27 July 2014

Nigeria: Imo - Tackling Challenge of Moribund Industries

Owerri — Governor Rochas Anayo Okorocha of Imo State can rightly be described as a leader with remarkable peculiarities.

First, he emerged through a contentious supplementary governorship election held on May 6, 2011.

Second, he pilots the affairs of a densely populated state whose residents are politically conscientised with a novelty programme christened "Rescue mission," which has indeed overhauled the stereotypic method of administration of the 38-year-old state.

Ostensibly conscious of the fact that for one to make an omellet, one must break an egg, the governor's Rescue Mission train has inevitably demolished and uprooted some structures previously considered sacrosanct and replaced them with modern dignifying ones, thereby enhancing the aesthetic beauty of the Eastern Heartland.

The governor's free education programme, provision of 25,000 jobs for youths in the state, the systematic implementation of the "Youth Must Work Programme, Massive road constructions, roundabout, schools, General Hospital, drainages, installation of street lights and regular evacuation of refuse in all the urban centres are undoubtedly among the eloquent testimonies of the efficacy of the Rescue Mission agenda.

The above notwithstanding, what now appears to be a major challenge is the comatose, decadent and moribund nature of some industries in the state, some of which were established by both the late Dr. Michael Iheonukara Okpara, premier of the defunct Eastern Reform and Chief Sam Onunaka Mbakwe, governor of the old Imo State.

Although, the dilapidated nature of these multi-million naira institutions dates back to the inglorious days of the military era, their state of neglect since the restoration of the current democratic dispensation has been traced to high-wire political machinations ravaging the Eastern Heartland.

Prominent among these abandoned industries crying for revival and resuscitation are the Ada Palm Nigeria Limited now renamed "Imo Modern Plantation" and the Standard Shoe Company Limited, Owerri.

In retrospect, Adapalm Nigeria Limited is an industrial oil palm company incorporated in 1979 by the former East Central State Agricultural Development Authority (ADA) as part of the national effort to restore Nigeria as a major producer of oil palm produce.

The background to the formation of the company is the fall of the nation's position as major exporter of palm produce in the '50s to a major importer since the late '60s.

It will be recalled that the nation's oil palm export which declined to a zero point and economic recession was compounded by the three year civil war (1967 -1970).

The projects of the company were ultimately directed towards improving the socio economic conditions of the state, restoring the nation's past pre-eminent position in this fast growing alternative to petroleum oil and making the nation a core centre for oil palm produce in the world.

In the economic development sector, the Imo palm plantation has through consistent production generated over three thousand permanent jobs which range from the managerial to the casual cadres as a result of the new life injected into the company by the Rochas Okorocha administration.

The procurement of modern sophisticated equipment, improved palm seedlings, functional vehicles including heavy trucks, maximum security at sensitive production units and above all, strong financial motivation to staff of the company, has increased the sale of SPO, FFB, palm kernel and other businesses. This has generated over 10,000 jobs in the wider macro economy of the state and beyond.

The employment opportunities afforded the indigenes of the company catchment areas and their involvement in the company's business are acting as catalysts to the improvement of the living standards of the people.

Socially and economically, Ada Palm serves as a development agent in the rural areas of the state. The establishment alleviates poverty, reduces crime rate, youths restiveness and other socio malaise just as it serves as a home for the homeless and a settlement for those who come from embattled homes.

Recreational facilities in the Imo modern plantation where people ease off tension are numerous and this makes it a tourist centre for all.

The products of the Imo palm plantation, that is palm oil, palm kernel and palm kernel oil are unquestionably capable of earning high foreign exchange for the nation. This is more so as the products have been tested and proven to have met the foreign standard and attract foreign investors who have continued to indicate interest to buy and to export her produce.

This is a clear testimony that the company has once more become a credit to the state and the nation as her economic contributions to the state and the nation in general cannot be over emphasized.

Given her strategic position to the economic survival of the state it would not be out of place for the Rescue Mission government to apply a somewhat holistic study and an articulated development policy to sustain its stable structure.

The Rescue Mission agenda has so far made tremendous impact to restore the agricultural institution to its premier position in the production of palm oil, there is still the need to reinvest in the abandoned 70 percent completed Downstream industry which is aimed at launching the palm plantation into a big agro industrial giant cannot be overemphasized.

Already, there is a strong optimism among the Imo populace that the completion of the down stream industry and its operation would in no small measure tackle the nagging financial woes which is one of the major headaches of the Imo palm plantation. Also the aged distressed and ramshackle mills require a complete change of the entire machinery.

In the same vein, the Standard Shoe Company Limited, Owerri incorporated in 1974 by the defunct East Central state government and which was inherited by Imo State following its creation in 1976 requires a greater dose of the Rescue mission's "panadol."

The company which occupies an area of land measuring 7,3872 square metres with an installed capacity of 12,000 pairs of shoes on a single shift once used to be the cynosure of all shoe factories and industries East of the Niger until it was sent into limbo by the departed military regimes.

Prior to its present sordid condition, the products comprised gents and ladies' shoes of all sizes, school sandals/bags, military and paramilitary boots, among others.

From inception, over 90 percent of the company's raw materials were sourced locally while markets for the finished products were expanding.

However, the company was shut down in the '90s purely due to working capital needed to sustain the ever increasing orders emanating from the clients.

Thus, privatisation became inevitable for the multi-million naira factory which is situated at 11 Hospital Road, Owerri in line with the federal government policy of privatisation and commercialisation of all government projects.

The value of the assets of the company was put at N59 million while the share capital rose from N15 million to N40,000,000 ordinary shares of N1 each.

The then Imo State government on February 2d 2001 entered into a joint venture agreement with Messis World Investment Manufacturing industries (WIM) Group Ltd, Verona, Italy for the purpose of rehabilitating the Standard Shoe Company Limited.

Following the above development, an equity holding structure of 60:40 was agreed for the Imo State government and WIM respectively. Thus, by joint-venture agreement, all the expenditure incurred by the Imo State government in altering the memoranda and Articles of Association of the company and hence increasing its share capital was re-capitalised.

The same was true for the costs incurred by Messrs WIM Group Limited in renovating the shoe company.

Governor Okorocha should go a step further in his Rescue Mission venture to bring the factory back to function maximally to full capacity.

Having installed the necessary machinery for the test running of the newly installed equipment, sustenance of the newly recruited staff prior to full operation, it is gratifying that the governor has so far injected new lease of life in the once decadent and moribund establishment.

The Standard Shoe Company Ltd has commenced operation with 21 skeletal staff and it is now a balm to the people of the state that the state government is implementing its free sandals/school bag gifts towards the free education programmes through a reasonable fund granted to the company.

Therefore, the survival of these two strategic industries to the economy of the state should be seen as the collective responsibility of both the government and the people.


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