Warmate Jones Idikio: ‘People tell me that soon crude oil will be useless’
The director general of Yenagoa Chamber of Commerce talks to The Africa Report about economic diversification and the business climate in Nigeria's Bayelsa State
The Africa Report: What is the main role of the chamber of commerce here?
We have done a lot of advocacy […] seeking synergy between the private sector, the chamber and government with regard to policy. People here are not as business-savvy as in Lagos. We have predominantly small enterprises. The idea is to ensure they grow into medium, then large enterprises. We also ensure that big-ticket businesses worldwide see Bayelsa State as a destination for investment.
What are the prospects in agriculture and fisheries as Bayelsa tries to diversify away from oil and gas?
Bayelsa has one of the longest coastlines in Nigeria and about 13 rivers that criss-cross the state. That gives us a huge potential for aquaculture. [One of] our members has several hectares of plantain plantation – there are off-takers of the primary produce who turn that into plantain powder for amala [a starchy food]. We are [also] trying to see how fish oil can be extracted and used in pharmaceuticals.
What future do you see for the state’s oil production and its byproducts?
People tell me that soon crude oil will be useless. So what do we do? One of the largest plastic production companies in this country is in the east, Innoson Industries. And where does it get its raw materials? The petrochemical plant in Rivers State. Why can’t we create wealth in the interim with available things? Oil may never be in such high demand as it used to, but the value chain will still be useful in future.
Two projects have stagnated over the last few years: Brass LNG and Brass Fertilizer [BFPCL]. How are you trying to untangle whatever wires have crossed?
Brass LNG is a federal government project involving oil majors, to process gas for export. Such projects have a huge financial outlay. Between 1999 and 2007, a lot was done to ensure that it took off, but it stalled because one of the key investment partners pulled out to invest in a competing project. We are lobbying to ensure that key players understand its importance because Bayelsa produces almost 60% of Nigeria’s total exported gas. The state government has taken up some 10% equity in Brass Fertilizer […] the major problem is financing. Stakeholders need to be primed to help synergise and fund it. We have gone beyond a threshold where Brass Fertilizer can take off. For instance, it’s been able to acquire land and that’s a huge leap forward. So, it’s just a matter of time before it takes off.
How has political will helped create an enabling environment for businesses?
Political will has been stronger from 2012. For example, [there’s been work on] a network of roads planned in the 1970s that runs all the way to one of the fringe local government areas near Delta State. In that area, you have the Agge Deep Sea Port. The port in Lagos was instrumental in making the city what it is today. […] Agge Deep Sea Port, which is the deepest in Nigeria, will also provide that kind of growth for Bayelsa.