Mr Oke Godwin Olaoluwa is an Economist and a doctorate student in University of Lagos (UNILAG). He is a co-founder of Advocate for Community Economic Development, a body that partnered with the Ikorodu-Oga Development Association (IKODASS), to organise the first Ikorodu Economic Summit (IES). He spoke with the Publisher/Reporter-in-Chief of THE IMPACT Newspaper, Kunle ADELABU, at the media house office in Ikorodu on his model for economic development in the community, formation of his advocacy group, Ikorodu Economic Summit and areas of focus for the Ikorodu division economic development. Excerpts:
IMPACT: Who is Oke Godwin?
Oke: I am Oke Godwin Olaoluwa, a vibrant youth. I’m in my late 30s and I’m passionate about adding positive value to my environment. I believe this is key to every person as we all have a duty to add value to our society. We all complain about unstable electricity, about the situation of the country, we complain about every other things but the fact is the solution lies in everybody’s hands. The government has its role to play, every citizen also has his/her role to play. Before coming up with criticism, I think we citizens should always ask ourselves one question that what role I have played?. If I’m in that position, what thing will I do differently? It is not enough to sit down within our conferment and keep complaining about everything and derogating everything. This is our society and if we play our roles in developing it, no matter how tough that role is, it will definitely rub off on the larger society. So, I’m an advocate for solving the problem of poverty using a market based approach.
IMPACT: What is the market based approach to solving problems?
Oke: Market based approach to solving poverty is what I called empowerment. When I talk about empowerment, it is not what you hear around like poverty alleviation programme or where our politicians just distribute pencils and biros, distribute work without first of all giving the people the necessary training on how to use that skill or probably training them to be able to use that idea. I believe the solution to poverty is economic empowerment which is about making someone useful to himself/herself. The Government cannot provide all the jobs for everybody, they don’t have that capacity and the private sector also cannot provide jobs for everybody. But among us, we can provide jobs for ourselves and develop a community. We must try and invest in all individuals which is very important, but how do we do this? We have a very great population in Ikorodu division but accessibility of inner communities is always difficult for people, we can come in and solve that problem by providing means of transportation, we don’t have to be an investor in it.
Oke: We don’t have to be an investor directly, we could invest in people, we could provide mini vans for them, provide keke NAPEP for them to ensure people get to their destinations. Providing the mini-van for the people doesn’t mean you’re dashing them, you are giving them to repay you , but at a very low rate, it could be at the cost of the van or probably at a minimum charges not compared to the normal purchase.
IMPACT: Recently, Hon. S.O.B Agunbiade did something like that… (cuts in)
Oke: That’s a very good initiative. In fact, it is laudable. Imagine if we have ten people like that giving ten buses each, that is about 100 buses, the population of this division is over two million, this buses will be plying roads across this division. The advantage of it is that it will provide a better alternative to riding on a motorcycle which is hazardous to us.So, when people have alternative to that, I think it will save them from such hazard. It will also help the government in saving resources used in providing care for people with broken legs, broken ankles, and mostly, it will also save lives. It will also avail the beneficiaries the means to feed their families and to also employ people.There is a particular area in Luciana in U.S.A, activities within that economy stays in that economy. If you own a factory in that economy, the first thing to consider in the is the residents. You will consider them in employment and if you are selling a product, before you think of selling, you must consider them for employment first, by that, you are multiplying economy activities within that economy. If Government can actually invest in that sector, there’s possibility that economy activities in that economy will transcend that particular area to the larger community.
IMPACT: Do you see economy and invariably unemployment as a national malaise and not a challenge any community could solve. For instance, in Ikorodu during the good old days, virtually every family has one or two persons employed by Nichemtex but today, the company is a shadow of itself. Likewise Ragolis, Spintex etc?
Oke: The issue is that every business environment has its own challenge and definitely, we all have our own challenge too. There are businesses established after the establishment of these companies which are still existing. The issue is the business method being used. Yes, we have our problem but the question is can we live with those problem and just fold our hands? Although, government has its own share of the blame on why our national economy is collapsing but what about the management of these companies? Did they do what they were supposed to do? Don’t also forget that in these sectors, there are still other businesses that are thriving. At a point in the textile industry, almost all the companies were closing down but I think since the inception of this current administration, there has been support for textile industry and people now buy made in Nigeria products.
IMPACT: Let us look at your model, the market based approach; was that what informed the Ikorodu Economic Submit?
Oke: Actually, as an Economist, I noticed Government rolls out lots of statistics on regular basis and when you look at the model with which they get these statistics, you find out that what they do is just random sampling. They don’t really go to every community to collect data, they only do random sample and use that to generalize. The government and other agencies collecting data will have to go to every community in order to have reliable information if we truly want to solve our problems. But the question is, ‘Can the government alone do that? Yes, they can with the help of private citizens. The people in Government needs the help of private sector to tackle our economic problems. China understood this and started their process of empowering their citizens through agriculture and industries; India also understood this too. India also faced the same problem relative to Nigeria situation.
IMPACT: Is it in terms of population, multi-culture or what?
Oke: Yes. India is about 10 times our population but they invest in their people. Poverty to me is lack of food and most importantly, lack of idea. The only solution to poverty is working with your hands, mind and your brain. If we want to solve this problem of poverty, everybody, particularly the privilege individuals, must start investing in the people and when this is done, you would be surprised that you will be making profit while also developing the economy.
IMPACT: What areas of the Ikorodu division economy will you recommend for leaders and investors to invest in?
Oke: There are so many areas considering what were discussed at the last Economic Summit. I think the first and most important of them is agriculture, especially livestock farming. From the last statistics, the contribution of livestock businesses to our economy is about one trillion, that is less than ten per cent which is about 1.5% total GDP.This is still very low. We all consume porks, turkey, chicken, etc, daily. It is an avenue we can look into. Ikorodu, as a fast-growing economy, can thrive in fishery, rearing of turkey, chicken etc. Since Ikorodu is accommodating many people on daily basis, we can also invest in trading since we have textile, steel and other industries around us. There is also an important area I want us to look into which is Information Technology (IT) which has the capacity to directly empower thousands of people at a time. The software sector is fast growing because there is always demand for it but which Nigeria has not been able to meet up with. It is a knowledge-based initiative and anybody going into it is usually a smart person.
IMPACT: In the area of IT, what role would you envisage for the Lagos State Polytechnic (LASPOTECH), which is an Ikorodu-based institution. Being a technological institution, what role should the institution be playing in making Ikorodu community IT hub?
Oke: LASPOTECH as an institution can set up a technology hub where people can come for training and software development since they have the skills and the man power. They can run short programmes and can also get people to sponsor these programmes. They need to make use of their knowledge to connect to the economy.
IMPACT: What is your organization, Advocate for Community Economic Development, is all about?
Oke: It all started during a discussion with a friend on how business can be developed in Ikorodu to create employment and impact on the division. If companies in Ikorodu can make it a point of duty to first consider people in Ikorodu for employment before bringing in people from outside, you can imagine how many people will be gainfully employed every year. Also, what do you think will be the benefits if the factories/companies also consider there distributors in Ikorodu first in getting there products for distribution or circulation? Imagine an investment in transportation in Ikorodu to ply roads in inner communities, thereby taking people from every part of the division to their door steps. One of our discussions bothered on the fact that we can achieve economic success in Ikorodu division by making economic activities remain within the division while just a little part of it goes out in order to create employment. Group of young men can even come together to start a business and seek support from a Micro-Finance bank. I did a study on what the micro finance banks are making from there cluster businesses, for instance, organizing cooperatives and lending. The fact is that these businesses are actually growing and this is what I call market within an economy. When we create a market within an economy of a community, we are tackling poverty and solving many problems. If we do this, we are also encouraging philanthropists and investors to see areas they can invest in our communities because we have been able to develop different markets. We even decided that we need to start doing something about some of these issues discussed as it would not be enough to just be talking about them. I had the discussion with Bashir Oluwakemi Hassan who is a goal-getter and thinker. It was after considering all these and many more that we decided to start with Ikorodu Economic Summit, a means through which we believe we can get many to know about these potentials in Ikorodu economy. The idea was sold to well meaning individuals who bought into it and that was how we were able to organize the summit.
IMPACT: Today, Ikorodu Economic Summit is no more an idea as it has now has a life of its own due to the success of the summit. What are the organizers doing to implement the resolutions from the Summit in order to prevent it from turning into another talk show?
Oke: We have drafted the communiqué which has been sent to every quarter and those that matter including the Governor. An implementation committee would be set up very soon. The Chairman of Ikorodu-Oga Development Association (IKODASS) is looking into that. We have also commenced talking to people from outside to on how we can attract investment into Ikorodu. Hopefully, a one-stop business where you can get every information needed would be berthed in Ikorodu. Of course, we are not expecting the outcomes from the summit to solve our economic problems at once but a revolution involving everybody has started.
IMPACT: How are you ensuring that the common men on the streets of Ikorodu buy into the implementations of the communiqué since it is meant for them?
Oke: Very soon, we are going to embark on various campaigns. We have divided the achievements of the summit resolutions into short, medium and long terms. Once we are through analyzing the short term implementation, we are going to involve every stakeholder in the campaign.
IMPACT: Mr Godwin Olaoluwa, thank you for sparing part of your time to speak with us. We hope to have you around again.
Oke: Thank you.