(Due to some demands from some quarters, we hereby reproduce the interview granted to the Sun Newspapers, Lagos last year by the Chief Executive Officer of Top Two Group of Companies and a popular and committed APC House of Representatives aspirant in Bende Federal Constituency, Mr. Theophilus Ubani…)
The Chief Executive Officer of Top Two Group of Companies, Mr. Theophilus Ubani, can best be described as a silent force. Scantily mentioned in the media, he prefers having his projects do the talking. His company is mainly into construction of independent power production of varied capacity and complexity. However, as a local investor with offshore and onshore partners, Ubani admits that the Nigerian operating environment is harsh such that it is a tall order recouping one’s investments.
In this exclusive interview with Daily Sun, he speaks about the place of private sector players in Nigeria’s power sector equation and the Enyimba Economic City among other issues.
Q: Tell us about your deal with Country Bird Holdings, owners of Valentine Chickens Farms in Songa, Kwara State to build their 5 megawatts power plant. Please, how did it go?
Yes, in 2018, we did sign an MoU with Valentine Chicken Farm. It is owned 100 per cent by South Africans. We were chosen ahead of the other South African firms that also put up interest for that purpose, but simply because they trusted our competence and they trusted our local knowledge of what we can achieve, we were chosen. We did a lot of studies on their behalf for the plant. We brought in experts from abroad on three occasions to visit the site and then we also had our local men doing all the assessments that were required. Obviously, a few major changes happened in the power sector in between the time. One was the tariff issue and also grid expansion. So, we have not quite finished with the financials as we speak. So, we are still trying to tie up things now that COVID-19 is out of the way to a large extent. So, we can start visiting again because in the last 13 months, it has just been a bit dormant because we needed to have meetings face to face and a couple of things needed to happen with other stakeholders, which has not happened; but we hope to revive it this year to see if we can get to the conclusion and contract stage.
Q: If it is to fly Sir, will the power plant be connected to the national grid or stand as an off grid project?
It is going to be an off grid project because it is going to be what we call an embedded power plant and basically embedded means it is to serve a particular locality or community. It was essentially to serve the farm and its environs. So, we designed our proposal to sort of make them energy self-sufficient in the sense that they will not need to be using power from the local distribution company and in this case, Ibadan DisCo. So, they will need to generate power within the perimeters of their farm.
Q: Let’s talk about your track record with regard to delivering projects like this. What kind of projects have you handled in this sector?
In the power sector, we are quite experienced as a group. We have strong international partnerships, which is what has singled us out for recognition in the sector. Apart from that, we have built linkages with local stakeholders like the Transmission Company of Nigeria (TCN), some DisCos and the rest of them, and then other regulatory bodies, like NEMSA, NERC. Those are the stakeholders in the industry that you need to be well acquainted with. We participated in the 38 megawatts IPP. We were the coordinating consultants and then started out all the whole concept from inception to completion. We are hoping that there will be no major delay of regulatory permissions from the NERC and the rest of them and the power plants should be able to commence operations in 2021.
Q: The power sector has been immersed in grid inefficiency lately. How do you think renewable energy can help resolve this dilemma?
There are other issues associated with grid inefficiency apart from generation. You know when you are talking about renewable energy, the power sector is divided into three major areas. You have the generation, you have the transmission, you have the distribution and then at each point in time of the value chain, if any link is missing or weak, the whole system collapses. So, in terms of grid inefficiencies, it is not really about renewable energy or energy diversification. It is really about legacy issues in the power industry. And what do I mean by legacy issues? I used to tell people that the DisCos inherited 40-50-year -old assets. I mean the connection we have in my family house in Aba, where we grew up in the 70s has not changed much today. The feeder pillars, the conductors and the rest of them are still essentially the same old ones and they have outlived their lifespan. I am a bit surprised that when people talk about inefficiencies in the power sector or about power not being available, nobody seems to talk about the legacy infrastructure that are already outdated and unfortunately for the DisCos, when they were buying into this, they didn’t take some of these into consideration. So, they paid money to the government to get a license and the rest of them and now they need more than what they paid for to run efficiently. They need more than the two or three hundred million dollars they paid for their licence. They found out they need almost a billion dollars to be able to fix things for them to have a profitable business. What happens? They have to juggle out along the line and then try to play catch up. So, back to your grid inefficiencies, there are a lot of factors that affect the grid and one of such factors is what I have mentioned.
There are other issues. I cannot take away the generation impact which is the generators, people who are generating the power and then from the scheme. I cannot also take away the useful impact renewable energy will add to the grid. But having said that, what renewable energy does, and by renewable energy, we mean the hydro power plants, we mean the solar power plants, we mean the wind power plants, we also mean the geo-thermal if Nigeria ever gets to that point. So, those are the renewable sources of energy, which can add to our generation capacity. But back to the grid, renewable energy will not impact much on the grid because the grid is about the transmission and transmission is the evacuation of the power generated that is essentially where everybody has been having issues. You have heard of late the issue of discos rejecting the power because of their own issues which I mentioned to you. If they didn’t put their house in order to be able to distribute the power, they start rejecting it and when they reject it, who pays? The generation companies will pay the transmission companies for wheeling the power to them and now you want to wheel it back to them. So, these are all the issues we have to sort out with the grid.
I tell people there is also what I call the cultural issues in grid inefficiencies. Take for example, when people start burning the bushes. When they burn the bushes, the conductors are affected. They are just burning the bushes to clear their farms, then you see the grid on top of the fire and these things can burn for two or three day and the efficiency of what it is wheeling is affected because there has been an intrusion. These are the things people don’t take into account. All of a sudden, the system collapses and the rest of them; one powerline that is affected brings down the whole system because it is the one powerline that connects a thousand powerlines. So, once one tower is affected like we have established, everything is affected. I am just giving you some salient issues, which people don’t take into account.
Take for example, we are contractors to Transmission Company of Nigeria. We have done some erosion control projects for them. On their towers and on one of the occasions, we went to do a job, the tower was just almost less than half a meter to be totally taken out by erosion before we came and quickly intervened and we put up emergency measures to fix it up. If that tower was allowed to stay another raining season, about six states could have been affected by transmission and they would have been without power for months before things are put in place. So, there are a couple of issues that affect the grid and the grid inefficiencies and why it is not very efficient.
There is also what we call grid intensification and basically what is grid intensification? It is looking at some of these basic issues that affect the grid and try to address them to be able to improve the performance. It could be changing the conductors. It could be improving it with smarter ones and then it could be even a substation issue. I mean the transmission stations. You know there could be transformers that are not able to carry the load because the load it was designed for it is overloaded. If you check some of these things, they were constructed when we still had a population of under a hundred million, when we were just 70 million. I remember in the late 70s, we were taught in school that our population was about 60 million or there about and now 45 years down the line, we are now talking about 200 million and the same old infrastructure. Nothing has improved.
I gave you an example of where we lived on Cameroon Road in Aba; nothing has changed on those structures 40 years down the line. A lot of investments have gone into the transmission sector and there are still more investments as you have heard in a recent announcement this week, another four hundred and something million dollars going into improving the transmission of the network; but I tell people, you improve your transmission, you wheel the power to them, right? In the street where you live most of your issues are transformers because a lot of people have moved into your street, installed their air conditioning systems, installed their fans, their heaters etc. New estates have been built, yet the power infrastructure has not been improved. People just think that when you buy transformers, it is okay. They tell you to buy a transformer. What about the feeder pillars? There are other things you will require to carry the new weight because more people have moved into those communities and I don’t often see the infrastructure being improved as they are moving in.
So, these are all messed up and then when people keep saying this and that have not been done, I tell them we need to get back to the basics, plan the power. That is how it is done all over the world. Before you put in anything power, the people need to be informed. If there is going to be a new community, there should be a new infrastructure before the community comes in. If the community comes in and you start building, you start calling people we need transformer and they don’t even buy the right transformer. Have you heard individuals getting transformer in any civilised society? You build a house and you are asked to buy a transformer? Your colleague will build a house and he will buy another transformer? Does power work that way? And then it is different rating, it is different standards. Everything lumped together.
I was at one fora, at FCDA in Abuja here. They wanted to engage us to work with them on substations improvement project. And I told them, within the Central Business District, go down from where your substation is in Wuse 2 here, within half a kilometer square radius, you have the new FIRS headquarters; 22 storey building. You have the Galaxy office; you have this massive, gigantic police formation that is setting up a new 10-storey building and other businesses that are there. Now the FIRS headquarters that is there, I told them that it will not take anything less than three mega watts minimum to run 20 floors of air conditioning system of that nature. Minimum of three to four megawatts and I am being conservative. You can do the calculations. Galaxy cannot take anything less than one and half megawatts because of the equipment they have and how big the office is. How many hotels are set up in that area? And we are still using the same substations. We have not improved on it and what do you get? Load shedding. These are practical issues and when people try to be defensive on it, I say there is no point. Let’s say it the way it is. We are not planning. Managing modern cities is not a joke. We have been globalised. So we have realised that we are running modern cities and yet we are not using the principles of running those modern cities in application of utilities. The same goes with water, sewage, you name it. The Abuja sewage was built to serve about a million population or under. Now it is serving about three times that population. So, it gets blocked from time to time. The water gets overloaded because the pipes can only carry a certain quantity and the pipes, as at the last time I checked, have not been changed. I don’t want to start making comparisons with abroad before they will say Mr. Theo has come again to talk about London. But I am just talking about practical issues, which also translate to other issues, not just power.
Q: How do private investors like you recoup your investments in this kind of environment?
I would say it is tough. It is tough in this sector. It is easier in areas like telecommunications because there are certain things technology can allow you to control. You can block the line. If I have not paid, you can cut me off. But there are no yet technologies that allow you to shut down from the office apart from coming to climb the poles in the person’s house or going to the transformer there to disconnect everybody to punish everyone in that street. So, when people tell me they have done it in the telecom sector, I tell them it is not the same in power. If we have developed like the UK, like what we are doing now with the smart meters, it will be easy. However, the smart meters have not gone around. You know if you don’t pay you don’t get the power. So, I tell people that there are issues that affect the power infrastructure that does not affect the telecom infrastructure. Telecommunications infrastructure is a magnetic wave. It is carried in the waves. This one, you must physically carry your power in conductors and for each street you pass through. It is already a risk factor. One drunken driver will knock down the pole, and that will be the end for hours or days for people that live in that area. So, there are certain factors that when people make comparisons I tell them you don’t compare apples with oranges. You don’t know what these investors go through. I just gave you an example of the discos companies.
Look at the kind of challenges they have; good business modules with which they came in, took over the management of the distribution, what happened next my brother? You now find out that you have all these legacy infrastructure deficits. They are outdated. They now find out that the cost of them buying the meters is huge before they resell it. So, they are telling you to pay for meters and people are going back and forth, and they now start charging you estimated bills and there are now disputes. Everyday disputes. So, you find out that there are just so many issues that we the investors face. Sometimes, I ask myself if it is really worth the effort in the power sector knowing the Nigerian condition and our societal issues of people not wanting to pay for what they use. So, I tell people in various fora, how come people are happy to pay for diesel which will cost them three or four times the cost of the meters of the light but they are not willing to pay a basic two thousand or three thousand naira to recharge the electricity? But they are happy to pay N10, 000 to buy the diesel with the noise and pollution and the inefficiencies to carry whatever you want. But they are happy to pay. They don’t owe the filling stations. It’s only a Nigerian that will use electricity of three thousand naira and because of three thousand naira he will fight a battle of three hundred thousand naira. Just to pay three thousand naira you are saying there has been a tariff increase, the Labour Congress is going on strike, but nobody has gone on strike that people should stop using generators. Even on good grounds. Why have they not shut down the nation and say people should stop using generators? So, why are they preventing investors from even balancing their books through tariff increments? Some people may say I am a bit biased as an industry investor but I rather be positively biased than negatively biased and my questions are just germane.
Q: How do you think we can overcome these regulatory challenges? What should the regulatory bodies be doing? How do we sort out that clogged sector of regulation?
I have been thinking about these regulatory issues, simply because I am interfacing with them to get a license for a client project that we just finished. So, we are still interfacing with them. But I am just looking and trying to see how we can start managing some of these issues I have that I am discussing. And I believe that both the regulators and other players should come together. We have the regulatory bodies as you know, we have the inspectorate commissions, we have NEMSA as a regulatory body, the discos, and we have other Energy Commissions. All these people are involved in the power sector in one way or the other. And one of the things I tell them is that one, there is need for inter-agency collaboration to fix this issue irrespective of people playing high horse. ‘I am your regulator; you have to listen to me’. For example, the losses we encounter, I tell people if we are losing 10 per cent of whatever we are generating according to their records, and I think it is more, is that proper? According to official records, if they generate 3,000 megawatts, which means every day we are losing 300 megawatts. And to put it in perspective that is more than what Abuja gets as a city. Abuja gets about 200-250 megawatts. So, that is more than three agricultural states put together, because some of those states don’t even use up to a hundred megawatts. So, there are certain interplays here and now Abuja has pushed on to become semi-industrial, semi-residential, and semi-commercial. It is just the same everywhere. So, that means it is demanding more. Maybe about a thousand or two thousand megawatts in another five years and then clearly that is going to put more pressure as more of these big organisations are setting up their headquarters here. As people are fleeing the rural areas to urbanise in Abuja, that means more people will need their phones charged. They will need their bulbs powered, their refrigerators installed; there will be need for more houses powered. So, you now start getting a feel. I tell people even if everyone is using half a kilowatt, multiply that by the 200 million people we have, how many kilowatts does it become? Half a kilowatt is just to charge your phone, power your bulbs and do the basics. So, you now start getting a feeling of how far left behind we are.
Q: What do you think is the future of power generation in Nigeria? Are we on track? Is there hope?
I think the future is looking bright. And that is being essentially honest with you. Irrespective of what the detractors might want to say. When I look at projects like the Mambilla being a renewable energy project with the hydro plants estimating about 2,000 megawatts, I’m happy. Even if we get 1,000 or 1,500 or 1,200 megawatts from that; even if we don’t achieve the 2,000 megawatts, that gives us a footprint in the renewable energy sector as a country. Plus the other dams that we have, which are all doing their bits and then when more wind farms and solar plants come in, things will be looking better for us because we will be relying less on the fossil fuel to be able to generate power. Most of our dams are not fully utilised. Like what we call the micro dams that do two to three megawatts and the rest of them and I understand there are more than 200 of them all over the country. So, imagine if they were all doing their little bits, that is all going to add and reduce our reliance on gas powered plants or coal powered plants and the rest of them and with the investments that have been made in wheeling, our wheeling capacity has increased a lot.
The government has put in a lot of investment, assisted by the World Bank, the African Development Bank, EU, the Japanese government, the Germans and the rest of them. They are all putting in efforts in supporting the country in terms of wheeling capacity. But because distribution has been privatized, they cannot do more because it is now a business. You’ve got to now develop a module for our business that will work. I tell people that the power plants have a power capacity in store of how much? More than twelve thousand then we have in store wheeling capacity of about seven to eight thousand. So, even if they generate all the power you need today, my brother, the current grid cannot carry it. Which is why the government is putting in so much effort to see how they move to being at the same par and as you are moving at the same par, there are more consumers. More people are being born, more people are getting gadgets, more people will need the light, more people will need to use refrigerators and the rest of them. Yes, it is looking good but we need to work harder. I think that is my advice. It is still a work in progress. The future looks bright.
Q: The Abia State Government is talking about the Enyimba Economic City. What do you think of it?
Great Idea. I must have to commend the governor for the vision of conceiving the Enyimba Economic City. It is good to dream big.
Q: What does it take to realise the dream?
So many things; let’s start with the basics. I tell people, yes, the dream is good. The vision is bright, but there are some fundamental pillars that will drive that to work. What are those fundamental pillars? You need the right team, right network, right strategy; you need the right facilities in the city and you need to make the right linkages. If you just say ‘I am building a city; ‘I am building a road, and then people will come, investors will come,’ I laugh when I see that because these are things that I deal with. It is part of my work. We have mega projects we are dealing with which our terms of MoU does not allow me to make it public but can I tell you how some certain partnerships can work. What is going to be in the Enyimba Economic City? I have gone through the documents, good idea but can it sustain it?
Q: Is it viable?
We will get to viability. Let’s talk about a recent city. The Eko Atlantic City. Enyimba Economic City is almost three and half times the size of Eko Atlantic City too, put it in perspective for you. Eko Atlantic City is designed to be a luxury residential place with some play, some commercial, shopping and the rest of them. But the Enyimba Economic City is a monster sitting on almost 10,000 hectares of land and if you are putting it in kilometres, you are talking about 94 square kilometers. The Eco Atlantic City is 25 square kilometres. So, I am saying that the dream is good but where are the people to drive it? It is four years in the making since it’s conception. So, how do you gauge? You need critical things that will be in there, if they ask me to advise them. You need some critical sectors to drive it.
I have not seen a critical sector. I am told at the presentation that there is a Chinese textile manufacturing company, which is coming there to invest in manufacturing textiles. Great idea. You are talking about nine thousand, four hundred and something hectares. Let’s unpack it. Go to Jebel Ali in Dubai, a mini city focused on what we call oil field supply services for the whole of the Middle East.
If I am involved in the Enyimba Economic City the first thing I need to do is to get all the critical people, Haliburton and co and provide the enabling environment for them to come to the Enyimba Economic City. This is business. It is not a joke. It is not politics. All these things need to happen. Because they come with aggregated value, logistics, and other value chain players. Tech-hub.
We need to sectorise that place. It is a monster. We are talking about 94 square kilometers. There should be an oil service sector of it. You need the energy park within the Enyimba Economic City. You need the tech park. The tech companies, that place should be their hot bed. We can conceptualise it; we add a bit of Silicon valley. You add a bit of Chennai in India, a light-manufacturing city. Maybe value chain expansion in the oil and gas industry. Chemicals, lubrication, even automobiles can come in. You need a section for them. You need what I call the Entrapretech University. Entrepreneur/Technology University for the Enyimba Economic City. We say our people are entrepreneurs; our people are artisans; so give it to them. Give them entrapretech universities dedicated to technology and entrepreneurship. Educate them. You don’t need to give everybody a degree. You need to give them a certificate. University is not just about people spending three to four years, contrary to what we think in Nigeria. University is about education, equipping people with skills. I need to see and I wish the governor could see where I am going. There is an urgent need to anchor the place with a good research and development facility. Let people know if you are coming into the Enyimba Economic City, it is not just like anything they call a city in Nigeria. Some of them are jokes. They don’t even qualify for villages, not to talk of cities. Your coming in there is a one-stop shop. The university is linked with the Research and Development (R&D) people. We can R and D anything. We can R and D leather if it is what they are using in manufacturing. Do research that can lead to better use of those leader goods. Let it be driven by the economic city. This is not a political capital where you expect if you do roads for the investors to come. My dear, even the Eko Atlantic City with all the Lagos factors, all the International factors, all the money sunk in. It is not taking off.
I did a tour of the facility the other time. It is not picking up. Even people that have gotten the land, they have not developed. How many towers are supposed to be there and how many are up? And this has been going on from 2006 till Fasola kind of institutionalised it and they started construction. See how far it is. You are now talking about an Economic City of the quantum of what we are seeing. So, what I am saying? Sectorise it. Get a central coordinating point where things can happen, where we need to get these things to work. This is for Abia people and the whole of South-South and South-East I would say. So, it is not something people are just going to do a blame game on the governor: ‘oh Mr governor you have not done that, you have not done that’. No, I am not going to buy into that. The governor has come out with a great vision. We all need to support him to make it work. And by guiding and then doing the right things from the beginning.
Q: So, what do we do?
There are things we need to do very quickly. It is to revisit the concept of what they have, put in sectoral issues there. I know they have mentioned they will have this, they will have that, but for each one there must be a company or an organisation that are interested. It is one thing to mention you want to have a medical city; it is another thing to get it done. If you want to have a medical city, are you talking to people within the medical facilities? Why don’t we locate the Abia College of Medicine there? Why don’t we move it to the medical city? So, it will now serve as the medical city. So, by having them there, you have the students there. Then if you are talking about an economic city, are we prepared with the manpower? How many universities do we have in Abia? So, that is why I say as a matter of urgency, the government needs to set in motion the entratech university because you need the skilled manpower to drive the city. Modern cities are not driven by just building a structure. They are driven by the knowledge economy. We need to bring in the knowledge economy people into that city to buy into it as soon as possible.
If I would have advised, the city could have had an access to the sea. If it means sharing the vision with the neighbouring governor, fine. We need to link that city into the sea. I am not too impressed with the inland port terminal being proposed. You must have a competitive advantage. What is my competitive advantage? Why should I go to Enyimba Economic City than doing my thing in Eko Atlantic City where I have the benefit of the airport, the seaport, the benefit of the middle class income and upper class income and so on? So, why should I come and set up here? We are producing world class youths that have been trained and are able to adapt and it will be cheaper for you to set up there to maximise their use. There must be something to attract people, otherwise we keep promising people and then this governor will come and go and another governor may even come in and kill it. I love the idea of manufacturing small things like you mentioned why don’t we start doing small leather production for the auto industry. All these assembling plants can set up certain things. Set up things that will be sector based.
Q: You said we can learn from Dubai. Was Dubai built on that kind of idea too?
Yes! Dubai was built on that kind of vision that is why I congratulate the governor for his big vision, for thinking it up. But there is work to do. The Enyimba Economic City commercially should be more viable than the Eko Atlantic city. You can quote me on that and I can give you the indices. We need to set up agro processing and handling facilities there. All these palm oil and the rest of them. You can create action to make that city work but it requires us all to sit together and plan it properly. Look at the amount of money spent on shore protection for the Eko Atlantic City. More than a hundred billion dollars and then the budget I heard for the Enyimba Economic City is N500 billion. That is about what it cost to protect the shores of the Eko Atlantic City.
The city should generate everything it needs. If they need power, it should generate power. There are smarter ways of generating power than relying on the geometry power plant. You are talking about renewable energy. You can use a combination of wind and solar to drive the system there. So the Enyimba dream is good but there is a lot of hard work to do.
Q: Sir, on the issue of the Igbo trying to invest outside South-East, how would you encourage people to come back and invest in this Enyimba Economic City? Do you think looking inwards can help the city?
This is where the city comes in. This is the unique advantage of the Enyimba Economic City. These are businessmen. They go to where there is competitive advantage. They saw competitive advantage outside the shores. And don’t forget they didn’t go there 40 years ago. They only went there in the last 30 years. All this migration started happening in the 90s. In the 80s for the last I knew before I went out to England, most of those businesses were in Aba and its environs until they lost the competitive advantage and they started moving to Lagos. So, this is a good opportunity to bring them back by creating an enabling environment, creating a new city, creating what I call a new Nigeria. This offers us a lot of opportunities if we can get it right. The vision is big. I applaud it. But it is one thing to have a big vision and it is another thing to get things that will drive it for you. Because I have seen the work by Price Waterhouse Coopers House. I only saw bullet points. Now is the time to get a team to drive the dream forward. The dream has been dreamed, the vision has been casted. Like they say in the Bible write it down. It has been written down in Habakkuk 2vs3. Now is the time to implement the dream. And I am saying, from what I am seeing, if you keep going on that path it can work. Who knows? But I want it to work well.
I want it to be a world-class facility that people coming to West Africa, not just Nigeria will be heading to the Enyimba Economic City. Go to Shanghai in China and see where they are going. Go to Beijing. Go and see what an Economic City looks like. And I’m saying we can start that module. Things are changing, the population is increasing. I am saying partnership is required. It is not just for Abia. It is for the whole of the South. The city should be a Southern Nigerian project, so everyone keys in. If it needs us getting a jetty, we get a jetty even if it is 5,000 metric tons ship. By the time you put 5,000 metric ship tons in four batches, you will bring it into the city because it already has a free zone status as I am told. So, this is not just an Abia project. I am not too impressed that Sam Mbakwe Airport is 40 kilometres, Onitsha is 35 kilometres away, Akwa Ibom is 90 kilometres. In which infrastructure? Who is going to do those connections for you?
Q: You have told us how many kilometres but it can take you four hours to do those journeys on a typical Nigerian road. So, there needs to be a gyratory. We can call it route 108 like what they have in Boston. I am privileged to have visited all the major cities in the world. We have the M-25 in London. The city should have a gyratory. So, at each point in time the people in the interceptions are coming and going. This requires more than what I have seen, which is why I said it should be a South East project that people buy into it for posterity. Let’s have linkages. We said we are surrounded by about seven states on the project. Let the seven states have a buy-in. They may not have a buy-in in money but they can have a collaboration in making things work because when you tell people to buy in, they are thinking you are telling them to bring money and it is you who conceived the idea. Didn’t you know it will cost money?
I am saying don’t bring money just bring in your good will. Good will can also attract investors. We can also bring in investors that will start doing things but they need to make sure that the vision is powerful enough, is sustainable enough, is achievable enough and to recoup the investments. It is one thing to tell people to come and invest, it is another thing to get the money back. Investment is the easy part, it is the recouping that is the problem. I just gave you an example of the Eko Atlantic City with the hype, with all the money, being in the most prime area of Lagos and the rest of them, see the kind of challenges that they are facing in taking off. We need to learn lessons from them. That is why I said we need to start envisioning the communities. Set up an entratech university there as a matter of urgency. You need to look at driving the man power that will be servicing the city. Start looking at the medical city within it. Put your college of medicine there. Yes, they have laid a foundation stone somewhere, move it. Put it there. You now start seeing how the puzzle is now being fixed. Am I making some sense?
Then the auto industry; what are the things they use for the assembly plants? What are those things you know they need to buy? Is it that they need brake pads, they need tires etc? You said there is enough rubber in some part of Abia and that area where the city is located. Harness it. Let’s get some people that have whatever it takes to come in. Then you will now find out that the oil services people will start keying in. You will now find out that the petrochemicals, the refineries will now have something to supply to that industry to produce tyres. The Michelin or whatever that once produced in Nigeria, why don’t the city re-engage these people? It is still not a viable option for us to be importing motor tyres from abroad when this kind of city can aggregate the raw materials they have to be able to manufacture motor tyres.
Imagine if it was the largest tyre manufacturing place in Africa. It is already taken care of. Go to Japan, I can take you on a trip if it is possible. Go to Japan there is a Toyota Town. Toyota has a town. It is a tourist place. So, why can’t one or two organizations make that to be a town? Toyota is a town almost the size of Abuja. You can Google it. So, the point I am want to put across it that, what is Silicon Valley? Let me ask you a question. Was there Silicon Valley 20 years ago? There was no Silicon Valley. Was there anything like Dubai about 40 years ago? There was no Dubai. Dubai was just a desert. But you need to think. Link the city with something. What was Dubai linked with? They linked it with tourism. The linked it with the elites, made it a hub where all the passengers, if you are paying a 1000 dollar ticket they will charge you 500. Going into Dubai one night to go and sleep, to go and spend your money. Before you know it, you have spent the other 500 dollars in their economy. And gradually people were now buying properties, gradually everyone wants to own a second home in Dubai. Gradually they are telling you to use it as an investment. Gradually they are telling you that at least 60 million people pass through their airport in a year. At least out of that number ten percent will go into the city. That is six figures. Do the mathematics. That is what we need to be doing. And then if all these vision were coordinated, all those things should have been geared towards the economic city.
Q: How can the government encourage foreign direct investment? We have not been getting much of that. How can that be stimulated?
We need to identify the linkages as I have said. I have just given some. Get Government approval where necessary. Just fix the linkages
Tell us about yourself and your company. How did you start and where are you now?
Top Two Group is in its 20th year. I am happy to say this is our 20th year now. We were registered in 2001. I am quite proud of that. Although I came back 10 years later to Nigeria, it was being operated even when I was in the UK and we have been doing various things and now we are going into value chain association; things that will generate maximum value, rather than just depending on government contracts. Those contacts anybody can do them. I am focusing more on energy; like we talked about the power sector. We are focusing more energy going into the medical sector to develop world-class medical facilities and the rest of them, getting my partners together and we trying going into other areas. A lot of ideas coming to my head talking about this economic city, there are so many things to do. You can make it a commodity hub. There are just so much that can be done once the thinking is right. All you need to do is aggregation. Aggregate things; we might look small but we are quite big. Most of the so-called bigger companies are not thinking the way we are thinking because we need to be more strategic now.
If as a country we want to grow and entrepreneurs like myself are able to provide more value to the society rather than just existing on day to day bases, then it’s okay. Doing the same things all over again you will get the same result all over again, I tell people that always. They tell me there are a lot of youths and that the youth is our strength. I say it’s our weakness. If we have youths that are not employable, semi educated, semi skilled. Everything we are doing will be semi, semi, semi all through. So that that is the point. But I am happy about what we are doing. We will be unveiling our big dream project ahead if our anniversary which is still under wraps because we are constrained by the terms of MoU to do press release without clearance from our strategic partner in Nigeria here who we are working with but in the next coming months, I am sure we will have this kind of meeting again. You will now see the power of linkages and the kind of value it can bring to bring the society. And the sort of things the Top Two Group will be embarking on going into the future. We can partner the Enyimba Economic City, definitely that is not really much of a problem, but we need to make sure that everybody understands each other well before people will misunderstand your good intentions.
Q: You are an engineer, accountant or what?
Yes! I am an engineering scientist by training. But I have gone on to become a serial entrepreneur, doing engineering projects, doing construction projects and doing other things to make money.
Uche Nwosu is a two time Shell Petroleum PLC award winner in the year 2000;
He won the Shell Award on Investigative Journalism and Environmental Cleanliness.