Exploring Bitumen in Ondo State Can Create 30,000 Jobs in One Year-Akarakiri

The Akure, Ondo state born Oluwafemi Akarakiri is an Oil and Gas expert with over 20 years working experience across multinational organizations in different part of the world. He was until his recent appointment as Senior Special Assistant to Governor Oluwarotimi Akeredolu on Energy and Mineral resources, the Regional Manager, West Africa, Wetherford Nigeria. In This Interview with Tope Olumoke, the former Country Manager, Netherland and Denmark, Ocean-views Oil Services speaks on the investment drive of the state government and what the state stand to benefit by industrializing the state through partnership with the private sectors.

Excerpts;

 

We heard that the Federal Government has granted a licence to Ondo state government for bitumen exploration; please tell us more about this initiative

 

This is one area we have to commend the Federal Government for heeding to the cry of Ondo State.  Several of our people are aware, Ondo State has the largest deposit of bitumen in the world and it’s left untapped for a very long time. But this time around, the Governor and the executive members have made it a priority to get that bitumen out, mined and processed and that’s when Ondo state can start enjoying the benefit of being a bitumen resource state. So we commend the Federal Government for heeding to that cry and granting that licence. It’s a good thing to know that the licence was not just granted to anybody but to an organisation who knows what to do, very active and with what we have seen so far, they have been very determined to make sure things get done so quickly, we have seen the step they have taken so far and we are very pleased with it as well and we believe that in a very short period of time to come, we will be able to celebrate the first production of bitumen in Nigeria and especially in Ondo state. This is something we are keenly looking forward to and we believe it will add a lot of value, not only to the state but to the federal activities across the nation as well. Roads need to be tarred, you see how many billions being used to resurfaced airport tarmac, all these bitumen do come from outside but by the time Ondo state starts producing that, then we will be able to meet the demand locally and by God‘s grace we looking at also sending more out to generate additional foreign exchange for the country. The country spends 300bn on importation of bitumen per annum, so imagine by the time we start producing that same quantity or amount that the country needs. Our state will boom.

 

Who is handling the exploration, is it the government directly or through the Public Private Partnership (PPP).

 

Licences have been giving to several organisations in the past but the one we are focussed on now is the South West Bitumen Company that has just being given a new licence and they are running very well with it and I also want to encourage others that have been giving licences in the past to take a cue from what Southwest is doing.  Beyond that, the savings in terms of foreign exchange from being able to derive that locally is enormous; it’s something that can be used for other things in the country. Talking about other resources as well, Ondo state is blessed, we got kaoline, limestone, marbles, rock that can be processed to different things and it’s amazing that these resources have just being lying fallowing just like bitumen itself but the drive of the Aketi’s government, many of this will find their way to the market and as a result of this, private investors are being encouraged and supported to come and take a stand in Ondo state. The result has been quite positive, we have seen many people coming, we have made many trips to some of these resource locations and people have seen for themselves that this isn’t a joke any longer and expression of interest are coming in. One thing i wish to say to others is, if you have the opportunity, use it now. Ondo state is moving, it’s better for you to be part of the table than to eat from the crumbs. So we encouraging everyone, if you are involve in mining to come over to the state, if you are involve in translating agriculture products into businesses, please come to Ondo. It is time now to be part of what is going on in Ondo State. This is the morning, the sun is about to start shining, and i believe in one or two years time we are going to start harvesting what we are planting now.

 

What has been the reaction of the corporate world to the investment drive of the state in relating to Energy and Mineral Resources?

 

One of the things the Akeredolu led government has been able to do is to establish Ondo State Development and Investment Promotion Agency (ONDIPA) to manage the promote businesses and investments opportunities here. We have seen what has been happening in other state and we saw what they have achieved thus far on investment drive. Gone are the days when government build industries and businesses. That period is over. Now corporate sectors and entities are the one doing that all over the world with government providing enabling environment for businesses to thrive. Therefore here, ONDIPA will interface with all government agencies and parastatals for the private sector. If you want to do businesses in Ondo, you don’t need to stress yourself anymore by going from one ministry and agency to another, ONDIPA will do that for you.

Cut…..any Breakthrough thus far in your interfacing with the Private Sector?

 

I just mentioned Southwest Bitumen Company and we have other firms who are already talking to us on Limestone, afforestation; one is coming soon to establish a big plantation farm for Cashew and cashew processing factory; Welwood, a Chinese Firm is already here to with us; they have acquired over 10, 000 hectares of land for afforestation along Ore road but i won’t be able to mention names of firms we are negotiating with for now because we have not finalized most of the deals. The administration is still very young, we want to ensure that resources we allocate to people are used judiciously and everything is done well. We are also very careful so we ensure that the credibility and seriousness of potential investors are well screened so that in 10 years time they won’t be sitting on our Memorandum of Understanding (MoU). This time around we are doing a thorough job; we vet and scrutinize every proposal we get. There are many coming in. Aside Afforestation, some even want to partner with us on the processing of the wood we have herein. We have also been receiving proposals on Textile.

 

What are the incentives the State Government has for potential investors?

 

One of the incentives we have herein is ease of doing businesses and that is where ONDIPA comes in. Today, in Ondo, you don’t have to go from one ministry to another before you can get your businesses registered or have MoU signed with the government. ONDIPA will handle everything for you. You talk to people who are from private sector; who understand your language; government is also ready to help to facilitate licenses where the federal government is involved; i want to use this opportunity to thank the Federal Government for always listening to us anytime we visit them on behalf of our potential investors. We also have tax incentive. There is free tax incentive for a certain period of time here. Also the people of our state are highly educated, we are peaceful people, the traditional rulers are also cooperating; they help to ensure that investors are not troubled by their community youths on the site; there’s security of live and property here, your life and businesses are safe from vandalism; the weather here is very accommodating; our people understand values of development, they know the importance of investments to their towns, no threat to construction workers here and we have passable Trunk A and B roads; most importantly, Air Peace Airline has started a daily flight from Lagos to Akure everyday while Overland Airline fly Akure to Abuja two times in a week so that makes us connect with the world amazingly.

 

What is the current state of Olokola Free Trade Zone initiated by the former Governor Olusegun Agagu in conjunction with the government of Ogun State? Nothing much was really heard about the project from the immediate past administration of Olusegun Mimiko to an extent that Dangote PLC who had planned to site a refinery had to relocate to Epe in Lagos state. Does the Akeredolu have any plans to get Olokola Free Trade Zone revived?

 

I won’t say the past government abandoned Olokola. There are certain issues that concern Olokola.

 

Can you share with us these issues?

 

Unfortunately, i will not be able to make that public. But we are currently talking to our counterpart from Ogun State to ensure that these issues are resolved for the benefit of our people so that Free Trade Zone can come back to business.

 

Okay. But what now made Dangote to relocate from Olokola to Epe in Lagos State?

 

Well, without speaking for Dangote, and looking at it from the angle of private sector, i will say expressly that he moved his business to where it is more comfortable and thriving for him. I guess he chose tap from the advantage of Lekki Free Trade Zone compared to Olokola.

 

Isn’t what you just said an indictment of immediate past Government of Ondo State?

 

Well, i wouldn’t say anything on that but whatever it is we still believe that Dangote can still do something here. The Petrochemical refinery in Lagos does not stop another Petrochemical being built in Olokola. Gas, Crude Oil etc can be transferred from Olokola to Lekki Free Trade Zone.

 

What is happening at Owena Oil and Gas Ltd and Owena Energy owned by the Ondo State Government?

 

There are some issues with the company that this administration is working on, thank God it is under my portfolio; we hope everything will be settled within the next six months so that Owena Oil and Gas could come back to life in full force. Meanwhile, do not forget that one of the assets that Owena Oil and Gas has, which is Ororo Oil Field is working perfectly well; Ziros which is the technical operation of the oil field is working. We hope oil production will start early next year from that oil field which for sure the state will benefit maximally from. Owena Energy which deals with Mining is also there, soon, as Owena Oil and Gas commences operation that of Mining too will follow. Owena Energy is another entity that the state government is using to drive her oil and gas activities.

 

Tell us about the MoU recently signed between Ondo State Government and Niger/Delta Development Commission (NNDC) over the construction of the road from Araromi in Ilaje Local Government to Epe, Lagos State.

 

This is one of the things first done by Governor Akeredolu immediately he got the insignia of power. The MoU is aimed at generating more business traffic to Ondo State to improve the economic activities in the southern part of the state and the state in general. When the road is completed, one can get to Epe/Lekki axis of Lagos State within 50 minutes. The design and planning processes is about to be completed and that indicate that construction work will soon start therein God willing. I can assure you that we are very committed to this project.

 

The Southern Part of the state seems to have been eradicated from the map of Ondo State in term of infrastructures.

 

The issue you just raised is being addressed by the Aketi government. The Southern part should drive the economy of the state and that led to the MoU we signed with NDDC for the construction of Araromi-Epe road. Today, light has been restored to the southern partthat was once without electricity for seven months. The road network within the University of Science and Technology, Okitipupa (OSUTECH) has been reconstructed. The Ore Industrial park will soon be activated by the grace of God. The Bitumen that we are pursuing will industrialize the area. The economic activities of the area will soon start booming through the aide of the private sector. The last Niger/Delta Summit we held here didn’t hold by error, we took the Vice-President, Professor Yemi Osibajo for a tour of the South, he was at Igbokoda and he saw things for himself.

 

The Oluwa Glass, Igbokoda is technically and physically moribund. Does the government have any plan for its resuscitation?

 

Government will not build industry anymore, but government will encourage private sectors to do businesses here. Beyond Oluwa Glass, some firms are interested in building a Sea Port in Ilaje and once that is done, the economic activities that it will bring up will surpass that of Oluwa Glass. Government resuscitating Oluwa Glass will be quite challenging but i am sure private sector can take it up. Other businesses will come up soon to make use of the glass quality sand that we have therein.

 

Basically, what does the Ondo State Government stand to benefit from her drive on Mineral Resources and Oil and Gas?

 

Energy and Gas are enormous here. They can boost the economy of the state if private sector could come in. We can use Gas to power electricity. From the three bitumen operators that have been given licenses, the number of direct jobs that these three companies will create when they start operation cannot be less than 5,000 per annum apart from other 25, 000 indirect jobs and other businesses will come in to support that will boost Small Scale medium Enterprises (SMEs); farmers will have people to buy their goods because of inflow of people. Look at our deposit of limestone, if have can have a company to start manufacturing cement here, unemployment will fly away especially among the hardworking young people. Commerce and trade will increase because people from neighbouring states will be trooping in, hotels will boom, our Internally Generated Revenue (IGR) will increase to a large extent through personal income tax. I hereby use this opportunity to encourage investors to come in to Ondo State now so that they won’t regret not doing do in five years time.

 

Please tell us more about your Professional Background and Biological Origin.

 

I am from Akure here, grew up in Akure here, attended the prestigious University of Ibadan, had a brief stint with Citi Bank in Lagos, and then joined the oil and gas industry, worked for about 18 years. I started with Ocean Services (give us correct name of the firm sir) and served in different part of the world, went from the field to managerial position, my last assignment for the firm was that of Country Manager for Netherland and Denmark, i came back home and worked with a company called Welltech (give us correct name) as regional manager for West Africa then work for a firm called Wetherford Nigeria (give us correct name sir) and from there i exited when the call to service the people of Ondo State became a bug strong.

 

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