Governor Ahmed:  From China with prosperity

A major fallout of Nigeria’s shrinking economy in view of the global oil crises has been a recognition by governments at all levels in Nigeria to diversify the economy. A major component of this strategy is a renewed resolve to increase foreign investment in the country.

President Muhammadu Buhari demonstrated this resolve with his recent trips abroad aimed at attracting new investments, the development of Nigeria’s infrastructure, among others. Perhaps the most elaborate and promising of these trips was Buhari’s recent visit to China.

Building on existing talks, the Kwara State governor, Dr Abdulfatah Ahmed, on June 8 also travelled to the city of Nimgbo, in East China to finalise planned investments in the state and secure fresh inflows.

It was a five-day trip that took Governor Ahmed and his team to three cities through a 12-hour drive. A typical day featured at least three meetings or receptions with separate sets of businessmen and government officials.

These high-level meetings all ended with the Chinese delegation expressing interest in investing in Kwara State for mutual benefit. The day after the team’s arrival in Ningbo, East China, our host, Mr. Shi Zengchai of Ningbo Jinsheng Star Limited, led the team to the 18th China CEEC Trade Fair which featured exhibitions from China, other parts of Asia, Europe and America on an expansive ground that covered the size of four football fields.

During his three hour stay at the trade fair, Governor Ahmed was particularly interested in processing equipment, diagnostic tools, and aviation training equipment stands where he exchanged ideas with the exhibitors.

The following day, the schedule was no less hectic. It opened with Governor Ahmed meeting a group of Chinese investors who expressed a desire to establish agribusiness ventures in the state.

Looking at these men dressed in T-Shirts, casual shirts and trousers, it was tempting to dismiss them. That was until they opened up about their investments in other African countries and their desire to come to Kwara.

Before holding further investment talks, Governor Ahmed and his team met with Mr. Wang Jianhou, Deputy Mayor of the municipal city of Ningbo at a major hotel in the city, accompanied by party officials and other government officials.

The Deputy Mayor commended Ahmed and the Kwara State government for the interest in partnering with Ningbo city for investment which he described as a flourishing city with GDP per capita of $16,000. Ningbo, he said, is a city of three million people whose history dates back 6000 years. In the last decade, according to him, the city has flourished significantly with its port alone witnessing transactions of about $100m annually. The fact that the city alone is more populated and affluent than Kwara State was not lost on anyone at the meeting.

Governor Ahmed, speaking through an interpreter, said the state government was following the path of President Buhari to meet potential investors who can take advantage of opportunities in Kwara State for mutual benefit. He said the state was looking for investors especially in the area of manufacturing.

Kwara State, according to him, has a very youthful population which shows there is a strong workforce that can support industrialisation. He described the opportunities for investment in Kwara State as huge, and commended Shi, who he described as a “brother’, for his resolve to invest in Kwara State.

Any expectation that the day was over was dashed as the team marched into the hall downstairs for another engagement.

This event, which will turn out the highlight of the trip, was the 18th China Zheiland Investment and Trade Symposium, and had in attendance about 200 investors, businessmen and Chinese officials. Kwara State was the only delegation from Africa and the only one from Nigeria for the ceremony which was designed to formalise agreements for government-backed investments within China and abroad.

Specifically, the Ningbo Major Investments Signing Ceremony was organised by Ningbo Municipal People’s Government to provide incentives for Chinese companies to invest in other parts of the country and overseas. In all, a total of 31 projects worth $3.7 billion were consummated at the event. Of the amount, $1.42 billion was outbound, including the Kwara investment.

The Kwara State government signed an agreement with the Ningbo Jinsheng Star Import and Export Company for the establishment of the $56 million Kwara Chetex Textile Park in the state.  During the short segment, Governor Ahmed signed for the state while Zengchao signed for Ningbo Jinsheng.

Amid hand pumping and back thumping, an elated Governor Ahmed said he was pleased the deal had finally been signed. He particularly emphasised the fact the textile factory and park were expected to create 3000 direct jobs and transform the Irepodun/Edu Local Government axis of the state.

For him, the factory and other infrastructure projects planned for the area will stimulate growth and jobs in the area as part of his administration’s effort to develop Kwara North. This is part of an overall strategy designed to ensure even development across the state. It was the culmination of a yearlong effort involving Ningbo Jinseng, Chinese officials, Federal Ministry of Trade and Investment as well as the State Public Private Partnership Office.

Also speaking, Yomi Ogunsola, Chief Economic Assistant to the governor, and DG, PPP Bureau, said the state would provide up to N1 billion as counterpart fund, 400 hectares of land as infrastructure support as its own contribution.

The next three days saw the team undertaking a four-hour road trip to Anhui Guangxin Agric Chemical Company, another trip to Changxing City and finally to Shanghai. At every stop, the team was treated to full Chinese hospitality, including neon lights welcoming Governor Ahmed and the team at hotels and government offices as well as the almost statutory welcome reception.

In the process, Governor Ahmed and his team held talks on the establishment of an agro-allied factory and a farm in Kwara State as well as a visit to a factory to observe the kind of technology that will be deployed at the Kwara Chetex Textile Park in the state. The presence by Synochure, a Chinese government agency which underwrites and approves Chinese investment abroad, was a major coup for team Kwara as it signaled the company had an opportunity to conduct due diligence on the state and was likely to be more disposed to approving additional investment in  Kwara State.

Going by the $56m investment and other talks by the team, it was clear that a sleuth of investments is Kwara State-bound and will stimulate more growth, jobs and economic development in the state.