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Pioneering the development of agro-allied industrial cluster in Nigeria.

By Tessa Doghor
26 March 2015   |   11:00 pm

Global Biofuels Ltd was established to produce fuel ethanol from sweet sorghum cultivars in a manner that ensures sustainability, wealth creation and general wellbeing. Dr. Felix Obada, the Group Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer of the firm started his professional Engineering career at the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) in 1977 and retired in 1995 as a Chief Engineer and Visiting Consultant in the Corporate Planning Department of the company. Following global outcry against Green House Gas emissions, Dr. Obada is facilitating the development of an agro- allied industrial cluster for the production of automotive biofuels from agricultural wastes not used for food by humans or animals, working with the Federal Government of Nigeria and some notable Institutions. Dr Obada, spoke on how the biofuels industrial cluster initiative has the capability of becoming a Nigerian-led job creation, poverty eradication, desert encroachment and economic diversification solution in this exclusive interview with Nnamdi Nwokolo.

WHAT informed your decision to go into agro-allied industrial cluster for biofuels production? Global Biofuels Ltd is a child of necessity. The company came into existence following the outcry of world leaders to save the planet earth from the harmful effects of global warming. This is the first and most important reason for our existence. The second and equally important reason is to help Nigeria diversify her economy from petroleum to commercial agro-allied industrial processing for pervasive job creation. The last but certainly not the least reason is the need to ameliorate the living conditions of rural dwellers in Nigeria. Beyond all of these, I must confess to you that each time I travel abroad across northern Nigeria; I discover that desert encroachment has become a nagging reality. I discover that sand dune has eaten deep into Nigeria. This got me really frightened. I also discovered that the water in Lake Chad has diminished to just around 15% of its original content. Over the last few years, world leaders have been talking about the harmful effects of global warming. The reality has now dawned on Nigeria. We are now losing water and land excessively. That in essence is what got me interested to study the subject matter deeply with a view to acquaint myself with a globally acceptable solution.

What has been your most challenging experience on the project?

The most challenging experience has been how to get our people to understand the cause and effects of global warming in our country and how to adapt to the changing reality. For instance, most states in the North have lost between 25-30% of their land while Lake Chad has dried up to less than 15% of its original water content. Don’t forget that land and water are the most important factors of production. Some countries import water on daily basis but it’s impossible to import land. Unfortunately, God is no longer in the business of creating land. When a state loses 30% of its land and water resources where majority of the people are peasant farmers, cattle rearers and fishermen, what happens? It means 30% of that population has been rendered jobless. So, if you take the 30% of population of eleven northern States in Nigeria, then, you will begin to appreciate the number of people who lost their jobs over the last 20 years or so. Take the cattle rearers for example, when they can’t find grass for their cattle, they simply move down south into other people’s farm. This is the cause of the constant fight between farmers and cattle rearers in Nigeria. The farmer who lost his land to desertification is forced to move into an urban area and settle down with other family members, over-stretching the basic infrastructure there. When you have thirty to forty million of such able bodied but idle people, what do you expect? Wicked insurgent elements recruit and pay them peanuts to commit havoc against their fatherland. That is the problem now bedeviling our dear country. It is not the creation of any particular president, tribe or religion.

What is the solution?

The solution is to wage a concerted and sustained fight to stop the advancement of desert encroachment. Twenty five years ago, there was nothing like sand dune in any part of Nigeria. But today, it is possible to start a desert safari in Jigawa, Katsina, Kano, Kebbi, etc. The more alarming aspect is that the evil thing moves quite rapidly, destroying farms, animals and human habitation. It is the cause of the pervasive joblessness, frustration, anger and restiveness of the youths of those areas. It is an extremely frustrating plight, worse than corruption and insurgency combined. Kill all the Boko Haram fighters today; insurgency will resurface in another form as long as people continue to lose their land and water to global warming. To me therefore, insurgency is a mere symptom, not the real disease. After all, we had Maitatsine and Musa Makanicki before, didn’t we?

What is the role of government in all of these?

I know that the present government is doing something quietly. There is the Great Green Wall Project and the Cattle Feedlot project. Both projects are being promoted by the Federal Government. Governments’ role in the two projects entail the provision of funding for the construction of cattle feedlots in each State of the Federation and planting of millions of economic trees such as mangoes, guava, cashew, etc., to cover a length of about 1,500km from Kebbi to Borno and a width of about 15km. There is also the youth de-radicalization programme under the auspices of the National Security Adviser. There is the SURE-P and the You-Win programmes targeted at unemployed youths. What the Organized Private Sector is doing is to work with the government to assemble these disparate offerings into a single agro-allied industrial cluster which is profitable and sustainable. We are going to use the Great Green Wall trees as perimeter fencing for our sweet sorghum farm estates as well as to demarcate our daily cane crushing acreages while millions of herds of cattle presently roaming from north to south searching for green pasture are settled in fattening feedlots. The symbiotic relationship thus established will see us supplying sweet sorghum leaves and grains needed to fatten cattle, who will in turn supply droppings for land rejuvenation. The three projects, handled in tandem, will address the issues of global warming, desertification, youth restiveness, insurgency, food security, economic diversification and also positively impact the livelihood of residents in the affected States. It will also permanently address the herdsmen/farmers clash that is fast becoming a perennial menace all over the country. The projects will also provide shelter cover for the affected communities and create an ozone friendly environment in the region. 5,000 new jobs for the tree planters, forest guards, fruit juice makers and citizens who sell vegetables will be created by GGW project in each State. In addition, 50,000 direct and indirect jobs will be created per State for the rural farmers, bio-ethanol and electric power engineers and technicians. Feedlot cattle production will create 5000 additional jobs per State for herdsmen, animal caregivers, abattoir operators, hide and skin producers, etc. As envisaged, a single biofuels industrial cluster established in each State of the Federation will consist of a sorghum farm estate, biofuels refinery, biomass power plant, cattle feedlots, abattoir, meat packaging, milk production, hide and skin tanning ancillaries in approximately 500 rural communities, creating green employment for millions of Nigerians in a Public Private Partnership arrangement driven by the Organized Private Sector under an enabling environment created by the government. The President must however roll up his sleeves and assume the role of a Project Champion, supported by the Private Sector.

Do you have the capacity to accomplish all of these?

We have the capacity and we have the experience. Without sounding immodest, we successfully engineered the entrance of Nigeria into the space industry by facilitating the design and launch of Nigeria’s first Satellite (NigeriaSat-1) working with the University of Surrey and the Federal Ministry of Science & Technology. I’m sure you know that rocket science is the hardest and the highest form of precision engineering. We also pioneered the creation of the National eGovernment initiative as a Public-Private Partnership (PPP) between the Federal Government and the Organized Private Sector (OPS). If we were able to implement those highly tasking and enervating offerings, an agro-business offering should not be too difficult. Our major handicap has been lack of access to long-term financing. Nigeria’s deposit money banks are not helpful in that regard. But having successfully turned our project from green to brown and with the new CBN Support initiative coupled with the new Development Bank just established by the Jonathan Administration, there is a bright future for this project.

What are your projections in the next couple of years?

Over the next five years, we expect this project to have been implemented in about 10 states of the federation. In ten years, we would’ve covered about 22 states and given another five years we would’ve covered almost 30 states of the federation and Nigeria should then become a net exporter of fuel ethanol and quality beef in addition to becoming self-sufficient in packaged electric power generation from biomass. I expect Nigeria to become equal or even better than Brazil in ethanol production within the next couple of years. It’s a great opportunity for Nigeria to successfully diversify her economy, ruralize industrialization, stem global warming and create employment pervasively.

What drives you?

God has a way of putting some of these ideas in someone’s head. Once the clear picture of a project forms in my head, I pursue it with vigor. I think the youths of this country must be passionate about whatever ideas God puts in their heads. Passion, perseverance, integrity are all critical success factors for business success. No matter how challenging the terrain is, don’t allow anything to discourage you. I’m happy to be involved in diversifying the economy of Nigeria.