Cross River State’s Toothpick Factory Struggles To Become Productive 4 Years After Launch


By Jeremiah Archibong | CrossRiverWatch

The Paradise Toothpick factory in Ekori, Yakurr Local Government Area, LGA, in Central, Cross River State was commissioned by former governor, Sen. Ben Ayade on March 1, 2019.

The aim of the N746 million project was to boost the economic activities within Yakurr LGA by making it a bamboo hub in the region. The project was captured in the 2019 budget as technical support, projected at N850 million.

According to records obtained from the Due Process and Price Intelligence Bureau, DPPIB, the actual cost of the project is N480 million. There was a backward integration of N186 million used for the establishment of organic bamboo farms, and N80 million for procurement of delivery trucks, power, water, packaging, and cartons.

Barely 3 months after commissioning, the factory was shuttered and remained so until last March.

The N186 million organic bamboo farms could not be located by the CrossRiverWatch.

Investor Tricked By Government

The factory concessionaire is Mr. Inyang Yibala, CEO of Best Cleaning Toothpick Nigeria Limited. He told CrossRiverWatch that the factory he took over immediately after the general elections to manage for the next 25 years did not wear the look of a N746 million project.

He said he had injected about N8 million to get it running for testing, adding that “One of the key problems is the light. We are trying to arrange a transformer, I and other business people. The diesel you burn in a day or two is 60 liters. We are still spending. It is after this test run we will know exactly how much it will take me to go fully commercial.”

On how he was tricked, he said, “If the government was sincere, they would have kept everything. I was not allowed to go and start it, or check if it was functional. If you start the machines, they are on but to check if they are working to the capacity, it isn’t possible.

“I thought I was going to run into an equipped factory with all the equipment but I just discovered that the machines are not functioning to capacity. Some of the valuable parts were taken away. The fence fell due to waterlogging from no drainage. The main building was in bad shape, with cracks, the roof was almost bad.”

The fence and drainage being fixed

On his desire to see the place work, he said, “I tidied the place, brought in people from Lagos and Port Harcourt who came and assessed the equipment and said we needed to buy some parts so I had to source for them. I just bought them and we are test running.

“I keep replacing the components of those machines that were vandalized and taken away. I took this decision because first of all, the business is in my village and when nobody was interested, I went for it, not because I felt it was going to turn me into a millionaire. It’s of the economic benefits it was going to give to my people.

“My dream is to build the place to full functional capacity. I had to employ about 18-20 people. At the moment we are running half the equipment because of parts. I have been making arrangements with some people to get parts.”

He confirmed that the N186 million organic bamboo farms do not exist and he buys bamboo from locals.

No Response From The Government

Two unsuccessful visits were made to the Ministry of Industry to make inquiries about why the factory was under lock and key for over 2 years, the location of the organic bamboo farms, and why the investor wasn’t told the truth that some machines were bad.

Responding to a WhatsApp voice note, the newly appointed Commissioner for Industry, Dr. Mathias Unimke Angioha promised to get back to this reporter but never did.

Earlier, the Information Officer to the Ministry said his hands were full. He noted that he covers four ministries and has been overwhelmed with work such that he has not been able to cover the Ministry of Industry, therefore, he cannot be of help.

Stakeholders Frown

Odenke-Odemonke Ibiang, a native of Ekori told the CrossRiverWatch that it’s quite unfortunate that the past administration did nothing tangible in terms of the project for Yakurr LGA.

According to her “The supposed toothpick factory situated in Ekori was dead on arrival. Zero manpower, make-believe equipment booted in and out just for photo optics, and zero production since inception. If that wasn’t a scam, I don’t know what is.

“I feel really really disappointed that we’re used as a pawn in this whole game of chess, called politics. A non-functional project can possibly have no impact whatsoever on a community. I mean, where will the impact come from?”

Furthermore, she said “Perhaps if the project had had a headway, sons, and daughters of the community would have benefited from the project through employment, but with our situation, the place has become like a town hall. It’s pathetic, and I must reiterate that the past government did nothing tangible in Yakurr and I believe this administration will do things differently.”

A businessman, Rolland Igboke, MD of Ausrol Limited, said the project would have impacted positively if properly implemented.

“The intention of the previous government was lofty and good but the implementation left a lot to be desired. It must have been how the project came into inception or how the whole program of industrialization was implemented.”

Advising the new administration he said, “The new government has a lot to do and I must say the business community has a lot of trust in Otu’s administration to take the state back on the right track.”

A development expert, Gabriel Adim, Head of Programs at Aged Care Development Foundation, called for proper implementation of government policies.

“It was a noble initiative to initiate many projects, of course till today we have not seen many of them working. But as a government, the purpose of governance should be the people’s interests. When you want to govern and you are not showing the level of inclusiveness as it should be you are bound to make some errors and that is what you saw happen in the last administration.

“If you ask me, this toothpick factory was a misplaced priority. You need to look at a comparative advantage, in the past Cross River State was rated as the cleanest, greenest, and tourist destination, so why not invest your money there, invest and strengthen it?”

Rolland and Adim urged the current administration to revisit the green, clean, and tourist destination sector and build around the chain of business linked to it whilst exploring more.

This report was produced with support from Civic Media Lab.



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