By Henry Akubuiro
Alhaji Bala Abdullahi Kwatu is the Managing Director of Niger Resources Ltd, an integrated firm incorporated in 1981, operating in Minna, with focus on agricultural produce. He is also on the board of many Nigerian companies, including Urban Shelter. Credited for delivering over $1 billion in business investment, Bala Kwatu, in this interview with Daily Sun in his office in Abuja, x-rays agriculture and the ace it holds in revamping Nigeria’s dwindling economy.
Niger Resources is privately owned, not a government undertaking. The mistake some people make is that when they see “Niger” attached to “Resources”, they think it’s a government establishment. It was incorporated in 1981. We are currently producing in excess of 400 hectares of rice. 200 hectares of maize and 100,000 yam tubers have been cultivated this year. We are also in the production of cowpeas spread over 100 hectares of land. All these hectares are located in Minna, Niger State.
Our objective is to move Niger Resources to the global arena to face global competition through establishing our core competence. And when I say “core competence”, it means what we can do best, what we can add, and what we are doing best to give meaning to the world of agriculture. It is our intention to focus on yam production on a larger scale. In the next five years, we intend to cultivate up to one million tubers of yam. This will give us comparative advantage over others.
Everybody in Nigeria seems to be producing rice. Yam is a staple crop also. It is suitable for different types of food. You can process yam to create amala and eat it as fried, boil it or roast it. It can also be used as starch or poundo yam. So this is where we think we can push our core competence.
For rice production, we are looking at bringing about 4,000 hectares of land under cultivation in the next five years. Currently, we are working at establishing a rice processing mill, and plans are at advance level.
Going into agriculture
I never dreamt of taking farming as a profession while growing up. Going to my background, I had a BA in History, a certificate in Mass Communication, a postgraduate diploma in Management and a Masters in Business Administration. How could you ever imagine somebody with this background going into agriculture? Today, agriculture is my number one profession, when, as a secondary school student, I tried by all means to avoid agriculture because it was tedious. Tilling with bare hands was difficult. So many people would like to run away from that labour.
Despite all I did to run away from agriculture to other lucrative ventures, though my grandfather and my uncle, who adopted me, told me never to abandon agriculture, I found myself in that profession.
Before working with Niger Resources, I had first applied to the Chairman of Urban Resources in 2006 for employment. I gained employment there but the Chairman of Urban Shelter transferred me to Niger Resources after one year, and I hit the ground running, attracting block sales running into hundreds of millions of naira. I was made the Managing Director of Niger Resources with a mandate: if I could turn around the company, I would become a shareholder. I was able to thrive and today, I own shares of the company.
I was inspired by three mentors to go into agriculture, first, by my father; second, by my uncle; third, by my boss, the Chairman of Niger Resources, Ismaila Ibrahim Aliu, who is also the Chairman of Urban Shelters.
Agriculture, key to revamping national economy
First, agriculture is the highest employer of labour. With agriculture, we can secure the nation out of insecurity. With agriculture, we can secure the future of the nation economically. With agriculture, we can become one of the world’s superpowers. I would like to explain.
Daily, I have about 200 labourers working in my farms. Just assume that these guys are jobless, idle, doing nothing, they will create civil unrest, which will lead to insecurity. Most of the kidnappings and killings happening are as a result of joblessness. If we can have thousands of sustainable farms employing farmers, students, and youths to work, there is a tendency for insecurity to reduce.
Making agriculture business attractive to youths
I can’t speak for the government, but I think it’s doing its best through Tradermoney, Youth Empowerment Fund Scheme, NPower Scheme, and the National Directorate for Employment. These are efforts not only by this government but by previous governments. In agriculture, the government has a scheme called the Anchor Borrowers Programme, etc. The problem is not with the government but with individuals. The willingness must be there. The youths have to take a decision to be independent and start something, then the government will come to support them. Money itself is nothing. Money cannot multiply itself. It’s you who will multiply it.
Enclosure system and agricultural boom
I am not in business to benefit from the government’s palliatives. I am in the business of agriculture to seize opportunities and utilise these opportunities. If you ask me, the enclosure system the government has introduced by enclosing the borders against the importation of rice is a good one. It has led to the emergence of many rice fields. The price of rice has gone up astronomically, though it is not supposed to be so. But, as a farmer, it’s a good thing for me because I can now go to farm, produce rice and the rice is also a blue chip in the country.
But one shouldn’t rush to conclude that rice is a blue chip. Why has the price of rice gone up? It is because the variables for the production of rice have also gone up: fertiliser, herbicides, insecticides, tractors, and hiring labour. So these components combined together led to the rise in the price of rice.
Smuggling of rice into the country
Smuggling is a global phenomenon. Smuggling means taking illegal risks, going against the authorities; and when you are caught, you face the music. Again, smuggling can’t happen without conspirators from the authorities. But, no matter the rate of smuggling now, it cannot be that significant, compared to when the borders were open.
Business environment amid uncertainties
The risk is particularly high. With the recent happenings – the #Endsars protests – Shoprite, Spar, etc., were looted. Properties belonging to private individuals who had nothing to do with the government were also destroyed. If you were a foreigner and saw these things, would you come to Nigeria? You would be discouraged. As a local investor, I was jittery and afraid. Now, I am still afraid. That I am harvesting X number of yams in my farm, I was afraid that the protest could lead to revolution and wanton destruction, and my farm could also be affected.
But, on a global outlook, Nigeria isn’t a bad climate for investment. The recent policy by the government regarding Visa on Arrival is meant to stimulate the economy. I am quite sure Nigeria is one of the countries that foreigners are allowed to invest and repatriate their profit 100 per cent.
Delivering over $1 billion in business investment
I am good at negotiations. I am a professional negotiator and a professional facilitator. My first kick was the N226 million I brought for Urban Shelter in 2006/7 in building the Garki Ultra Modern Market through the Kano Emirate Council. From there, I facilitated a number of projects for Urban Shelter, but I wouldn’t like to mention them here.
Without any iota of doubt, Niger Resources will surpass Dangote in Nigeria in the next 10 years. I am planning that. Dangote didn’t plan it. He worked for it, and he achieved it. I am working for it. Maybe he followed left to achieve what he has achieved now; I will follow right to do mine. Before Dangote, there were others and, after Dangote, there should be others. And after us, others will come.