Ogun investors’ forum: Amosun should take local private investors very seriously — Olusola
Dr. Kola Olusola Christwealth, an entrepreneur and Chairman of Christwealth Group, in Igbesa, Ogun State, spoke to GBENGA AKINFENWA on issues concerning the recently held investors’ forum and how indigenous investors are poorly treated.
You seem to have a contrary view about the much-praised Ogun State Investors’ Forum, what are your grievances?
The major issue is that the governor, Senator Ibikunle Amosun, doesn’t seem to be taking the local private investors very seriously. In my own opinion, he seems to be more interested in the big industries and the foreign ones. I want to say that the industries that would really serve as catalyst to the development of Ogun State are the local industries, Nigerian-owned, Nigerian-run industries, because the foreign industries are here now and could pack shop tomorrow, but we are rooted in Nigeria, where are we going to run? It is our country, where we are major stakeholders, we have the national interest and because we don’t have any other country, we are more committed than those foreign companies.
That is not to say that foreign industries should not be encouraged, but there shouldn’t be neglect of the local industries. The foreign ones could easily get anything they want from government, they have free access to government, which the local ones don’t have. And if there is going to be an investor’s forum, targeted at everybody, the interests of Nigerian-owned upcoming industries need to be taken into consideration.
What are you producing?
Well, we have not started production and that is the major grouse. When the investors’ forum was launched in 2012, we were all excited about it. All upcoming industrialists were excited about it, especially those of us who are indigenes of the state and we attended excitedly, participated excitedly, we pulled funds to invest in the state, but unfortunately when it comes to the area of starting, we got roadblocks.
What are the roadblocks?
As I am talking to you now, I am in debt of over N1b because when we were informed of the state’s desire to encourage investors, many us pulled funds but for me, I decided to establish an industrial park in the state, precisely in Igbesa. To encourage other industries to also invest, I also set up some medium scale industries that will encourage other people to be stakeholders in the industrial estate.
Our plan was to have about 200 small-scale industrialists in Kola Christwealth Industrial Park (KCIP) in Igbesa, but could you believe that from 2012 till now, we have not had our Certificate Of Occupancy (CoO). So, capitals are tied down, we’ve invested capital on equipment, we’ve invested capital on building, many things are tied down, how do we release those capitals for us to continue with our projects?
We need titles for those properties, as I am talking to you now, I have equipment still in the Port that has been imported since last year. I have no money to clear it, because we thought that with the kind of impetus the state government is giving us, the land title process will be accelerated and we would be able to use such as collateral to inject funds into the projects. I am not alone; I was speaking with one of the managers of Bank Of Industry (BoI) recently, virtually all of us that are local business people are having the same challenge.
Our capitals are trapped all because we could not free the investment we made on land and buildings and use those properties as collateral. Imagine, for up to four years we’ve not been able to have our land titles, this will not happen to a foreign investor, this will not happen to mega businesses like Lever brothers, like Lafarge and other mega businesses that the governor is so proud about in the state. For us, the local business people that want to key into the vision of the governor in expanding Ogun State are being relegated and this is very unfortunate.
Considering your points, its like your grievances are beyond the Investors’ Forum.
No, it is not beyond the Ogun State investors’ forum. It is not because the forum is a catalyst for investment. The governor and his team brought the forum together to encourage investors to come to the state, to encourage people to invest in the state and we were all excited about it, we were happy about that. I was there ab initio; I believe the state can do more. I really appreciate the governor and his government for that.
But the point I’m making is that we were all encouraged to come. When it was instituted, it wasn’t primarily for foreign investors; it wasn’t primarily for large, mega, multi-billion dollar industries. Ogun State government did not tell us that it was for mega and foreign investors, if they had done so, some of us wouldn’t have partook in it.
Would you say the governor has deviated from his original plan?
I wouldn’t say he deviated, but whether wittingly or unwittingly, he has excluded the Nigerian investors after we have put our resources in it, we shouldn’t wait for so many years to get titles on properties we privately purchased for investment in Ogun State.
Like I said, I am in debt of over N1b, some of my equipment are in China, India that have not arrived and they’ve been on my neck, though we’ve paid for it but when they arrive we wont have money to clear it, some have arrived Nigeria, but no money to clear them. The original plan was to invest what we have on the project and we get title for our property and use it as collateral for working capital, but unfortunately, some of us have been on it for years. But I believe that if the government is taking local investors, very seriously, they should accelerate the CoO process of investors.
Yes, they have tried in the area of the Homeowners project, as the indigenes now have title to their properties, but how about those of us in business, those of us that are going to provide jobs, those of us that are going to contribute to the IGR of the state. This is just a notch that the governor and his government might not be aware of, I am not here to criticise the government but to wake the government up to its responsibilities to us.
Would you call the initiative a fluke?
No, I wont say it’s a fluke because the government means well, but the problem is that they don’t seem to be taking the local investors very seriously. They should set up a special desk, though they claim to have investors’ relations’ office, but has the office succeeded in getting our CoOs out? If they could fast- track the process of the Homeowners CoOs process, why cant they fast track the process of having title to the documents of investors.
I have got the ears of some Chinese, I have got the ears of other people, I am supposed to be in Thailand to address a business gathering on how to come and invest, but I just got frustrated that I will not be going. My name is already among those that will speak in the global business roundtable, but I wont go because of the frustration and the suffering from the Ogun State government.
The door of the governor is opened to multinational industries, but to upcoming ones, his door seems to have been closed. If not, what shouldn’t take us more than three months, is taking us three years to get. Already our equipment are getting obsolete. It is very frustrating. I am not alone, so many. If you go to BoI they will tell you of many of us that are in this mess.
What is your demand from government on behalf of other local investors?
Well, the governor should know that the big corporations cannot give as much employments as we have because the higher your capital, the better automated your processes, and the lesser the number of people you are able to employ. The lower your capital, the more labour intensive is your process, and the more the number of people you are able to employ.
So, if the governor really wants employment to be really generated for Ogun State indigenes and Nigerians at large, then the local investors should be encouraged to attract our takeoff, most of us our takeoff.