Senate President, Dr. Abubakar Bukola Saraki, on Thursday urged the Unilever Group to increase their investment in Nigeria with the aim of providing more employment opportunities in the country.
Saraki, while receiving the management of the Unilever Group, led by its President in charge of Africa, Mr. Bruno Witvoet in his office, also urged the conglomerate to source more of their raw materials, especially agricultural produce like palm oil, from the country in order to provide the much needed empowerment for local farmers.
The Senate President however assured the group that the present administration is serious about its policy on diversification of the economy, while the National Assembly is also reviewing some extant laws to make the country a business-friendly destination.
Saraki said: “The message I would like you to leave with is that the policies of the present government is to support businesses like yours in looking towards diversification. We have got to a point as a country that it is clear to us that we can’t continue to sustain a mono-product economy and we are clear about that.
“What we are trying to do as much as possible is to see how we can diversify and increase the supply side for import substitution and the demand is huge. One of the concerns being raised is whether these policies are going to be consistent. And I say, yes, it will.
“One of the things we are trying to do as a National Assembly is also to give our support to ensure that some of these policies are consistent so we don’t see flip-flop in policies and also to provide all the incentives that are required to ensure that you will be encouraged to make these kinds of investments.
The Senate President said: “For example, in the area of cassava and palm oil – these are investments that I believe are necessary and we are not going to see them happen unless there are investors like yourself that have the muscles to do that and give support to farmers.
“I believe that if we can produce cassava for your industry then we can support the farmers and I think that is the way we want to go now,” he said.
According to the Senate President, both the executive and the legislature are determined to provide the needed political will that will boost investors’ confidence in the country.
He said: “The important thing is that we have to come to the table to discuss what incentives you require to be able to have the confidence to make those investments and also the confidence to make those investments in the area of agriculture.
“I want to assure you that definitely this is a pro-business legislative arm and that we are very keen to see you come to take that lead. We are determined to diversify and reduce our import loads as much as possible,” he said.
President of Unilever Group (Africa), Mr. Bruno Witvoet, in his response said the organization is ready to double the size of its investments in the country especially in the area of agriculture.
He said that Unilever, despite being a legal entity, is basically a Nigerian company with a big part of its capital listed on the Nigerian Stock Exchange (NSE) in Lagos, which he said is not the case in many other countries.
Witvoet said: “I think especially in agriculture, you have a fantastic opportunity in Nigeria for sure. I think we can help you in your agenda like we have done for Kenya and Uganda.
“The last point is doubling the size of our business and that means that we have to consume more raw materials from the country. So there is a direct link here when we talk about providing employment – maybe in a big factory you may think about 2000 workers but in a tea or cassava plantation you can have more than 20,000 workers,” he said.