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UP until the late 1990s, anybody standing at the Ring-Road end of Mission or Akpakpava Road in Benin City, capital of Edo State, could have an unobstructed view of the road to its end at New Benin or Ikpoba Slope.
UP until the late 1990s, anybody standing at the Ring-Road end of Mission or Akpakpava Road in Benin City, capital of Edo State, could have an unobstructed view of the road to its end at New Benin or Ikpoba Slope. Traffic on either road was light in view of the fewness of cars and other vehicles available in the city. The pace was generally unhurried. Keeping appointments in the city was no ordeal, as the individual could arrive on time. Similarly, commercial activities were limited to buying and selling of mainly agricultural produce - yams, plantain, cassava etc., in the five markets in existence. Highbrow shopping was done by the few elite in the few supermarkets in the city.
Notable among the stores that operated well before the Structural Adjustment Programme unravelled merchandising were Omo Stores along Mission Road, Kingsway Stores located at the present site of the Oba Market and later relocated to Akpakpava Road and Leventis Stores on Sakpoba Road. These stores dealt mainly on children’s wears, canned foods, toiletries, novels, wines and spirits. Car dealerships and electronics stores were also few, with only SCOA and Leventis companies as the outlets for the sale of Peugeot and Mercedes cars respectively. Private car dealers, which number in their hundreds today, were non-existent.
Banking business was operated by about five banks: Union Bank, First Bank, United Bank for Africa, New Nigeria Bank and the defunct African Continental Bank, which provided some facilities for the relatively few businesses that operated in or out of the state at the time. The industrial development of Edo State, or Bendel as it used to be before the state creation exercise of 1991, was limited to the state-owned Bendel Brewery, which produced Crystal beer and the Bendel Cement Factory, Okpella, producers of Rhino cement; Guinness Nigeria Plc, produced Harp lager and Guinness Stout. Even such private enterprises as health clinics and maternity centres, eateries and hotels, were equally few.
This situation showed that Edo State then had little or no vibrant economy, hence it was often easy for people to refer to it as a "civil service state" Indeed, Edo did not show any sign of economic improvement due to lack of political will on the part of successive administrations to induce economy-boosting activities in the state. Thus, prior to May 1999, when Edo State was appropriately called a civil service state, most workers were in the employment of government, with a few absorbed by the banks and companies operating in the state. Bendel Brewery and Bendel Cement Company had erratic production, with long periods of inactivity. New Nigeria Bank did not fare better as it had shrivelled with many of its branches closed or merged due to low patronage. In fact, the bank was under watch by the Nigeria Deposit Insurance Corporation (NDIC). Such a bank, of course, could do little to grant loans to businesses. To say the least, the economy of Edo State was comatose.
However, the reversal of the situation started immediately after the election of Chief Lucky Nosakhare Igbinedion as governor in 1999. He organized an Economic Summit, which provided a blueprint for the economic revival of Edo State. Armed with the recommendations of the summit, one of which was the need for government’s intervention in boosting the economy by enunciating programmes and providing facilities to galvanise commercial activities, Igbinedion was quick to realize that government alone could not revive the economy, no matter the level of investments, hence his first course of action was to woo local and foreign investors to do business in Edo State. In the enlightenment campaign, which sometimes took the governor abroad, prospective investors were educated on the available potentials for investment in agriculture, manufacturing and tourism. Focus was also on prospective partners with whom government could go into business ventures. As a result, local and foreign firms are today doing business in Edo State either with indigenous companies or purely on their own.
In addition, the Igbinedion administration took its own direct action to revamp the economy by establishing industries, which activities would increase the volume of business in the state through the production of raw materials or marketing of finished goods.
For a start, the administration revamped the Edo Cement Company, Okpella, and the Bendel Brewery to cope with the demands for their products. Government also established the Chemical Plant, Ikpeshi, in the Edo Northern Senatorial district, to convert the abundant marble in the locality into a variety of products, including dolomite, which is an essential ingredient for the manufacture of fertilizer. The chemical plant now produces at full capacity. The multiplier effect is that many secondary industries which use the products of the chemical plant for the manufacture of other products have sprung up in Edo State since 2002. Inhabitants of the locality are now engaged in the supply of raw materials for the plant or are distributors for its finished products.
Another industry, the Fruit Juice Processing Factory, Ehor, is being established by the Igbinedion administration to utilize pineapples grown abundantly in the area, for the production of fruit juice. The Cassava Processing Factory, Uromi, will on completion, process cassava into tapioca, industrial starch and chips. This activity is part of efforts to boost the economy of the state by providing more avenues for the people to do business or improve on existing ones.
Perhaps the most obvious indication of an enhanced economy is the influx of new generation banks into Edo State. Before 1999, just about six banks operated in the state. The employment of school leavers by the banks, including Union Bank, First Bank, Afribank, United Bank for Africa and New Nigeria Bank, was equally limited. Today, no fewer than 12 new generation banks, among which are Equitorial Trust, Equity, Zenith, First City Monument Bank, Standard Trust, Platinum, Inter-Continental, Guaranty Trust and Habib banks are doing business in Edo State, granting credit facilities for businesses. Even civil servants, desirous of owning cars, have taken advantage of the banks’ liberal lending conditions to buy cars or motorcycles. Some of these banks also have several branches in the state capital. In fact, one of the old generation banks now has a branch devoted to the operation of Western Union Money Transfer. Other older generation banks have also expanded with more branches than they had a few years ago.
The conducive atmosphere in Edo State has equally encouraged some associations of businessmen to initiate gigantic economic ventures in parts of the state. The Association of Electronics, Motorcycles and Building Materials Dealers in the state known as Monee Market International, is constructing a vast shopping complex at Ogbeson, on the outskirts of Benin City, for the sale of their goods. Comparable to Alaba International Market in Lagos, upon completion, the Monee Market will have a multiplier effect on the economy through the creation of more outlets for goods and emergence of other businesses such a housing, transportation, and entertainment in the Ogbeson community.
At the micro level, small-scale enterprises have also utilized the Edo State Micro-Credit Scheme established by the Igbinedion administration in 2001 as part of its Poverty Alleviation Programme to create sustainable wealth at the grassroots by developing entrepreneurial skills and engaging in other economic activities. Indeed, the Igbinedion administration is in continuous search for ways to boost the state's economy. Early in the year, the Benin floor of the Nigerian Stock Exchange, brought to Edo State at the urging of the governor, was commissioned for business by the Vice-President, Alhaji Abubakar Atiku. This has opened more investment opportunities for the people.
*Omoregie lives in Benin City.
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