Although the State of New Jersey is highly regarded a bedroom community (where residents sleep and work elsewhere) for New York and Philadelphia, it has established itself as a very successful state in the United States of America. It is the 11th most populous state, second richest in terms of median household income, and seventh highest in GDP ranking with GDP of approximately $500bn. According to Wikipaedia, New Jersey’s economy is centred on the pharmaceutical industry, the financial industry, chemical development, telecommunications, food processing, electric equipment, printing and publishing, and tourism. The state is home to major pharmaceutical companies such as Johnson and Johnson, Sanofi-Aventis, Novartis, Pfizer, Merck, Hoffman-LaRoche, and Bristol-Myers Squibb. In telecoms, New Jersey is home to major firms such as Verizon Wireless, Avaya, Alcatel-Lucent, and AT&T Communications. New Jersey draws upon its large and well-educated labour pool to support the vast industries in the state. New Jersey’s agricultural outputs are nursery stock, horses, vegetables, fruits and nuts, seafood, and dairy products. It ranks second among states in blueberry production, third in cranberries and spinach, and fourth in bell peppers, peaches, and head lettuce. New Jersey harvests the fourth-largest number of acres planted with asparagus.
However, there is a very strong service economy in New Jersey serving residents who work in New York City or Philadelphia. Some of these industries include retail sales, education and real estate. New Jersey’s location as a crossroad of commerce and its extensive transport system have put over one third of all US residents and many Canadian residents within overnight distance by land. This accessibility to consumer revenue has enabled seaside resorts to contribute significantly to New Jersey’s record tourism revenue in the last few years.
Did you see similarities between Ogun State and New Jersey? Absolutely! Ogun State is the ultimate bedroom community in Nigeria, serving the commercial nerve centre of the country – Lagos. According to 2007 GDP estimates by Wikipaedia, Ogun State is ninth in Nigeria in terms of GDP ranking, with approximately $10.5bn GDP. And the state population based on the 2006 census, is about 3.75m and 16th among the 36 states in Nigeria. It also has the highest number of post-secondary institutions in Nigeria, and is reputed to have produced arguably the brightest Nigerians over the last century. Ogun State has the highest number of Fast Moving Consumer Goods companies in Nigeria. Agbara Industrial Estate in Ogun State is in fact the largest single industrial estate in Nigeria that houses plants that are among the biggest in the world. Cumulative cement production in Ogun State is among the largest in Africa by a state (or equivalent). Though there are no publicly available GDP figures for Nigerian states since 2007, it is safe to assume that Ogun State may have slightly moved up the ladder in recent years. But the state should actually consistently be among the top four or five states in Nigeria in terms of GDP and economic growth.
My strong opinion, however, is that the most important and primary infrastructure that Ogun State should have focused on in the past 10 years are inter-state transport and local housing, followed by improved basic needs such as security, health care, power, water, and education. Let us forget about becoming another Lagos. I am sorry it will not happen. We cannot also create a huge port, telecom or electric equipment hub like New Jersey. But we can massively enhance our status as the ultimate FMCG, cement, bedroom community, and education hub in Nigeria. By doing this, we can consistently grow our GDP by double-digit every year. How do we achieve this? The Ogun State Government needs to be a lot more aggressive about inter-state transport than intra-state or intra-city transport. New Jersey has arguably the largest inter-state transport focus or investment in the US. Ogun State market is not within the state, it is outside the state. I understand that political diversity between the Federal Government and state governments makes it sometimes difficult for states to do much about inter-state transport infrastructure. But Ogun State should be an exception, as it is of huge economic importance to us. Whenever people talk about inter-state transport between Ogun and Lagos states, the most common “story” relates to the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway and Ogun State continually says that the Federal Government has not allowed it to play a part. But is this the only route from Ogun State to Lagos? Is the old road (Ita-Osin to Iyana-Ipaja) the best possible only alternative? What have we done about rail? What have we done to collaborate with Lagos on Agbara to Lagos transport? Have we considered other routes from Ogun State to Lagos to improve transport? What have we done to improve the Abeokuta to Ibadan route via Asero/Obantoko?
Ogun State should be making a lot of noise and putting enormous pressure on the Federal Government that it wants to handle the rail service between Abeokuta and Lagos. After a lot of pressure, Lagos eventually got its request from the Federal Government to allow the state use the federal-owned rails for its light rail system, via an agreed business model. This should have been a similar top priority for Ogun State in the last 10 years. We should be the ones running the Abeokuta to Lagos rail service, and a section of the Abeokuta to north service. We should push to use federal-owned rails, and provide the fast trains and business model to make them work. If there is guaranteed 45-minute journey from Lagos to Abeokuta via train, supply-chain management of goods from Abeokuta and its environs to Lagos will enormously improve. And when goods get to Lagos and other markets faster, prices will reduce, demand for our goods will increase, production will grow and our economy will be boosted. Also, when there is guaranteed shorter journeys from Lagos to Ogun State, more people will want to reside in Ogun State. New residents will contribute to demand increase for services and products, and consequently enhance production volume, employment and growth. And if we diligently pursue HR and Account officials in the Lagos work places of these new residents to remit their PAYE taxes to Ogun State, the state tax income will increase and our economy will grow.
As we begin to fix inter-state transport infrastructure, the state must get involved in massive housing projects with private investors. When inter-state transport improves and more people are attracted to reside in the state, there will be a greater need for different types of accommodation, and a favourable government policy on housing and real estate development will enhance this. New Jersey deliberately encouraged massive housing infrastructure in order to persuade people to reside in the state. This will improve real estate in Ogun State, and create a significant positive effect on our GDP. Finally, we must also create big values for people to stay and keep their families in the state by improving security, health care, power, water, and education. While I grew up in Abeokuta in the 90’s, we had several friends that came from Lagos to pursue secondary school education because the Lagos public schools were not as good. Today, Ogun State public schools have become like the old Lagos public schools. Water used to be great in Ogun State, but today, private borehole is the standard, like Lagos. As per power and health care, nobody will leave Lagos for Ogun State when you consider the current power and health care infrastructure in the latter. Higher education is perhaps the only very significant value that Ogun State continues to offer its residents, but we have to do much more than this, in order to improve our economy.
Nonetheless, I commend the current Ogun State Government for focusing a lot on intra-city road infrastructure and security as these are indeed creating employment and significant values for development. But I use this medium to encourage it to refocus its energy in the coming years on inter-state transport infrastructure, housing, and the other basic extra values that I described above. The state must continually remember that its biggest market is not within the state, but in Lagos and other parts of Nigeria. Transporting our products quickly out of the state and encouraging more people to live amongst us are therefore our topmost economic priorities.