Monday, 2nd October 2023

Bleak industrial future for Nigeria as churches take over failed companies

By Chijioke Iremeka
26 February 2022   |   4:21 am
The saying that ‘nature abhors vacuum’ aptly illustrates the realities in the UK and US on one side, and Nigeria on the other side with regard to failed companies and churches.

Worshippers congregate at a Nigerian mega church. (Photo: Andrew Esiebo/The Guardian)

Industrial development aspiration of Nigeria may be facing a serious threat. While churches in the United States (US) and United Kingdom (UK) are giving way for factories and industries thereby boosting job creation and national economic development, churches in Nigeria are filling the vacuum created by failed factories in the country by turning the premises of such companies into cathedrals where worshippers pray for jobs. Though the church contributes to Nigeria’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) through Diaspora remittances, unless the government addresses the causes of business failure, the nation’s industrial sector may be terribly undermined and churches will continue to feed on the carcass of more companies that would die afterwards, CHIJIOKE IREMEKA writes:

The saying that ‘nature abhors vacuum’ aptly illustrates the realities in the UK and US on one side, and Nigeria on the other side with regard to failed companies and churches. While companies are absorbing redundant churches in the UK and US, failed factories in Nigeria are being converted to churches where unemployed citizens pray for jobs.

In the last few decades, abandoned and underutilised churches have become a familiar phenomenon in American and UK cities. In some cases, the congregation or the governing body would sell the church to developers who turn them into apartments, offices, art galleries, museums, breweries, or performance spaces.

The Guardian learnt that the reason for selling off these abandoned churches is basically to make them more profitable. Other reasons listed for abandonment of the churches include population movements, changing social patterns, merging of parishes and decline in church’s attendance.

Historically, redundant churches in the UK and US were often demolished or left to their ruins, especially when no alternative use could be found. But now, turning them into a more profitable venture like factories has become a popular alternative.

One of such abandoned churches in the US that was sold to property developers and was turned into apartments and coffee shops is the All Saint’s Church, Bristol, and Harthill. Also, St. Peter’s Church, OffordD’Arch, earlier managed by the Churches Conservation Trust, is now being used to host festivals, including a film festival. High Pavement Chapel is also being used as art galleries, coffee shops, and even pubs and clubs while St. Mary’s in Wythall, Worcestershire, is now office for an electrical company.

But while these are happening in the UK and US, reverse is the case in Nigeria as churches are converting the buildings and warehouses owned by failed factories and industries into religious centres where worshippers seek spiritual solution to their joblessness.

Ironically, one needs not to pray for jobs or give mouth-watering testimonies in the worship centres for a job if the government is alive to its responsibilities of ensuring that these companies do not go under, promoting good economic and industrial policies and creating enabling environment for businesses to thrive.

Sadly, due to absence of good economic policies, reliable infrastructure, especially electricity, coupled with multiple taxations, the factories and industries that once created jobs for millions of Nigerians, are dying on regular basis under the watchful eyes of the Nigerian government.

As these businesses cave in and their premises are purchased by big churches in Nigeria, the worshippers who have been thrown out of jobs now find solace in the new churches, fasting and praying for good jobs and promotion in workplaces, forgetting that the premises once hosted thriving industries that provided jobs for millions of Nigerians.

It was learnt that in those days, because there were industries to employ Nigerian graduates and skilled labourers, people were being given employment while they were still in school or in training workshops. But this has long gone as even graduates with doctorate and master’s degrees now find it difficult to get a job to do.

One of such failed companies being taking over by a church is the Ikeja-Dunlop Tyres, the manufacturers of Dunlop tyres, situated along Oba Akran Road in Ikeja. It used to be an envy of many companies in the country.

Dunlop Tyre, a brand being managed by different companies across the world, was founded by John Boyd Dunlop in Dublin, Ireland in 1890. The brand, which is operated by Goodyear in North America, Europe, Australia and New Zealand, gave jobs to over 12, 000 Nigerians and non-Nigerians in 80s and 90s but when the business environment in which it operated became toxic and unbearable in the 90s, the company, that was once a pride of Nigeria, became vulnerable and eventually left the country for neighbouring Ghana.

After years of complaining of high operating cost to no avail, the company left for Ghana where it enjoys better business environment and infrastructures, especially electricity, to operate.

When Dunlop relocated and its premises became redundant, a church, Triumphant Christian Centre (TCC), took over the property.

Also, Michelin Tyre Nigeria Ltd, a major competitor which shared boundary with Dunlop, left for Ghana when no respite was in sight for its business’ survival.

Before it left, Michelin boasted of over 1, 300 workforce, Nigerian and non-Nigerians. In fact, like Dunlop, Michelin Nigeria produced durable tyres, which gave motorists some sense of confidence while driving.

“I did not use any other tyre when Michelin was still operating in Nigeria. It could be expensive but you don’t think of tyre problem while on the wheel,” 73-year-old retired civil servant, Patrick Nwoye, said of his confidence in Michelin.

According to him, when the tyre becomes punctured, it does not go flat immediately, it will still take the vehicle to a vulcaniser’s shop for repair.

Michelin, while in Nigeria, was beneficial to the country and workers. At a point, it compensated over 1,300 workers who were laid off due to the closure of the company. The firm was said to have disbursed N3.6 billion as severance packages to the affected workers.

The same TCC took over Michelin’s property even as part of its premises became a parking space for its neighbouring Guiness Nigeria Plc at a point.

Apart from the tyre giants, there are other companies whose initial premises have been taken over by big churches in the country.

Hardel and Enic Group of Companies, a construction firm that used to be active in the country’s industrial sector and employed over 4, 000 workers in the past three decades of its operations in Lagos.

Situated beside the National Art Theatre, Iganmu Lagos, the construction firm owned by Chief Emmanuel Iwuanyanwu, constructed major roads in Nigeria, including the popular Enugu-Port Harcourt Expressway, during the military era.

Unfortunately, the operational premises of Hardel and Enic is currently being occupied by the Pastor Poju Oyemade-founded Covenant Christian Centre that boasts of over 5, 000 congregants.

Recall that after Hardel and Enic moved to Oriental Plaza, Okigwe Road, Ugwu Orji, Owerri, to continue their business, another company, which came there, Zoom Mobile still failed.

Meanwhile, a staff of the company told The Guardian that they are still operation in South East, when contacted to confirm their present location.

Zoom Mobile shut down its operations in the country, following the same harsh business environment. It was learnt that in its bid to halt the losses, the company, effected the sack of some 200 skeletal staff in one fell swoop while its founder and chairman, Senator Annie Okonkwo, is said to be making frantic efforts to get new partners to resuscitate the telecom company to no avail.

The affected staff were said to be made up of those previously retained to provide skeletal services of running the company’s switches and base stations nationwide after it started its cost cutting measures last year.

Today, the Covenant Christian Centre (The Covenant Nation) has taken over its premises at Iganmu, near National Theatre, Iganmu.

According to the Covenant Christian Centre, which was consecrated by Bishop David Oyedepo, the church was founded in March 30, 1994 and exists to bless the local community, city and nation in which she is planted.

Also, Latter Rain Christian Centre now occupies what used to be Ugo Foam factory premises. The founder of Latter Rain Assembly, Pastor Tunde Bakare, allegedly acquired the site at the rate of N54, 000.

Ugo Foam Industries, one of the biggest foam and pillow manufacturers in the country in the past, was situated along Akilo Road, Ikeja, Lagos. The firm, which had branches all over Nigeria, employed over 6, 000 people. In the late 90s, the light of the once prosperous company dimmed.

A bakery on Kukoyi Street, Olodi-Apapa, Lagos with about 15 workers has left the premises for the International Gloryhouse Christian Centre which purchased the facility. In Olodi-Apapa, Christ Bible Church bought a story building at No 144 Idowu Street. While the ground floor is the worship centre, the upstairs serves as the Senior Pastor’s residence.

The Redeemed Christians Church of God (RCCG) procured the former premises of Okada Micro Finance Bank at Palm Groove, which belonged to Chief Gabriel Igbinedion. RCCG Dominion Sanctuary also took over another industrial zone on Acme Road, Ikeja, while the Victorious Army Ministries of Apostle Joseph Agboli acquired what used to be seven warehouses and two empty plots on the same Acme Road, Ikeja.

As the businesses are collapsing, their warehouses are being acquired. At Oregun industrial axis, Mountain of Fire and Miracles Ministry (MFM) opened a church along No 2 Kudirat Abiola Way from the Ikeja end, facing Zenith Bank Plc on the opposite side. The church occupies what used to be the showroom of a Lebanese company that imported electricity generators and the spare parts from Japan.

The Guardian learnt that the showroom was up and doing in the 90s until the coming of some Chinese businessmen who flooded the country with cheap Chinese products which made low income persons to divert to their products at the expense of the Japanese products.

Fountain of Life Church at No. 12, Industrial Estate Road, owned by Pastor Taiwo Odukoya, is another church occupying a former warehouse in Ilupeju, but the name of the actual company could not be confirmed.

Household of God’s founder, Pastor Chris Okotie, purchased an extended warehouse and land at Oregun, having allegedly purchased certain sick and dying companies in the axis and converted them to his church.

In the same area, Pastor Chris Oykhilome of the Christ Embassy also operates from a warehouse of a failed company. He acquired property belonging to failed businesses and warehouses behind the Household of God church. The Edo-born Oyakhilome erected a glass building with blue and gold colours along the same Kudirat Abiola Way, Ikeja.

In its 2012 report, the Nigerian Chambers of Commerce said that at least 800 companies closed shop in the country between 2009 and 2011 due to harsh business environment. The companies that have survived are also having serious challenges as over half of them were classified as ‘ailing.’

The President of Nigerian Association of Chambers of Commerce, Industry, Mines and Agriculture (NACCIMA), Herbert Ajayi, revealed these during a paper presentation at a zonal workshop on economic diversification organised by the Revenue Mobilisation Allocation and Fiscal Commission (RMAFC) in Asaba, Delta State capital.

He said the situation of the surviving companies posed a great threat to the survival of the manufacturing industry, as the capacity utilisation in industries hovers around 30 per cent and 45 per cent on the average, with 100 per cent overhead costs.

He blamed the continued decline in the manufacturing sectors on political and economic factors, citing poor infrastructure and epileptic power supply as key impediments.

“The manufacturing industry as a whole operates on more than 70 per cent of energy it generates, using electricity generators, and operating these generators greatly increases the cost of manufacturing goods,” he said.

The NACCIMA president, who was represented by the Vice President of the association, Mary Iyasere, described current government policies to revive the manufacturing industry as inadequate.

“For instance, in May 2010, the government announced a $1.3 billion fund to help banks extend credit to the manufacturing sector following the decline in available finance after the global economic crisis had set in.

“Notwithstanding this positive development arising from the reform process, the Nigerian economy, especially the manufacturing sector, is still confronted with serious challenges, structural imbalance and lack of diversification,” he said.

Quoting statistics from the Bureau of Public Enterprises (BPE), Ajayi said between 1999 and 2011, a total of 121 firms were privatised or commercialised, with about N250 billion realised from their sales.

“It was also reported that 81 of the privatised firms were operating at about 66 per cent and 41 or 34 per cent performance level,” he added.

Government Policy Killed Michelin, Dunlop
Reacting to church occupation of the premises of industries in the country, especially in Lagos, the Chief Executive Officer, Centre for Promotion of Private Enterprise (CPPE) and immediate past Director General of the Lagos Chamber of Commerce and Industry (LCCI), Dr. Muda Yusuf, said government killed Dunlop and Michelin.

“The churches cannot be blamed for the failure of the businesses, rather the government policies. It’s better we have rent paid than nothing. If the property doesn’t belong to the company, then, the landlord would like to give it to another tenant willing to pay.

“The church is the only industry thriving now. Though we do not export finished goods, we export services. When I got to Ghana the other day, I was shocked to see a very prominent RCCG, Synagogue and other churches in that country. So, it’s better for the landlords to put in a church to collect rent.

“The church has also contributed its quota to the GDP of the country. If you check their income and contribution, you will discover that the church has contributed through Diaspora remittance. So, it’s not the churches that killed the businesses but because it’s the only industry that thrives now, they can afford to acquire the property of failed companies,” Yusuf said.

On the failure of companies in the country, he alleged that government policy killed Michelin and Dunlop, explaining that barely one year after Dunlop went to the stock market to raise capital to buy some big and expensive machines to ease production of heavy and light truck tyres, the government reduced the import duty. According to him, the government’s policy caused heavy import of cheap tyres into the country which made the Michelin and Dunlop tyres expensive and out of reach of the common man and this made them vulnerable as their sales dropped.

“What is happening is the manifestation of de-industralisation of Nigeria. The companies depend on the imported raw materials for their work and the cost of exchange rate. Sometimes, Customs Service will devalue their invoices just to meet their (Customs) yearly budget target.

“The real sectors are more affected because all their production logistics are not in the town and they are not cheap. Again, there is Chinese incursion. They have an advantage over Nigerian businesses because they get support and funding from their government.

“They have what is called the African Fund. The African fund is a support the Chinese government gives to her citizens who want to invest in any African country. Nigerians do not get this support from our government and the cost of money is too high here.

“Exchange rate is a big problem for Nigerian businesses because all the raw materials needed for our local manufacturing are imported from abroad and the exchange rate is not favourable. Chinese have cheap labour and support. It affected all the businesses in the country even Eleganza had a share of it.

“What he did was to launch his operations from one point which will reduce his operational cost. Eleganza may be existing but never the same,” Yusuf explained.

A former United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) economist, Dr. Warea Thomas, said in a report that a huge number of closed manufacturing firms had worsened the country’s growing unemployment rate.

“The unfavourable situation may be responsible for the sluggish economic growth experienced in the country. When a company stops operation, the workers there become frontline victims. If 834 firms were officially given by MAN to have closed shop in 2009, it is easy to speculate that not less than 83, 400 jobs were lost in that year alone if we assume that they were all medium-size manufacturing firms, with each having 100 workers.

“Apart from job losses, the depletion in the GDP and a scare syndrome it creates to the outside investment market are serious reasons the government should consider tackling the problems associated with the declining trend head on,” he stressed.

The Chairman of Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), Lagos State Chapter, Bishop Stephen Adegbite earlier said: “If companies are folding up, if factories are going down, it is not the fault of any pastor. However, it goes without saying that those people working in the failed industries require our prayers.

“We must continue to pray for our nation until we have a better environment for industries to thrive and we will continue also to tell the government to ensure that it provides the enabling environment for industries to grow because without that, our teaming youths will continue to roam the streets without jobs. And this is not good for our nation; this is not good for our GDP, this is not good for our economic growth. We just pray that God will open the eyes of our leaders to love Nigeria better than they love themselves,” the cleric said.

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