Managing Director/CEO, Nigeria Sovereign Investment Authority (NSIA), Dr Uche Orji, assumed headship of Nigeria’s investment firm on October 2, 2012. Between that time and now, the agency has committed over $450 million into infrastructure and more investments on pipelines. He spoke recently to a select business journalists in Abuja on other activities of the agency. Abdulwahab Isa was there. Excerpts:
NSIA is investing in select areas of healthcare sector to treat diseases that are capital intensive. Could you update us with the level of progress?
For healthcare, we talk about a number of areas that are of interest to us. We focus on the areas where Nigerians spend on medical tourism. Cancer is number one including kidney and cardiology. There was a survey in 2018 that said $1 billion dollar was spent a year by Nigerians on medical tourism with 40 per cent of that going to cancer and the rest go into kidney and cardio heart issues.
Our strategy is to ensure that we focus on those areas. We have a partner we are working with on oncology. Most of you who know us very well know that we only announce things when they are really close to being done.
We have been working for the last 10 months on oncology. For the moment, we have decided to go to the Lagos University Teaching Hospital (LUTH) so that cancer centre would be built there. If we are ready for structure that works for us, we would be able to move very quickly.
Of course, the kidney problem is driven by high blood pressure. We would be looking at this area; we would also be looking at Cardio. So the short answer is that
yes, we are working on it.
The Nigeria Medical Association (NMA) claimed that only four cancer centres are operational in the country, is this position correct?
It’s an embarrassment for a country of this size. We are going to do more; some would be specific cancer centres, while some would be part of a complete hospital project and that would be focus for NSIA.
If you notice, from commissioning to actual taking of patients, we are taking our time. We have to hire the right sets of people, which took time and send them on training. All the equipment in that centre is the only second of its kind, third in Africa.
To train people to that point on the equipment, we have to send people to train in Switzerland; the US trainers have to come here to train them because this is healthcare. Unless you have all system ready you can’t just start.
A lot of money has to be spent on training before we begin to realise that nursing care. That is the main reason why a lot of people are leaving. Surgery was successful; post-surgery wasn’t so successful. These are areas we are focusing on, and once we have our full complement of staff, we would be looking to do more in this area.
This is the first foray for us on healthcare and we are very careful. The thing with healthcare is that the health line can be really bad if something goes wrong and we are very careful about that. The short answer is: As part of this project, cancer is there, morphology is there; cardio therapies are there, other things are there.
Your agency has invested heavily in funding infrastructure, how much has NSIAdeployed into Infracredit?
We started infracredit by investing $25million. So far infracredit has attracted investment of over $60million. The equity right now on infracredit, we have $25million coming from the NSIA and matching fund from Africa Finance Corporation, AFC is $25million. We also have $35.5million that has come from KFW, the difference between the AFC and NSIA, is that they are equity and equity life instruments. The one from KFW is a long-term debt. Those are the numbers that have come in. The numbers that are likely to come in the next 12 months, we expect close to $40million to come from other parties that we are into negotiations with and we are not done with negotiations. The Africa Development Bank, AFDB is putting certain types of instruments into infracredit. In all of these, we have Guaranco. Garanco is a very important partner to this program. This programme was done jointly from beginning with Guaranco and NSIA.
Guaranco is our parent investor; they are called private investment development group (PIDG) based in the UK. PIDG helps in getting this project started and they are very important partner to NSIA. Guaranco provided, in addition a co – guaranteed fund of $25 to $50 million. What is important to note is that, we have $25 million from AFC, we have $35.5 million from KFW and we have $25 million from Guaranco as contingent capital. This is not core capital that you withdraw in time of contingency. There is $50 million from AfDB. Like I said many more are planning to come this year.
Could you let us into procurement process of NSIA. I recall that the Minister of power expressed concern in that aspect?
Procurement process is a reality of where we live in. Procurement process is going to take its own toll. The process is a process and you can’t circumvent it. We share that same concern of the Minister. But until the process changes. Nonetheless when I talk about us focusing on infrastructure in 2019 and 2020, there is a lot going on in the pipeline that we have been working on for many years. Some of those ones have gone through procurement. So when we start development capture projects, you will know that projects invested in 2019 have been in development for at least over a year. At least, there are some that have been in development for almost two years. Once you announce a project, it doesn’t mean it becomes automatic. For example, when we talk of LUTH, the whole process started some years ago, but what we have done with procurement was that everything from that moment, to full construction was nine months. Nevertheless it took many years of planning ahead of time to get there. However, many people expect us to do magic with procurement structure. The time it takes to get these things done is very important.
How much are we going to spend on infrastructure?
Honestly, I can’t commit to when, and how much because of all factors I mentioned earlier. At the moment, more than 60 per cent of our funds are committed. We have 40 per cent of our funds committed to projects already; and when we actually spend depends on when the procurement is ready. So we have more than 60 per cent of our fund committed. In terms of real number, we have committed more than $450million committed to infrastructure and more are being developed as we speak.
NSIA got involved in 5500 metric tons plant fertilizer project, could you give us the agency’s level of commitment?
The fertilizer programme is a presidential fertilizer initiative (the FGN programme) but we manage it on behalf of federal government. It’s the federal government programme. We handled the financing of it and it’s really a call by the president; it’s his initiative not ours. My view is this: It has been more value added than the previous methods of doing subsidy if properly handled. I don’t even know, which one to emphasis more. The fact that local blended plants that were either moribund or operating significantly below capacity are now operational or the fact that many people are hired and we are using more domestic as against foreign components. We used to import everything, now 63 percent of the components are sourced locally. So there is also some value. The decision we made is: Whether to continue to subsidize it or by how much? I can’t speak much more to this. I need you to understand that globally it’s not an issue to have agriculture and agriculture component subsidised. Is done by US, is done by Europe; is done in many places.
There was a case of improper hiring of a staff by your agency. The lady in question was employed as Assistant Vice president. Can we talk about the process? How transparent was the process?
Let me speak to the Assistant Vice president issue, a lot of these things out there are fake news and you don’t need to waste your time on it. We have been advertising roles in NSIA. We advertised for people to work in infrastructure funds and other areas. And this one was advertised. Was it transparently done? Yes. As we speak some positions are advertised. Since 2018 we advertised about 14 roles. Was it transparently done? Yes. Was it secretly done? No. In NSIA, our titles are balanced with what we have with our partner at international level. Many roles as we speak are being advertised. Nobody is exempted because if we don’t have process we don’t have organization. We have Consulting firms that advertise for NSIA.
NSIA intervention in Abuja Commodity Exchange has been on for years. As we speak, trading on produce had yet to commence. What are the challenges stalling the progress?
Yes, our intervention in ACE has taken three years. We are working with the Bureau of Public Enterprises (BPE), we are working with existing commodity exchange. There are all sorts of alignments; once you have three parties sitting together trying to do transactions, it takes long time. A procurement process started initially, we had to re-do it. There is a process in this country that must be followed, we are following that process. Is it taking a long time than we really like to take? Do I have a time for its take off? When I announced we are going to do this almost three years ago, I thought it would be operational by now, but we are closer now than we were three years ago. By the time we have all the documents signed with the BPE and the rest, implementation will be swift.
There was an ugly incident that happened at Washington, venue of just concluded IMF Springs. Could you clarify that unfortunate case of misapplied information by the IMF?
I think IMF has come out and clarified what happened. By the way, we have reacted. I saw that news at 6pm Nigerian time, and we were too busy with all these stuff we are working on and we don’t want to get distracted. Thank God I didn’t go to Spring meetings, I won’t be able to react until I got back the following week. Everybody who wants to see or talk about reaction should go to Arise TV programme. We have spoken to Arise TV and we issued statement later. IMF is a very important agency in the world, but we are very careful with our engagements and we take it very seriously. What they were talking about is Excess Crude Account, ECA and not the NSIA. We published clarification to say that, and I think there was a mistake in mixing up the NSIA with ECA.
Can you tell us briefly the current value of ECA deployed as seed capital in NSIA. What is the value of the investment as of today?
In terms of the value of Excess Crude Account, ECA I don’t know. That’s a question for the Minister of finance. We don’t manage ECA, we manage Nigeria Sovereign Investment Authority. But in terms of what we have added to the $1.5 million seed capital, I think we have added close to over $ 300 million in value; $350 million to be precise. This is the money we won’t have had if we didn’t invest on behalf of federation.
Recently, NSIA signed an agreement with Infrastructure Concession Regulatory Commission (ICRC) and here you spoke of Public Private Partnership. What is the essence of MoU with ICRC and the progress so far?
We entered into agreement with ICRC. What is agreement with ICRC about? To define a way to work with ICRC. It’s important because as we start to get involved in public private partnerships we need to harmonise. It is important because when ICRC Act was written and NSIA was created separately, the Act didn’t anticipate that federal government will have an active investment agency in infrastructure. There are many working arrangements that are missing gaps in the two Acts. So what we do with ICRC is to sit down and say, look we are going to have friction because there are gaps with the way you are set up and we need to sit down and close those gaps. We sat down to come up with MoU that said: Where decisions are not clearly defined what do we do? That’s essence of MoU between NSIA and ICRC. To seek interpretation on areas that we may experience function overlap