SUNDAY April 10, 2016. Oh, what a day! A glorious day indeed when the embryonic seed of a brand new, state-of-the-art cement factory was sowed, mixed with the birthday celebration of a superman, a business icon of Africa who will turn 60 next year!
Only Aliko Dangote can pull this off! Only Dangote can make me forego church on Sunday. Only Dangote can make me forego the big boxing bout between Manny Pacquiao and Tim Bradley, two boxers trying to make history and repeating the epic Ali-Frazier trilogy. By the way, did you watch on Saturday night Anthony Joshua, the British boxer with Nigerian blood, as he sensationally knocked out in Round Two, the undefeated American champion Charles Martin to win the IBF World heavyweight belt in emphatic style reminiscent of the heyday of Mike Tyson?
With a handsome face and a chiselled muscular physique, Anthony Joshua reminds me of the young Cassius Clay who shook the world with the defeat of Sonny Liston in the seventh round in February 1964 in Miami Beach, Florida. Oh, I love this guy Anthony Joshua and his boxing trajectory. However, Anthony Joshua is not a story for today.
Today belongs to another heavyweight, a gentle giant with a name that even fits a prize fighter: Aliko! Don’t let us steal from his glory! Only Dangote, the magician can pull off this trick, bringing out on Sunday all the heavyweights, all the captains, all the giants of industry in Nigeria, packing them full in the belly of this Boeing 747 and flying them down to Okpella, a rustic but richly endowed town in the Etsako East Local Government of Edo State which he hopes to transform into a $1 billion dollar Okpella Cement City that would employ 40,000 people—directly or indirectly. Anybody who can provide jobs in this jobless Nigeria is my hero. That is why I cannot stop reporting or writing about the likes of Mike Adenuga and Aliko Dangote, telling their stories to the world, to inspire the youths of today, to read and learn from their success stories.
You can imagine my happiness when I got this phone call and a “My Dear Mike” letter personally signed by Aliko Dangote, inviting me to Okpella. I got a similar call sometime last year to come along to Tanzania for the opening of a cement factory there, but I was away with my family on my annual holiday, in Phoenix Arizona, USA. I missed Tanzania, but this time around I wasn’t going to miss this next opportunity to cement my presence and write on the epoch-making event for the economic growth of Nigeria—a comatose patient on intravenous drip, now lying critically ill at the theatre, surrounded by surgeons robed in green, breathless, bloodless, panting and needing the oxygen of diversification.
From Lagos to Benin, we took an early Sunday morning Arik chartered flight buzzing with who is who in the business and corporate world. Seated close to me by the emergency wing of the plane was a woman of substance who has broken the proverbial glass ceiling to be the MD/CEO of Stanbic Bank. I collected Mrs Sola David-Borha’s phone number hoping to interview her for a project I am working on. I collected so many other phone numbers from other chief executives that I could recognise. That is one secret I learnt from Chief Segun Osoba, a great newspaperman whose biography I wrote with my late friend Dimgba Igwe. A good reporter, says Osoba, must enrich himself with the telephone numbers of every important person.
Inside the plane, I was impressed by the Dangote girls—the three daughters of the billionaire as they came on board looking so simple, so humble and so courteous. They moved from seat to seat, greeting everybody in a mixture of Hausa and English: “Ina kwana, kana lahiya,” meaning: “Good morning, how are you?”
From Benin to Okpella was a “hard road to travel” as Jimmy Cliff once sang. A journey that should have lasted one and half hours on a good road took over three hours. My companion in the convoy of cars was Mr Tope Adedara, a brilliant young man who works directly with Dangote and from whom I learnt a lot about how Dangote’s brain works, his grand vision and his robust appetite for work. The problem with working for Dangote, he tells me, is that while most of his workers are thinking of today, Dangote’s mind is wired to the future.
From the greenery of the vegetation, you could easily see that Edo State is richly blessed. We pass through Ekpoma, through Irrua, through Auchi to get to Okpella. There, a big tent had been built to host the event. Dangote had arrived a day earlier as the guest of Governor Oshiomole whose hometown is just about ten minutes’ drive. They had all been waiting for the “people from Lagos” to arrive. Immediately we arrived, the activities commenced. Speaker after speaker mounted the podium to pay homage to the man of the moment. Starting off with a welcome address, the Group Executive Director Dangote Group, Edwin Devakumar noted: “We have come a long way. Nigeria used to be the second largest importer of cement in the world. Today, we have changed to be exporter of cement from Nigeria.”
Dr Kayode Fayemi, the minister for mineral resources said he was “the happiest person here today because if there is any evidence that the diversification strategy of this government is working, this is the evidence. The success of the Dangote Group remains a veritable model that informed our conclusion that we can bring about progressive change in the use of Nigeria’s mineral assets.”
In his own speech, the birthday boy and Africa’s cement king Aliko Dangote told his story and his ambitious plan of setting up cement factories in every African country. The Okpella cement project, he said, “is one of the many successful projects presently ongoing in parts of Nigeria and outside Nigeria in more than 16 other locations in African countries. In line with our Pan-African investment strategy, we will continue to invest.” According to him, his company last year commissioned cement factories in Ethiopia, in Zambia, in Cameroun, and in Tanzania.
“We plan to commission very soon some of our other African plants namely Senegal, Congo Brazzaville and South Africa,” he said. “Also last year in Lagos, we signed a deal valued at 4.34 billion dollars for the construction of 10 additional new cement plants across Africa and one in Asia in Nepal. These investments we are actually funding them outside the sources of Nigeria. The combined capacity of these new plants will be about 25 million metric tonnes per annum. By the time all these plants are finished we will be hitting 81 million tonnes per annum. This will make us one of the Top 6 cement companies in the world.”
So far, the offshore cement project has started yielding “substantial contributions of money to our group here in Nigeria. This year alone, we actually received over 24 million dollars being contribution from two of our plants outside Nigeria.”
“In addition to manufacturing,” he continued, “we are also investing heavily in agriculture for massive employment generation. Recently, we have commenced multi-billion naira project in some of the states in the north. And we recently flagged off the rice growers’ scheme with the distribution of rice seedlings to farmers in Jigawa State to reduce our dependence on imported rice.
“We hope to create massive jobs for the people and provide good returns to the farmers. We envisage that by producing one million tonnes after cultivating about 150,000 hectres, this will help in conserving some foreign exchange that we use today to import food items which is put at 11 billion dollars.
“With the Federal Government’s readiness to participate in the industrial sector with a promise to put in place strategies that will encourage industries to thrive, the private sector will have to be ready to take up the challenge and invest in critical sectors of the economy that will preserve foreign exchange.
“While others are sitting and waiting, the Dangote Group is already thinking by investing in additional cement plants in Okpella in Edo State and another in Ogun State. We are also committed to invest in 120 megawatts of power in the two plants. The two plants will actually operate 100 per cent on local coal because of the challenges we are facing in gas…By the grace of God we will all gather here in the next 26 months to commission this plant which will provide about 4,500 jobs directly and about 45,000 jobs indirectly. Nigeria is today saving almost 3 billion dollars for not importing cement.”
(To be continued)