NIGERIA – The Global Chief Executive Officer, Unilever, Mr. Paul Polman, weekend disclosed that with the fresh investment, which the multinational company has recently injected in to the country, Nigeria now holds around 50 per cent of all of Unilever’s investments in Africa.
Polman who spoke with THISDAY in Lagos said entering the concluding phase of a recent investment of 150 million Euros in the expansion of the company, Nigeria alone, now accounts for about half of the entire investment of the Unilever group running into billions of Euros.
The global CEO however did not give the exact value of the firm’s investment in Africa, but stated that, with Nigeria now the largest economy in the continent by far, it is only logical for serious multinationals to increase their stakes in the giant West African nation.
He also noted that one of the major reasons for investing in Nigeria was to show solidarity and to prove to a good number of leading international investors that it is not dangerous to come to Nigeria at this time despite the current outbreak of the Ebola Virus Disease (EVD) and the Boko Haram insurgency.
“Our business in Nigeria is now about half of our entire investment in Africa. We have also invested nearly 50 per cent of our turnover in the country in the last three years.
This is certainly an investment any company will not be able to support long term and we achieved this because of our global skills and our commitment to Nigeria because we feel this is the right moment to accelerate our presence. We will continue to invest and our growth rate is accelerating. We also think that the enormous potentials in the country are being unlocked,” he said.
He however noted that the EVD outbreak has had negative effects on businesses in the country, but commended the heroic actions carried out by some credible Nigerians to curtail further spread of the horrible disease.
Polman said the Nigerian investment climate remained attractive, positing that not many countries in the world can boast of a growth rate of 6.54 per cent.
“So despite some of the things the media likes to highlight, we also have to take a step back to look at the overall perspective which is a healthy level of growth. A few weeks ago, over 90 suppliers came to Nigeria where 9 of them have made commitment to establish their presence in the country. This move will further support the growth rate of this country,” he added.
He pointed out that Nigeria with a population of about 170 million people and a growth rate of 6.54 per cent, is one of the 10 fastest growing economies in the world, also pointing out that every country in Europe would kill to have half or one force of this growth rate.
“Nigeria overtime, should be half of our African business and if the growth rate increases, Nigeria could get more than half of our business. Nigeria is by far the biggest economy in Africa and there is no reason why we cannot have half of our business in the region,” Polman stressed.
According to Polman, Unilever recently became the number one company in the Belgian sustainability index which would avail the company, the opportunity to supply a segment of about 750,000 bars of its life buoy to help fight against the EVD outbreak in the country.
“Prevention and hand washing with LifeBuoy five times a day probably the best thing you can do. We are helping with maternal health, building toilets for people in the country.
Last year, we worked with UNICEF to build about 20,000 toilets in the country. Our path to success in Nigeria now and for a long time, is by providing products to the wonderful consumers in Nigeria to provide solutions to some of the challenges being faced,” he said.
He noted that Unilever made a commitment to invest about 150 million Euros in the country and also said the company is in talks with the Minister of Agriculture to partner on local sourcing of raw materials to be used in local production.
“The Minister during the World Economic Forum (WEF) suggested that we bring many more of our suppliers here where we organised a partner to win conference a week ago which had in attendance about 90 suppliers. About 9 of these suppliers have made commitments to invest in the country to help create a more robust supply chain in terms of creating a strong eco-system,” he said.
He added: “A lot of people have talked about Africa and we call our plans “Lift Africa” but i call it regenerate Africa because this is the moment for Africa.
We are the oldest manufacturing company in Nigeria and we will like to keep it that way and build more investments. Our business will be growing by a factor of three between now and 2020. This is about a billion Euros when put into dimension.”