Mr. Boye Oyewunmi is the Special Adviser to Ondo State Governor on Development and Investment. He is also the Managing Director/Chief Executive Officer of Ondo State Development and Investment Promotion Agency (ONDIPA), the agency saddled with the responsibility of attracting investment opportunities to the state. In this exclusive interview with Shulammite ‘Foyeku, Oyewunmi speaks on the proposed Ondo Deep Seaport and the determination of the government to ensure actualization of the project.
Many Governors have advocated for development of ports in their states. Unfortunately, many of these proposed ports are not followed through. What makes you think the Ondo port would not go the way of the moribund Olokola and others?
To be honest, my own Key Performance Indicator (KPI) is to deliver on the Port of Ondo. Since Olokola project was a Federal Government project, I am not very equipped to speak on that. But I can tell you the benefits of the Port of Ondo project. Firstly, if you look at the speed at which this port has been moving, you will know that it is not held down with the issues that beleaguered the Olokola seaport project. This is a state government that is determined and has put resources into the project, going about it in a very professional way. The approach to it is full of passion and devoid of politics, and that is why it is gaining attraction. Over and above that, the present location for the project is the best, technically chosen by internationally accredited consultants for a deep seaport in Nigeria. So the methodology is different, there is no politics about this, it is just about technicality and marketability of the project and that is why we have covered so much ground in two years that people have not covered in six or seven years. We have talked about ports in many parts of Nigeria since the birth of the third republic but it hasn’t happened. But here, Ondo State is close to getting a deep seaport licence because the political will is there. Money will always follow good political will and passion for a project, and we have had the necessary support from the Federal Government agencies like the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) and we are grateful for that. We are hopeful that before long, we will have a port declaration. Port of Ondo is different because it is probably the only deep seaport project that is being mid-wife by a development and promotion agency. Investment agency is the one driving it. So we have people with a particular mindset whose KPI is to deliver on a project specifically within a particular time frame. The vigour and the support we are getting from the state government and federal agencies are unrivalled because our report is of international standard. We are not playing politics with the port of this nature or dimension. We are just focusing on doing the right thing for the state and for Nigeria. So, it’s a different approach. I can’t speak of the past but I can only look into the future and tell you that the future is bright on this project.
What is the present state of the project?
We are two months away from the submission of the Outline Business Case. Once it is submitted to us; we will take it to NPA who will then take it to the Infrastructure Concession Regulatory Commission (ICRC). By the grace of God and by instinct of hard work and good quality report, they would give us a Certificate of No Objection. From that point, we will take the project to the Federal Executive Council (FEC) for them to approve and give us the license for the deep seaport. It is the FEC that takes the decision of granting license but you make their work easy by coming up with a bankable, well-researched project that meets international standard. We are not playing politics with this project; neither is it a campaign slogan. However, continuity is key, not necessarily for political reasons but for the drivers of the project to see it to a logical conclusion.
What is the total cost of this project and under what arrangement would it be executed?
The deep seaport project on its own is off the state balance sheet. The state does not have $1.3 billion to fund the deep seaport. Although the studies we are doing and the stakeholders’ forum that we are funding are not cheap, we have done the studies for a fraction of what many states have publicly acclaimed that they spent on deep seaport without much to show for it. It is an issue of getting all the right reports; show the bankability of the deep seaport and people, even on the strength of our report visibility, which is different from the Outline Business Case (OBC), will want to help in building the port. On the strength of that, we have the Port of Dubai; we have the largest port operator in South Africa, and a lot of Chinese conglomerates who want to help in building the port and a lot of Nigerian conglomerates who are also interested in joining the effort to build the port. But at the end of the day, when we have a license, we are going to appoint a globally accepted international adviser to hold our hands and form a consortium that will drive this forward. So, this $1.3 billion project is off the state’s balance sheet. We are not going to owe salary because of the port. It is not the intention of the state to fund the port. There is no state or nation that can single-handedly fund a port; it is usually private sector driven. So all the funds we are expending even those that are not supposed to be statutorily our cost, we are doing it as contribution to the project to show the investors and the regulators as well as the federal agencies that we are serious about this thing. We are planting a tree under whose shed we will never stay and it is better to do that.
How many jobs will the project create?
There is no port city that runs at deficit; they are always prosperous. So when the port is actualized, it will create jobs not just for the immediate community but for Nigeria. Ondo is just trying to join the league. It is a proven strategy so there is no reason why our own should be different. My fear is that we should be able to exhaust and take in all because all the competence and skill sets that are needed for a port are such that you can find here so that there is not going to be capital flight where people who are not from the immediate locality are the beneficiaries of our sweat. We want all Nigerians to work here but we are more concerned with our immediate environment because we don’t want our ecosystem affected, we want it built up.
What are the assurances that this project will not have negative impact on the environment?
Apapa is a case study on how we want to do this. The beauty of this project is that it is a green field project in an environment that is basically uninhabited. This is an island port, so this will maintain the ecosystem around it, yet we still have a lot of land around for development and other things. So, it is going to be a completely different scenario.
How do you plan to relocate those who will be displaced as a result of the port project?
The model chosen is an artificial island port that means it is two kilometres into the Atlantic Ocean. That provides security and it also ensures that the ecosystem is not terribly affected. Most of the resettlement will come principally to the Free Trade Zone and the industrial city and we are following international best practices in making sure that this happens.
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