What strategy did you adopt to come back strong after the pandemic, and what is your outlook for BASF in Nigeria?
Keeping operations running at all costs and focusing on our customers proved to be a good decision. Most segments are now back to pre-COVID levels. Most consumers were locked down for months and have saved up money, and as soon as things open up they will start spending. For example, though demand in China is stronger now than it was before COVID-19. Nigeria is a unique ecosystem and does not necessarily follow global rules. We have our own consistent set of problems here, namely the port congestion and the foreign exchange issue, though once we account for them, the outlook is cautiously optimistic.
Can you tell us about your groundbreaking waste-to-chemicals project?
Despite the pandemic, it was paramount for us to keep investing in innovation capabilities, and, therefore, our laboratories and related projects received a great deal of attention. Our flagship project is the waste-to-chemicals project that aims to repurpose plastic waste toward chemical value chains. We succeeded in commissioning the waste-to-chemicals laboratory in Lagos in 2020, despite the pandemic. This facility, which is unique in Africa and likely beyond, provides a R&D platform to study the relationship between waste plastics streams such as polyethylene, polypropylene, and polystyrene and their conversion into pyrolysis oils for use in the local chemical value chain. We are currently running our first demo unit, which is the prototype of how this system will be in the future. This will allow us to validate all the parameters for us to go live later in the year. We intend to deploy three more recycling hubs in strategic communities across the state, demonstrating our level of commitment toward enabling value creation in Nigeria.
Will the Dangote refinery make Nigeria self-sustainable and able to export?
Aliko Dangote should be lauded for his vision. It is an exceptional achievement that is expected to be up and running by 2022, as most of the assets are expected to be commissioned by the end of this year. This will trigger a massive transformation overnight. BASF is extremely proud to be supporting this project, as it is an absolute gamechanger. The fact that a solid upstream chemical value chain is being built will accelerate development, and we will see further moves in the direction of downstream petrochemicals, which is positive. This will create a large number of jobs that are badly needed in Nigeria and may contribute to restoring some balance in the forex space.
What is your opinion on the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) and the impact it will have on manufacturing in Nigeria?
I am pleased Nigeria has ratified the treaty, but we must allow some time to execute it without putting the economy in danger. While agriculture can be a major income earner, more agro-transformations have to be localized. There is a great deal of work to do in Nigeria in terms of local value addition, but it is not yet ready to open up its borders in a number of segments. It has to be careful not to kill the small Nigerian entrepreneurs who are trying to create local value. If it opens up too fast, it may face stiff or even lethal competition from its neighbors. Free trade is great, but some industries need to be protected for a while as they are not ready.
How will BASF fit within the new economic realities?
We will continue to reinstate that for us, it is all about enabling value creation. We will continue to operate in and contribute to sectors where we know we can deliver on all dimensions: economically, as it makes sense in terms of profitability; environmentally, as sustainability is now a crucial success factor; and socially, through job creation, upskilling, and vocational training.