Closed down a decade ago, the once bubbly Epe Plywood Industry Limited is now a shadow of itself, constituting hazard to the environment and turning a likely hideout for criminals. Tunde Busari reports the state of things at the industry, and how it can contribute positively to national development if given the right attention by owner states.
Aside a variety of fishes, which contributes in no small measure to the thriving trade in Epe, another enterprise that sold Lagos to the business world is the Epe Plywood Industries Limited, incorporated July 15, 1965.
With the level of operations at the company, not many similar establishments could compete with the company due to its production capacity, as a joint venture between the defunct Western State Government, the Nigeria Industrial Development Bank Limited and Messrs Holluweg of Austria.
In 1973, Nigerian shareholders bought the company, and in 1976, the interest of the Western State Government was taken over by the Odu’a Investment Company Limited (OICL). However, that the owner states, Oyo, Lagos, Ogun, Ondo, Osun and Ekiti, have lost much in the past 10 years that the factory had closed down would be stating the obvious, as it was an enterprise involved in manufacturing plywood, furniture, sliced veneer and sawn planks, and also contributing substantially to the revenue base of the OICL.
Located at Erekoto community, off the popular Lagos road in Epe, the premises was said to have been a beehive of activities as trucks were daily driven in and out to offload raw materials and distribute finished products to wholesalers within and outside Lagos State.
Nigerian Tribune gathered that the neighbouring quarters were also always alive, enjoying uninterrupted electricity supply, courtesy of the company, which maintained a cordial relationship with the then National Electrical Power Corporation (NEPA) to sustain its production schedule.
Today, the company, which is sited on vast acres of land, is not only a shadow of its hey days, the whole premises is under the threat of weeds. The once lively plywood company, where workers operated round the clock on three shifts, has been taken over by weeds and thereby inaccessible.
The heavy machines installed at different production sections of the factory have embraced rust on account of a decade of disuse. The only employees in the payroll of the company are security guards stationed at the entrance and saddled with the duty of preventing possible vandalisation of the property. Many concerned have wondered when the owners of the company would resuscitate what used to serve as a major employer of labour in time past.
The Group Managing Director of Odu’a Investment Company Limited, Mr Adebayo Raji told Nigerian Tribune in an interview that the company hasn’t done much on the company. “We have not committed anything specific to Epe Plywood but I can tell you, I have had two conversations with His Excellency, Governor Ambode and he kicked hard and what I told him was that our hands were tied. Our view at this point, though we have not been able to have anything concrete on ground, has to do with the current demand as far as wood-related product is concerned.
“What we require is a situation where we can lay our hands on a technical partner who does something similar. We have done some trips; we have gone to Turkey and we have seen what they do on wood, which they call Medium Density Fibre (MDF) which can be converted to anything you can talk about. MDF, from our interaction, is 80 per cent soft wood and 20 per cent hard wood.
“Traditionally, what we grew up with were iroko and mahogany, which are all hard wood but modern technology is using lesser part of hard wood but because we don’t realise it and we don’t do afforestation along that line, we haven’t got the raw materials. So, Nigeria needs to look into afforestation where you then convert to the intermediate product, which is what they call the fibre, and it is the Medium Density Fiber made in different form that people now shape into either our kitchen furniture, our hotel furniture, our furniture for classrooms, our furniture for hospitals etc. What they just do is that they change the finishing. I saw a plant where if you want it to have finishing like skin, the base is still the same but they now print that thing that looks like skin and that is what they laminate on it and what it would look like but it is still Formica, it is still the same thing.
“So, most furniture makers today in Nigeria are importing that semi-finished fibre finishing and converting to furniture ware, so a modern industry for us in Nigeria is to look at the likes of Oku-Iboku and taking those things to make the modern industry, which is making Medium Density Fibre and then furniture makers will have their materials from local source. We have looked at that but when we considered the cost, it was mind-boggling. It is doable but I think the major rudimentary ones as simple as feeding and acquiring the capability to run those places, should attract our attention first. Whenever those big ones want to come we would take what we can call minimal equity position.
“So on Epe Plywood; what we are looking for today are genuine investors. Governor Ambode has nominated someone who we are working with, hopefully one of the things we are asking also is for the government to help us with investors. We will play and there is a reason why we will play, impacting people is very important in whatever we want to do. And unless we do it in those communities, our ability to be able to impact people would be low.
“Doing it in the communities makes a whole lot of difference, because it just brings people all around to come and live in that area and what they do is this, they might come from the city they would still come with their city behaviour and what they do is that they lift up the standard of living. That might not be your intention but the moment that they earn what we call city wages, because they would not earn village wages and they will spend like city dwellers and I take it that would be really fulfilling the vision of our forefathers. They made sure that people could live life abundant irrespective of where they were. That’s where we are now,” he said.
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