HAKEEM GBADAMOSI examines the situation of the Nigerian Romanian Wood Industry Limited (NIROWI), a joint venture between the Federal Government and other agencies, why it is a shadow of itself and what could be done to resuscitate the company which used to be a pride of the South – West.
The name NIROWI remains fresh in the minds of residents of Ondo town and its environs, as once upon a time, it was the largest provider and producer of quality wood for furniture.
NIROWI, in its hey day, was known to be involved in production of beautiful decorative items, used in homes and offices, and was second to none in terms of taste and quality.
The wood company was also known to be one of the greatest employers of labour among other industries and companies in the state at the time. In years past, the Ita-Ila area, where the company was situated, was a beehive of activities. However, now, the whole area has become more or less, a ghost land.
Nigerian Romanian Wood Industry limited (NIROWI) was a joint venture between the Federal Government of Nigeria, Beeb Holdings, Nigerian Industrial Bank, Nigerian Bank for Commerce and Industry and the old Ondo State government, on the one hand, and FOREXIM of Romania on the other.
The wood company was established in 1974 by the then Western State government to be an integrated wood processing company and was strategically located where the source of major raw material, that is, wood, was readily available.
Less than fifteen years after the company began operations, it went down the drain, a situation, which some experts in tree planting and environment, linked with the rise in the felling and burning of economic trees and deforestation in almost all forest reserves across the nation.
In its productive years, NIROWI was the pride of the people of Old Ondo State as it provided employment for the people of the state and impacted on its immediate environment. Working in the company was a dream for many prospective young school leavers from the state and beyond.
Presently, however, the fate of the company now hangs in the balance as the site of the factory has become a den of armed robbers, as they are said to use the site as a haven for storing weapons for operations. For now, getting access into the company is like going into lion’s den as men of the underworld have taken over the place, alongside reptiles and other dangerous animals.
Speaking with Nigerian Tribune, one of the workers of the moribund company, Siji Akinwande, explained that the closure of the wood company rendered about six thousand workers of the company jobless. He also identified power as one of the challenges that plagued the company at the time it was in full operation.
He also blamed successive governments in the country and all other stakeholders for neglecting the wood company, which eventually led to the closure of NIROWI, noting that the federal government had shown little or no interest in sustaining the nation’s forest reserves since the discovery of oil in the country.
He recalled that the late Lisa of Ondo Kingdom and the Commissioner for industry in the old Western Region, Bayo Akinnola, tried all he could to bring the company back to life but said it was like whipping a dead horse, and also attributed the company’s plight to human factor.
According to him, different policies were introduced by various management put in place and the shareholders involved in the running of the wood company, noting that “the company started well at the beginning but with the introduction of different policies, they ran the company aground.”
A former staff of the company in the Salary and Wages section under the Account department, Ifeoluwa Akinmoyewa, attributed the woes that befell the company on corrupt practices among some staff of the company. He said the development eventually paralysed activities and operations of which finally led to its premature death.
He ruled out the possibilities of resuscitating the wood company, explaining that all the machines and equipment have become obsolete.
Nigerian Tribune visited the company and it was found to be an old shadow of itself, as the site was riddled with dilapidated structures, old vehicles and machines, while hoodlums were on ground, and had appeared to have made the place home, sharing the confines of NIROWI with rodents and reptiles.
A boy, Daniel, whom Nigerian Tribune met, told our correspondent that some security operatives from Akure recently invaded the compound where some hoodlums were arrested but later released. He also said some spiritualists often visited the place but said he would not know their mission there.
The young man, however, appealed to the state government to bring life back to the site. He was of the opinion that all the old buildings should be renovated and given out to cocoa farmers as warehouse, noting that it would reduce the activities of hoodlums in the old wood factory.
A former Managing Director of the Company, Mrs Fola Akinwande, while speaking on the collapse of NIROWI affirmed that deforestation played a major role in the death of the wood company which resulted to loss of jobs, wealth and environmental degradation.
“We cannot talk about wood without reference to the role wood has played in the economy, construction and paper industry, community development and as a major employer of labour in Nigeria.
“While the British colonialists were here, they greatly exploited our forest resources, particularly as a major exportable commodity which serves as their main raw-materials for construction and manufacturing industries.
“But sadly enough, Nigeria has lost its forest to deforestation in the advent of oil and it is sad that most wood industries have closed down. We need to go back to develop our forest reserves and make good use of our woods,” she stated.
She specifically identified power as another major contributor to the death of NIROWI and also pointed out the activities of illegal operators, who constantly disrupted the operations of the company by intruding into the forest reserve, where wood supply was normally obtained.
On how to revive the company, she explained that various attemps had been made by past governments and other shareholders in the past, which were aimed at reviving the company through privatisation, but it never saw the light of the day. She maintained that giving life to NIROWI would involve serious efforts from investors with support from the government, while steady power supply must be maintained.