INVESTIGATION: Nigeria’s Industrial Development Centres in its ‘death throes’ (Part 2)
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The 23 Industrial Development Centres (IDCs) spread across Nigeria are derelict and abandoned despite the Federal Government’s plan to use the facilities to boost small-scale local business in the country. YEKEEN Akinwale who visited centres in Lagos, Port Harcourt, Abuja and Kano brings the concluding part of the report about the dilapidated condition of the multi-million naira infrastructure.
Lagos Centre— empty, underutilised
Lagos IDC is not better than that of Port Harcourt—there are only three entrepreneurs operating there— one produces custard powder, another produces food seasoning and the third one cuts and supplies polythene bags, The ICIR observed.
Though the facility has the capacity to accommodate more than 20 operators, no new allocations have been given to SMEs applicants who had written down their names seeking space to start businesses.
Ogbeh, an elderly man who secures the centre and also doubles as its gateman keeps a ragtag record of intending allotees.
He operates from a ramshackle office with broken table and chair—dust covered the broken furniture.
Besides keeping eyes on the centre, Ogbeh also operates a vegetable garden and farm on the unused part of the centre.
Bringing out an old notebook containing some names and phone contacts, he said, “this is the list of people who came to drop their names and phone numbers for space.”
There are two other female workers at the centre—a coordinator—who heads the centre was not around.
There were no signs the centre was working. While the two women informed this journalist that application for allocation of space had closed, they warned against giving money to anyone who parades him or herself as an agent of the centre.
One of them who later identified herself as the “accountant” of the centre lamented that some unscrupulous individuals have been attempting to swindle unsuspecting members of the public.
“See, don’t give anybody money for allocation because it is done from Abuja. We have closed accepting application for space,” she said. “We are waiting for Abuja.”
According to her, about 40 people have applied for space allocation after former occupants were asked to vacate the centre some years ago.
With no signpost and definite address, locating Lagos IDC by a visitor is a near-impossible task. Like other centres in Port Harcourt, Kano and indeed, Abuja, only a handful of residents know about it.
But the new yellow paint on the fence gave an impression of a centre that is still in operation.
Tucked somewhere in Raoni Estate, Ibese road, Ikorodu, Lagos State, commercial motorcycle riders who are reputed to know the nooks and crannies of Lagos could not locate the centre. On Google map, the centre appears on Ibese road, but there is no landmark to identify it.
A resident who seems to know about the centre directed the reporter and said the structure is old and dilapidated.
“I was posted there in 2016 by the Lagos State government under its youth empowerment scheme for an internship,” said the young man who declined to give his name.
“But I didn’t stay there because what I wanted was a job and not an internship,” adds the middle-aged man who works at an event centre at the area.
According to him, the centre has a number of old and abandoned buildings when he last visited the place.
Right inside, however, except for chapping and tweeting of birds, the centre was as quiet as a graveyard.
To the left-hand side of the centre stands a recently painted story building designated 4-in-1 workshop. There are no tools or machines in its large hall, but a signpost at its entrance reads “Rehabilitation of 4-in-1 Workshop. Far aloof from the workshop stands another recently renovated residential apartments. The renovations were awarded to two different companies: Headway World Standard Services Limited and Fiserv International Limited.
Further findings by The ICIR revealed that the two companies belong to the same persons. A company search conducted at the Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC) showed the ownership of the companies as the same individuals. This amounts to contract splitting and a violation of the Procurement Act.
Officials at SMEDAN headquarters declined to supply the contract sum and the procurement documents for the two contracts.
Other chalets at the Centre were under lock and key albeit dilapidated. The facility is currently underutilised, overgrown by weeds with painted but not used structures, new transformer supplied by SMEDAN.
Abuja—space racketeers call the shot
Management of SEMDAN insists that occupants of Abuja Industrial Development Centre are using the facility for free.
“All the people in Abuja IDC here are staying there free of charge,” says Mohammed, SMEDAN’s spokesperson. “Some of them have been there since the IDC was created. They are still there using the facility.”
But this is in spite of allegations of space racketeering involving officials of the agency. For instance, a budding entrepreneur, Jane Adugbo (not real name) told The ICIR of her futile attempts to get a space for her grain nuts business.
She applied for space at the agency’s headquarters in Abuja but was told that there was no space.
“All I want is a place to start up and do my things and take-off from there.”
Since 2018 that she has been making efforts to secure a space allocation, bureaucratic bottleneck and racketeers have frustrated her dreams.
“I first visited the SMEDAN head office in Garki in June 2018 to enquire about the centre,” she recalled. “I met officials of the Engineering Department who confided in me that there was space at the centre but only the DG could give approval, after which they would be directed to allocate.”
She said a senior officer in the department confided in her that the Director-General gave approval to a business owner not long, “So go and try your luck too,” the official advised her.
As instructed, Adugbo wrote to the Director-General of SMEDAN seeking space at the centre.
“The DG gave an instruction on my letter to the Engineering Department which is saddled with space allocation,” she said.
But that was the last she heard about her letter.
“I later got to know during follow up that the centre coordinator insists there is no space at the centre, even though there are locked up and uncompleted structures at the centre,” a frustrated Adugbo laments.
“It is frustrating that the government keeps mouthing support for entrepreneurs but does not take it a step further by ensuring that the right thing is done.
“The vice president recently launched a one-stop-shop for MSMEs in Abuja but that shop cannot address the major need of entrepreneurs – factory space – because the one provided by the government has been hijacked by a wicked cabal that calls the shots and allows one business monopolize the use of the centre.”
She alleged that officials of SMEDAN who are the custodians of the IDC take money from entrepreneurs to allocate them spaces. “Those who cannot afford to pay are told there are no spaces,” she said.
Mohammed, however, rose in defence of the agency. He argued that the agency was not aware of any underhand dealings going on at the centre. “We are not aware of any underhand dealings going on at Abuja IDC,” he said.
According to him, the occupants of the centre were left there to operate since they provided the structures they operate in.
“We didn’t drive them. Some of them constructed the structures they are using, since we don’t have money for rehabilitation, they are the ones that brought electricity. The industrial generators supplied to the centre are not working,” he disclosed.
On allegation against some officials demanding money for space to be allocated, Mohammed said, “Nobody has ever complained to us that some people asked them for money.”
“Before you can even get land there, you have to come to the office here. It’s the Director-General that has the final say on allocation of space.”
Investigations by The ICIR, however, revealed that government officials who manage the place, headed by a coordinator, have turned themselves into a cell that determines who gets what as far as space allocation is concerned. They operate through syndicates.
It was found out these occupants who were allocated space for free but no longer produce have sub-let their spaces to other businesses for amounts ranging between N250, 000 and N400, 000 per annum. This is done with the connivance of the centre officials.
A local snacks supplier confided in The ICIR that she paid money to an allottee to allow her use the facility to get certification from regulatory bodies, after which she left at the expiration of her ‘tenancy.’
During a recent visit to the centre, it was evident that the facility lacks the basic facilities required for an industrial centre.
No water, electricity, or support equipment. Even those who get space allocations are expected to construct semi-permanent structures with their own funds.
As a result of the deplorable state of the centre, including the administrative block, the civil servants there do not bother to go to work. Several times this journalist visited; only a security man was on hand to attend to clients.
Again, the SMEDAN spokesman said those officials at the centre are those from the Ministry and a very few staff of the agency.
“As we said, we inherited these IDCs from Ministry of Industry, Trade and Investment, those staffers are from the Ministry and very few of our staffers too are there to show that we own the IDCs,” he said.
“Some of them still attend to people who go there for information.”
He said only one person was allocated space since SMEDAN took over the IDC and the beneficiary has since stopped going to the centre.
Asked if there is a possibility of a new applicant getting an allocation, he said, “The problem is like what I said about Lagos.
“ Why we are not giving them space now; suppose we give them space now and in the next one or two months, after he has installed his machines, and we now say they should pack out because of the conversion to industrial clusters.”
“I want you to understand that these IDCs were not under the purview of SMEDAN before. They were under the purview of Federal Ministry of Industry, Trade and Investment. Most of the people that occupy those places were allocated spaces by the Ministry. SMEDAN has never allocated space. We are even trying to drive those that are there now and organise the centres into clusters.”
This investigation was supported by the International Centre for Investigative Reporting (ICIR) and the Ford Foundation.