By Ikenna Emewu
THE Chief Executive and founder of Beloxxi Industries, Obi Ezeude, is today delivering a lecture on leadership of the younger generation of Africans at the London Stock Exchange. He is the only Nigerian investor among other African investors speaking at the launch of the forum: Companies to Inspire Africa, which is meant to engender mentorship and guidance of young Africans, who make up about 34% of the African population, according to the United Nation’s Population Fund (UNFPA)
The leadership in focus in this forum is through investment and creation of opportunities for the young people to grow and have a future. Ezeude is one of four other African investors participating at the forum in recognition of the role his Beloxxi Industries has played in the past eleven years that it started as a manufacturing outfit, especially in the areas of job creation and fostering the career and professional development of young Nigerian experts.
I vividly recall that I was at the boardroom of Beloxxi Nigeria Limited, a trading company that was sole importer of cream crackers from Malaysia, when Ezeude sat at a meeting with four officials of the US Exim Bank that came from US to Nigeria to inspect and assess the company, prior to the bank’s approval of a $2.2m facility for the takeoff of his dream for a mega biscuit manufacturing company.
Last year, the Beloxxi Industries set up with this facility sold its minority shareholding to foreign investors from Germany at a staggering cost close to $100m.
Today, in appreciation of his ingenious management of the biscuit manufacturing company, the world recognises Ezeude, whose ideas birthed Beloxxi Industries. In 2003, President Olusegun Obasanjo announced a ban on importation of biscuits. I then, out of concern, asked him what his next step would be, on account of the tough policy. He replied that the policy would be a blessing to him. As he put it, “I see it as a way of quickening my intention to go into manufacturing.”
His recourse to the US EXIMBank facility was his last ditch effort after he got very impossible partnership conditions from the Malaysian firm he traded in their products. I watched this dream blossom into reality and feel it is trite to celebrate this enterprising Nigerian who, in these days of Nigeria’s tottering economy, has demonstrated that dreams, when followed through, can blossom into wondrous results.
It was in 1994 that he set up the trading company at a very young age and carried on until the ban came when he was already cruising in success. But after pursuing the dream to manufacture in Nigeria for three years, in 2006, the first Beloxxi cream crackers dropped from the production lines at Agidingbi, Ikeja, Lagos.
Just four years after, the demand for more of the products had started stretching the capacity of the young company that it had to roll out massively at its new and enlarged factory in Agbara. In September 2010, the then president, Goodluck Jonathan, and the former president, Obasanjo, whose ban on biscuit imports pushed Ezeude into biscuit manufacturing, were in Agbara in company of Governors Gbenga Daniel and Babatunde Fashola, to commission the new, mega Beloxxi Industries.
I have keenly followed the progress of this company, which looks like magic or a fairy tale. But, it is reality, I can attest. Fifteen years ago, chance conveyed by the instrumentality of journalism made our paths to cross and I saw a peculiar man whose drive has not by any means diminished. Last year, the sale of the minority shares of Beloxxi was celebrated in the world’s best media. The world’s largest newspaper, People’s Daily of China, ran an elaborate interview with Ezeude. The Financial Times of London also made it a big issue.
It was one of the positive and conclusive Foreign Direct Investments (FDIs) in the receding Nigerian economy last year. The factory is located on over 15 acres green field at the foremost industrial estate in Nigeria, the Agbara Industrial Estate, Ogun State, which is adjacent the city of Lagos.
Its flagship product, Beloxxi Cream Crackers, is widely distributed in Nigeria, other African countries and served aboard many outbound international airlines such as Lufthansa, KLM, British Airways, Emirates, Ethihad, Ethiopian, Kenyan and South African Airways.
It is also one of the major indigenous products which have their adverts on the The Sun Newspaper website.
Between July 1 and August 1, Beloxxi Industries concluded the USD80m minority equity sale deal to a consortium of three international firms led by KFW-DEG Bank of Germany, 8Miles of London and African Capital Alliance of Nigeria. This landmark transaction is the largest in the biscuit sub-sector of the Nigerian economy.
Today, Ezeude is planning further expansion and attraction of mega foreign investors. Good news on these initiatives will soon cause a stir in the Nigerian economy, when concluded. Beloxxi has been an inspiration to many who have doubts about investing in Nigeria.
No doubt it hasn’t been easy or rosy, but Ezeude has tenaciously stood by his faith in the Nigerian business environment. He is keeping to his resolve to make an impact, to keep the faith of young Nigerians in the future of the country and empower as many as possible to leave the country better than they met it.
Beloxxi Industries made a name as one of the major hundred percent indigenous manufacturing outfits in the country. That was until August last year when the foreign firms came in, as a mark of their confidence in Ezeude. This has opened the gates for some other foreign investors nursing the idea of pumping funds into the Nigerian economy through investment in the Beloxxi enterprise. The production lines of the factory have increased to five from the two at the commissioning, while the company pursues expansion and diversification into affiliated productions.
The Beloxxi example is a challenge to the country and the government to provide a more conducive investment environment for the prosperity of the country.
Ezeude and others like him deserve encouragement as the jobs they provide and their addition to the robustness of the economy help to save the country a lot of pains on the social and economic fronts. Hundreds of Nigerians are employed directly by this outfit, and thousands of others indirectly, as either distributors, service providers or retailers etc. They all benefit in the cycle of wealth Beloxxi creates.
It is well deserved that Ezeude speaks today at one of the most reputable Stock Exchanges in the world. He is the only Nigerian speaker at the event and is, therefore, there as an ambassador of Nigeria in investment. He is a worthy Nigerian who deserves celebration, but not by eulogies. Instead, all levels of government should support his initiatives and encourage more Nigerians to invest in industry, which is the only shortcut to pull the country out of recession.
All over the world, the strongest economies are producers, exporters, indigenous creators/innovators of ideas that they blend into their peculiar situations and, through such strides, the world benefits by overcoming poverty, hunger and hardship.
If Nigeria is to grow, Nigeria must produce, and if Nigeria is to have security, Nigeria must create jobs and that must not be entrusted in vague postulations or waiting for other countries to do it for us. It is also not in sloganeering about diversifying from over-reliance on oil. It is in encouraging the like of Ezeude and helping them to create more opportunities for the Nigerian economy and their fellow citizens.
Emewu is on the staff of The Sun.