By Louis Iba and Steve Agbota
Erisco Foods Limited says it plans to shut down its tomato paste processing business in Nigeria owing to unfavourable operating climate.
President/CEO of the company, Chief Eric Umeofia, who addressed the media in Lagos on Wednesday, said the cost of running both the Nigerian farm in Katsina and the fresh tomato paste processing plant business in Lagos had become too exorbitant with high cost of foreign exchange (forex) as well as the inability of regulatory agencies to halt the importation and dumping of tomato paste in the country to protect the local industry.
According to him, bearing last minute improvement the management of the company had concluded plans to shut the Nigerian operations in the next 30 days and lay off about 1,500 workers.
Umeofia listed key government polices that would force the company to rescind it’s shutdown decision to include access to forex from the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) to import raw materials and machine spares, while the Standard Organisation of Nigeria (SON) and NAFDAC will have also taken concret steps to end the import and dumping of substandard tomato paste in Nigeria which he said disrupted efforts to sell locally processed tomato paste.
“The CBN has refused to give us forex to import machinery, machine spare parts and our raw materials to be used for production of Nigerian fresh tomatoes into paste,” said Umeofia.
“The CBN, like NAFDAC is against my business because while they refuse me forex, they are approving intervention loan and forex to companies mostly owned by foreigners to import the same finished tomato paste and other items like frozen fish, fish heads and super market items that we don’t need at all or we can produce better in Nigeria.
“We are running our business relying on the dollars that we source from the parallel market at the exchange rate of over, 450 to a $1.
“In view of the above, Erisco Foods will be forced to relocate our operations to a country where there is a conducive and favourable environment for tomato paste manufacturing if within 30 days from now nothing significant is done by the government to address these issues raised by us.
“We intend to manufacture from outside, export and sell in Nigeria. It will be more profitable to us that way. Against this back also about 1,500 of our 2, 520 staff will be laid off because we can’t sustain the huge staff strength given the shift in our new production policy.
We however assure our consumers that the same products will be made available to them though manufactured by us in other countries as done by all other brands of tomato paste in the Nigerian market today since that is what Nigerian government wants,” he added. As the press conference was going on, some staff who got wind of the planned sack staged a peaceful protest outside urging the management not to shut down and imploring the Federal Government to assist the company stay afloat.
Mr. Ezeugwa Obinna, a Maintenance Manager with the company who addressed the media on behalf of the workers said sending about 1,500 workers into the labour market would compound the unemployment woes in the country. “We are begging President Buhari, Governor Ambode, the CBN, NAFDAC, the Ministers of Employment, Industry Trade and Investment to step in and assist protect our jobs,” Obinna added. The Sun