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HOW I WILL REBUILD KOGI'S ECONOMY – KUTEPA

By NBF News
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Alhaji Abdulrazaq Isa Kutepa is one of the 23 governorship aspirants jostling to occupy the Kogi State Government House. He has been around. As a businessman, he has a private sector experience, and as a politician, he was involved in the formation of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).

In this interview, he says that if an Alhaji Aliko Dangote could invest $1billion to do business and it is thriving, at a time government's $6 billion investment in Ajaokuta failed, the latter does not have to get involved in business. He said that with good management, Kogi will be an economically viable state.

Kutepa talked about power blocks, political division, reconciliation and his aspiration to become governor.

What qualifies you to aspire to be governor of Kogi State?

I have a private sector background and serve on the boards of many companies in Nigeria and abroad, as chairman and director. In terms of politics, I have been involved in virtually all the activities of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in Kogi State. I grew up in a politically active family. My father was a councillor in the defunct Kwara Local Government Authority, in the first Republic. I grew up to know my father as a politician.

When the PDP was being formed in 1999, I was part of this process, especially within my local government area and Kogi State as a whole and I have continued to contribute to its growth. I was also involved in the election campaigns and we took power from the All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP). The campaign gave me the opportunity to travel round the state and today I have adequate knowledge of the entire state.

Also, I interact closely with politicians from every part of the state and I appreciate their aspirations. I have been interested in the cohesion of our party within the state. I have always initiated reconciliation processes wherever we have conflict of interests. When our party formed the government in 2003, there were disagreements among our party leaders; so I was involved in the reconciliation process. Some people left the party and through this process we brought them back. I think this process we have started within the party can be extended to the whole state. We need to create an atmosphere of peace and confidence in the state, so that our people can live and work together for accelerated development. That is the difference we want to make in the politics of the state. We want to engage our people constructively in the development within a united entity.

You will be contesting against 23 aspirants. What gives you confidence?

I was born in Lokoja, a confluence city. It is not just a confluence of two rivers but also confluence of different people, cultures and religion. Lokoja is a cosmopolitan setting. I don't do business only in Nigeria. I do business all around the world. I engage people, not based on ethnic consideration but on ideas. All of that requires competing with people. In the banking sector. I was a branch manager in a number of banks, competing with some big banks. I started a financial institution in Lagos about 17 years ago. Today it is competing in the financial services space and getting customers and delivering the objective for which it was set up. We participated in a transformative bidding process against 300 local and international companies, and my company emerged winner. I am chairman/CEO of that company today. We are one of the very few local companies that produce and export crude oil in Nigeria today. It is a fiercely competitive business. I have come through a rugged process of competitiveness in the private sector.

I am not jittery at all in my quest to be governor. In the private sector, when you are competing there is an analysis we always do. It is called SWOT analysis (Strength, Weakness, Opportunity, Threat). I have done the SWOT analysis of the political space, and I have a better chance. I have lots of friends in the central and western parts; I attended GSS Dekina, which is also in the eastern part of the state. I have no fears in competing as a minority aspirant against the larger tribes, that is the aspirants from Igala, Ebira and the Okun. The concern of the Igala is that if they let go power, they are not sure of what will happen to them, so they are looking for a partner they can trust. This is what politics is all about. People need mutual confidence and trust. I come from the minority and we don't have the population and the size to dominate any one. But I am getting the best hands from all the big ethnic groups to support me. I believe that I will be the best unifying force in the state. In me again, power will shift from the east to the west. And I will ensure that the interest of the people ceding the power is protected and other large and small ethnic groups.

What is your motivation in politics?
I believe that our country deserves to move on to the next level. I look at our various accomplishments in the private sector. If you look at Nigeria today, the private sector is performing better than the public sector. I have spent the last 28 years in the private sector, including banking. When I joined the banking sector, I was there when deregulation of the sector began. I was part of the team that transformed the banking sector. I also moved on in the transformation of the telecommunication sector. I was involved in a company. We had a licence to operate a wireless company. The point is that we were part of the process of the modern telecommunication system in Nigeria.

From there, I moved on to the oil and gas sector when President Obasanjo said he wanted to increase the local content in the upstream sector and started a licensing process that has never been done before, in what was then called the marginal fields. And he went on to conduct a proper auctioning of blocks. We moved on from discretionary allocation by the president to proper auctioning, where people have to bid and compete. I was right there. So I saw transformation processes in the Nigerian economy, which really exposed me. Eventhough the private sector controls just 20 per cent of the Nigerian economy, it is that professional experience and exposure and background that I am bringing to bear on governance of my state. I believe our public sector does require injection of new ideas and therefore needs people with the kind of my background. It can't be business as usual. We must move Nigeria to the next level.

As a successful businessman, in what ways have you contributed to improving the lives of people in your state?

Even before joining politics, as far back as 1996, I have been involved in humanitarian and philanthropic services in my state. We used the Isa Kutepa Foundation to provide these services. I started building boreholes to provide safe drinking water for people. We did like 12 boreholes, in collaboration with UNICEF. Subsequent to that, I started granting scholarships across the state. I also arranged with some doctors from the United States, who came and treated about 3,000 people free of charge. The other one is my Alma mater - the GSS Dekina. Through the platform of the old boys' association, I went there. That is after leaving the school since 1977. This was last year when I went there and I saw that it had become a shadow of itself. We started renovation of the laboratory and later we realised that this won't work and that it would be better to construct a new one. The new laboratory we constructed is world-class. Our students can stand and compete with anybody, in terms of basic knowledge of science. We spent about N150 million on the new laboratory complex.

What is your economic agenda?
Kogi State is highly blessed. I am not sure there is any state in Northern Nigeria that has received the level of investment in non-oil sector like Kogi. In the last 20 years, the state has received about $8 billion. The Ajaokuta Steel Company has been valued at $6billion. The new Obajana Cement plant is about $1billion. A Chinese company is coming to build a refinery in Kogi State, and that is about a billion dollar investment. The location of Kogi State gives it a natural advantage for the location of industries. It is centrally situated within the country. With the existing infrastructure in Ajaokuta, it makes it a natural platform for an industrial park. What we need to do is to bring power to that location. We are going to use that as a natural platform for attracting businesses. Of course, we have the confluence - the Rivers Niger and Benue. Kogi State is bounded by nine states. So it has a natural advantage. If you are going to the South or North, you have to go through Kogi State. It is also a tourist state, with colonial legacies, cemetery of deposed emirs in the North, first primary school in Northern Nigeria. These are historic monuments that we shall turn to tourist sites. It also means that we must build first class infrastructure. For the River Niger, we must rebuild the waterfronts and provide first class infrastructure, hotels, shopping where people come and want to stay. Tourism is a big employer of labour. We want to be a major destination point.

Do you have any plan for the moribund Ajaokuta Steel?

We must engage the Federal Government because some of the youth unemployment we have in the state is largely because Ajaokuta is not functioning. Ajaokuta plant ideally is supposed to form the bedrock for the industrialization of this nation. We need to bring the private sector spirit into it, but we need to engage the Federal Government. There are some things we need to start doing with the infrastructure there. We need to start making money with it. It has the capacity to generate up to a hundred mega watts of electricity. Most importantly, the reason for establishing Ajaokuta plant is the production of steel from iron ore, which God gave us free. The world needs steel iron ore. The largest deposit of iron ore found in Nigeria is in Kogi State. The world needs this iron ore and it is sitting there in Itakpe. If the way it is structured is not working, then we need to look at it again. Limestone is also in Kogi State in abundance. Out of this deposit, the Dangote Cement is extracting and making cement successfully. On the other hand, the Ajaokuta, being managed by the government is a failure. We have come to the conclusion that government has no business in business. An individual has put in $1billion to do business and it is thriving while the government has put in $6billiion but has failed.

The Ajaokuta is a key element of my economic agenda. But we shall engage the Federal Government and see how the state government can be the driver of that project. Apart from all these, Kogi has a huge coal deposit; this is a good source of electricity. Another area is fishing and agriculture. Traditionally, our people are fishermen. We should be able to provide the fish need of Nigeria. We also have a huge arable land, which is not being developed. From the western side of Okun, cocoa is being produced. We also have huge land for sugar plantation. But agriculture cannot be done in the present way they are doing it. It can only be done in a commercial way. There are countries looking for farmlands to cultivate, in order to feed their citizens. We can liaise with them. The key thing in our economic agenda is job creation. So all I have said boils down to job creation. In all these I have not spoken about allocation from the Federal Government, because I am coming from a different background of having to create things. We shall not depend on allocation. We must bake the cake ourselves.