Former President Olusegun Obasanjo has praised the private sector for their positive roles in economic development and jobs creation.
Obasanjo stated this on Tuesday during the commissioning of British American Tobacco Nigeria head office in Ikoyi, Lagos.
The former president, who was the chief guest at the event, highlighted the important role companies such as BAT play in the economic growth of Nigeria.
He described the commissioning as a major milestone and also a testament to government’s efforts geared towards attracting foreign direct investment.
Tracing the return of BAT to Nigeria, which began with the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding between the government and the company in 2001, Obasanjo said that BAT was among the first companies that heeded his government’s invitation to invest in Nigeria.
“Almost a decade and a half after the signing of the MOU, we are again at BAT to witness another milestone. I’m particularly delighted because this head office building showcases faith in Nigeria and BAT’s continued investment in Nigeria,” Obasanjo stated.
Making reference to the legality of the tobacco industry and the benefits Nigeria derives from the legitimate tobacco industry, Obasanjo said that the health warnings on cigarette packs are conspicuous enough.
“With the warning on cigarette packs, the government and tobacco companies have fully discharged their duties. We cannot sacrifice the huge benefits BAT brings to the economy,” he emphasised.
Earlier, Chris McAllister, Managing Director, BAT Nigeria, said one of the major benefits of democratic rule is the relative stability the country enjoys, in addition to engendering an environment conducive for businesses to thrive.
He said that BATN has continued to fulfil its obligations to Nigeria.
“As an economic development partner, we believe that by highlighting and celebrating the values and attributes that are unique to the Nigerian nation, the private sector can assist the government to achieve its global objectives. We are an ideal model of how, if properly structured, foreign direct investment can spur economic development,” he stated.
Listing the objectives of the Memorandum of Understanding BAT signed with the Federal Government, McAllister said these include the development and expansion of a fully vertically integrated tobacco industry; the building of potential for regional exports; significant increase in both the quality and quantity of tobacco grown and establishment of an independent foundation to address rural economic development.
Senator Sam Egwu, who represented the National Assembly, commended BAT for its adherence to rules and regulations.
“Even while on tour of the new premises, there was no smell of cigarette, despite the building being the headquarters of a tobacco producer. It’s a sign that BAT adheres to rules and regulations governing its operations,” said the Senator.
The Oyo State government said that the state has benefited tremendously from BAT’s factory and its corporate social responsibility programmes, which have helped farmers to elevate their practice, raising productivity and enhancing their incomes.
Chief Moses Adeyemo, deputy Governor, Oyo State, who represented the governor of the state, said: “I make bold to say that BAT has made positive impact in Oyo State. The state has earned more than N1 billion from BAT since 2003, its indigenes are full time staff at the factory, and Nampak, a packaging firm, is also in Oyo State courtesy of BAT; Nampak has also invested more than US34 million (about N7 billion) in the state. BATN Foundation is training our farmers on modern farming practices in order to increase their productivity. However, we want more,” he stated.
BAT produces cigarettes from its factory in Ibadan, which it exports to other countries in the West African sub-region.
The company also sources its major raw materials from farmers who are predominantly based in Iseyin, Oyo State.
Over the years, farmers in Oyo State and other states of the federation have enhanced their income by practising mixed cropping, among other initiatives.
At the commissioning of the multi-storey building that will serve as the headquarters of BAT for its West African operations were Ooni of Ife, Oba Adeyeye Ogunwusi; Oba of Lagos, Rilwan Akiolu; captains of industry, among many others.