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Uche Orji: Footprints of service at NSIA

In 2012 when the Nigeria Sovereign Investment (NSIA) was established by former President Goodluck Jonathan, Mr. Uche Orji was 14 years into a successful international banking career when he got a call to apply for the position of Managing Director of the Authority.

Then, he was a Managing Director-level analyst at UBS Securities in New York, United States. Prior to his role at UBS Securities in New York, he already had successful spells at JPMorgan and Goldman Sachs Asset Management in London. The Authority manages the surplus income derived from the country’s excess oil reserves on behalf of the government to benefit future generations of Nigerians.

 

Like other Sovereign Wealth Funds, the NSIA is organized into a Stabilization Fund and a Future Generations Fund, but it also includes a Nigerian Infrastructure Fund. Then, the Federal Government under the leadership of former President Jonathan had established the Nigerian Sovereign Wealth Fund, which would be managed by the NSIA under the leadership of the Managing Director.

Orji got the job after an extensive recruitment process that lasted about a year. With an eye to make a difference in Nigeria, Orji immediately hit the ground running and his impact at the NSIA has transcended various sectors of the economy. In terms of impact, the footprints of the Nigerian Sovereign Investment Authority (NSIA) under the guidance and leadership of Orji, is being felt from agriculture, healthcare, road infrastructure to financial servicing, and technology among others. These achievements are indelible and they are signposts of a paradigm shift in the perception of the public sector in our clime.

It is an apparent paradox that the establishment of an agency envisioned by the Jonathan administration to manage surplus income derived from excess oil reserves for the benefit of future generations was mired in controversy at inception.

There was an open hostility against the young agency from the executive and legislative branch of government when it commenced operations in 2012. There were indeed speculations as to whether or not it was legal and whether or not it would survive.

But the vast experience of Orji, working for some of the most diverse and complex organisations in the global financial market coupled with his progressive and brilliant mind substantially prepared him for the moment. Under his leadership, the NSIA has become a highly regarded institution, serving as a vehicle for implementing key infrastructure projects and investing Nigeria’s savings.

He came to the job at NSIA with 14 years of a hugely successful international banking career as an analyst at UBS Securities in New York, United States. At Goldman Sachs Asset Management in London, he managed the global technology sector; he was also a sales analyst, a position which gave him the opportunity to think deeply about subsegments of the economy.

His sector was ranked number one in Europe and number three in the United States. This was indeed an extraordinary feat considering the fact that in the semi-conductor sector, this does not happen because franchises do not travel across countries. Bearing in mind this seething controversy at the onset of its operations, it was clear to the Managing Director that the survival of NSIA would depend to some extent on its investment performance and its impact.

He was determined that the agency under his guidance would earn both local and global recognition through accountability and transparency and in the process, change the narrative around the public sector in the country. Ten years at the helm at NSIA, he has transformed the agency into a world class institution, respected at home and abroad.

With the core mandate to manage the Nigerian Sovereign Wealth Fund, the government allocated an initial sum of US$1 billion in seed capital in 2013. Since then, there has been additional fund injection in three tranches of $600 million.

Towards the realisation of its mission of playing a critical and leading role of driving sustained economic development for the benefit of all Nigerians, NSIA for the past decade has funneled its interventions through the Nigerian Infrastructure Fund. The Fund is focused entirely on domestic investments in critical areas such as power, agriculture, healthcare, motorways, etc.

The investment footprint of NSIA under the leadership of Orji is impressive with the sole aim to build, provide and sustain economic stability for all Nigerians. The 15 landmark projects running into trillions of naira are in diverse fields.

 

These include the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway, Abuja-Kaduna Road, Second Niger Bridge, Abuja-Kano Road; the Presidential Fertilizer Initiative for the local production of 1million metric tons of blended NPK fertilizer; Project Arena, Multi- Purpose Industrial Platform Project, the Kano Solar Project, NSIA Umuahia Diagnostics Centre, NSIA Kano Diagnostics Centre, the NSIA LUTH Cancer Centre and Infra Credit.

 

Under the present leadership at NSIA, healthcare is an area of maximum impact. In the last 18 months, the LUTH Cancer Centre has had over 200,000 patients’ encounters. Only recently, the NSIA has scales up its healthcare intervention by signing agreements for the expansion of its Diagnostics and Oncology Expansion Programme.

The Authority through its NSIA Healthcare Development and Investment Company (NHDIC) entered into eight collocation agreements in total. This will include Lease and Collaboration agreements with five Federal Medical Centres and three State Governments under phase one of the expansion

The state governments are Enugu, Kaduna and Kwara states while the selected, medical centres include Abubakar Tafawa Balewa University Teaching Hospital Bauchi, Usman Dan Fodio University Teaching Hospital, Sokoto, Federal Medical Centre Asaba, Delta, University of Uyo Teaching Hospital, Akwa Ibom and University College Hospital Board of Management. Oyo state.

 

The broader goal of the programme is to establish, in two phases, a portfolio of 23 diagnostic centres, seven catheterization labs and two oncology centres across Nigeria. Pursuant to these agreements, funds will be deployed to build, equip, maintain, and operate catheterization labs in Kwara, Oyo, Sokoto, Bauchi and Delta states; build, equip, maintain, and operate private modern medical diagnostic centres in Enugu, Kaduna, Kwara, Akwa Ibom, Oyo, Sokoto, Bauchi and Delta states; and build, equip, maintain, and operate an oncology Centre for advanced radiotherapy treatment

 

Also, the Presidential Fertiliser Initiative (PFI) is envisioned to stimulate local production and enable the projected annual savings of $200 million foreign exchange by maximizing local content. The confidence which President Muhammadu Buhari had in the ability of the NSIA under Orji’s leadership was what made the President allow the Authority to take charge of the Presidential Fertiliser Initiative.

 

Since the implementation of the Fertiliser Initiative, Nigeria now has over 60 fertilizer blending plants, creating a huge number of jobs for the economy. It is instructive that through the initiative, about $100m in foreign exchange has been conserved for Nigeria.

This is the amount that the country would have spent importing fertiliser for farmers. Also, the commissioning of a big agric project by the agency in Nasarawa state is aimed at raising farm yields to about seven tons per hectare as against the present two tons per hectare for the average Nigerian farmer.

The project which is in partnership with Old Mutual and a Dutch Investment Company is focused on ensuring that the nation’s poultry farmers have the highest quality feeds. The decision of the NSIA to partner with the private sector in investing in agriculture is in line with the food security agenda of the federal government.

Some of the key milestones achieved under this project are: the installation of a 147,000 metric tons per annum capacity poultry feed mill; the installation of 75,000 tons of storage infrastructure in the form of two silos, six bunkers, as well as 35,000 tons of raw material and finished goods storage; the installation of 750ha of center pivot irrigation systems; the leasing of 3,500 ha of land for the cultivation of maize and soybeans.

There is also the construction of a 1.4 million cubic meter reservoir for water management; and the successful planting of 856ha of maize in the 2021 wet farming season and now, as you may have seen as you arrived, 1,200ha of maize during the 2022 wet farming season. In addition to these commendable achievements, Pandagric in partnership with NSIA under Orji’s guidance also built bore holes for all six of its neighbouring communities; developed an out-grower scheme, providing inputs and training to over 500 small holder farmers; employs almost 600 direct staff and 2,000 indirect staff, making it the largest contributor of PAYE to Nasarawa State.

As a result of the accountability and transparency threshold put in place by Orji, NSIA has proven itself to be a steady profitable entity. For the past eight years in a row, it has been ranked top quartile by the Sovereign Wealth Fund Institute in terms of transparency and governance.

At inception, the leadership of the agency had a clear vision and strategy of what the agency wanted to accomplish. Orji believed that the agency would gain credibility by demonstrating the capacity to get things done. His appointment as MD/CEO of NSIA for the second and final five year term in 2017 was largely seen by industry watchers as an endorsement of his work by the government.

The exemplary work of Orji at NSIA which has earned the agency local and international respect is the product of a progressive and brilliant mind. By his training, he had always felt that what is important is the ability to have a small but effective team. From the onset, he was determined to hire the smartest people around.

Today, he has motivated and turned them into champions of his visionary agenda. The key to the success he achieved at the agency is the fact that he has built a work culture that has no place for the big man. This has engendered robust debate and the interrogation of ideas within the organisation.

 

Under his leadership, NSIA is a clear example of a flat structure in action. It is not surprising that NSIA has gained the trust of Nigerians and the respect of players in the global arena through the exceptional performance of Orji. The high transparency and accountability threshold that he has entrenched and the service delivery and high impact projects have continued to impact the Nigerian economy in a positive manner.

Today, Nigerians perceive the agency as a vehicle for the delivery of key high impact infrastructure projects. As the curtain falls on a 10-year eventful value loaded tenure, Orji is leaving behind a well -run organisation that he has carefully groomed and positioned to take on the challenges of the present and future.

 

With limited assets, he has through prudence and profound vision accomplished a lot. He leaves behind an impressive record of service that will remain a reference point and a marker for his successor. Ume, the founder of Unubiko Foundation wrote in from Abuja

 

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