Delta State and its home-grown billionaires

Chief-AyiriNigerians from every nook and cranny have found Lagos an irresistible land of dreams.  It is the nation’s number one destination for commerce, manufacturing, finance, and the media, and even the movie industry, which is clearly evident in the pace and pulse of the city’s activities.

Apart from being Nigeria’s commercial nerve centre and its major port city, Lagos is Nigeria’s former capital city, which was responsible for the attraction of the largest percent of federal presence and attention. Living in Lagos is exciting and opportunities and possibilities for the ambitious are almost limitless – sometimes elusively so.

The city also enjoys the presence of the administrative and operational head offices of the multi-national oil companies operating in the Niger Delta Region, a system which started during the Nigerian Civil War, because, according to erudite scholar, Prof. G.G. Darah, ‘the military government ordered them to relocate their administrative and operational head offices from the Niger Delta to Lagos, then Federal Capital.

In compliance, Shell, Gulf Oil (now Chevron), Mobil and others moved their head offices to Lagos. This movement also shifted most businesses associated with the petroleum industry from the Niger Delta.’

And this decision has not been reversed more than four decades after the civil war.Like the multi-national oil companies and associated businesses, every aspiring federal government contractor sought a space in Lagos, the then seat of power; manufacturers had to be there too for easy access to imported raw materials, abundant skilled manpower, cheap labour and the city’s large market; importers and exporters found base in the city, just as banks and other financial institutions sprang up to finance projects and manage the city’s funds. Lagos became the nation’s melting pot.

Like many other Nigerians, the City of Lagos therefore came to have early attraction for ambitions Deltans. Nearly every super-rich Deltan was known to have made the bulk of his wealth in Lagos. Leading the pack were the Okotie-Ebohs, the Ibru brothers, the Dafinones, the Odogwus and the Rewanes. Surely, that is not to say every super-rich Deltan had always been Lagos-based.

Even as these Deltans migrated to Lagos and other major Nigerian cities for greener pastures, some remained behind. In the home-based category could be found super-rich Deltans like Chief James Ogboko Edewor, Evang. J.O.C. Mosheshe, Chief WT Odibo, Chief TJ Sokoh and Chief Edward Akponovwe Esiso in Warri; from Sapele came big names like Prince KB Omatseye; while in Ughelli were money-bags like Chief Morrison Obaseki Olori; in Asaba could be seen moneyed Deltans like Chief Ubaka Apoh; and from Agbor rose money giants like Chief Vincent West-Egbarin.

Nevertheless, it is not difficult to admit that most of these home-based guys were not in the league of the Lagos ‘boys’ as the biggest investments all over the state were being attributed to the Lagos moneyed men. It was frequent and very easy to hear the most modern and splendid houses, the best hotels, the super shopping malls, the sophisticated and elegant office blocks and the latest luxury cars all being attributed to some Deltans based in Lagos. This was until recently.

Many changes came with the advent of civilian rule in 1999. Not anymore the era of military governors taking orders from Abuja powers in running a state, especially the process and whom to award state contracts. The present civilian governors run their states themselves. Local contractors and consultants are patronised without having Abuja god-fathers breathing down the neck of the state chief executives; and the oil-producing states insisted on the constitutional 13 percent derivation policy, whose implementation started in 2000.

Then the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) also came into being as an intervention agency for the oil-producing states. It is in this civilian dispensation that oil commissions were established in oil-producing states to administer funds on oil-producing communities; Delta State has its Delta State Oil-Producing Areas Development Commission (DESOPADEC). In all of these, local contractors and consultants are being patronised.

Unlike in the past, when the oil companies discriminated against local contractors, these contractors insisted on being patronised on the basis of the local-content law, and this is yielding some positive results. Presently, there are home-based contractors who execute major oil contracts.

While many Deltans are missing in action in the highly lucrative but capital-intensive upstream section of the oil industry, it is interesting to mention that many young home-based Deltans are now actively involved in the highly capital-intensive oil sector as independent marketers, especially with the establishment of a fuel depot in Oghara for independent marketers.

The multi-billion dollar Escravos Gas To Liquid (EGTL) Project of Chevron is a major source of the emergence of a new entrepreneurial elite in the state. This group is mainly peopled by the Itsekiris and the Ijaws of the riverine oil-producing communities, where Chevron has most of its oil wells. Deltans of other ethnic groups all over the state are not left out in patronages being benefited as local-content contractors.

Interestingly, as Chevron wraps up the construction phase to start the operational phase, a similar project is expected to begin soon, the $16bn Gas City Project at Ogidigben, another reverine community. Educated, sophisticated, highly intelligent and mostly young, these Deltans are being financially empowered by these projects to take the lead as Delta State home-based entrepreneurs.

These guys are in the oil and gas sector as well as being major state and federal government contractors. Their business acumen and managerial style can equate, even surpass, major entrepreneurs anywhere in the world. With their investments in the state, more Deltans are being employed outside the public service.

Time it was when one had to exhaust the list of moneyed Deltans based in Lagos before coming to the home-based in considering big investments and promotion of business in the state. These nouveaux riches are diverting into other sectors of the state’s economy, taking the lead in changing the state’s economic landscape, perhaps answering to calls from various quarters that Delta should look beyond oil.

And looking beyond oil certainly requires huge capital to make much impact, be it manufacturing, agro-allied, properties, tourism, hospitality, or financing. The state government realises this, with the establishment of the Warri Industrial and Business Park, the Asaba ICT Park and the Koko Industrial Park, which will be best achieved with big money.

And obviously believing that it will be pipe dream to expect every of this big money to come from Deltans outside the state, or from non-Deltan investors outside the state, these home-based investors are also being empowered by the state government by regular patronages, which are clearly the government’s role in encouraging them. Deltans expect more from the government as these home-based investors have exhibited profound and dedicated interests in immensely contributing to the economic growth of the state.

This growth has led many Deltans, who had come to Lagos in search of the proverbial greener pastures but who have not made a success of it, to consider relocating, or actually relocating. Relocating is not a tough decision for many. Mr. Reuben Akpode, a Deltan of Isoko ethnicity, is a newspaper vendor at Ikeja.

Now in his late 30s, he had moved down to Lagos after his secondary school in 1994, with the hope of working with his secondary school certificate, thereafter securing a part-time degree programme in order to school while working. But things did not quite work out according to his plans. According to Mr. Akpode, he only got a factory job, whose salary was not enough to cater for himself let alone save to go to school.

After many years with no better job, and considering that age was no longer on his side, Mr. Akpode returned home a few years ago, to get married, and brought his wife to Lagos. The wife, also a school certificate-holder, started trade.

It was through their combined efforts that he did a part-time Ordinary National Diploma (OND) programme at the Lagos State Polytechnic, Ikeja Campus. He hopes to return for his HND soon. Thereafter, he will relocate, with his wife and two kids, to Delta State, where an uncle has promised him a job with an oil contracting company.

Not every Deltan who is not doing well in Lagos wishes to return home, though. A clerk with a private transport company, who does not want his name in print, says he has never considered relocating home.

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