By Ayo Akinfe
(1) Like many of you, the Nigeria I dream of is one in which all our 36 state capitals have central business districts made up of towering office blocks built from glass. Each state capital should be an economic engine which generates enough wealth on its own to govern the state. Their city centres should be commercial hubs
(2) As things stand, we are nowhere near this kind of vision as our governors are still dependent on monthly oil handouts from Abuja. It is only in Lagos with the Eko Atlantic project vision that the state government is considering making the city a business hub comparable with say Central New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, Beijing, London, Frankfurt, etc
(3) What is very pathetic about the matter is that with a little bit of imagination, we can actually build up our state capitals relatively cheaply. This brings me to the issue of glass, which for some inexplicable reason has never been a major feature of the Nigerian economy. With global glass demand at an all time high as the demand for solar panels grows, I wonder why
(4) In 1982, a gentleman called Chief Michael Ajasin, the then Ondo State governor spotted this gap in the market and sought to address it with the founding of the Oluwa Glass Company in Ilaje Local Government Area of Ondo State. Oluwa Glass Company was going to be Africa’s only glass manufacturer and would have had a monopoly on the continent. It is only now that I actually appreciate Governor Ajasin’s foresight. He also founded the Ile-Oluji Cocoa Processing Plant to grind beans and add value to the state’s main cash crop
(5) However, given the vandals that we are in Nigeria, we destroy every single one of nature’s gifts. Oluwa Glass Company went into receivership around 2006 after the Ondo State government had pumped in something like $5.5m into it. Like Ajaokuta, we simply could not run a modern manufacturing facility, which is compulsory if we want to industrialise as a nation. Cronyism, greed, incompetence and political interference led to what should have been a cash cow or golden goose becoming moribund and rotting away
(6) As we speak, the Igbokoda area of Ondo State where the Oluwa Glass Company is locates is still littered with hills that produce the special rock glass or soda ash that is the primary raw material to furnish the factory but alas, we simply cannot carry out a basic function of tapping into raw materials, processing them and churning out finished products. Is this a skills problem, a limited intellectual problem or just plain ignorance and primitivity?
(7) In the US, the glass industry generates about $30bn annually in exports and employs about 150,000 people. If know-how is our problem, surely all we need to do is enter into a joint venture with a major producer who can bring the required skills and expertise to us. Within five years, they could easily train up a team of glass industry experts
(8) In 2017, European Union glass production reached a volume of nearly 36m tonnes. That same year, China and the US were generating about $39 a tonne from the sale of soda ash, the primary ingredient for making glass. Nigeria is sitting on reserves but alas, is not making a penny from this abundant natural resource
(9) Now, the glass industry is changing dramatically with manufacturers spotting new opportunities and making millions from them. In China for instance, the glass companies are targeting the automobile companies, while in the US, the NSG Group plans to invest $350m in the solar market in the next few years. With the growing popularity of solar panels, just imagine how much wealth we would create if Nigeria had Africa’s main solar manufacturing plant supplied with raw materials by the Oluwa Glass Company
(10) Economists estimate that the global market for glass and glass products will be worth $232.4bn in 2020. Is Nigeria interested in grabbing a share of this or are we going to keep clinging on to the dwindling resource of crude oil?