The Chief Executive Officer of Ellah Lakes Plc, Chuka Mordi, and the company’s Agronomist Jamie Rixton, recently visited Nairametrics’ Head Office in Lagos to discuss the details of the acquisition of Telluria Limited by Ellah Lakes Plc.
Chuka Mordi and Jamie Rixton also discussed his aggressive growth target, as well as the impact of the company’s oil palm field on host communities.
See the details of the conversation below.
Ellah Lakes Plc recently held a “facts behind the listing” presentation on the Nigerian Stock Exchange. What prompted the decision?
Mordi: For a variety of reasons, the growth projectory that we have planned out is going to involve a significant amount of CAPEX for the next few years. The capital market is a prevailing place to get equity as well as get the public involved. From the point of view of corporate government transfers, it gives us a degree of visibility that we think is useful for the capital market from a basic point of view. The rapidly growing Nigerian Stock Exchange is a very healthy platform to be on.
Why Ellah Lakes? Obviously, Telluria Limited had the most progress. Therefore, one would think it would rather just grow organically?
Mordi: I would probably characterise it differently. Ellah Lakes has the history of financial difficulty brought about by externalities beyond their control and their operating environment and they saw in us an opportunity to diversify the structure of the business. It involves getting to the listing by a faster route while an introduction to the tech in another 12 months.
We have to do historicals of the last 3 years but we only need to establish ourselves. So far, we invested significantly over the last year. It was a faster route to market. I think its synergy for both sides.
Ellah Lakes’ acquisition of Telluria was unprecedented. What prompted this move?
Mordi: It’s purely an issue of financial structuring; it was the optimal way to structure it in order to have market access. So it’s effectively an ITO. It was a structuring situation that was convenient for both sides.
They couldn’t afford to pay us in cash, so they paid in equity. The equity payout meant we took a majority position in the firm that was acquiring. What it does is, it still leaves a certain value for Ellah Lakes’ shareholders, but it also creates certain value for shareholders of Telluria that is commensurate with various positions.
So what is Telluria’s stake in Ellah Lakes?
Mordi: The delusion is 95 to 5% delusion. However, there’s a variety of other stakeholders in Telluria also, so we only need another 10% to get to the agreed free float requirement with the Stock Exchange. We had an agreement with the Stock Exchange to do it in the next quarter. We are probably going to do it before then because it’s a listed company and the liquidity will drive people to diversify their holdings.
In the last count, we had just over 2000 shareholders in Ellah Lakes. The expectation is as the success story becomes known, we would expand our shareholding base, which is what we want to happen. We want to get the Nigerian public to participate in the Ellah Lakes great story, which I think is a proxy to the Nigerian Agric business growth story as we diversify going forward.
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From the presentation of the fact behind the listing, you have N3.6 billion debt?
Mordi: That’s a year-end number. Some of it has been raised but because the Ellah Lakes year-end is the 31st of July and the approval was given by SEC just before the last quarter, we cannot publicly consolidate Telluria’s and Ellah Lakes’ books until we do the year-end number.
The year-end is July 31, 2019, we will come out with our year-end figures very quickly because we run a very tight operation. Anyway, that’s why that number at the end is a consolidated number that we can’t show the actual figures until we release a consolidated Telluria/Ellah Lakes July 31 year-end (figures). By then, we will harmonise and give you the actual figure.
What’s your aggressive growth target for Ellah Lakes in the next 18 to 24 months?
Mordi: We have a fairly aggressive land-bank acquisition plan. We are on course to achieve everything that we projected. So, I think we are quite happy with that. Obviously, what we are cultivating, our projections is in tandem with the amount of land that we’ve achieved in our land-bank… that’s an obvious correlation between what we are cultivating and what we’ve banked.
If we reach our target for the land-bank, then we reach our cultivation target; and it means we can accelerate our growth towards million and million refining capacity. Ultimately, we want to be an industrial agric business, we don’t want to be in business of selling crude palm oil, that has its value of course, but I think we want to get to the refining stages as quickly as possible; industrial products for your everyday household goods.
Also, like I’ve said, along the line, we would be optimistic, so if we see any opportunities that are in line with our long-term strategy, we would aggressively pursue them.
Do you have plans for rubber?
Jamie: At this stage, no. But in any farming operation, we are always looking for opportunities. Just because we are doing oil palm today doesn’t mean we gonna do oil palm in other parts of the land. Land is like, if you can find a niche, that’s the metro of farming.
Mordi: I think I can also answer that from a slightly different point of view. Even though we have a five-year strategy, it includes an optimistic outlook. So if we see an opportunity to scale up the business and increase our money, we will gladly explore it.
What happens next when Nigeria is fully sufficient?
Mordi: When you say self-sufficiency, the question is self-sufficiency in what? If you produce enough oil palm, you get crude palm oil, which is purely for cooking; that’s your basic need. So, you can achieve self-sufficiency in just consumption of crude palm oil. But you know there’s other aspect in terms of what you use it for like Industrial needs; additives for noodles, additives for chocolate, additives for biscuit, refining for cooking oil.
I think if there are economic growth and development, it drives consumption on a variety of level, so there will still be consumption on basic edible level, but also if we grow industrially, and we have higher value-added products, there’s scope for even more growth in utilization of oil palm and palm oil derivatives.
So if we carry on growing (population), we would have to grow the oil palm (output) in order to catch up with the Nigerian industrial growth, because you can have the population growth which will drive up the consumption of the edible item and you will also have the industrial growth or economic growth added to that.
So I think the self-sufficiency level is quite far away, it’s not a five-year framework that will get us there, because as we keep expanding, supply and demand will probably grow, and I don’t think we would still have enough supply because the Industrial growth will drive demand also.
Jamie: There’s also adaptability. During a company’s journey, there will be many variables confronted with. Our success as a business is based on our ability to adapt, and that’s where we believe we have the team to be able to do that.
There are lots of palm oil plantations in Edo and Delta. What is it about these two states that attract businesses?
Mordi: In the Nigerian aspect, we fall between Edo state and Delta state so the local primitives are in both states, that’s why we emphasize on them, which is part of the palm states.
Jamie: I think the big attraction for both states is because so much is happening there and the conditions are ideal for operations. One of the challenges in Nigeria since 2014 is that so many crops have grown in the wrong geographical areas, one of the reasons why the average of rice and cassava may be the new alert which people don’t often understand how the importance of Agriculture. Added to it, Agriculture is many variables to give you the best chance in order to get you the good crop.
There has often been disagreement between private companies and host communities. How did you compensate them?
Mordi: We have a very sensible CSR framework. Rather than use consultants to share money, we engage directly with the two main communities in the area, Igwelaba, which is in Orion Local Government area in Edo state. So we visited extensively before we started, coopted them into the process so they understood what we are doing. So they are providing security, maintenance on the farm and no one is being handed any free money, so it’s simply you have to add value in some ways.
Does this get to create jobs?
Mordi: Of course, in every area, I’ve spoken about. There’s no free money to hand out. I think they recognize if they participate in the growth of what we are doing, they can also participate in our success, and that’s on the Edo side. On Mokosa side, which is the Delta State community, we do exactly the same thing in parallel, so we are sharing the opportunities between the communities equally.
So on the security side, maintenance side, on the health side, Nurses, Doctors, in trying to help the schools that they want, some CSR work; we are also doing that equally between both communities. But it’s fundamentally about direct engagement with them and them participating in our growth story so they understand exactly what we are doing.
Round the corner (of Ellah Lakes’ oil palm field) is OBEN gas plant and Seplat. I think we have a lot of engagement early on to make them recognize this is an Agric business, it’s not oil, we are not going to hand out sub-ventures on a weekly bases because we are not an oil company.
But I think it was very important to make them realise that, so they can engage with you properly because if they have a misunderstanding about what you do, they would queue up at your gate and say find us something. You know, we don’t have that kind of business where we can do that. So I think it was very important that we engaged them directly very early before we start cultivating so they understood the nature of our growth trajectory.
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Jamie: It’s also about sustainability. We want to be sustainable not just in terms of how we go about clearing land and how we do our operation, but also sustainable for the local community because, honestly, we cannot do without them let’s be very frank.
I’ve seen it time and time again with big companies all over Africa. I’ve worked in Africa for the last 20-years, and since 2014 here in Nigeria, you’ve seen those mistakes others have made, and those mistakes are the lack of engagement with the local communities; they allow one guy to do the negotiation, and they’ve all got agendas.
So, for us, we are engaging directly, our cards are on the table, and we are telling them what we are going to do, and that’s appreciated, and if there’s any sort of issue, they can talk to us, it’s that simple; as far as the community, we believe they are a crucial asset to our business.
Do you have issues getting the right personnel from the community and what are the plans for manpower development?
Jamie: I think it’s down to a company’s attitude towards the people. Obviously, you have to train whoever you bring on board, you have to train. And this all comes back to the local community, with that community, there are people who are very willing, able and smart and able to learn. Now obviously, in the initial stage, as we are building, they are building their own capacity as we are moving forward.
Of course we can find people from outside the States, but we would rather be looking internally and at the local communities to see where we can fit in, where we can find good (skilled) people, and they are there; I mean it’s just a matter of how we grow with them and not have the mistakes that others have had in the past – of the larger companies that put their hands in and say they can’t find people.
For me, that’s about being able to build your capacity and the capacity of your people.
Mordi: I will like to add to that and say, there’s obviously a deficit of skilled manpower in Nigeria that’s something the government policies will have to work on from investment and education perspective. There are some externalities beyond our control, the pool of manpower available to us at a certain skill level is not something you can do anything about, except training people that we hire.
But the job market is what the job market is; the pool out there is just what you can choose from, so it’s just a situation we have to manage as best as we can.
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What are the qualities you look out for when hiring?
Jamie: Passion, commonsense and interest in what you are doing, because there are so many people out there doing what they are not interested in. You have to look for someone who has the passion and interest in what you are doing and that’s the person you can train.
I’ve been involved in training for over the last 20-years, I promise you, if you got people who aren’t interested, it’s never going to get well no matter how their CV looks.
Mordi: I will go with the first two (Passion and common sense), then the third, I will substitute with the willingness to work hard. If you are interested, if you care deeply, but not willing to work hard, it’s just not going to be possible.
People have to realise life is difficult and you have to apply yourself. From time to time, you are going to fail at what you are doing, and failure isn’t necessarily a bad thing if one learns from those mistakes. Once you’ve failed, pull yourself back up, dust yourself and carry on; it is that willingness to work hard. But there are too many people who at the first defeat, they give up and try something else.
Trying something else is not bad, but if you’ve really want something you have to be willing to put your mind to it and keep on grinding. It doesn’t come naturally, it can only come from trying and failing and recognizing that failure isn’t a bad thing, you just have to be willing to (continue).
How many jobs has the oil palm field created and how many will it create for the communities?
Jamie: We bring people on as we need and you can’t put a number on it. But we would be creating significant jobs over the coming years, we support the local communities by finding such people in the communities.
Lagos State Government orders building owners to conduct structural stability tests
There will also be stricter enforcement of regulations and safety precautions to ensure that building owners and developers across Lagos metropolis comply with it, she reiterated.
In response to the partial collapse of a 3-storey building at Alagomegi-Yaba on Monday, the Lagos State Government has ordered owners of buildings in the state to immediately carry out structural stability tests on their properties. This is expedient, given the onset of the rainy seasons, and the presence of statistics to show that many buildings collapse during the season.
In a series of tweets that were posted last night on the Lagos State Government’s official Twitter handle, the state’s Building Control Agency (LASBCA), disclosed that the affected building at 6, Olonode Street, Alagomeji-Yaba, Lagos, collapsed in the early hours of Monday due to the heavy rainfall in the area over the night.
Kosegbe emphasised that with the raining season upon us, owners of old buildings in the State should ascertain the level of structural stability of their property to avert collapse, stressing that statistics have shown high incidence of building collapse during this period#LASG
— The Lagos State Govt (@followlasg) May 25, 2020
The General Manager of the agency, Engr. Biola Kosegbe, noted that the collapsed building had earlier been marked for demolition. In other words, all occupants of the building were evacuated by the Agency before the incident, thereby averting a disaster.
Kosegbe went on to explain that statistics from previous years show that there is a higher incidence of building collapse during the rainy season, hence the need for building owners to ascertain the level of structural stability of their properties to avert collapse. She added that the Lagos State Government would not hesitate to remove illegal or distressed buildings, or any other structure that is not in conformity with the State’s building laws and standards.
There will also be stricter enforcement of regulations and safety precautions to ensure that building owners and developers across Lagos metropolis comply with it, she reiterated.
She maintained that the present administration will leave no stone unturned in sanitising the building construction industry removing all illegal or distressed buildings, that are not in conformity with the State building laws, regulations and standards#LASG #ForAGreaterLagos
— The Lagos State Govt (@followlasg) May 25, 2020
Why it matters
This type of pro-active government regulation will help prevent future catastrophes that could occur in the events of building collapse. Incidents of building collapses are not alien to Lagos, a city-state with more than 20 million estimated population, a significant number of whom live in squalid conditions due to extreme poverty and housing deficits.
Just In: Nigeria received $5.85 billion capital inflows in Q1 2020 –NBS
Nigeria received $5.85 billion capital importation (inflows) in the first quarter (Q1) of 2020, compared to $8.51 billion in Q1 2019.
Nigeria received $5.85 billion capital importation (inflows) in the first quarter (Q1) of 2020, as against $8.51 billion in Q1 2019. This is according to the latest capital importation report released by the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS).
According to the NBS, the $5.85 billion worth of capital importation in Q1 2020 represents an increase of 53.97% when compared to how much was received in Q4 2019.
However, when compared to the corresponding first quarter period of 2019, the figure indicates a 31.19% decline.
Capital Inflow by type
Portfolio investment ($4.31 billion) accounted for 73.61% of the total capital importation, followed by other investments ($1.33 billion), which accounted for 22.73%, and Foreign Direct Investment ($214.3 million), which accounted for 3.66% of total capital importation.
More details shortly…
Naira set for recovery as ABCON issues guideline to members on forex sales resumption
It is obvious that the CBN has come to realize that BDC operators can be the difference between naira recovery and depreciation during volatile times.
The Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) and the Association of Bureau De Change Operators of Nigeria (ABCON) have finalized arrangements for the resumption of forex sales to Bureau De Change operators (BDCs).
Following this finalisation, the more than 5,000 BDCs spread across the country are now expected to help curb the downward spiral of the naira, thereby checking the activities of foreign currency speculators.
Recall that the naira has recently been facing major challenges, no thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic. Unfortunately, currency speculators took advantage of the situation by making spurious demand for dollars with the hopes of making good returns from the rising gaps between official and parallel market rates.
Meanwhile, Governor Godwin Emefiele of the CBN and ABCON President, Aminu Gwadabe, have repeatedly spoken against the illicit business of currency speculators and the dangers they pose to the economy and naira’s stability. They have also warned the speculators about the looming danger for their trade if they refuse to retrace their steps; they Could incur losses estimated at over N10 billion in the next few months, especially now that the CBN is enabling BDCs’ full return to the forex market after nearly six weeks of inactivity.
(READ MORE: Devaluation’s drum beats louder)
Governor Emefiele had also appealed to industrialists who patronize the parallel market to stop such practices in the interest of the economy and for the sustainability of their businesses. Failure to do this might result in them incurring the same huge losses as currency speculators.
Both Emefiele and Gwadabe have extensive experience in the market, enough to predict what follows after every major crisis. During the 2016 currency crisis, the market got a major relief after the BDCs began getting dollar allocations from the CBN. That same scenario will soon play out as the BDCs countdown to resumption.
In the meantime, it is obvious that the CBN has come to realize that BDC operators can be the difference between naira recovery and depreciation during volatile times. This is especially true now that the local currency has come under intense pressure, driven mainly by speculative demand for the dollar.
Note that the BDCs are essentially operators who help to get dollars across to the end-users, no matter where they are. The BDC operators have, for decades, proven their relevance in stabilizing the naira. While commenting on the recent moves by the apex bank to resume dollar sales to the BDCs, Gwadabe said:
“The CBN’s planned lifting of moratorium on dollar sales to BDCs, reopening of the airports for air travels as well as global ease on restriction of movement are positive indications that dollar flows to the economy will soon improve.
“The naira has been exchanging at N461 to a dollar at the parallel market but will be upbeat once dollar sales to BDCs commence. The return of over 5,000 BDCs to the forex market will add great strength to the Naira and lead to major capital losses for forex speculators. It happened in 2016 and it will happen again in 2020. The return of the BDCs will immediately boost naira’s recovery and put the enemies of the economy to shame. We are committed to the CBN’s exchange rate stability and will take all necessary steps within set rules and regulations to keep the naira stable.”
Moving on, the CBN said it has taken steps to address the risks facing the naira. Asides other positive developments in the global economy (including oil price recovery thanks to OPEC+ output cuts and IMF’s $3.4 billion emergency funding to Nigeria), the CBN believes its measures will enable a rapid recovery for the local currency. Emefiele explained:
“CBN has also officially reviewed the naira exchange rate to N380 to a dollar. Aside devaluing the naira, the apex bank also adopted a unified exchange rate, and pushed the official rate of the naira to N376 to dollar for International Money Transfer Operators rate to banks; N377 to dollar for banks’ dollar sale to CBN and pegged CBN’s dollar sales to banks at N378, all aimed at attracting Foreign Portfolio Investment and strengthening the local currency. The BDC operators are expected to buy dollar from the CBN at N378 per dollar.”
For Gwadabe, the naira rate review and the CBN’s assurance to foreign investors on the easy repatriation of their funds from Nigeria, are positive indicators for naira’s continued recovery.
(READ MORE: Why the naira is falling)
He also noted that ABCON is reopening guidelines to all its members nationwide included on-boarding of the queuing crowd ticketing management application, known as ABCON 360°QSM portal, by all members. So far, over 80 percent of members registered nationwide.
He also disclosed that they updated all regulatory obligations during the lockdown, such as fumigation of members’ offices/markets, and distribution of second phase of face mask nationwide to our members. They also made provision for wash hand basins and sanitizers at distributions centres, even as members will explore school fees, mortgage, and subscription payments as part of their allowable scope post-COVID-19.