Several years after it halted the expansion of its operation in the country, one of the world’s leading producers of consumer goods, Unilever, has renewed its investment drive in Nigeria with an expansion strategy that is billed to inject about $150 million (N24 billion) into a new plant.
Discussions on the new investment have already commenced, and the new plant is expected to come on stream before the end of the year.
Global Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Unilever, Paul Polman, who fielded questions from journalists at the sidelines of the “University for a Night 2014” which held recently in New York City, United States of America, described Nigeria as an attractive economy with a great investment potential that is irresistible.
University for a Night brought together leaders around the world, who converged on Gotham Hall, Broadway, New York City, to share ideas and inspiration on how to work together in an effort to overcome poverty and create a more sustainable and prosperous world.
The major hallmark of the night was the presentation of the David Rockefeller Bridging Leadership Awards to Polman; Nigeria’s Coordinating Minister for the Economy and Minister of Finance, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala; and Governor of the State of Para, Brazil, Simao Jatene.
According to Polman, with its impressive economic growth, a huge reservoir of human and material resources, and its recent emergence as Africa’s biggest economy, any investor who is not presently in Nigeria or making an inroad would be missing a great deal.
During his maiden visit to the country as CEO in 2010, the Unilever CEO had said although “Nigeria is not an easy environment because of the various challenges with infrastructure, etc, but what we do as a business is to identify where we are and what we can do to make it better”.
Giving more insight into the planned $150 million investment for the new plant, he said discussions had progressed speedily with top Nigerian officials, including Okonjo-Iweala.
Commenting on Okonjo-Iweala, a co-honouree of the David Rockefeller Bridging Leadership Awards, Polman described the minister as highly deserving of the award, saying that she is a highly respected, passionate professional and global figure, with great leadership qualities who is desirous of impacting positively on the lives of people, especially the poor.
Having worked together with her at different global fora, Polman said he could attest to the minister’s passion to work for a better world, adding that Nigeria was fortunate to have a consummate technocrat, achiever and humanist like the minister.
In her remarks before presenting the award, the Chair of David Rockefeller Foundation, Peggy Dulany, said the choice of Okonjo-Iweala was deserving, having followed her track record and efforts to touch the lives of the poor both at the global level and presently in Nigeria where she initiated specific intervention programmes to tackle poverty and create jobs.
Dulany, who is the great, great granddaughter of the famous American billionaire philanthropist, John D. Rockefeller, said deciding on the awardees was not an easy task as those who eventually emerged were people with proven track record in tackling poverty.
The foundation supports initiatives in more than 30 countries and regions. It has staff and representatives in Africa, Europe, Middle East and Latin America.
Reacting to the David Rockefeller Bridging Leadership award, Okonjo-Iweala, who said she was humbled by the conferment, noted that she was dedicating it to Nigeria, just as her co-awardee, Polman dedicated his to Unilever.
The minister noted that although Nigeria had recorded impressive economic growth, it was faced with some challenges, including a high rate of unemployment, poverty and high income disparities, which she said the President Goodluck Jonathan administration is addressing through various initiatives, including the Youth Enterprise With Innovation in Nigeria (YouWiN), Graduate Internship Programme (GIP), and the Subsidy Reinvestment and Empowerment Programme ((SURE-P), among others.
On how she felt about the award, the minister said: “Well, it means a lot to me. Of course, it is a very wonderful gesture; recognition that came as a surprise and it is good to be in a company like this. So I feel very honoured, very humbled, but I am also happy for Nigeria that we have this kind of recognition.”
Commenting on the award coming immediately after the rebased gross domestic product (GDP), which catapulted Nigeria to the top spot as Africa’s largest economy, the minister said the emergence of Nigeria as the largest economy had nothing to do with it (the award).
“They had almost six months ago actually informed me I was going to get this award. The fact that Nigeria is the largest economy is a separate issue,” she said, adding that Nigeria’s new status was not in doubt as confirmed by relevant global bodies, including the World Bank.
She also expressed joy over the new investment drive by Unilever, pointing out that this would create more jobs for the youths and stimulate growth.