Orji: NSIA Won’t Allow Innovations Go to Waste

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The Managing Director/Chief Executive Officer of the Nigeria Sovereign Investment Authority, Mr. Uche Orji, in this interview with journalists spoke about activities of the authority in 2020, as well as its plans for the future. Obinna Chima brings the excerpts:

What is the feedback on your investment in healthcare; are the facilities being accessed by those who really need them and what commitment have you made towards gas industrialisation and the power sector?

In healthcare, the feedback has been good. Some people I know have been there and didn’t know that it was owned by the NSIA. But when they found out they called me and said that is a great. A former Minister during the first Buhari administration went there recently and he went public with his comments. So, the feedback has been good, especially in Kano. Somebody called me from there, one of the Emirs in Jigawa, who had been there, without knowing that it was owned by the NSIA, when he found out, he was so complimentary. Some people who have been to the Lagos University Teaching Hospital (LUTH) cancer centre were surprised about how relatively inexpensive it is compared to Ghana. Ghana for the same cost of treatment, I dare say our treatment is superior, will cost you five times as much as what is obtained at LUTH. This is not even compared to going to Dubai or to Europe.

I hope that nobody has to use it, but if you do have to use it, it is there. We have some of the most sophisticated equipment in terms of cancer treatment for both chemotherapy and radiography. For gas, the OCP ammonia project and Diammonium Phosphate is a gas industrialisation project, which is $1.4 billion. We have selected the site and Akwa Ibom state and the NSIA signed an agreement in Morocco in March. We are hoping to break ground some time later this year to commence that project. We have looked at gas flare reduction and we keep looking at projects. The first project we spent a lot of time on wasn’t successful, luckily we did not spend much money on it. But we are still hopeful that we would get the gas flare reduction projects going. It is a very key part of Nigeria’s management of climate change issues.

Now for power, many of you know that the NSIA is building the single largest solar power plant in Nigeria today and it is in Kano, with 10 megawatts capacity and we are setting up a platform with international Development Finance Institutions (DFIs) to now distribute it across various parts of the country. So, these are the things we are doing so far. There are many things happening in power that I believe 2021 will be a good year for us in power. We haven’t been very active in power; many of you also know that NSIA is an investor through a gas fund into Accugas, which is a major supplier of gas across the country. It was a debt instrument that we invested. So, we have been very active in this area. But I think 2021 will be a very interesting year for us in terms of gas investment.

What is the update on the N15 trillion infraco which the NSIA is part of?

The NSIA has been invited as an investor and I am sitting on the board of it. But the NSIA is an investor, this is a programme championed largely by the Central Bank of Nigeria, so I would rather not like to speak about it.

With your investment in fertilizer, rural farmers still find it difficult to access the product, how are you monitoring the situation?

The fundamental premise of the presidential fertilizer initiative is to get large amount of fertilizer on time at appropriate price to the farmers. With the restructuring of the NSIA, our participation is limited to upstream component which essentially means that we buy inputs from suppliers and sell to the blenders who essentially are responsible for transporting to the blending plants for blending as well as selling to the farmers. We are working very closely with the association and the Presidency to ensure that all of the inputs that are purchased by blenders from us are actually utilised for the purposes of conversion into finished goods. So that work is ongoing, and we would ensure that as much as possible by working with association and the Presidency, that blenders actually utilise the inputs for what it has been committed to which is to convert those inputs into finished goods.

What is the total equity and debt that will be raised for the Nigeria Innovation Fund this year?

The first round of equity injection by the board of the NSIA is up to $50 million into the innovation fund. We are not going to raise debt, we are going to raise co-investments. So, we are going to create opportunity for other people to partner with us. But our strategy will be to invest equity in the first few key projects and then open it up for people to partner with us. We have had a lot of interests; we have had interests from big and small firms as well who want to play a role in the Nigeria innovation sector. Fintech is something a lot of people are excited about, but there is a lot more innovation than fintech. One of the most interesting investments we made at NSIA is in a company called Healthcare Royalty Partners in the United States and what they do is that they go to universities and buy patents for healthcare; they fund it, finish it up and then sell those patents to pharmaceutical companies. So wherever they use them for drugs, they get paid.

So, it has been a very successful strategy and one of the things I am hoping we can do in innovation, beyond technology, is actually to create such a thing where we actually would not allow innovations in Nigeria to go to waste. There things in data networking, the quality of the internet have been terrible today for many people. Watch that space because you are going to see us play active role in that space. Data centres, for instance, are fantastic opportunities that we would be looking to invest in; Software services among others. So, there is a lot going on but I think many of them at this stage, we will use our own equity first and then bring in other investors.

The NSIA is making huge impact in agriculture and healthcare, would you in any time soon think of investing in the revival of the Ajaokuta steel company?
There are all kinds of programmes being done by the Ministry of Solid minerals to revive Ajaokuta; if we are invited to help and we see a scope to join, absolutely, we are very interested in that because it is also a very important sector that we need as a country to industrialise.

There has been comments about the cost of Abuja- Kano road, why is it about the most expensive road in the world?

It is not the most expensive road in the world and that statement is wrong. When you look at the cost of the road, the basic mathematics is cost per kilometer per lane. I saw some of the headlines, but this is an explanation I believe the Minister of Works should be giving because it is his project.

But let me just help with the maths a bit, ask yourself, what is the length of the road and how many lanes? It is two lanes, one lane going and one lane coming and it 375 kilometers. So if you do it cost per kilometer per lane, from what I did, it is actually around N525 million per lane, per kilometer. When we took over Lagos-Ibadan expressway, the dash was about N530 million per lane per kilometer. So, simplistically, they are similar and that is being sincere with the facts.

So, the propaganda of the most expensive road in the world is just not correct. And I think want to speak to that, think per lane per kilometer. I don’t think many people have spoken about how many lanes are there, or the length of the road. So, I think it’s important to clarify that and the rest of the details around this. Like I said, the scope has just been revised by the Ministry of Works. I believe that they are going to have a town hall, where they will explain everything around the cost to members of the public because I think it is important. From what I have seen. The lane per kilometer is not different from what we have on Lagos-Ibadan expressway. I think it is important that we make that point.

Do you have fears about the safety of your Nasarawa farm in view of the ongoing security crisis especially the farmers-herdsmen crisis and secondly, Nigeria’s Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala recently assumed the position of the WTO Director General, do you see a window of opportunity for the NSIA in this appointment?

In terms of Nasarawa, I think my bigger fear is that if we don’t have food we will all starve. So, security issue or no security issue, we still have to go and grow crops. Because if all of us decide not to grow anything because of security challenges, we will have a bigger problem, which is starvation. So, we have done all we can to protect the farm, I have no guarantees, but it is not going to deter us from making an effort and will continue to do more in Kaduna, Edo and in all places that we have commitment in agriculture. In terms of WTO, first of all, let me use this forum like everybody to congratulate Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala. We are all very proud of her and we are very proud of the challenge she has undertaken. WTO needs her energy, her zeal and passion and her vision. And I also believe the WTO should be fair to Africa and I am hoping that she will make that as a key part of her agenda. If it is fair to Africa, then we will be in a very good position at the NSIA. The key area where I see opportunity is industrialisation.

Many of you have heard me talk about Industrialisation Fund, and one day I will make that fund real. But I am hoping that when we do, we don’t have unfair trade practices that will stop our goods from making in-road into other parts of the world. So that I think will be very important, but we need to prepare ourselves first and be industrially ready to trade. The second area where I believe WTO will help is also in drawing attention to fairness around what people pay for our commodities. This I think the WTO should address and we must make sure that what is taken out of Africa has a fair price. It is something I believe should be generally addressed. So there opportunities, but particularly, I think she is taking us to the world stage and we are very, very proud of her.

Last year, you talked about plans by the NSIA to embark on the fundraising drive this year, when are we expecting that to happen?

I believe we will be coming to the market this year and most likely we would be coming to the market via a Sukuk; probably something for the road project. So, watch this space. We are in preparation for raising a Sukuk fund to help us conclude the road project.

How much perhaps you are looking to raise?

It won’t be small, let me put it that way.