Abia State government recently entered into partnership with a real estate investment and infrastructure company, Greenfield Assets Ltd, to develop the Aba Mega Mall, comprising of 5,830 ultra modern shops in Aba. In this interview, Group Managing Director, Greenfield Assets, Paul Obanua, gives insight into the significance of the project. Excerpt.
What is the Aba Mega Mall project all about?
The project is geared towards creating a commercial hub for the entire eastern and south-south regions of the country. It is designed to stimulate the urban renewal of Aba city, by providing a structured facility where trading and other commercial activities can be done in an orderly manner. Presently in Aba, every nook and cranny including the roads, drainages and streets, are trading posts. This project is an attempt to sanitise the city by giving the people of Aba a dignified trading centre, which from a survey conducted by us, the traders and dwellers in the city are eager to have it operational.
Are you constructing on virgin land or will already existing properties pave way for the project?
The construction has already begun and it is on a virgin land. The Aba Mega Mall would consist of 5,830 ultramodern shops and they will come in four sizes of 12sq meters, 16sq meters, 24sq meters and 48sq meters. Now the interesting part is that the facility will also have provisions for banks, security post, petrol station, 25,000 sq meters of climate-controlled warehouse space, restaurants and a massive parking space for over 5,000 cars. When completed, the mall facility management will require considerable manpower in excess of 20,000 direct jobs and over 100,000 indirect jobs.
What is the significance of this project to the people of Aba and Abia State in general?
The significance of the Aba Mega Mall project is that we are providing the most needed infrastructure for the South-East, South-South, and the entire country and even beyond our borders. We are talking Cameroon, Gabon, Togo, Ghana and the entire sub region of West Africa. At the moment there is no standard retail infrastructure in Aba. We are building a world-class retail facility, with 10MW 24 hour power supply, paved roads, clean sanitation, guaranteed security in order to create an atmosphere of world-class shopping centre with peace of mind. The availability of the mall would give the people an opportunity to grow their customer base, market share and profit, while regenerating the city, which becomes a win-win situation for the traders and the city.
An insight into the profile of foreign firms partnering Greenfield on the project
Q B Construction is a renowned Construction Company in the United States. They have done projects all over the US. There is JK Structures Limited, a Pan European company; they have the elevated concrete technology. JK Structures has been in existence for almost 30 years and were involved in the building of the Euro Disney.We are also involving local contractors. The competencies of our development partners are not in doubt, and we call them our development partners because they have some level of venture financing.
Does Greenfield have needed resources to ensure the mall does not become one of uncompleted government projects?
First of all, government does not intentionally fail in their projects but the level of bureaucratic bottleneck in the Nigerian system is the reason many projects fail. Secondly, the Aba Mega Mall project is private sector driven.
The Abia state government is encouraging private sector driven development; this is what governments all over the world do by creating an enabling environment, laws and support system to the private sector to assist in developing the economy of a state. Aba Mega Mall can never be one of the abandoned white elephant projects because before the project started we had attained what is called a financial close; this means that the money to build is already in place before we went to site.
Based on your experience, do you think that the PPP route is the way to go in the development of Nigeria?
Yes, it’s the way to go, but the various governments should endeavour to keep to agreements. The government alone does not have the money and all other resources to develop the country. Take a look at our national budget which is barely $30 billion (less than that of New York City Council 2014 budget of $70 billion) will not be enough to reconstruct all our federal highways as there are today. Hence governments across the country should do everything possible to encourage private investors and keep to PPP agreements.
What is Greenfield’s vision for the city of Aba in the next 10 years?
In the next one year we would have completed the mall and have it operational, after which we’ll then go into building the 1,000 hectares Free Trade Zone. On the other the hand, the various power projects in and around the city would have also become fully operational. Aba having the right infrastructure in place, in 10 years’ time will be comparable to places like Shenzhen and Chengdu in China. It will be a commercial/industrial hub for Africa in the next 10 years.
The idea of the project is to eliminate street trading. One of the causes of people trading on the street is the lack of funds to rent a decent shop. Does the Aba Mega Mall intend addressing this by making shops cheaper to rent?
I will tell you that street trading is not as a result of the inability to afford a shop but stems from lack of adequate retail infrastructure.
Trading is a commercial decision geared towards wealth creation. So when you’re talking of such economic decisions, you are looking at a venture where the intention is to make profit. Trading is not a social activity, neither is it born out of communism. Every trader is a capitalist and so the interest of a capitalist is to engage in a sustainable venture that offers growth and profit. In effect, if you have a commercial facility where people can grow their business and make more sustainable profit, they’ll go there. Why would anyone want to remain on the streets if there’s an alternative location where customers consider more accessible, secure, orderly, healthy and conducive to do business; wouldn’t the traders rather have their trading outlets there?