Cross River State governor on the area’s investment potential

World Finance speaks to the Cross River State’s current governor, Senator Liyel Imoke, about the region's significant growth

October 27, 2014

The Cross River State in south-eastern Nigeria is known for its wealth of natural minerals and stunning scenery, and is the country’s premier tourist destination. As it approaches its governor poll in 2015, World Finance speaks to the state’s current governor about its economic successes and challenges, including the risk of Ebola.

World Finance: Well governor Imoke, Nigeria is of course Africa’s largest economy, what does the Cross River State contribute to this?

Liyel Imoke: Our focus has been on a non oil-dependent economy, and we’ve tried to position ourselves as the leading service economy in Nigeria. We’ve focused on key areas the MICE industry, and the hospitality and tourism industry. We’ve seen significant growth in that area, with a growth in the middle class in Nigeria, so we’re also seeing not just investment coming in to those sectors, but we’re also seeing that for Cross River State we contribute about $10bn to the economy, and that’s over three percent of the total value of the Nigerian economy. This is in spite of the fact that in terms of population, we’re just about 1.8 percent.

[W]e contribute about $10bn to the economy, and that’s over three percent of the total value of the Nigerian economy

World Finance: Now you’ve been the Cross River State governor since 2007. How has it developed over that period of time, and what challenges does the state still face?

Liyel Imoke: It’s grown significantly. As an administration we focus on the people, and our policies have been designed to ensure that our focus remained creating wealth for our people, and that is what has driven the economy and our policies and our programs. One of the key things that we’ve done is to ensure that we have the appropriate regulatory environment to drive investment into the economy. We’ve also ensured that there’s transparency in government, and we’ve ensured best practices across the board. So, as an administration, we’ve focused in improving healthcare delivery to the people, education standards have improved, and we’ve gone from 27th position in external exams in Nigeria to the fifth position in the last set of external exams. We’ve also ensured that we’ve introduced a social safety-net scheme, that is working very effectively.

World Finance: Well Ebola has been making headlines, and the Cross River State has been said to be at risk. So how well developed are your health facilities and crisis response?

Liyel Imoke: At the primary healthcare level, we can take care of 70 percent our ailments. Today we’ve gone from slightly under 300 health facilities in our rural communities, to close to 900, and with our hospitals our secondary level hospitals, what we’ve done is ensure that we’ve put in place training and more importantly sensitisation across board on the Ebola virus. In terms of risk, as a state we don’t see ourselves as being at any greater risk than any other state, other than the fact that of course we’re a tourist destinations in Nigeria.

World Finance: Economically speaking now, and the Cross River State is doing really well, it stands at 11 out of Nigeria’s 36 states. But wealth disparity is still an issue, so how are you addressing poverty?

Liyel Imoke: From the beginning, I have alway said that government must serve those who need government the most, and the only way to do that is to start from the rural dweller, and making sure that the most vulnerable in society are well taken care of. So we introduced a social safety net scheme, we’ve introduced free healthcare for children under the age of five and all pregnant women in the state. We’ve introduced a number of agencies of government that are providing access to funds and capacity building for our rural farmers and our rural dwellers, and we are also creating avenues for them to get access to markets, and creating much more value for their products.

World Finance: The main industries in the state are agriculture, minerals and tourism. So is this where the main investment opportunities lie?

Liyel Imoke: We have probably the fourth or fifth largest agrarian economy in Nigeria, so there are significant opportunities in agriculture, and we’re beginning to see that, but not just in a plantation economy. We are now looking at the entire value chain in agriculture happening in Cross River. In terms of mineral resources, we are also seeing significant additional investments in cement production. We have well over 50 companies quarrying and mining in the state, and creating employment and opportunities. So those are the key areas, and we are seeing significant investment coming in.

World Finance: How open is the Cross River State to foreign direct investment, and are there any government incentives to encourage it?

Liyel Imoke: One of the beauties of Cross River State is the fact that it’s the only state in the country that has two free-trade zones, and a third one is coming up. We are also working with the federal ministry of trade and investment to create the first economic zone out of Calabar. Of course, the fact that we already have two free trade zones means that we already have significant foreign direct investment coming in.

Boko Haram does not and has not existed in Cross River State.

World Finance: Well we have to speak about Boko Haram which has been plaguing Nigeria, so how affected has the Cross River State been by this?

Liyel Imoke: We are very proactive as an administration about security. Clearly, if you are going to secure investment, and if you’re going to actually ensure that you are going to grow your economy, then one thing you must have is peace. So for us, Boko Haram does not and has not existed in Cross River State. We are beginning to believe that the containment efforts of the federal government in making sure that Boko Haram remains in the north-east part of the country would yield the results.

World Finance: So finally, although Cross River State has a very strong economy, it has been fraught with some terrorist attacks, and with elections looming how safe is it for investors?

Liyel Imoke: Cross River State has not had any terrorist attacks. What you may be referring to as terrorist attacks is maybe at best we’ve had some incidences on our waterways, sea pirates or thieves. But we’re working with the Nigerian police, the marine police and the Nigerian navy in dealing with those challenges, but nothing too significant, nothing that’s affecting trade. We have the good fortune of being a state that is a border state, we are well positioned, because we have a sea port, an international airport, so in terms of access there is plenty of it into the state, and I think that’s one of the attractions of Cross River State. But in terms of security, it’s also tucked away in the corner of Nigeria, so access in and out of the state also is easily policed for us. It’s also the headquarters of the eastern naval command, the headquarters of the army’s amphibious brigade, so we have significant security presence in the state, which makes it a much safer place to do business.

World Finance: Governor Imoke, thank you.