Dr Akin Ogunbiyi, is the Chairman of Mutual Benefits Assurance Plc. In this interview, he speaks on how deliberately tailored reforms by governments can promote agricultural entrepreneurship and mining businesses in Nigeria. The gubernatorial candidate of the Accord Party, in Osun state also highlighted his economic actions for the state.
Given the over-dependence on federal revenues, what will you do differently to develop the state?
I always say, agriculture is the mainstay of the entire western region, and agriculture is the mainstay of Osun State. What have the previous governments done in agriculture? That is the first thing. There are so many things you can do with agric and agro-related industries and this is where I come in. Agriculture, that is number one.
Osogbo, the state capital, is known as the ‘Ilu Aro’ (home of dye). Osogbo is endowed with Aro (dye). Aro is what they use to produce Adire fabrics.
So, when we say Osun State has a lot of potentials, a lot of opportunities out there, it takes the discerning eye, it takes the intelligentsia, it takes the man that has the capacity, it takes an entrepreneur like myself to be able to identify them, and we have identified them.
I have produced what I can call a manifesto. I don’t think Osun people have seen a manifesto in the last 15 years. We have produced a manifesto, which is my contract of engagement with Osun people, and it contains what and which areas we are going to touch on in our first term.
Again, in the area of partnership, it is not the government that brings industries. We will have private sector partners coming into Osun; I will create 20 to 50 studios and bring all these Nollywood people to come and train our people, and by the time they train them for four weeks, six weeks, and even if it is one person they have identified, you can imagine the employment he will create.
What is your economic agenda for the state and how do you intend to execute it?
We have five key areas. First and foremost, reform education. Education is my priority and by the grace of God our first year’s budget will reflect that.
I also mentioned agriculture; Awolowo used agriculture to develop the Western region. But what has our government in the last 15 years done in the area of agriculture? Nothing. We have cocoa, which Awolowo developed and deployed massively. But how much cocoa are we selling now? Who is buying?
I went round Osun and this is the second time I am doing so. In 2018, I went round the nooks and crannies of Osun, sometimes I get to a location and I will be crying. Are these things so bad? And again, I have gone round; we have all these cash crops that are wasting away.
I will link them to agric-related industries. Oranges, for example, but nobody harvests oranges again. Mango, nobody harvests mango again, the little we have is only for consumption. If you buy mangoes now, I hear four go for N200. If you buy four, if you don’t finish the four immediately, by the following day the remaining is spoiled. But we have companies that depend solely on fruits.
I went to this Songhai Farm in the Republic of Benin, where they process fruits. I will not encourage the government to go into what private companies can do. But we will create an enabling environment so that they can come in.
So all the things relating to workers’ welfare, I will give them priority because you can’t develop anything without effective civil services. I will make civil servants my priority and make them effective and productive.
Apart from agro-allied industries, do you know that Osun State has 26 commercially viable mineral resources? Who are the people mining our gold? Can you identify them apart from Segilola? And they mine raw gold, and it is the purest anywhere in the world; 98% pure, and you can put a structure around that gold so that Osun will earn 13% derivation revenue.
We can take a cue from the oil-producing states. I have had engagements with people in the Ministry of Solid Minerals in Abuja, in fact when they saw my manifesto, six of them came to me here to talk to me, how serious am I.
It is about $6 million to do a standard gold refining and processing plant, why can’t we have it?
Again, look at the area of empowerment, it will interest you to know that all my years in Mutual Benefits Assurance when we wanted to differentiate ourselves from other players, we did it through retail insurance.
How can one raise funds for these reform projects?
I will create commodity bonds. I will go the way of Awolowo. I will standardise the price of cocoa, I will standardise the price of palm oil, I will standardise the price of rubber. For all these cash crops, we will sit down with the farmers. I have identified 50 farmers’ groups. Look, my working paper, my operational manual for Osun is as big as this.
Within the first six months, they would see the sincerity of our government. I will not go to borrow; it is not wrong to borrow money. There is nothing wrong with borrowing money but when you borrow money to do “A”, let the entire citizens know ‘we want to do this project, this is how much it is costing, we are taking this loan and this is it,’ and the project will pay back over its lifetime.
We have intervention funds in trillions of dollars out there that we can attract to Osun to help us fund primary education.
I started a company from scratch. I took a loan of N5 million to start Mutual Benefits. The company is still growing; we are in Liberia, we are in Niger, we are in Cameroon and the company is no longer just an insurance company, it has become a conglomerate.