use resources to improve tertiary institutions, broadband penetration, build several hubs across the state, foster collaborations with private organisations and corporates, and implement ICT curriculums; these are long-term investments.
If established, the Kwale industrial park is expected to produce about 75,000 jobs. Going the route of short-term investment, the state government does not think this mandate is far-fetched.
A memorandum of understanding (MoU) signed during the roadshow between the Delta State government and a Chinese agricultural company to grow and process soya beans in the industrial estate speaks volumes. The opportunities for direct and indirect employment abound.
Clearly, this is a business investment approach that addresses the need for industrialisation in the state as opposed to the relationship which enhances the birth and growth of startups.
This is quite unlike Lagos, where the state government is leading campaigns to convert industrial estates into ICT centres; case in point is the proposed conversion of the industrial estate in Sabo, Yaba to a technology hub.
However, it’s not all gloom for ICT in Delta State. No doubt there will be room for existing or new startups to plug into the available opportunities, albeit with the odds stacked against them.