Lockdown causes hunger epidemic in Nigeria

Nkiru James, a 45-year-old housewife and businesswoman, had managed her beauty salon for eight years when the Covid-19 outbreak happened.

For the first time in eight years, her salon was locked for more than two months because of the lockdown.

According to James, her earnings pay for the food for her family of six, while her husband’s monthly salary settles utility bills and house rent.

Unfortunately, her husband’s monthly salary has also been slashed due to the impact of the pandemic.

After one week of lockdown, her family could barely eat as the little money she saved before the lockdown didn’t last long.

The family waited, believing that there would be support on the way from the government or NGOs, but all was in vain.

She said: ‘We were hoping that before we finished the food we stored in the house, the government intervention would have reached us.’

It never came.

Fortunately for the hairstylist, a friend introduced her to a new line of business of buying and selling perishable foodstuff daily.

‘My friend took me to the market, where vegetables are sold in bulk, and gave me a small space to display the perishable food I bought, so I can make sales and refund part of her money.

‘If we were waiting for government, we would starve to death with our children,’ she said.

‘It is a stressful routine for me and there is still no real financial gain in it. The hair-making business was decent and less stressful.’

James’s experience of the lockdown period is nothing unusual, with most average families in Nigeria also being forced into hardship before, during and after the lockdown.

Patrick Dosu, 39, was already struggling to survive when the lockdown bit.

In January, Dosu, who drove tricycles for a living, suddenly found himself out of work.

The Lagos state government had just banned the use of tricycles and motorcycles in some major parts of the state, causing a sudden rise in unemployment.

About 14,000 motorcycle and 50,000 tricycle operators lost their jobs overnight, while the cost of public transport soared as companies took advantage of the sudden collapse in competition and raised prices.

Dosu, who has an Ordinary National Diploma (OND), had been struggling to find a new job when the Covid-19 outbreak further crippled his efforts.

He said: ‘I was stranded when the lockdown was announced.

There was no money to buy food for two days, let alone for a whole month.

He said the church, his friends and family members gave him money and food that stopped him and his wife and two children from starving.

But added: ‘Life is even more difficult for a common man like me after the lockdown.

‘Instead of looking for means to ease our suffering, the government has increased the electricity tariff and the fuel pump price as well.’

With a young population and high levels of poverty, the fear is that lockdown-induced poverty will kill far more people than Covid-19 ever could in Nigeria.

About 90 million people, or 46 per cent of the population, lived on less than $2 a day before the pandemic.

Unemployment was also rising before the coronavirus outbreak, and the situation has further deteriorated with the pandemic.

Nigeria’s unemployment rate came in at 27.1 per cent in the second quarter of 2020, the highest on record.

It was the first time since 2018 that Nigeria’s National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) published such figures. It compares to 23.1 per cent seen back in the third quarter of 2018.

According to World Food Programme (WFO), it has been necessary for many major governments to introduce incentives and economic relief programmes that not only provide a financial cushion for affected individuals, but also fight the broader economic disruption caused by the virus.

Such programmes are intended to help alleviate small-scale business stress and bolster economic growth.

Elizabeth Byrs, a WFP representative, said more than 3.8 million people, mainly working in the informal sector, already face losing their jobs amid rising hardship in Nigeria.

Meanwhile, analysts maintain that the support measures introduced so far have not made the desired difference in the lives of citizens.

‘The donations made by individuals, corporate organisation and developed countries are yet to be accounted for,’ said Azu Osumili, a radio journalist and political analyst.

As a means of mitigating the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, the federal government created a Special Public Work programme of 774,000 jobs for 1,000 youths in each of the 774 local government areas in the country.

According to Festus Keyamo, Minister of State for Labour and Employment, the jobs are expected to provide modest stipends for itinerant workers to undertake drainage digging and clearance, irrigation canals clearance, rural feeder road maintenance, traffic control and street cleaning.

One of the youths who is well informed about the proposed federal government job intervention, Israel Ukpong (not his real name), said he is still waiting for the commencement of the project as announced by the government.

Ukpong, who used to work in a factory in Ogun state, said he also lost his job when the foreign nationals who ran the company he worked for left Nigeria at the start of the pandemic.

He stated: ‘Even the money and food they promised didn’t get to me. As it is now, I have no stable source of income. I go about taking menial jobs. Riding okada (motorcycles) would have been good, but then okada have been banned.’

To worsen the situation, the federal government through the Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission, more than doubled the cost of electricity.

Different stakeholders and some former leaders have expressed disgust and resentment at what they described as the insensitive hike in electricity tariffs and fuel pump price, saying that the increments are ill-timed and disregards the challenges currently faced by Nigerians.


Nigeria Elections: Choice between competence and integrity

The forthcoming elections in Nigeria is a choice between the integrity of President Muhammadu Buhari and the competence of Atiku Abubakar, the leading contenders in the race. Moffat Ekoriko and Peterclaver Ebochue report

Bola Ahmed Tinubu, one of Nigeria’s most formidable politicians and the leader of the ruling All Progressives Congress set off the race to frame the issues in the country’s forthcoming elections. The country is going to the polls, in February and March, to elect the president, 32 state governors and federal and state legislators. In an allegory on the charcter of the two leading candidates, Tinubu said, “Leave a naira on the table with Buhari in the room, you will find the naira on the table when you return,” He was alluding to the famed integrity of President Muhammadu Buhai who is running for a second term in office, after his feat in defeating an incumbent Nigerian president in 2015. His main contender is Atiku Abubakar, Nigeria’s vice president for eight years (1999 – 2007) and a successful businessman who is running on the ticket of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). The party became Nigeria’s main opposition party after losing to Buhari’s APC at the last election.

An anonymous writer on social media latched on to Tinubu’s comment to crack a joke, albeit one which now clearly reframes the election. According to him, ‘If you leave Buhari with N1 in the room, he will pretend not to see it while his aides will steal the money. If you leave it with Tinubu, both the N1 and the table will disappear by the time you return. If you leave it with Atiku, he will multiply the money to N1,000, take 50 per cent and and leave 50 per cent on the table for you.’

In Tinubu’s eyes, Buhari’s integrity is unquestionable, much like that of a colonial banker. To the man who amplified his comment, Atiku’s integrity may be questionable but he has the competence to improve the situation. There is no point bringing Tinubu into the picture since he is not a candidate. The banter is an apt framing of the issues in the election. Nigerians are asked to chose between integrity (as in Buhari) and competence (as in Atiku). Interestingly, none of the top candidates is credited, even by their staunchest supporters, as having both attributes.

Those who have both, are campaigning on the fringes. They are Kingsley Moghalu of the Young Progressive Party (YPP), a an economist, journalist and former deputy governor of the central bank;   Oby Ezekwesili, former Vice President of World Bank, former Minister of education and Co-founder of ‘Bring Back Our Girls’, BBOG, Movement who is running on the platform of the Allied Congress Party of Nigeria (ACPN);  and Adesina Ayodele Fagbenro-Byron, a former governance adviser with the United Kingdom's Department for International Development, a lawyer and musician running on Kowa Party platform. As at the last count, the Indpendent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has registered 91 political parties though only 46 parties fielded candidates for the presidential race. Of this number, a handful of the parties are said to be serious while the rest are believed to have gone into the race just for the records or probably to test the ‘waters’. According to reports, most of the newly registered political parties do not have the grassroot support and structures across the 36 states of the country.

Part of the campaign strategy of the APC is to continue to paint PDP as the party of corruption. The party has not wasted time since it took over power in May 2015 to blame Nigeria’s woes, be it economic or security, on the corruption which it claims PDP foisted on the country. In fact, its campaigners in 2015 had asked Nigerians to vote in Buhari so that he ‘will kill corruption before corruption kills Nigeria’. More than three years on, the party is still anchoring its legitimacy in power on the anti corruption mantra.

APC is quick to reel out its achievements on the anti corruption front. The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, the government anti corruption agency, recovered N473.06 billion ($1.3 billion) as proceeds of corruption and other economic crimes in 2017, the last year for which data are available. Many Nigerians still believe that Buhari is the man to fight corruption, despite attempts by the opposition to puncture his integrity persona. The challenge the opposition faces is that despite being a public officer since the age of 19 (bar the 30 years he was out of power), Buhari has no oil bloc or business that can be traced to his name.

The opposition has moved to demystify the president’s persona. They have pointed out and correctly too, that the president is surrounded by known corrupt persons, and officials of his government caught with their hands in the oily Nigerian pot have been let off with slaps on the wrist. Immediately  he inaugurated his presidential campaign council, the PDP quickly asked him to send the list of members to the EFCC for vetting if he means business. The most damaging counter attack appears to be that of petroleum subsidy. When the president was campaigning for office in 2015, he accused his predecessor of fraud in subsiding 30 million litres of petrol a day when the assessed consumption was 20 million litres. Bukola Saraki, the president of Nigeria’s Senate and now the director general of Atiku’s campaign council says Buhari’s government is subsiding 50 million litres a day. Worse, the funds for the subsidy was never appropriated by the National Assembly. As at May, the government was spending $7 million daily to subsidise fuel imports. The Nigerian National Petroleum Company (NNPC), the state oil company, which is the sole importer of the product calls the subsidy ‘under recoveries’, the difference between the cost of the fuel it imports and the pump price of the product. The subsidy tells part of the story. For an oil producing country, Nigeria still runs a high fuel import bill, which was $2.7 billion by the first half of 2018.

The ruling APC has latched on to the perception of corruption against Abubakar. His former boss, Olusegun Obasanjo, who later endorsed his candidature had literally written off the candidate as a man unfit to hold public office. To Atiku’s handlers, the message has shifted to his competence and the promise to turn round an economy which has depreciated on all known indices. The attempt to play up the integrity plus competence reputation of his running mate, Peter Obi, an economist and businessman, has not gained traction. Reason: Buhari’s running mate, Yemi Osibanjo, a professor of law and the current vice president, is also perceived as honest and competent: rare attributes for  a Nigerian politician.

The opposition wants President Buhari to run on the basis of his performance in office, which has been rather poor. On security, the president has not delivered as promised. Boko Haram insurgents have become bolder in recent weeks taking over towns like Baga, close to the shores of Lake Chad. His biggest security challenge has been killer herdsmen, recognised globally as the world’s fourth deadliest terrorist group. The president has not been able to reign in the herdsmen, sparking accusations that at best, he is a passive supporter of their actions. Last year, the international Society for Civil Liberties and rule of Law, an NGO, counted 1,750 people, mainly Christians, killed by the herdsmen, in the first half of 2018. The group, said the death count from the activities of herdsmen and Boko Haram, from June 2015 when the government came into to power to mid 2018 stood at 8,800.

On the socio-economic index, Nigeria has overtaken India as the country with the highest number of poor people. Given that Nigeria’s population is one seventh of India’s, it is an appaling performance. The national currency has depreciated by 50 per cent and the country’s statistican says the number of unemployed Nigerians increased by 3.3 million to 20.9 million in the third quarter of 2018.

President Buhari has hit back with his government’s achievements. Top of the list is the transformation in agriculture, which has seen the country achieving near sufficieny in food production. Godwin Emefiele, the central bank governor says the country’s monthly food import bill has fallen from $665.4 million in January 2015, four months before the new government came into power, to $160.4 million by October last year. According to him, the cumulative savings over the period came to $21 billion. The government has also invested heavily on infrastructure, putting in a record $9 billion in the last two years.

With INEC, Nigeria’s electoral umpire scheduling the presidential election for the 16th of February, 2019, there are fears about the credibility of the exercise. PDP is worried that the security agencies will not be impartial in the policing of the elections. The heads, bar two,  of all security agencies in Nigeria are from the president’s inner circle. President Buhari succeeded in ignoring the spirit of federal character in the constitution to appoint security chiefs only from his part of the country. Uche Secondus, national chairman of PDP in reviewing the performance of the party in an election in Ekiti State last year said ‘they contested against APC and the security agencies’. NewsAfrica learnt the party still harbours that fear.

Few weeks ago, Amina Zakari, President Buhari’s niece by marriage was appointed the head of the collation centre at the electoral commission. This is being seen as part of the plot to rig the election in favour of the government. The attempt to remove the country’s highest judge, Walter Onnoghen, in breach of laid down constitutional rules is perceived as another. The government filed charges against the chief judge at the Code of Conduct Tribunal on January 11 with a summons to appear in court on Monday. The government is accusing the chief judge of failing to declare his assets in line with public service rules. To the shock of many, the government also filed a motion asking the chief judge to step down from office. Under Nigerian laws, any allegation against a judicial officer has to be reported to the National Judicial commission which is vested with the power of investigation and discipline of judges. This was not done in this case. In fact the timeline from the receipt of a petition against the chief judge to filing of charges was 48 hours, an unpredecented record in Nigeria’s law enforcement history. The move against the chief judge has attracted condemnation from politicians, civil society and lawyers.

President Buhari has also refused to sign the amended electoral bill which could have institutionalized the deployment of card reader technology. Proponents of the bill says it will check malpractices like bloated votes as the capturing of accredited voters will be transmitted in real time to a central computer. On his part, the president in refusing to sign the bill into law says it will create confusion, coming so close to the actual elections. He has, however, promised to deliver a credible and fair election.



‘Things can only get better’

As the state celebrates its golden jubilee, Governor Wike outlines his vision for a future that aims to consolidate the gains of the past and make up for lost opportunities

While unveiling the Golden Jubilee logo, Governor Nyesom Wike captured the essence of the Rivers at 50 celebrations, saying: “Over the past 50 years, we have travelled quite a marvellous journey. We have made significant progress, no doubt, but we have also made mistakes and lost valuable opportunities. However, this Golden Jubilee inspires a new direction to build a prosperous state we can all be proud of. This is the spirit of the new vision.”

As a state possessing the second largest economy in the country after Lagos and with plenty of prospects for further expansion, there was a great deal to not only celebrate but also to look forward to, he added.

One of the high points of the Rivers State Golden Jubilee Celebration has been the launch of the 50-year strategic economic and social development plan for the state that aims to consolidate the gains of the different programmes and projects implemented by successive administrations.

Its framework has been approved by the State Executive Council and a committee has been established to drive the process forward with a series of public meetings at which all stakeholders will have the opportunity to make a contribution. 

During his speech the governor also talked about the Golden Jubilee Projects his administration was planning. He said: “The state government is set to execute a number of landmark projects throughout the year to commemorate the Golden Jubilee, advance the promise of economic independence and improve access to public services as we set forth on new pathways to create an unimaginable future of peace, unity and prosperity for our state.”

The government has already commissioned a number of projects spread across the three senatorial districts of the state.

A mini-investment summit, titled Corporate Rivers, also forms part of the Rivers at 50 celebrations  and will bring together development and economic experts and other stakeholders under the umbrella of the New Rivers Vision Development Blueprint.

Meanwhile, Governor Wike is pressing ahead with the promise he made on his election two years ago of a new beginning for the state. Despite its oil and gas-based economy, the capital Port Harcourt and its environs have never enjoyed a functional public water supply. That is about to change with the conclusion of the preliminary process for the Port Harcourt Water Supply and Sanitation Project, a joint venture between the African Development Bank, the World Bank and the Rivers State government, which will construct a water supply network across the capital and the Obio and Akpor local government areas.  Since last year, project management consultants Rambol Environ of Denmark have been laying down the groundwork and training critical technical personnel.

The governor is also aware that the state’s development agencies need to be reinvigorated. They include the Rivers State Sustainable Development Agency, Rivers State Micro-finance Agency , Greater Port Harcourt City Development Authority, the Housing and Property Development Authority, and Rivers State Agricultural Development Programme. It is agreed that they all have to go beyond politics if they are able to cope with the challenges of the next 50 years, extending their frontiers to make way for new investment opportunities offered by international donor and development agencies.

Governor Wike added: “Even as we are all excited by this milestone, we must also not forget that the Golden Jubilee presents both opportunity and challenge; an opportunity to celebrate our proud heritage and the challenge to harness our vast resources to fully realise our potential to be the best in Nigeria and secure enduring progress and wellbeing for our people.”           


‘We are far greater together than apart’

Vice-President of Nigeria, Yemi Osinbajo, reflects that the legacy of the Biafran War should be the quest for the country’s lasting unity

I was 10-years-old when my friend in primary school, Emeka, left school for good one day. He said his parents said they had to go back to East, war was about to start. I never saw Emeka again. My Auntie Bunmi was married to a gentleman from Enugu and I recall the evening when my parents tried to persuade her and her husband not to leave for the East. She did and we never saw her again.

I recall distinctly how in 1967, passing in front of my home on Ikorodu road almost every hour were trucks carrying passengers and furniture in an endless stream heading east. Many Igbos who left various parts of Nigeria, left friends, families and businesses, schools and jobs. Like my friend and aunty some never returned. Many died.

The reasons for this tragic separation of brothers and sisters were deep and profound. So much has been said and written already about the whys and wherefores that analyses will probably never end.

This is why I would rather not spend this few minutes on whether there was or was not sufficient justification for secession and the war that followed. The issue is whether the terrible suffering, massive loss of lives, of hopes and fortunes of so many can ever be justified.

As we reflect on this event today, we must ask ourselves the same question that many who have fought or been victims in civil wars, wars between brothers and sisters ask in moments of reflection: What if we had spent all the resources, time and sacrifice we put into the war, into trying to forge unity? What if we had decided not to seek to avenge a wrong done to us? What if we had chosen to overcome evil with good?

The truth is that the spilling of blood in disputes is hardly ever worth the losses. Of the fallouts of bitter wars is the anger that can so easily be rekindled by those who for good or ill want to resuscitate the fire. Today some are suggesting that we must go back to the ethnic nationalities from which Nigeria was formed.

They say that secession is the answer to the charges of marginalisation. They argue that separation from the Nigerian state will ultimately result in successful smaller states. They argue eloquently, I might add, that Nigeria is a colonial contraption that cannot endure.

This is also the sum and substance of the agitation for Biafra. The campaign is often bitter and vitriolic, and has sometimes degenerated into fatal violence. Permit me to differ and to suggest that we’re greater together than apart.

No country is perfect; around the world we have seen and continue to see expressions of intra-national discontent. Indeed, not many Nigerians seem to know that the oft-quoted line about Nigeria being a “mere geographical expression” originally applied to Italy. It was the German statesman Klemens von Metternich who dismissively summed up Italy as a mere geographical expression exactly a century before Nigeria came into being as a country. From Spain to Belgium to the UK and even the US, you will find many today who will venture to make similar arguments about their countries. But they have remained together.

The truth is that many, if not most nations of the world, are made up of different peoples and cultures and beliefs and religions, who find themselves thrown together by circumstance. Nations are indeed made up of many nations. The most successful nations are those who do not fall into the lure of secession, but who through thick and thin forge unity in diversity.

Nigeria is no different; we are, not three, but more like 300 or so ethnic groups within the same geographical space, presented with a great opportunity to combine all our strengths into a nation that is truly more than the sum of its parts.

Let me say that there is a solid body of research that shows that groups that score high on diversity turn out to be more innovative than less diverse ones. There’s also research showing that companies that place a premium on creating diverse workplaces do better financially than those who do not. This applies to countries just as much as it does to companies. The US is a great example, bringing together an impressively diverse cast of people together to consistently accomplish world-conquering economic, military and scientific feats.

It is possible in Nigeria as well. Instead of trying to flee into the lazy comfort of homogeneity every time we’re faced with the frustrations of living together, the more beneficial way for us individually and collectively is actually to apply the effort and the patience to understand one another and to progressively aspire to create one nation bound in freedom, in peace and in unity.

That, in a sense, should be the Nigerian Dream – the enthusiasm to create a country that provides reasons for its citizens to believe in it, a country that does not discriminate or marginalise in any way. We are not there yet, but I believe we have a strong chance to advance in that direction. But that will not happen if we allow our frustrations and grievances to transmute into hatred. It will not happen if we see the media as platforms for the propagation of hateful and divisive rhetoric. No one stands to benefit from a stance like that; we will all emerge as losers.

Clearly our strength is in our diversity, that we are greater together than apart. Imagine for a moment that an enterprising young man from Aba had to apply for a visa to travel to Kano to pursue his entrepreneurial dreams, or that a young woman from Abeokuta had to fill immigration forms and await a verdict in order to attend her best friend’s wedding in Umuahia. Nigeria would be a much less colourful, much less interesting space, were that the case. Our frustrations with some who speak a different dialect or belong to a different religion must not drive us to forget many of the same tribe and faith of our adversaries who have shown true affection for us.

Let me make it clear that I fully believe that Nigerians should exercise to the fullest extent the right to discuss or debate the terms of our existence. Debate and disagreement are fundamental aspects of democracy. We recognise and acknowledge that necessity. And this event is along those lines – an opportunity not merely to commemorate the past, but also to dissect and debate it. Let’s ask ourselves tough questions about the path that has led us here, and how we might transform yesterday’s actions into tomorrow’s wisdom.

Indeed our argument is not and will never be that we should ‘forget the past’, or ‘let bygones be bygones’, as some have suggested. Chinua Achebe repeatedly reminded us of the Igbo saying that a man who cannot tell where the rain began to beat him cannot know where he dried his body. If we lose the past, we will inevitably lose the opportunity to make the best of the present and the future.

In an interview years ago, the late Dim Chukwuemeka Ojukwu, explaining why he didn’t think a second Biafran War should happen, said: “We should have learnt from that first one, otherwise the deaths would have been to no avail; it would all have been in vain.”

We should also be careful that we do not focus exclusively on the narratives of division, at the expense of the uplifting and inspiring ones. The same social media that has come under much censure for its propensity to propagate division, has also allowed multitudes of young Nigerians to see more of the sights and sounds of their country than ever before.

And for every young Nigerian who sees the internet as an avenue for spewing ethnic hatred, there is another young Nigerian who is falling in love or doing business across ethnic and cultural lines; a young Nigerian who looks back on his or her NYSC [National Youth Service Corps] year in unfamiliar territory as one of the valued highlights of their lifetime. These stories need to be told as well. They are the stories that remind us that the journey to nationhood is not an event but a process, filled as with life itself with experiences some bitter, some sweet. The most remarkable attribute of that process is that a succeeding generation does not need to bear the prejudices and failures of the past.

Every new generation can take a different and more ennobling route than its predecessors. But the greatest responsibility today lies on the leadership of our country.

The promise of our constitution which we have sworn to uphold is that we would ensure a secure, and safe environment for our people to live, and work in peace, that we would provide just and fair institutions of justice. That we would not permit or encourage discrimination on the grounds of race, gender, beliefs or other parochial considerations. That we would build a nation where no one is oppressed and none is left behind.

These are the standards to which we must hold our leadership. We must not permit our leaders the easy but dangerous rhetoric of blaming our social and economic conditions on our coming together. It is their duty to give us a vision a pathway to make our unity in diversity even more perfect.q

This is an edited version of the keynote address given by Yemi Osinbajo at the Yar’Adua Centre in Abuja in May on behalf of the Ford foundation and the Open Society initiative West Africa under the heading, ‘Memory and Nation Building - Biafra: 50 years after’ 


Indorama: a privatisation success story

Indorama Eleme Petrochemicals plant in Port Harcourt is a privatisation success story and boon to the economy

By 2005, the Eleme Petrochemicals plant in Port Harcourt owned by the state oil giant, Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), was almost acquiring the toga of a white elephant. The near moribund state of the plant was a disservice to its capability. Built by a consortium of some of the world’s best contractors from Japan, Italy and France, at enormous foreign exchange cost, the complex includes an olefins plant using technology licensed by MW Kellog of America, a polyethylene plant from Nova Chemicals of Canada and a polypropylene plant licensed by Basell of Italy. Sitting on 400 acres of land, it also has a captive power plant, utilities, effluent treatment plant storage tanks, bagging area and warehouses. The Nigerian government had intended to achieve self sufficiency in petrochemicals to provide the raw materials for sundry industries. However, poor facilities maintenance and political interference which led to indefensible management changes literally brought the plant to its knees.

The Olusegun Obasanjo government decided the only way to stop the petrochemicals complex from going the way of the four refineries owned by NNPC was to privatise the plant. After a competitive bidding process, Indorama, an Indonesian chemicals conglomerate, emerged the core investor with a 65 per cent stake (the Nigerian government still owns 15 per cent, the Rivers State government, 10 per cent, the host community of Eleme, 7.5 per cent and the workers, 2.5 per cent.) Indorama took over the company by May 2006.

Fast forward eleven years later and the company, now renamed Indorama Eleme Petrochemicals Limited (IEPL) is an uncommon success story of Nigeria’s privatization exercise. It is also one of the industrial icons in Rivers State, the hub of Nigeria’s oil economy.

Immediately it took over the company, Indorama carried out a Turn Around Maintenance (TAM) and restarted the plant five months later. Within the first five years, it invested $575 million to get the plant to operate at 100 per cent capacity producing ethylene, polyethylene and polypropylene.  The company also added a polyethylene terephthalate (PET) plant to produce the raw materials needed by the plastic bottling companies.

Indorama went beyond what it met on ground to launch an ambitious expansion programme. Its success story had spread like wild fire in the African harmattan so it had no difficulty in getting stakeholders, from the Nigerian government to international lending agencies, to buy into its vision to make Nigeria the petrochemicals and fertilizer hub of Africa by the year 2020. To achieve this, Indorama would invest $4.2 billion in the complex by that date.

The core of the expansion programme was the building of the largest single urea plant in the world with a capacity for 1. 5 million metric tonnes of fertilizer a year. The project also includes a jetty at nearby Onne port and an 83 kilometre gas pipeline to supply the feedstock. Work started in 2013 and was completed within 36 months.   The project cost of $1.5 billion was financed through equity and loans in a 1:2 ratio. It is a testimonial to the success of the company that those who lined up to finance the plant included the International Finance Corporation (IFC), the African Development Bank (AfDB), the Africa Export Import Bank (AFREXIM), the Bank of India and two Nigerian banks (Standard Chartered and Stanbic IBTC). Carsten Mueller, senior manager at IFC said the lender was wooed by Indorama’s pedigree in massive largescale manufacturing and its commitment to Nigeria’s development.

The completion of the plant has made Nigeria self sufficient in fertilizer production. Apart from supplying the granular urea directly to farmers nationwide, the company also supplies urea to 11 blending plants that produce NPK fertilizer. More than 90 trucks (made carrying 600 bags each) transport the urea daily to different parts of the country.

Manish Mundra, the managing director of Indorama Nigeria says the plant has enabled the company meet the needs of farmers all across the country. During a recent visit to the company, the minister of agriculture, Audu Ogbeh and minister of state, Heineken Lokpobri, said Indorama was helping the government reach its goal of greater food security in the country.

As much as 70 per cent of the plant’s output is exported to countries in Europe, Asia, US and other African countries.  As Amit Lohia, Group Managing Director of Indorama predicted in 2013, the fertilizer plant has made ‘Africa stand out in the agricultural landscape’.

 Indorama has recorded many milestones in its vision of building Africa's largest petrochemicals and fertiliser hub. Currently, it operates at 100 per cent capacity, thereby fully meeting the needs of the country's plastics and fertiliser industries. Various Nigerian government agencies like the Bureau of Public Enterprise (BPE) and the Raw Material Research and Development Council (RMRDC) have lauded Indorama's transformation of the plant.    Before Indorama's arrival, Nigeria's plastics industry had been hit by both the lack of raw materials domestically and the cost of having to import them. Companies had to keep inventory of up to six months to sustain continuous production. The company’s operations have seen to the revival of the sector and a growth of more than 300 per cent in the past 10 years.

‘Since 2006, IEPL has been supplying highly needed petrochemicals – polyethylene, polypropylene and PET (also called polymer resins), of different grades and variants to over 450 Nigerian companies’, says Mundra. ‘These companies use Indorama resins to manufacture items such as water tanks; automobile dashboards, bumpers and fenders; helmets, waste disposal bins, carpets, artificial hairs, containers for healthcare products, bottles for water and beverages, plastic chairs and tables, sacks, shopping bags, industrial pipes,  bread wrappers and other packaging products used in the beverage, bottling, pharmaceuticals, paints, textiles and allied industries.’

RMRDC agrees. The agency says Indorama is the live wire of 450 companies in plastics, pharmaceutials, foam, bottling, breverages, paints and breweries. As a patriotic duty, the company meets local demands for its petrochemical products before consideration of export orders despite the financial rewards of the latter.

 Indorama's presence has had a multiplier effect on the economy, not least the number of jobs it has created. Indorama Eleme Petrochemicals and its sister companies employ more than  3,000 Nigerians, while around 4,700 more work in the value chain in Port Harcourt, Lagos, Kaduna,  Kano and the capital Abuja. It  has also had a positive impact on its six host communities in Rivers State, comprising Akpajo Njuru/Akpakpan, Okerewa, Aleto, Agbonchia and Elelenwo.   When it comes to its corporate social responsibility commitments, the company has an impressive track record.  According to Kendrick Oluka, Indorama's  community relations and development chief,  since 2012 it has awarded more than N14bn to the six communities, as well executing a number of projects, including  the construction of 12 classrooms,  a library, laboratory and sick-bay at the Community Secondary School in Aleto. It has also  awarded scholarships to poor students from the six communities and beyond.  Meanwhile, it has renovated Eleme General Hospital,  donated medical equipment worth more than N80m, installed 33KVA power sub-station at Akpajo as part of its rural electrification programme,  and built   a police station at Elelenwo.  When Nyesom Wike, the governor of Rivers State, assumed office in 2015, one of his priority attentions was how to fix the dilapidated Eleme-Onne Federal Highway which was a commercial route to the country's Onne Sea Port, Indorama Petrochemicals and NNPC’s refinery. Indorama provided N530m in counterpart funds to fix the road.  Also, in November 2016, as part of its contribution to the training of armed forces personnel, the company made a  donation of solid high quality table seats to the Nigeria Navy Basic Training School, Onne.

  While on a tour of Indorama facilities in November 2016, Ben Murray Bruce, the chair of the Senate Committee on Privatisation and Commercialisation, said: ‘We have gone round to see most of the privatised enterprises and Indorama is the success story, especially in providing base raw materials for Nigerian industries and fertilisers for Nigerian farmers, as well as paying huge tax revenue of over N1bn to the government in the last 10 years.’ The company has also paid dividend shares to both the federal and Rivers State governments, who own 15 and 10 percent shares, respectively.

Wike holds up Indorama as a model enterprise in Rivers State. During a visit to the plant, he called on other investors to emulate Indorama by investing in the state. “Rivers State is safe for investors’, he added. In recognition of Indorama’s contribution to the Rivers State economy, Mundra was conferred with the Distinguished Service Star of Rivers State (DSSRS) to mark its golden jubilee celebrations.

BPE says Indorama achievements at Eleme include attracting the highest foreign direct investment in the downstream non oil and gas sector, conversion of dead assets through world class technical support and the commitment to build the largest petrochemical hub in Africa. Vincent Akpotaire, the immediate past director general of the agency says the take over of Eleme Petrochemicals by Indorama is one of the success stories of the government’s privatisation programme. Almost everyone agrees.

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