From Clement Adeyi, Osogbo
IN the wake of the current economic crisis ravaging the country occasioned by the sharp drop in crude oil price and its attendant dwindling federal allocations to the states, wealth creation through investment and agricultural development has become imperative to bridge the gap, says Bola Oyebamiji, the Managing Director/CEO of Osun State Investment Company Limited (OSICOL).
According to the former bank executive, OSICOL, the investment unit of Osun State, embarks on diverse business ventures as part of efforts to boost the state’s internally generated revenue drive, create wealth and sustain its economic self-reliance.
In this interview, he sheds light on OSICOL’s exploits since inception in 1991 in various business interests to deliver on its mandate, noting that agricultural development, oil and gas as well as refinery are top priorities for the firm as it it moves to expand its investment profile.
“The current economic crunch requires a lot of business ideas and creativity to create wealth and complement government’s efforts in revenue generation. At OSICOL, we embark on diverse business ventures to deliver on our mandate. We are also working on new business ideas in areas of agriculture, oil and gas as well as refinery to increase our business profile and maximise our profits in line with the laws establishing the agency,” he said.
Rationale behind OSICOL
It is an investment arm of the Osun State government that was incorporated in 1991 as a limited liability company. OSICOL is the replica of the popular Odua Investment owned by the five South West states just like the Gateway Investment in Ogun State.
Whatever business venture government embarks upon, the commercial end of it rests with OSICOL, which is the state’s investment unit.
In other words, OSICOL is in charge of all the commercial ventures undertaken by the government with a view to bringing financial returns for the government. We propel businesses and invest on behalf of government and bring back financial returns to it. The rationale behind the initiative is to generate funds for government. Suffice it to say that OSICOL is an IGR platform and since inception, the company has been living up to expectations, although we cannot say the funds we generate for now are enough because we have just repositioned the company and are still strategising for maximum input.
Scope of operations
We have 11 units of operations. Among them are manufacturing, bulk purchasing, training and consultancy, sales and distribution, and real estate, among others. In the manufacturing unit, we have Essence Water. Initially, it was not doing well but during the repositioning and reengineering of the company, we repackaged it and now it
is one of the best brands among bottled water in the country.
In the Bulk Purchasing Unit, OSICOL serves as a dealer to big and blue ship companies. So, we are a major distributor of Nestle, Cadbury and West African Milk products. In the sales and distribution of the products, we cover Ondo, Ekiti and Osun so much so that wholesalers and retailers are saved the stress of travelling all the way to Ibadan or Lagos to supply the products because through OSICOL’s sales and distribution channel, provisions are readily available in Osun. Through this venture, we generate good profits for the state.
We are also doing well in the real estate unit. The lack of manufacturing and real estate businesses in the state has created a serious vacuum in the state’s economic profile, but to a larger extent, OSICOL is trying to bridge the gap. In our real estate venture, we have just completed 20 flats of residents at OSICOL Estate in Abere area of Osogbo to be sold for profit motive. Also, 34 three-bedroom flats are under construction in GRA, Ikeja. We also have 19 in Ikoyi, Lagos. We have also completed 14 flats in Abuja all for rent. We want quick financial returns that can support the government. That is why we are investing in choice areas of the country. We also have other business ventures. For instance, we assemble phones, laptop and TV screen factory in Ilesa. It is the biggest assembly plant in West Africa and the technology and trading aspects of OSICOL’s investment programmes.
Wealth creation requires creativity
When you keep complaining that there is no money in Osun and do not come up with great ideas and innovations to create money for economic emancipation, you are only a burden and not a problem solver. We need to devise ways of creating money and that is our passion at OSICOL. But it requires a creative mind. It requires thinking outside the box. If everybody is complaining that there is no money, will money come from heaven? It then means we will all remain broke and bankrupt. This is the albatross that OSICOL is trying to avoid.
Osun is believed to be a civil service state and has no reckoning in manufacturing and industries. But in trading activities, the state is making landmark impacts. We are creative. Creativity brings innovation that also leads to great discoveries and financial success.
At OSICOL, we are in our own little corner, trying to bridge the wide gap that has been created in the state’s economy, following the continued dwindling federal allocation accruing to the state’s coffers, due to the current global financial crunch occasioned by the global sharp drop in the crude oil price.
Agriculture as panacea to economic crunch
Yes, indeed, agriculture used to be the main stay of the nation’s economy until the era of oil boom, which turned Nigeria into a monolithic economy. But OSICOL is working assiduously to make agriculture the main stay of the economy of Osun State. Towards this end, we have embarked on cash crop farming such as cocoa and palm tree plantation. We have planted 623 hectares of cocoa in Ibokun in Obokun Local Government Area of the state. We have also planted 523 hectares in Iwo in Iwo Local Government Area.
We are hopeful that this venture will yield great results in three to four years time when the crops would be ripe for harvest. We engage in big time irrigation, especially during the dry season to ensure proper growth of the crops. In a few years time when the cocoa farms begin to yield the required dividends, not only Osun State but also Nigeria would bounce back economically, leveraging on agriculture as the main stay of their economies.
Hopefully, too, if Osun State emerges the best cocoa producer in the country, it would stand the chance of getting an international grant for feeding the world and this is our target.
Interestingly too, the governor is making efforts to exploit agricultural potentials in a bid to rescue the state’s economy from the brinks of collapse. He has consistently urged people, including young graduates, to embrace agriculture and promised to motivate them to actualise the dream.
Recently, government signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) for the establishment of demonstration farms at Ago Owu Farm Settlement as a part of efforts to ensure the best farming practices in the state.
The state government, in the agreement with the communities, would make available 20,439 hectares of land at the farm settlement for the development of agriculture and production of food as alternative to the oil sector.
The demonstration farm centre is also for the purposes of conducting research and training young farmers in the state on modern, commercial and profitable farming. Under the agreement, the IITA will also carry out cassava, plantain and other crops’ multiplications.
Besides, the state signed a $50 million Agriculture Investment deal with a United States of America (USA) firm for the provision of modern agricultural technological services aimed at giving fresh impetus to its agricultural sector revolution drive.
Also, the governor recently hinted on his plan to establish a commodity board that would ensure that the state ranks among the best cocoa producers in Nigeria within the next two years. At a recent meeting with produce merchants in the state, the governor declared that with the new cocoa development initiatives, fresh revenues would be available and bring about economic prosperity as from 2016. The governor also enthused that the state would soon bounce back with the identification of 60 million cocoa trees, adding that government would, henceforth criminalise any action of farmers and merchants that runs foul of government’s laws on cocoa. Our bags of cocoa in Osun will be branded. Government will ensure that the quality of cocoa coming out of the state meets international quality standards. When there was enough money coming from crude oil, no government was looking at what cocoa could bring to the economy. But government is set to return to the days when cocoa was the main stay of the state’s economy. Government will soon be registering all farmers in the state for easy implementation of its policies on agriculture, with a view to monitoring and giving the necessary support to farmers.
Explaining opportunities in oil, gas
We are trying to extend our tentacles to oil and gas business. We have started planning to refine crude oil in Osun State. In fact, we have reached the final stage of signing the MoU with Qatar because they have the required technology to help us actualise the dream. Details of how this would be achieved would be unfold as soon as they bring the technology but on our own part, we have started preparing the ground for the innovation.
We are also planning to import fertilisers and sell to all the 36 states of the federation, which could be sold cheaper to the farmers in the efforts to boost the economy through agriculture. We are equally planning to refine sugar in Osun State in partnership with Dangote Sugar industry. Recently, I held a meeting with Alhaji Aliko Dangote, the Chairman of Dangote Group, who has already given me his word on how to actualise the dream. In fact, the meeting reawakened his consciousness on the Still Rolling Mill he bought in Osun since five years but left idle. But he has agreed to revive it soon.
Another aspect of our business technology is Megatronics, which is a N1 billion project financed by the National Automobile Council (NAC). The auto-mechanic factory is based at Esa-Oke Town where all our local mechanics are trained with diagnostic machines to service vehicles. We have equipment of about 35 modules imported with about N826 million that are used in training our local mechanics on how to handle modern vehicles such as Japanese cars, German cars as well as other brands of vehicles and trucks, among others.