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, Culture, Indigenous Artworks and Tourism. She had been at the federal level as the Director-General of the Nigerian Tourism Development Corporation. She recently spoke with me in her new office in Awka, Anambra State.
Honourable Commissioner, you used to operate at the federal level but now you are in Anambra State. What was it like superintending the Ministry of Diaspora Affairs, Culture, Indigenous Artworks and Tourism in Anambra State?
The different departments of the ministry had their challenges, 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 bridge 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. The department has since 2014 participated in Akwaaba Annual Travel Markets Exhibition. We initiated the creation of Anambra Diaspora portal used by the ministry in keeping the database of Ndi-Anambra in 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 have worked with at the federal level, deployed 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.The state also partnered with Stanel World during 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 makes a place a tourist attraction?
A tourist site is a place that holds a natural or cultural significance and offers aesthetics, leisure and amusement.
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 and Tertiary Education. With what you met on the ground, what is the way forward?
My new Ministry covers Oil & Gas, Solid Minerals which also includes sand, scrap metal and glass sand excavation, Tertiary Education, Science & Technology, we also handle hydro meteorological services, and you know the weather forecast. Our Ministry is erecting a Kaolin factory for Kaolin processing at Ukpor in collaboration with the Federal Government whom has already supplied Kaolin processing machines. We also developed Anambra State Government website (www.anambrastate.gov.ng) to serve as a landing place 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 ICT Department and the set-up of an ICT Laboratory: 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. In 2017 Anambra State won the First runner-up award in e-Government implementation in the nation, at the National Council on Communication Technology (NCCT) Meeting held in Katsina State.
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 the Ministry trained five hundred 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 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 t empower youth to have access to an e business portal for booking of hotels , transport and flights to Anambra. The youth ministry worked very hard with the transport ministry to make this a reality for the state; again HE trained over 2000 youth last year when I was in diaspora ministry. He is youth friendly
Recently oil was discovered in the state. What steps have the state taken to be recognized as an oil producing state?
Our Ministry through the Oil and Gas Committee tried to resolve the land dispute between Aguleri and Ibaji communities to provide an enabling environment for Orient Petroleum to develop the sector thereby making Anambra an oil producing State. Our next step is to apply to the federal govt to recognize Anambra and declare it 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?
The State Government through this Ministry engaged the services of a consultant, Prof C. O. Ofoegbu, to help develop the solid mineral 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, I mentioned earlier that we are fine tuning our Kaolin / Ceramic factory, as our Kaolin is in highly commercial quantities
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 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 additions our tertiary education students have excelled by winning several international awards. In 2020 A group of Engineering Students from Chukwuemeka Odumegwu University recently came second in the whole of Africa at a competition for inventing Racing cars in United Kingdom.
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 hard working 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). 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 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 results. He made sure we repaid every penny borrowed whilst empowering the community effectively
How do you relax after all these tasking duties?
I make out time to sing in the choir of St Thomas Aquinas Parish, Awka, and to keep out of trouble. I also read at the altar as a lector in two churches, St Edwards, Amawbia, and Thomas Aquinas Parish, Awka. I lead fellowships and mentor the youth. I also like to go for long walks in the green park of Awka.
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 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.