By Dennis Agbo, Abakaliki
Governor Martin Elechi of Ebonyi state inaugurated a judiciary commission of enquiry into Nigeria â€™s premier cement factory, NIGERCEM Nkalagu. The essence, Governor Elechi said, was to advise the state government on best steps it can take to reclaim the cement factory from the Eastern Bulkcem Nigeria Limited (EBNL), a private cement bagging company based in Port Harcourt. EBNL bought Nigercem from a Technical Privation Committee set up by the five states of the South-East in October 2002, to sell off the collapsed cement company.
He provided reasons on the actions of his government onÂ Nigercem.
What are your remarks on Nigercem?
I wouldnâ€™t say I am delighted this afternoon to inaugurate the commission. I did so with a heavy heart because the establishment known as Nigercem hadÂ for a long time been a historical landmark in the economic and industrial development of Eastern Nigeria from the time of East Central state. It reactivated squeal on the devastating war and it bounced back to life. But as soon as the place became the property of the five eastern states, it went down the drain. Privatization or no privatization, the actual position now is that for seven years, Ebonyi state has been deniedÂ revenue. For seven years, Nigerians and particularly the youths ofÂ Ebonyi state have been deniedÂ employment. What should have been the main engine driver of the economy is today a matter of regret and conflict.
I recall that on 29th September this year, as I was flying from Abuja to Enugu and five minutes before landing, the pilot of the aircraft said, ladies and gentlemen the place you are looking at by your left is Nigercem but unfortunately there was no sign ofÂ smoke from the chimneys meaning that there is no activity. That pricked me grievously and I quickly remembered that on my swearing-in ceremony of May 29 2007, I said among other things that I will quickly get in touch with the core investors of Nigercem to see how the place could be quickly reactivated. That was followed by an economic advisory committee which looked into many facets of economic and social lives including the activities of Nigercem. Following the report of that committee, I petitioned the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria indicating my intention to take over the place since from all indications; the core investors were not willing and able to reactivate it.
That is now history as for two years, the federal government has been looking into the matter but has not given me any conclusive reply. I believe the time has come for us the people of Ebonyi state to take our destiny into our hands and that is the reason of setting up this commission of enquiry to tell us exactly what has been happening in Nigercem since its privatization in 2002. The commission is made up of an eminent jurist as Chairman, experienced engineer and people who have served in different walks of life and have every confidence that the commission will justify the appointment by giving us the type of report that anybody anywhere in the world can defend as the best. You have only four weeks to do it because things are against us and we are swimming against a fast current. We will provide all needed logistics to ensure that it has no inhibition whatsoever in doing the job. We are acting in haste to achieve an important result. It is a fact finding commission and I emphasis speed and efficiency and we are waiting anxiously for the report that will enable us take the next step without fault.
There was a recent public announcement that the state government has revoked the lease given to whoever is occupying the piece of land at Nigercem. So why did you again inaugurate a commission of enquiry into the same Nigercem?
Actually what the radio announced was a revocation but if you go to people, the federal ministry of commerce and industries, what is in black and white is a notice of revocation, giving them one month at the end of which revocation follows. So within that one month, they should know what to do.
You had indicated preparedness of the state to go into private production of cement by establishing another plant in the state. DoesÂ your quest to acquire Nigercem foreclose that plan?
Not at all! What we have in mind is to establish at least a minimum of two and maximum of three cement factories in Ebonyi state because we think that we have the potential for that and Nigeria has market for it. So, an independent exercise is on-going and just today, I approved money for the technical committee on cement production to bulldoze access roads to the areas we think we have this mineral deposit away from Nigercem. It is a very technical exercise which will involve core drilling that will take about four months to accomplish. That exercise will give us the result of quantity of lime stone underground and then the quality so that based on that, you can then say I can establish a factory of so much million metric tons per annum. It is a prerequisite for establishing any cement factory. That is independent ofÂ the struggle for Nigercem.
Assuming at the end of the day, Ebonyi state gets right to take over Nigercem, does the state government have the capacity to run the company?
I have told you we are targeting a minimum of two factories and maximum of three, depending on the result of the investigation. What do you mean by capacity? We have the capacity. We have a lot of capacity to do that, donâ€™t be afraid. When it is ready we will find you a job (laughs).