Sunday Magazine

Churches sit on factories, as Nigerians pray for employment

It is one of the ironies of modern day Nigeria. Daily, Nigerians flock to churches in search of miracles. The miracle seekers include millions who are jobless or looking for better jobs. Sadly though, many of the Churches where they pray and pour out their souls to God for jobs are sites, where some mega-factories that employed thousands of Nigerians decades ago sat. Today, the factories have given way to churches, while Nigeria’s unemployment rate spirals to the highest ever. What does it portend for the nation’s economy? TAI ANYANWU provides insights

About 30 years ago, Hardel and Enic, a company belonging to Chief Emmanuel Iwuanyanwu, had an imposing location beside the National Art Theatre, Iganmu Lagos.

It employed over 5,000 Nigerians directly and indirectly earning a living for themselves and their dependents. Hardel and Enic was a construction company that was engaged in the construction of major roads in Nigeria, like Enugu Port Harcourt Expressway during the military era. Today, the site is occupied by Covenant Christian Centre, founded by Pastor Poju Oyemade. Covenant Christian Centre has over 5,000 congregants.

 

Among those are people, who go to church to pray for jobs, fruit of the womb, prosperity, miracles, and diverse material and spiritual needs. Also, about 30 years ago, Ugo Foam Industries, arguably one of the biggest foam and pillow manufacturers in the country in those days, was situated along Akilo Road, Ikeja Lagos.

The firm, which had branches all over Nigeria, employed over 6,000 people. In the late 90s, the once prosperous company succumbed to an adverse industrial environment and went down unceremoniously. Pastor Tunde Bakare, founder of Latter Rain Assembly, acquired the site, at the cost of N54, 000. Today, his Latter Rain Christian Centre sits on what used to be Ugo Foam factory site.

 

Eleganza Industries suffered the same unfortunate fate. Back then (in the70s up to the early 90s), Eleganza Industries, whose founder is the flamboyant business mogul, Rasaq Okoya, dazzled Nigerian consumers with captivating locally produced household items such as kitchen utensils, cutleries, food warmers, ice chests, electric fans, cosmetics and ballpoint pens.

 

The manufacturing concern also employed about 5,000 people. Its major warehouse near 7Up Bottling Company, Ikeja and other magnificent showrooms that dotted the skyline of its various marketing outlets, used to be a beehive of manufactured goods.

 

Some market leaders back then described Okoya’s plunge into massive manufacturing concen as a patriotic answer to what was perceived as Japanese economic incursion into the global market in the 70s and ‘80s. By that entrepreneurial disposition, Okoya created a paradise of service for the nation, enhancing the local economy and raised the country’s GDP.

 

That was the golden age of manufacturing in Nigeria. Incidentally, the once flourishing Eleganza Industries is struggling and is almost on the verge of extinction, as a result of unfavourable business climate in Nigeria.

 

Having retired to the fast developing Lekki axis of Lagos, Okoya, turned his attention to real estate development. The huge factory site was left to rot. Prior to that, Okoya had cited epileptic electricity power supply, unfriendly climate for industrial boom in Nigeria; characterised by nonchalance and poor midwifing of the industrial development process, on the part of government, as some of the factors that plummeted his patriotic plunge into manufacturing.

 

The huge factory site is now occupied by pockets of small scale businesses, and churches that use the premises for evangelical activities. This unfortunate fate is not limited to the companies mentioned above. Over 1,000 factories and warehouses in Lagos alone have closed shops.

 

According to industry experts, while business were collapsing in Lagos (the commercial capital of the country) and in other regions, their warehouses and offices were acquired by mostly Pentecostal churches, who built worship arenas where people now send torrents of prayer knocks on heaven’s door, for employment, and to seek answers for their marital and spiritual needs.

 

For instance, Mountain of Fire and Miracles Ministries (MFM) led by Dr. D K Olukoya, was the first church to leverage on the bad times to acquire a large property that once was the showroom of a Lebanese company which imported generators and the spare parts from Japan.

 

Its conspicuous auditorium on No 2 Kudirat Abiola Way from the Ikeja end opened the way for other churches to buy up a cluster of other factories and warehouses that were adversely affected by the harsh business environment.

 

Former pop star and founder of Household of God, Pastor Chris Okotie, followed suit and purchased another stretch of land on the same axis, having persuaded several sick and dying companies to sell their factories to his church.

 

Similarly his namesake, Pastor Chris Oykhilome of the Christ Embassy, captured another large expanse of properties also belonging to failed businesses and warehouses right behind the Household of God church. Oyakhilome erected a brilliant glass building with blue and gold colours along the same Kudirat Abiola Way, Ikeja.

 

Other churches sitting on factory sites include the Triumphant Christian Centre, which presently occupies the sprawling locations of Dunlop and Michelin Industries along Oba Akran Road, Ikeja. Pastor Enoch Adeboye’s Redeemed Christian Church of God (RCCG) bought the former premises of Okada Micro Finance Bank at Palm Groove, which belonged to Millionaire businessman, Chief Gabriel Igbinedion. RCCG Dominion Sanctuary also took over another industrial zone on Acme Road, Ikeja, while the Victorious Army Ministries of Apostle Joseph Agboli, acquired what used to be seven warehouses and two empty plots to become the dominant denomination on Acme Road, Ikeja.

 

A visit to the Ilupeju Industrial Estate revealed that virtually all the churches in that vicinity are located on former warehouses. Pastor Taiwo Odukoya”s Fountain of Life church, located at 12 Industrial Estate Road, off Town Planning way, by PZ Industries Plc, Ilupeju is one of such churches.

 

It sits on the site of what used to be a plastic manufacturing firm, name not confirmed. Tales of monumental woes trailed a multitude of companies capitulated due to near absence of electricity power supply in the country.

 

At No 13, Kukoyi Street, Olodi-Apapa, a bakery, which had a 15-man workforce, was closed and its premises were acquired by a church named International Gloryhouse Christian Centre. Christ Bible Church bought a story building at No 144 Idowu Street, also in Olodi-Apapa. The ground floor now serves as an auditorium while the upper floor is the residence of the pastor in charge

 

A Sunday Telegraph survey discovered several warehouses scattered around Ibafon area of the Ajeromi-Ifelodun Local Development Council have been taken over by churches. Prominent among the churches is Day to Day Prayer Ministries; and Sowers Church located at N0 4 Kirikiri Road in Apapa, Lagos.

 

The triumph of the Church over industrial concerns seem to have been orchestrated by what some have described as a factor of better resource management on the part of the church. However, many Nigerians are disenchanted with a situation which ought to provide jobs for the teaming workforce and shore up the nation’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) which has vanished into oblivion. Indeed Prof. Chidi Odinkalu once said that churches are now warehousing humans.

 

Economic impacts

Efforts to get comments of the current President of Manufacturers’ Association of Nigeria (MAN) and the Director General of Lagos Chambers of Commerce and Industries, Mr. Ahmed Mansur and Dr. Muda Yusuf respectively, yielded a poor response.

 

“I do not have the data of the industries that shut down operations in Nigeria. You may have to get that from MAN. But call tomorrow for my comment on the subject,” the DG, LCCI said. On his own part, the MAN President said he didn’t readily have the data or statistics. ”

 

Give me few weeks. May be, I will get that from the office in few weeks. As for my comment on collapsed industries and their impacts on the economy, call me tomorrow at 10 am,” Ahmed said.

 

However, both industry leaders did not pick several calls made by our correspondent as they promised. But former United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) top economist, Dr. Warea Thomas, stated that a huge number of closed manufacturing firms has worsened the country’s growing unemployment rate, pointing out that the unfavourable situation may be responsible for the sluggish  economic growth.

 

His words: “When a company stops operation, the workers there become frontline victims. If 834 firms were officially given by MAN to have closed shop in 2009, it is easy to speculate that not less than 83, 400 jobs were lost in that year alone; if we assume that they were all medium-size manufacturing firms, with each having 100 workers.

 

“Apart from job losses, the depletion in the national Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and a scare syndrome it creates to the outside investment market are serious reasons the government should consider tackling the problems associated with the declining trend head on,” he stressed. Experts also cited divestment from Nigeria to other countries and survival strategy as another unfortunate effect on the nation’s economy. Wole Madiola said: “Most companies go into neighbouring countries under a different name.

 

This is because they want to be cautious, and to gauge the mood of the Federal Government against such. “A situation where the manufacturer is the government unto himself; providing power, water, roads and other infrastructure, and at the same time, paying a plethora of taxes and levies that are not coordinated, is enough to kill any business.

 

The problem is also often compounded by the government’s penchant for reversing industrial policies haphazardly from time to time. These, coupled with the general poverty in the land, place serious strain on manufacturing firms,”

 

Kola Jamodu, former president of MAN added. Invariably, former MAN Director-General, Jide Mike, said: “The drift had worsened the unemployment situation nationwide.” He stressed that job lost between the time of the MAN survey and now may have tripled.

 

“Approximately, one million jobs may have been lost from then till date in view of the continually failing firms,” he added.

 

Is the Church to be blamed?

 

Despite the crowd of witnesses against government’s inept management of power supply, progress of initial industrial growth, retrogressive policies and a host of other factors, many people aren’t comfortable with the situation whereby churches are sitting on factories; only able a bodied citizens now flock the church to pray for employment that failed factories would have provided. But the perception has drawn reactions from Christian leaders.

 

One of the clerics is the current Chairman of Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), Lagos Chapter, Bishop Stephen Adegbite. He said: “If companies are folding up; if factories are going down, it is not the fault of any pastor. However, it goes without saying that those people working in the failed industries require our prayers.

 

We must continue to pray for them, because the church is a caring community.

 

” “We must continue to pray for our nation until we have a better environment for industries to thrive and we will continue also to tell the government to ensure that they provide the enabling environment for industries to grow because without that, our teaming youths will continue to be roaming the streets without jobs. And this is not good for our nation; this is not good for our GDP; this is not good for our economic growth.

 

We just pray that God will open the eyes of our leaders that they will love Nigeria better than they love themselves,” Bishop Adegbite added. The CAN Chairman, however, frowned at any attempt to label the Church in Nigeria wrongly, saying:

 

“The place is a place of worship. It’s a place where people are taught the word of God and it’s a place where spiritual development is taught every day and it is a place where the truth is told. It is a place where encouragement is given to the downtrodden.” Bishop Adegbite finds a soul mate in the Director of Social Communications, Catholic Archdiocese of Lagos, Rev Fr Anthony Godonu, who said that the Church is not to blame, insisting that it is the government that has failed Nigerians.

 

Adegbite added: “For anybody to put the    blame on the church that will not be good enough. If churches are purchasing sites of collapsed industries for church auditoriums and activities that is not a sin. I

 

In Europe where church was brought to Nigeria, churches are turning to factories, churches are turning to Mosques and churches are turning to supermarkets.

 

“But because God has decided that Nigeria will represent the trigger where re-evangelisation will start, we are going back to Europe to re-evangelise them. We are going back to America to re-evangelise them and to teach them the truth because now in Europe and America, same sex marriage has been adopted by the church.

 

“The Church of England has approved it, the Methodist Church in Britain has approved it and this is contrary to the norms and the scripture. And God will never harbour sin. God loves a sinner but God will never approve sin. That is why the church in Nigeria will continue to preach the gospel.

 

The church in Nigeria will continue to expand. That is why we are changing supermarkets to churches in Nigeria; we are changing cinema houses to churches in Nigeria.”

 

Road not taken

 

A review of past and present performance of Nigeria’s manufacturing sector by Dr. Harry Siu – Lung Ku of the Faculty of Engineering and Surveying, University of Southern Queensland, Australia, which was published in the Journal of Engineering Manufacturing, 2010, Vol. 224, noted that after independence, the Nigerian manufacturing sector developed positively between 1960s and 1970s.

 

Dr. Ku’s review attributed the progress to foreign direct investment and new manufacturing technology that saved time and cost, and improved the quality of the products manufactured. During that era, Nigeria’s cosmetic industry not only provided gainful employment to several thousands of Nigerians, it, once, exported cosmetic products to other countries, had marketing outlets in Africa.

 

The industry could have consolidated dominance of African market, an industry watcher had said. But the lofty ambition never saw light of the day. Neither the bicycle manufacturing sector, which soared in those good days, was able to maintain the benefit of contin ued progress.

 

In the same vein, Cotina was the flagship footwear produced in Nigeria by Bata Industry, in the 70s and 80s. It was popular for its legendary durability. Pupils of that era were never satisfied until they had a pair of Cotina among their collection of footwear. Bata Industry and Lennard’s, its closest competitor in the shoe making business have since vanished into oblivion, for the same reason.

 

In the case of Dunlop and Michelin Tyres industries, two rival tyre-producing giant firms, which ensure the travel comfort and reliability to Nigerian wheelers, theirs were typical examples of business empires lost. In those days, Michelin and Dunlop combined provide jobs for over 20,000 Nigerians including foreign staff.

 

Their unique trademarks adorned the firms’ various buildings stretching into a large expanse of land, which was their factory sites located along Oba Akran Road, Ikeja; and announced to passers-by that one was within the territories of the legendary tyre manufacturing giants.

 

Michelin and Dunlop industries went down due to high production cost. Industry watchers noted that Michelin and Dunlop relocated to Ghana, a neighbouring West African country, where the firms are thriving once again.

 

Harvest of failing industries

 

But despite the initial flourishing growth phase, the sector could not sustain the part of progress from the late 1980s to date.

“Overdependency on oil, weak infrastructure, shortage of skilled labour, lack of adequate financial resources, lack of proper management and planning, and so on, were found to be responsible for low growth and development in the manufacturing sector,” the study further revealed.

According to the one time Vice Chairman, Toiletries and Cosmetics (T&C) Group of MAN, Mr. Ikpong Umoh, 130 manufacturing firms folded up in a few years, due the hardship faced by operators of Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) in the country. In 2013, the T&C Manufacturing Group that boasted 155 members in the 2000 fiscal year had less than 25 members nationwide.

 

Similarly, the Nigerian Association of Chambers of Commerce, Industry, Mines and Agriculture, NACCIMA, declared that at least, 800 companies closed shop in Nigeria between 2009 and 2011, due to the harsh operating business environment Speaking during a workshop held in Asaba, Delta State, then NACCIMA President, Herbert Ajayi, specifically said that the situation of the “surviving” industries posed great threat to the survival of the manufacturing industry.

 

He added that capacity utilisation in industries hovered around 30 per cent and 45 per cent on the average, with 100 per cent overhead costs while blaming the continued decline in the manufacturing sectors on political and economic factors, citing poor infrastructure and epileptic power supply as key impediments to the industry.

 

His words: “The manufacturing industry as a whole operates on more than 70 per cent of energy it generates, using generators; and operating these generators greatly increases the cost of manufacturing goods.”

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