Nigercem crisis: Ebonyi is scaring away investors – Don

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A university don, Prof. Aja Okorie, has criticized Governor Martin Elechi for scaring away potential investors to the Ebonyi State, and regretted that the state government is fighting investors, instead of providing good climate for them to invest in the state.

The Agriculture lecturer at the Ebonyi State University, with interests in politics, was not comfortable with the policies of the state government, which has led to slow pace in the development of the state as it concerns industries. And that was why he condemned government dethronement of four traditional rulers over their support for Ibeto Industries in reviving the NIGERCEM cement company that has been moribund for years.

Okorie, in an interview with Daily Sun, argued that what Ebonyi State should be doing is cooperating, collaborating and working with Ibeto to make sure that NIGERCEM comes into full production within the year.

Ebonyians and reasonable people within the state are actually tired of the delay and would rather like the government to go into negotiation; get more shares and negotiate appropriately to revive the industry.

“We shouldn’t chase investors away. We should encourage them to come into Ebonyi. We don’t have a single industry. We’ve not been able to develop our mineral resources; we’ve not able to develop our agricultural sector. The government should come up with a clear policy that is friendly, and a good climate to encourage investors nationally and internationally. That is what countries are doing to attract foreign capital.”


What is your reaction to the dethronement of four traditional rulers over ownership of NIGERCEM?

I will start by asking, or thinking, or interrogating the issue – the legality of the dethronement of the four royal fathers in the state. Is it the best approach to deal with the traditional rulers? And my opinion is that things are being done with impunity and due process is not followed, and I think there should have been a commission of inquiry to analyze and determine what they have done, the effect…whether they have done the right thing or not, based on the outcome of the inquiry. Then the state government can go ahead to do what it deems right based on the findings.

Also it could have been a good approach to summon the traditional rulers and discuss with them their grievances or what brought about their action. Furthermore, I think what they did by publishing their welcoming of the Ibeto Company to revive the NIGERCEM cement factory is an issue of human rights and freedom of speech. And when you think it has gone too far, there is need for an investigation…and we should be in a state and a country where human rights and freedom of speech is allowed. To the issue of NIGERCEM; what are the traditional rulers saying….

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They are welcoming the revival of the company located in their area and they have a lot of reasons why they should do that, because it would bring employment to the youths and multiplier effects in terms of increased income across board for those who would be employed; the services the industry will offer, and reduce the cost of cement because, usually in Ebonyi, we buy the cement based on the cost of transportation and package. For those of us in the state, the cost of cement will decrease by reducing the cost of transportation, and it will have a multiplier effect in the building industry, in that persons who want to do business that require cement…and there is a linkage between NIGERCEM and industries such as the building material factory, as it will supply some raw materials to building material sector, which means if we are reviving NIGERCEM, the building material factory at Ezzangbo will also be revived at the same time. That is why I said the multiplier effect will be many and it would turn the economy of the state into something wonderful.

The whole of Ebonyi State and the entire south-east will gain from the revival of NIGERCEM and, just as it was before the war, I think it is important and that is not the only thing, it will bring about improvement in infrastructure such as roads – Nkalagu-Obolloafor and Enugu-Abakaliki – into those communities. I believe that the company will also carry out its social responsibility to the host communities. It will improve the infrastructure of the communities, as it has a far reaching effect on the economy of Ebonyi State and economy of the South-East.

Another issue is that ‘why has it been delayed since 2008–09 when the Ebonyi government was advised by the founding fathers to do everything possible to revive this industry. I am aware that some vehicles were bought and that a committee was appointed. Is it that the committee has been incapable; has been inefficient in working out clearly the best way to revive company? We have been reading a lot about the actions of the state government and that of Ibeto Company, and we understand, from what is told in public domain, that Ebonyi State government had acquired 10 per cent of NIGERCEM and, as a follow-up, appointed the director of investment to be a member of the board.

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How did they reach this point? If they did, was there no agreement between the government and Ibeto? In fact, my view is that Ebonyi government should have acquired 20 per cent of the shares, so that more Ebonyians could be appointed to the board. The state government would then have more shares in that company. This is the direction I expected the state to emphasize and to make sure they get up to 20–30 per cent shares. But now in the public view, we understand that the Eastern Bulkcem, former core-investor, vandalized equipment and other things at the NIGERCEM site and I am wondering what the state government has done, whether they have reported to the police; whether those who vandalized the equipment have been brought to book; whether there is anything going on about that.

In fact, Ebonyians need to know the people behind the Eastern Bulkcem Company, because we should not hide anything from the public view; we should let Ebonyians know.

Now the state government is claiming to be fighting for Ebonyians, so what has delayed finding appropriate investor as government claimed since 2009. Five years after, the government of Ebonyi seems not to have a good core-investor. If it claims Ibeto is not a good core-investor, so what is holding it; what is the committee doing since it was set up four or five years ago; is it that we don’t know how to find them?

It appears to me that maybe Ebonyi government is using what the late Chinua Achebe called ‘3rd Eleven’ and have refused to use ‘1st Eleven’ in running its affairs, including finding appropriate core-investor to run the company – people who can negotiate; people who have foresight; people who can facilitate and make this NIGERCEM revival come to fruition. Why did it take so long?

There is a popular saying that ‘justice delayed is justice denied’. Now the government is interested in doing this thing in the interest of Ebonyians. And in two years time, the state government will leave office and we are going to say ‘after eight years, the Ebonyi State government has been incapable of finding core-investor and helping to facilitating the revival of NIGERCEM’. Let me come to one important economic issue. The role of government in terms of good governance is to provide good economic environment and policies that will facilitate industrialization and investment in the state, because that is the only way the state can grow…and it means the state government seems to be fighting investors, instead of providing good climate for them to invest, to help the state develop.

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Now as Ebonyi State is today, we don’t have one single industry functioning, unlike other states. The hatchery that was brought in by the former regime has been dead and, after five years of the current government, nothing has been done to revive it. We have the building material company and even the Fertilizer blending plant that was effective. As far as we know now, fertilizers are being bagged, not blended. We don’t know what is happening in the agricultural sector.

There is only one thing in the Government House, and that is…’trying to put rice mill in three locations’, and they haven’t completed that. In five years, that is the only thing. But the past ones, none of them has been revived; none of them is functioning, that means we can’t have employment, and the state is lacking investment; it’s lacking industry. We, therefore, have a problem. So, it behoves the state government to actually facilitate NIGERCEM industry to become the only industry in the state. In fact, the fight between Ibeto and the government appears funny because we know that Ibeto is a public liability company, which is governed by Federal Government laws. Then one stands to ask: ‘Can the state government succeed in an attempt to muzzle Ibeto, and why are we not encouraging our son to revive this industry?

We know that Dangote is doing that and we know that Ibeto is into different industries and have done well. We need to see the evidence that Ibeto hasn’t got the capability and capacity to revive the industry. When individuals can easily start-up cement factories; when Dangote is doing it, even though he is the richest man in Nigeria, but Ibeto could be said to be the third richest man in Nigeria. I think what Ebonyi State should be doing is cooperating and collaborating and working with Ibeto to make sure that NIGERCEM comes into use within the year.

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