Abdul Samad Rabiu is the Executive Chairman of the BUA Group and one of Africa’s greatest industrialists. BUA Group is now one of the largest diversified groups in Nigeria, active in food (sugar and oil) and infrastructure (cement, ports, real estate). Starting its cement operations in 2008, it now owns one fourth of Nigeria’s cement production capacity making Mr Rabiu one of the richest Africans globally in 2020 with an estimated fortune of 4.5 Bn dollars. And unlike many, the pandemic has not stood in his way. The stock value of BUA Cement PLC has doubled since a Nigerian Stock Exchange listing in January 2020, while its sugar and foods businesses are upping production capacity and leveraging international partnerships.
In an exclusive session with CNN’s Eleni Giokos at the Africa CEO Forum-Digital Edition, Abdul Samad Rabiu discusses whether revenues and expansion can endure the volatile business climate, and how he sees the future of industry in Africa.
Eleni Giokos: We’re entering a period people refer to as “the new normal” or “post covid world”. How are you coping with the definition of these two worlds?
Abdul Samad Rabiu: Across history, there have been defining moments that shape the trajectory of the world and sadly, Covid-19 happens to be one of them. The pandemic triggered an unprecedented crisis across all sectors of the economy worldwide. The challenge is that the disruption in the supply chain has affected commodity prices especially in a country like Nigeria where the majority of the foods are imported. The result is that countries importing food products are facing high freight prices. But for businesses sourcing raw materials locally and producing locally, there is an added advantage and we can see a lot of countries moving in that direction.
E: You listed your cement business at the start of the pandemic and we’ve seen stock markets being extremely volatile but recently improving. What was the key element that protected your listing from the effects of this crisis?
A.S: When we listed our cement business in 2019 just before Covid, we knew that it was going to be quite a challenge, and we wanted to make sure that we focus on quality, efficiency, and on our people. We were able to have a product that is the preferred choice in the market. But this is also because of the Nigerian market. Nigeria has a population of about 200 million and the country is producing about 30 to 35 million tons of cement per annum which makes it quite a low figure in per capita consumption. We will be needing close to 56 million tons per annum in Nigeria. This is the reason why we plan to commission one of our newest plants before the end of this year to meet the demand in Nigeria.
E: In terms of the African growth prospect, are you still standing by the fact that Africa’s economic growth trajectory will be about growth rather than demise in the next few years?
A.S: The vast opportunities and resources available in Africa make it a great place to do business. I know a lot of people are not as optimistic, but I believe we need to harness such resources such as mining and agriculture so that we can provide for ourselves and also export to other parts of the world.
E: Do you have plans of going greener and more sustainable post-pandemic?
A.S: We must start looking at better ways to be green. But remember that sub-Saharan Africa as a whole contributes less than 1% of the global CO2 emissions. So, of course we need to do a lot more but we will need a bit more time. In our case, some of our plants have been switching to gas as an energy source rather than using coal and some other forms of energy.
E: In your opinion, what is the next big thing for Africa?
A.S: The future in Africa is in agriculture because 65% of arable land in the world at the moment is in Africa. Mining is also another avenue for growth in Africa.