As Chief Executive of FTN Cocoa Processing Nigeria Plc, Akin Laoye, sits atop the only indigenous cocoa company listed on the Nigerian Stock Exchange (NSE). In this interview with Paul Ukpabio, he speaks on the challenges of operating cocoa business in Nigeria and why the government needs a policy that will favour the agro allied sector.
Being an insider, what is your impression of the agro allied sector of our economy?
I think the industry is in comatose and the reason is because there is no government agenda for a major commodity that drives some nations. This is the commodity that drives Ivory Coast. It drives Ghana until recently and it is still driving Ghana because, Ghana has chosen not to go the way of Nigeria in oil discovery. Though they have found oil, they are not going to allow the arrogance of ‘an oil producing nation’to affect them as it is affecting Nigeria. Cocoa has greatly empowered Indonesia and that country is doing very great.
Brazil has an agenda for her cocoa such that Brazil is a net exporter. But we have a heavily deregulated sector in Nigeria where the government has left it to the comfort of multinational traders who take up all the cocoa in Nigeria to their country – thereby exporting the God-given resources of our people for their benefit. What I think is that the government should come up with a policy whereby at least 75.5 per cent of cocoa produced in Nigeria, is processed in Nigeria. With that, Nigerians would be getting a lot of jobs, the factories would be in operation and we would be sure of foreign exchange earnings for the country.
Would you say the government has made any effort in repositioning the Cocoa production sector of the economy over the years?
During the Obasanjo administration, the government made great efforts because from time to time Mr President called us for meetings. He rubbed mind with the stakeholders because, though he was the president, he couldn’t be said to have directly known where the shoe was pinching us. He had an ear for us and rolled out a lot of policies and took decisions in a jiffy that assisted the industry. In fact, that was what encouraged us the next year, to come up with a factory. Otherwise, we were operating as a third party processor. During the government of the late President Yar ‘Adua, there was some kind of silence, probably as a result of the man’s health then. However, the Minister of Agriculture is doing well in the agro-economic sector. We’ve met him on a number of occasions. He has plans to double up the Nigerian crops to, like 500,000 in the next four years and he is deliberate about it. We think he is in the right direction, but we need a stronger back-up from the President. We need the president to make a pronouncement. We need him to be passionate about it and make sure that everybody keys into it. Let me give you an example. In Brazil, you must serve chocolate drinks in government offices. It is a policy. In Ghana, it is the same thing, in Cote d’Ivoire, it is the same thing. In Malaysia, it is the same thing. In Nigeria, we are still serving foreign teas at the official level. I mean you got to show example from the top.
What policy do you think the President Jonathan’s government can initiate to promote growth in your sector?
First, I will advise Mr President to just follow what other nations have done and have succeeded. I will advise him to banned the exportation of cocoa beans and focus on the trenches, make sure that the cropping is doubled in the next four years. Then he can lift the ban if we cannot process everything that we have here. But in the meantime, the factories must survive and the jobs of Nigerians have to be retained. Second, you cannot be giving incentive to somebody who is plundering you. I think, without being selfish, I don’t see any reason exporters of raw cocoa beans should be given incentives.
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