Dr Dakuku Peterside, Director-General of the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA), spoke as guest of the Business Rivers group at the weekend in Port Harcourt.
There are men of knowledge and skill. What President Ramos of the Philippines did was to assemble men of knowledge and top players in the private sector to seek solutions. China recognized the place of private effort.
Dubai and other cities are good examples of private effort. South Korea is now the 11 biggest economy in the world but they were once like West African countries. South Korean economy revolves around Samsong, Hundai and Daewoo.
The way forward is to recognize where we are as a state. We are number one in crude, and number one in gas reserve. The state is strategically located like Singapore is. We have two sea ports, two airports, the only state with a petrochemical company, two refineries, vibrant youth, 6th largest population.
But, where are we today in the scheme of things; We are number one in unemployment. By 2010, Rivers State unemployment rate was 27 per cent, now it is 41 per cent.
I am conscious of the fact that I will be sharing my thoughts with men of knowledge, men of skill and men that invested in private efforts. I am conscious of the fact that no society moves forward if it does not respect men of knowledge and men of skill.
So, sharing my thought about Rivers economy this evening, the only way we can agree on the way forward or to determine on the way forward is to recognise where we are. We are an endowed state; we are a major crude oil producing state, and so, if it is natural resource, we have no excuse not to be a prosperous state. We are Number One in gas reserve in the country and so, if it is natural resource, we have no reason not to be a prosperous state.
We are geo-strategically located. If you recall, the only resource Singapore has that makes it a prosperous nation is because of their geo-strategic location. They are the gateway to the South-East of Asia. Nothing else, they have no resource at all. Also, South Korea has not natural resource at all.
So, we are geo-strategically located; we are just one of the two states with two seaports, the Onne Sea Port and the Rivers Port Complex and we have many terminals that ships berth and leave the country. We are one of two states with two airports. We are the only state with a petrochemical plant. We are one of the few states with a fertilizer plant. We are the only state with two refineries. So, there is absolutely no excuse why we shouldn’t be prosperous.
We have a youthful population; we are the sixth most populous state in the country but we have more youthful population than any other state. There is absolutely no reason why we shouldn’t be prosperous. But where are we? It is only when we know where we are that we will know where we are headed. If we don’t know where we are, then, we won’t know where we are headed. We won’t know they way forward.
This is not an evening for history, because history will not help us. History only serves as a guide; history itself is not a roadmap. History is not a vision of where we want to be. So, where are we today? Incidentally, our story is well known.
The latest data released by the National Bureau of Statistics says we are Number One in unemployment and underemployment in the country. It is very easy to dismiss it as just numbers, but if you know what the unemployment/underemployment index represents, you will understand that it is not just numbers for numbers sake.
In 2010, our unemployment rate was 20 per, today, our unemployment rate is 41.82 per cent. We have made progress in unemployment and underemployment. What it means is that out of every 10 persons who live and work in Rivers State, four and a fraction are not employed or underemployed. That means, we have a huge unemployed population. That is an indicator.
In the Misery Index, we are 79.87 per cent and also Number One in the country. For a state that is so endowed, a state with smart people, yet, the chances are that seven out of every 10 persons feel miserable. It is not just assigned number; this is a product of scientific research by the National Bureau of Statistics. It is not a product of political calculation. It is a verified research by other international bodies.
Again, in the Poverty Index, we have taken over from Zamfara. Zamfara State used to have the highest number of poor persons. Today, Rivers State is obvious, if you look at the unemployment index and misery index, we have the highest number of persons who feel that they are poor and can’t meet up their basic needs.
That is where we are, these are some of the indicators of our economy. It is not just the Misery Index. In industrialization, I give you this; in 2010, the State Domestic Product (SDP) of Rivers State was $21Bn. In the same 2010, the SDP of Lagos State was $31Bn. But, what is the story today? Today, the SDP of Lagos after seven years is $91Bn. What that means is that the volume of products and services has grown three times in a period of seven years. The estimated SDP of Rivers State today is $22Bn. So, over the same period of seven years, our SDP has grown by $1Bn while that of Lagos has grown three times.
So, what it means is that the SDP difference between us and Lagos by the day is widening geometrically. What went wrong? When did we get it wrong? This is where we are; these are the indicators of the state of our economy. When you say people are leaving Port Harcourt in droves, the indicators are these indices that I have given you. When you say businesses are not thriving, these are the indicators.
What went wrong? Only one thing went wrong. What went wrong are the choices we have made. The economy is a function of policies; policy is a function of politics. Politics determines the kind of leaders that we have. The same way the human body cannot function without the brain, the policy, a state, or a sub-national cannot function without leaders. Leaders make decisions that affect outcomes. If we make a set of decisions, it will give us a set of outcomes. If we make different decisions, it will give us different outcome. Whenever choices we make, influences the actions we get. It is not a factor of luck; it is not a factor of us believing that we have been predestined for poverty. We are not predestined for poverty, we have made wrong choices.
We either engage the government or we change the government.