Being a paper presented as the Key Note Speaker at the 4th Urhobo Economic and Investment Summit, (Ekpobaro2021) By Olorogun Lucky Oghene-Omoru, Director General, Delta State Investments Development Agency (DIDA), Governor’s Office, Asaba.
Let me start by thanking the organizers of this summit for giving me the honour to be the keynote Speaker at this summit tagged Ekpobaro2021.
The word ekpobaro (let’s move forward or let’s make progress) is in sync with the theme of the summit which is Industrialization & the Path to Urhobo prosperity. When you say ekpobaro, it means that you must have been coming from somewhere, you have arrived at an unsatisfactory point in the journey and you are now advocating moving forward in the quest of reaching the specific destination, which is objective of the journey. For without a quest seeking fulfilment, there would not be any reason for the use of the word ekpobaro. Ekpobaro is plural, it presupposes therefore, that a group is on this particular quest. For a member of the group to issue the clarion call, ekpobaro, there must have been a retrospection which would have led to an analysis of the present and a realization that the object being sought after is yet to be attained. The clarion call ekpobaro must have been issued to rally the group members to forge ahead with the specific objective of achieving the aim of the journey. One can safely infer therefrom, that the group are united to achieve a common goal.
Upon the receipt and acceptance of the invitation, I took time ponder on the theme and the word ekpobaro. Without trying to peep into the mind of the organizers. I am convinced that the organizers concluded that the Urhobo Nation is presently at an unsatisfactory point (some form of stagnation) in our quest for development as a people. Our forebears started this journey many years ago and arrived at periods where they had to exclaim, ekpobaro. Indeed, it was at such a juncture the Urhobo Nation arrived at in the 40s when other major tribes in Nigeria had already produced university graduates and the Urhobo Nation had not. History had it that the quest and the determination to kpobaro, the Urhobo nation had to join hands to fund one of their sons on a scholarship scheme which produced the first Urhobo graduate in the person of M. G. Ejaife 1948, who later became the first Principal of Urhobo College. Having one university graduate not being the end, the Urhobos proceeded to establish the Urhobo College as we know it today. Between 1948 and now, the Urhobo man has made much progress. The Urhobos are now able to raise their heads above their shoulder among the comity of ethnic nationalities in Nigeria having produced not only university graduates but sons and daughters who have climbed to the zenith of different fields of human endeavors.
Today, 73 years after concerted efforts produced the first graduate, the Urhobo Nation has arrived at another critical juncture in our journey to the promise land. We are confronted today with the challenges of economic emancipation through job and wealth creation for our people. Again, as always, introspection is called for, deep soul-searching and creative thinking are required. Our jobs here today, are to carry out that deep soul searching, introspect and proffer solutions, while we rally every Urhobo sons and daughters with the clarion call, ekpobaro.
Various pathways can lead to the envisaged goal of economic emancipation. As a Development Economist, one of the simplest definitions of economic emancipation that I have come across described it as the freedom to determine one’s own financial position and future. Until a man has a sustainable source of income, he is unable to determine his own future. Sources of income must be sustainable in the long term. There must exist means to create sustainable employment for people through jobs that if they desire they can hold on for life thereby guaranteeing an income that can be used to determine their future. The absence of guaranteed income in society has led our youths including our young teenage boys and girls into various vices. To reverse this trend, our task as a people is to find ways to create sustainable incomes for the average Urhobo man and woman.
History abounds with nations which have in time past been confronted with these same challenges that we face today as a people. From the United Kingdom between 1760 to 1860, to the United States between 1820 and 1870 to China from the 1950s, industrialization was the common solution which took them from poverty to prosperity. Industrialization holds the key to the provision of sustainable and gainful employment with a guaranteed sustainable income. The Urhobo Nation is largely made up of agrarian communities. Our transition from agrarian to industrial society is a necessary step to escape the abject poverty found in our communities. It has been documented that industrialization—the period of transformation from an agricultural economy to an urban, mass-producing economy—has accompanied every period of sustained economic growth in recorded history.
History of Industrialization
Documented history revealed that the first period of industrialization took place in Great Britain between 1760 and 1860. Although there is no agreement about the exact nature and causes of this first Industrial Revolution, everyone agreed that it marked the first period of compounding economic growth in world history. Industrialization reached the United States in the early 19th century and eventually spread to most Western European nations before the end of the century. One of the two widely accepted dimensions of industrialization is the change in the types of predominant labor activity, which changed from farming to manufacturing. The second dimension being the increased productive level of economic output. This process of industrialization includes a general tendency for populations to urbanize and for new industries to develop. We can already see from the brief history of industrialization provided here, how the process impacted all facets of the society. Change from the largely agrarian economy to value addition and manufacturing, increased level of output as a result of mass production and urbanization of societies as well as the multiplier effects resulting from new industries springing up.
The Impact of Industrialization on National Economies in The Past- Some Examples
Economic and historical research has overwhelmingly shown that industrialization is linked to rising education, longer life spans, growing individual and national income, and improved overall quality of life. Two examples will suffice to explain the impact of industrialization on the prosperity of a people.
When Britain was industrializing, total national income increased by more than 600% from 1801 to 1901. By 1850, workers in the U.S. and Great Britain earned an average of 11 times more than workers in non-industrialized nations. These effects have proven to be permanent and cumulative. By 2000, the per capita income in fully industrialized countries was 52 times greater than in non-industrial countries. Industrialization disrupts and displaces traditional labor, encouraging workers towards a more valuable and productive activity that is accompanied by better capital goods. (source: https://www.investopedia.com)
In Hong Kong, industrialization was rapid, unexpected, and transformational between 1961 and year 2000. Hong Kong is only 1,000 square kilometers in size. It lacks the land and natural resources of major industrial powers such as the U.S. and Germany. Its period of industrialization began with textile exports and in less than two generations, the small Asian territory grew into one of the wealthiest populations in the world with an average annual per capita income approximating $56,643 in 2020 rising from a paltry $3,245 in 1960, prior to industrialization. (source: https://www.investopedia.com)
Urhobo Land – Natural Endowment
Internet sources estimated the population of Urhobos at about 4 million meaning that if the Urhobo land was to be a sovereign nation-state, we will be demographically bigger than over 75 countries in the United Nations System. Examples of such sovereign states are Gabon, Namibia, Equatorial Guinea, Sierra-Leone, The Gambia, Sao-Tome and Principe, Niger, Comoros, Seychelles and all Caribbean Countries (except Cuba and Jamaica) East Timor, Papua New Guinea.
Urhobo land is well endowed with natural resources and good arable land suitable for all-season farming with ample rainfall. The land has about 15 Oil and Gas fields with over 400 oil wells, a high percentage of the Natural Gas reserves of the country, home to the largest Gas Plant, Utorogu Gas Plant, in the South of the Sahara at Otu-Jeremi. There are two gas-fired electricity plants at Ughelli and Sapele, a refinery and petrochemical plant at Ekpan where the Nigerian Gas Company is also located, a functioning container glass factory at Ughelli as well as several mineral resources such as Sand, Silica, Kaolin, Clay, Barite and forest resources like Timber, Oil palm and Raffia Palm. Urhobo nation has 8 rivers with access to the Atlantic Ocean with one functional seaport and several jetties and many more sites for river ports. There is a functioning airport at Osubi.
We have about 15 urban centres and educational institutions abound to provide manpower development to feed an industrial revolution. One Federal University of Petroleum, One State University, one Petroleum Training Institute, one Polytechnic at Oghara, two functional Technical and additional one proposed for each LGA, several hundreds of State Owned Secondary and Primary Schools.
Virtually all the LGAs of urhobo land have prolific oil wells. Urhobo land is a strategic oil producer because of the premium sulfur-free sweet crude in the Kokori/Orogun field. Aside from crude oil, Utorogu Gas Plant at Otu-Jeremi feeds the Utorogu-Escavos-Lagos gas pipeline. The pipeline feeds the Egbin Thermal Station in Ikorodu, the Shagamu Cement Factory, Industrial Estates in Ikeja, Ogba and Ilupeju in Lagos and Agbara in Ogun State. The gas also feeds the West African Gas Project that takes Nigerian Gas to Benin Republic, Togo and Ghana. The pipeline is planned to be extended to Cote d’Ivoire, Liberia and Sierra Leone. In fact, under the National Gas Master Plan, the pipeline network to deliver gas to all major cities and industrial zones in the Federation will be fed by natural gas largely from Urhobo land.
We have rivers and streams which have endured from olden times. Such rivers as River Ethiope, Jamieson River, Ologbo/Osiomo River, Warri River, Forcados River, Okpare Creek, Edor/Obanegbe Creek, Esaba Creek, Oleri Creek, Eghwu/Oguname Creek, Olota Creek, Arhavwarien Creek, Okumesi Creek, Ogunu-Ekpan Creek, Elume Creek, are treasure-troves of fishes, shrimps, prawns, periwinkles etc, which can sustain a booming fish industry.
Moreover, Urhoboland is endowed with huge reserves of clay, sharp sand, silica and drilling mud which can be found sprawling endlessly especially in Otor-Edo, Ughevwughe, Esaba-Otutuama, Iwhreogun, and most areas of Ughelli South. These deposits, which are products of the many rivers crisscrossing the land are the raw materials for Wall Tiles, Roof Tiles, Floor Tiles, Ceramics, Pottery and Road Construction. Thriving and money-spinning ventures can spring from these natural endowments when industries that can appropriate them to human advantage are established.
In terms of agriculture, we have vast arable land of about 4,000 sq km. This land is suitable for the cultivation of Cassava, Oil Palm, Raffia Palm, Rice, Plantain, Banana, Yam, Sweet Potato, Beans, Groundnuts, Coconut, Coco-yam, Pepper, Melon, Mango, Orange, Paw-paw, Sugar Cane, Pineapple, Alligator Pepper, Spices, Bamboo, Timber, Rubber, etc. The environment has also been very conducive for Poultry, Piggery and other forms of animal husbandry. Fish farming is also a viable agricultural enterprise thriving in Urhoboland.
Oil Palm industry was the bedrock of Urhobo economy for over 150 years before the advent of petroleum. In 2005 – 2006, the Urhobo Progress Union (UPU) had prepared a comprehensive Master Plan and Feasibility report on the cultivation of Oil Palm and other tree crops. The Oil Palm industry has potentials for dozens of agro-industrial products and the capacity to provide employment for thousands of our people. Rafia Palm (Raphia hookeri and vinifera) thrive very well in Urhobo land. The industrial products from raffia palm include Gin, Beverages, Yeast, Paper, Brushes, Bags, Sieves, Medicinal Oils and Balms, Ethanol and Biofuel production.
Cassava which is a versatile crop is cultivated all over our land. Cassava-based industry encompasses eighteen (18) industrial components including Garri, Edible Starch, Industrial Starch for the manufacturing of car Batteries, Textiles, Coating for Drugs and Pharmaceutical Products, Plaster of Paris, Paper, Cassava Chips/Pellets, Animal Feeds, Bread and Biscuits.
The Process of Industrialization
We have spent considerable time to dwell on the natural endowment of urhobo land because these resources form the bedrock of industrial development. Urhobo men and women are highly educated thus, the Urhobo Nation is not lacking in skilled manpower to usher in the industrialization process. Transforming agricultural produce from their primary state to secondary products through value addition is the beginning of industrialization. If, within the Urhobo land, we empower every community to add value to primary products before selling them as secondary or tertiary products the value addition will at least triple if not quadruple the income.
Industrializing Urhobo land is no longer rocket science that it was in the 1800s. We have the capacity to leverage on recent history and technology, learn from those who did it recently and leapfrog into the society that we desire. Various models are available for us to choose from.
The first place to start the industrialization of Urhobo Nation from is to make access to capital available. Availability of capital is a key driver to the restructuring of an economy from farming to one that focuses on industry. We will talk about capital as we go forward in this discussion. We should plan our industrialization in such a way that it will be modular in that we can increase capacity as we forge ahead in the process.
The first step is to establish basic industries that will add value to the primary products from the farms. When farmers realize that there is a guaranteed market for their farm produce and that the era of gluts is gone forever, they will be encouraged to produce more. Therefore, the first step to industrializing Urhobo land to me is to find a way to improve the yield and output from our farms. To increase our production capacities from the farms will involve the use better farm implements. With some degree of mechanization, improved modern farming techniques, inputs in the form of improved and high-yielding seedlings which ensure that the same size of land that has hitherto yielded only 2 tons of farm produce can now yield 18 tons. The extra 16 tons would more than compensate for the extra cost incurred to procure the improved seedling and improved farming techniques. This way, our farmers are encouraged to produce more with the assurance of ready markets to offtake the products thereby weaning our farmers from subsistence farming.
Fewer people work on farms, as new agricultural methods reduce the need for labor and more jobs emerge in the manufacturing sector. Therefore, more industries will be created that will convert some secondary products to tertiary products. As this process continues to grow and evolve, the standard of living of our people will begin to improve and the new prosperity will be the lot of most of our people who are either engaged in farms or in the factories. With prosperity and renewed level of confidence, more people will become more daring and establish other industries to produce other goods that will be in demand.
The nations that have gone through this path include China. The Maoist Great Leap Forward was the plan used from 1958 to 1961 to transform the People’s Republic of China from a primarily agrarian economy populated by peasant farmers into a modern communist society through the process of agriculturalization and industrialization. Mao Zedong or popularly known as Chairman Mao anticipated agriculture and industry (”grain and steel”) as the foundations of any economic progress or national strengthening. Thus, The Great Leap forward heavily relied on and lent attention to these two sectors to establish a strong economic base from which further developments originated.
I believe that once we have been able to take care of increasing production from our farms, which for now employs about 75% of our people, moving up to more manufacturing industries will come naturally. Going by the Chinese experience, the number of people engaged in the farms will gradually be reduced paving the way for more mechanization and industrialization.
The easiest way to leap frog this concept is through the development of Industrial Parks and Clusters. This could be achieved through our common wealth, UPU could blaze the trail in galvanizing our people into this mode of shared development. Industrial Parks exist to encourage co-locations and the sharing of common facilities that would otherwise have become very expensive for individual organizations to afford. Urhobo land has several operational facilities that we can leverage on. Not too many of us are aware that an Industrial Park exists at Ekapkamre close to the defunct Bendel Glass at Ughelli and not far from Transcorp Power Plant. The land for the Industrial Park was acquired by government, the Master Plan has been long completed with some preliminary designs already completed. A gas pipeline runs across the location. Moreover, Captive Power can be easily obtained from Transcorp Power Plant through the policy of Willing Buyer Willing Seller. Let us for the sake of argument designate the park as an industrial park for the processing of cassava into secondary and tertiary products. Let us therefore imagine the multiplier effect it will have on our people all around. With power, the park can also function as a glass cluster for ornamental glass, china wares and various glass products. Glass industries exist on very small-scale cottage levels. Abundant raw materials exist in the area to ensure profitability, viability and sustainability if the investments in Industrial Parks can be replicated in and around suitable locations in the Urhobo Nation.
There is the Songhai Amukpe, there is the Osecul Limited privately led energy and industrial park at Aladja. Other suitable sites for Industrial Parks and Clusters can be found at Oghara- Mosogar and Eku – Abraka axis and other locations after conducting appropriate feasibility studies to choose suitable sites. I am aware that the current Chairman of Ethiope East LGA is tinkering with the idea if Private Sector led Business Park. We encourage more of this idea.
Another area worthy of focus by the Urhobo Nation to kpobaro is the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) by taking advantage of the initiative to produce goods and services in which we have comparative and competitive advantages for export into the huge African Market. This will involve processing of and value addition to various agricultural products such as cassava, oil palm, coconut oil, Spices, fashion and crafts, food and Beverages, etc which abound in Urhobo land for exports.
In order to fund the various development projects, we Urhobos must as a nation first resort to self-help. In this connection, I wish to suggest the establishment of a body to be known as The Urhobo Economic Development Trust Fund (TUETF) for the purpose of setting up Urhobo Sovereign Wealth Authority (USWA) after the mould of the Nigerian Sovereign Wealth Fund. It is my ardent belief that if we resort to what UPU did in the 50s and 60s when there was a clarion call to our sons and daughters to donate towards land court cases, we should be able to rally our current generation of urhobo sons and daughters for generous donations to seed the formation of the USWA. I know for certainty that with world class administration and a seed of US$500 million, USWA will get funding to undertake any venture of our choice. Several types of funding also exist in the Central Bank of Nigeria and African Development Bank (AfDB) for productive investments. Indeed, it is said within the Investment Development ecosystem that there is over US$1 trillion looking for good investment. Let us position the Urhobo Nation to tap into this pool of available global funding opportunities.
In conclusion, Imoni me, and with a deep sense of humility, I join the organizers of this summit to make the clarion call, ekpobaro by ensuring that we make concerted efforts to organize a a more inclusive Urhobo Economic/Investments Summit that will appraise Urhobo Nation’s resources with the following deliverables.
i.Identify and package possible investment projects in Urhobo land based on comparative and competitive advantages.
ii.Select investments/projects based and on their present status whether as potential, new prospect, on-going or dormant.
iii.Identify the existing investors/project owners and/or potential investors for new projects. The projects may comprise both Private and Public sector owned ones.
iv.Embark on investment promotional activities to market the identified existing projects (on-going, dormant or new projects) and source outside/foreign investor/partners.
v.Match outside investors with Urhobo investors on the Summit day and sign MOU for project take-off. This can also be done before the summit and the result reported at the event.
vi.The general public (both Nigerian and International audience) should be aware of the Investment potentials in Urhobo land.
vii.The Summit should be adequately funded by the private sector.
viii.Select and package suitable projects such as specific industries having abundant supplies of raw materials like Silica Sand for Glass manufacture; clay for Ceramics and tiles, Industrial Parks and Clusters with bankable financials for Urhobo Project tied Bond Issues.
Olorogun Lucky Oghene-Omoru