Like goldfish that has no hiding place, Sally Mbanefo has recently been endowed with a new portfolio as the Commissioner of Mineral Resources, Tertiary Education, Science and Technology in Anambra State. She was the immediate past Anambra State Commissioner for Diaspora Affairs, Indigenous Artworks, Culture and Tourism. She had been at the federal level as the Director-General of the Nigerian Tourism Development Corporation (NTDC). She recently spoke with me in her new office in Awka, Anambra State.
Honourable Commissioner, what was it like superintending the Ministry of Diaspora Affairs, Indigenous Artworks Culture and Tourism?
The different departments of the ministry had their functions. The Tourism Department, for instance, has the responsibility of handling all tourism activities for the state. The Diaspora Affairs Department was birthed with a view to bridging the gap that existed in information and communication between the Anambra State Government and Ndi-Anambra resident abroad and within other states of Nigeria. The Hotel and Hospitality Department took up the responsibility of overseeing and harnessing the potentials in the hotel and hospitality sector of the state for optimal performance. The Department of Art and Culture was promoting, preserving and developing the state cultural heritage which include: Our Roped Vase bronze works, Igbo language, artworks and artifacts, customs, folk songs, festivals and tradition.
What were the achievements of the Ministry under your tenure as Commissioner?
It is not in my character to blow my own trumpet, but any keen observer will see our works such as the renovation of the road leading to the Owerre-Ezukala Cave and Waterfall; construction of structures/building at the site; construction of prototype structures/buildings to provide conveniences and changing room for tourists at Ogbunike cave etc. We initiated the creation of Anambra Diaspora portal used by the ministry in keeping the database of Ndi-Anambra in the Diaspora. We ensured the transformation of the ministry into a walk-in gallery. We undertook the creation of the Hotel and Hospitality Department to harness the potentials in the hotel and hospitality sector of the state for optimal performance. Then there was the E-Registration of Hotels in collaboration with VIKO Nigeria to ensure that all the hotels in the state are enumerated in the Ministry’s database.
How best do you think government can quicken the development of tourism sector in the state?
The primary role of government in promoting tourism development is to provide basic social and economic infrastructure. The government should also promulgate policies that provide the enabling environment for the tourism sector to thrive.
How has tourism fared in Anambra State under your watch?
Tourism has been one of the cornerstone ministries in this administration – all thanks to the Governor, Chief Willie Obiano, for providing the needed support to help maximize the state’s tourism potentials. Under his Excellency’s administration, a lot of transformation has taken place in the tourism sector with the attendant increase in traffic to tourist sites.
With the transformation of tourism in the state, what is the impact on the state Economy in general?
The homecoming festival that we created to usher in Christmas festivities is another initiative by the ministry which generates revenue for the state government and the citizens who render different goods and services during the duration of the event. Visitation to the various tourist sites by both Ndi-Anambra and people from different parts of the world provides revenue to the state treasury.
With respect to tourism, partnership with the private sector thrives in the world’s biggest tourist destinations. What has the state done in terms of partnering with the private sector to improve tourism in the state?
The ministry, in collaboration with VIKO Nigeria Limited, whom I had worked with at the federal level, where at his own expense he provided all the Tourism Information desks we deployed at the major airports in Nigeria. When I found out he is from Anambra I invited him to help boost tourism in Anambra using technology. He helped us deploy VIKO’s consolidated alliance digital hospitality, travel and tourism infrastructure for facilitation of electronic circulation of travel and hospitality booking of facilities in Anambra State. And he helped us launch Smartjobs software to create jobs in tourism. The state also partnered with Stanel World during its Homecoming festival with the Christmas festivities in events like musical concerts, street cultural carnivals and Christmas Carols. We also partnered with INNOSON Group to provide shuttle Vehicles to all the hotels at a discounted rate.
What are the measures taken by the state government to sustain its tourism drive?
Since the inception of the Willie Maduburochukwu Obiano administration, the state government made security its number one priority because tourism cannot thrive in a place where there is insecurity. The State government donated major security equipments, vehicles and gadgets to the police and the state vigilante service to enable them maintain law and order in the state. The state is adjudged as the safest in the country. The state government in 2018 & 2019 also renovated and constructed access roads leading to various tourist sites in the state for easy navigation of tourists to and from the tourist sites.
What are the challenges faced by the tourism sector in the state?
There is the eminent lack of interest by financial institutions to lend capital to tourism investors. This is a significant challenge confronting tourism in the state, and lack of collaboration with the private sector.
You were recently redeployed to the Ministry of Mineral Resources, Tertiary Education, Science & Technology. With what you met on the ground, what is the way forward?
My new Ministry covers Oil & Gas, Solid Minerals which also includes scrap metal and glass sand excavation. We are also in charge of Tertiary Education, Science & Technology. We also handle hydro-meteorological services, you know, the weather forecast. Our Ministry is erecting a Kaolin factory for Kaolin processing at Ukpor, Nnewi South LGA, in collaboration with the Federal Government that has already supplied Kaolin processing machines as we speak. The federal reps in the state are very proactive and guiding us on the right path. We also developed the Anambra State Government website (www.anambrastate.gov.ng) to serve as a portal where citizens can learn about government history as well activities and developmental strides of the government. Added to this, there has been the creation of the ICT Department and the set-up of an ICT Laboratory. We have a whole floor devoted to that in the ministry. We are planning an expansion with the federal reps in Anambra. The administration created an ICT department in the Ministry because our governor is IT savvy. The department was recently upgraded to an Agency to fast-track the deployment of ICT across the state. Recently, Anambra State won the First runner-up award in e-Government implementation in the nation, at the National Council on Communication Technology (NCCT) in Katsina State. We also won second runner-up in ICT human capital development. We also recently won second runner-up in ICT infrastructure development.
The youths are the future. What has the ministry done in terms of youth empowerment?
A nation that invests in youth invests in its future. So in this regard this Ministry trained 500 unemployed youths selected across the 21 LGAs of the State on acquisition of 14 different skills at Technology Incubation Centre, Nnewi. This is geared towards making them self-employed. Also, when I was in charge of the Tourism Ministry I introduced the smart jobs project for the youth which was created by Viko Nigeria, and we incubated it in the youth ministry where all the training was done to empower 5000 youths. They were taught to have access to an e-business portal for booking of hotels, transport and flights to Anambra for tourism. The youth ministry worked very hard with the transport ministry to make this a reality for the state. Our governor is very youth friendly, and very young at heart.
Oil has been discovered in the state. Tell us about it. I know you also have an oil and gas background.
Yes, we do have oil in commercial quantities and the best crude quality you can imagine. We also have Gas in an incredible commercial quantity. The truth is that the federal government will soon embark on a Gas Revolution to drive increase in usage of gas in the country. Anambra state government has strategically poised itself to key into this initiative to improve the state revenue since Anambra Basin is very rich in gas. Our Ministry in collaboration with the Oil and Gas Committee, and with the strong support of His Excellency has provided an enabling environment to ensure that Anambra is recognized as an oil producing State. We are now looking forward to the federal government officially recognizing Anambra and declaring it an oil producing state, especially now that we are very rich in Gas, and Gas is the future!
What step has the state government taken to explore and exploit the state’s solid mineral deposits since you are also in charge of that?
The State Government through this Ministry engaged the services of a consultant, Prof C. O. Ofoegbu, to help develop the solid minerals sector of the state. In this regard, the state has undertaken steps like Characterization of Anambra Bentonite for exploration as industrial raw material and Characterization of Glass Sand deposits for prospective investments in Anambra State. In addition, we have very rich Kaolin deposits in commercial quantities, giving us options of Ceramic/tile factory, burnt brick factory. Our ministry also monitors scrap metal collections, and this has given us an opportunity to build steel rolling mill. Our focus, as His Excellency keeps saying must be on maximizing IGR. In Anambra, the sky is the stepping stone. The federal rep in the Raw Materials Research and Development Council, Mr. Dara Chijioke Okechukwu, has been quite resourceful.
Would you say that women have a fair representation in Governor Obiano’s administration?
HE Governor Willie Obiano is a strong advocate of gender equality, and his appointment of women as commissioners, heads of agencies (DGs) and other leadership positions is a testament to this fact. Not forgetting her Excellency Ebelechukwu Obiano, the loving mother of all Anambra women, who advocates for women’s rights and welfare through her Caring Family Enhancement Initiative (CAFÉ) program. Her Excellency is also very gender supportive.
Going forward, what is the ministry’s expectation for tertiary institutions in the State?
We are aggressively working on plans to make tertiary institutions in the state self-sufficient. That way, they will no longer depend on government funding. This includes engaging in agriculture and its numerous value chains. We recently launched an IGR campaign for ANSPOLY. In addition, our tertiary education students have excelled by winning several international awards. In 2020, a group of Engineering Students from Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu University recently came second in the whole of Africa at a virtual competition in the United Kingdom for inventing Racing cars. So many awards in ICT and science and tech have also been won by our Tertiary institutions at the federal level.
You also double as the Chairman, State Gaming Board. What has been your achievement so far since you took over?
Before I became the chairman of the Gaming Board, the revenue that was remitted to the government account was only N10m (Ten Million Naira per annum) and in almost one year, since I took over as chairman of the Gaming Board, the revenue generated has skyrocketed to over N480m (Four Hundred and Eighty Million Naira) in spite of the Covid challenge when Gaming was slow. This achievement could not have happened without the collaboration of the AIRS, and an incredibly hardworking Managing Director who has moved at my every call for improved revenue at such a fast pace.
You are currently on the board of ASBA (Anambra State Small Business Agency), and ANSIPPA. How has the journey been so far?
ASBA was established on December 8, 2014 by H.E Governor Obiano to facilitate easier access to resources required by entrepreneurs and investors in MSME to achieve sustainable development in the state. ASBA secured N2bn loan from CBN which was used to empower entrepreneurs, thereby creating over 25,000 jobs. We developed a shoe industrial cluster at Ogbunike from where shoes are exported to countries like Cameroun, Ghana, Chad, and Mali. This culminated in the state winning the best supporting state award for micro, small & medium enterprises in Nigeria from the Presidency in August 2019. The MD of Anambra state small business Agency is an erudite banker with incredible capacity for hard work and delivering effective results. He made sure we repaid every penny borrowed whilst empowering the community effectively. ANSIPPA is an ingenious invention of His Excellency. It is the state’s agency in charge of Investment Promotion and Protection where you don’t conclude an investment – once an MOU is signed and the project commences, it is ongoing and we make between five percent and 15 percent in IGR as the State’s equity in the investment. And yes, I am on the board as an ex-banker. ANSIPPA is in the forefront of delivering HE’s Legacy Projects, notably: Anambra International Cargo Airport at Umueri, Agulu Lake Hotel expansion, Onitsha Hotel, Awka Shopping Mall, Awka Millennium City, Nnewi Shopping Mall, Century 50MW Power Plant, and Lynden Farms Phase II Expansion etc.
How do you relax after all these tasking duties in Anambra?
Anambra is a quaint metropolis, green, peaceful and endowed with amazing intellectual capital. I am in the most sophisticated EXCO I have ever been in. Most of the Commissioners and Special Advisers have come from the Diaspora to retire at home. His Excellency’s passion for the Diaspora was exhibited by his appointments because he called these last four years the legacy years where we must leave with A BANG EFFECT! The other commissioners who are not from the Diaspora are ex-bankers like me and the rest are well-grounded indigenous professionals who have made a sterling mark in their various fields. Many times in EXCO I learn so much by listening from the unlimited horizon of knowledge and experience. So, we are very occupied with the affairs of the state. However, I do make out time to practice and sing in the choir of St Thomas Aquinas Parish, Awka, and to keep out of trouble, I also engage myself by reading at the altar as a lector in two churches, St Edwards Amawbia and St Thomas Aquinas Parish GRA. I am also a prayer coach for fellowships in Lagos, Abuja and Anambra and I mentor the youth. Because of the safety in the state, I do go for long walks in the evenings in Awka while I pray my rosary for peace of mind.
As a woman, how would you describe Her Excellency?
She is not just beautiful and elegant; she is highly cerebral, having come from an Oil and Gas professional background. She is a loving mother to all female commissioners and surely knows the way to her husband’s heart, because he appreciates and respects her a lot, and that has been the secret of his success.