AshakaCem: Demonstrating resilience, building communities in challenging times
by CHUKA UROKO
February 27, 2018 | 1:51 am| | | Start Conversation
Though the times are quite challenging with an unsupportive economy and an environment that is unfriendly, especially with insurgent activities, Ashaka Cement remains resilient and committed to its operations, at the same time, building communities.
A subsidiary of Lafarge Africa and a member of the LafargeHolcim, Ashaka Cement, fondly called ‘Star of the North, is located in Gombe State. It is the single largest industry in the whole of Northeastern part of Nigeria with one million metric tons capacity plant that employs about 700 direct staff plus over 2000 others employed indirectly as suppliers, contractors, vendors, etc.
The LafargeHolcim Group, to which it belongs, is the world’s largest manufacturer of building solutions with operations in over one hundred countries of the world and a combined capacity of about 400 million metric tons which is the world’s largest so far.
“In spite of all the issues we have around us in terms of recession, dollar exchange rates and others, Ashaka Cement has demonstrated commitment to executing projects”, said Rabiu Umar, the managing director, at a press conference in Gombe at the weekend.
He recalled that in November 2014, the plant was attacked twice by insurgents but the management decided to keep operations open. “I think that was the right decision to make and it helped in demonstrating that we have the resilience to keep our operations running”, he said.
Apparently not daunted by these challenges, the company last year started a captive power plant, an N11 billion project that will be generating 16 megawatts. By the time it is completed early next year, the company will be helping in providing its own power solution and making same available to the public grid and people in the region to enjoy.
“We want to generate our own electricity to meet our needs. Currently, we rely on generators for our operations which consume much fuel and, whether you are using diesel or petrol, it has strong correlation to foreign exchange”, Umar said, adding, “the power plant is our biggest plan aimed at reducing our costs; like some other manufacturing concerns, energy constitutes the largest component of cement production cost”.
Unarguably, cement is an essential product in Nigeria as a major building component whose price remains high in the country despite what seems like self-sufficiency in its production.
But expectation is that with investments such as Ashaka’s power plant and increased capacity which Umar said was part of their plans, prices will come down considerably. With that too, house prices will come down and the wide housing demand-supply gap estimated at 17 million units will be narrowed.
Ashaka Cement as a product, according to Umar, is of superior quality and for many years it has been like that. But they want to take the brand to the next level to see how they can deepen their market in order to get closer to their customers, communities and the stakeholders. “We want to expand our footprints by having additional capacities”, he assured.
But in doing all these, the company is not unmindful of the community in which it operates and the impact of its operations on the people and environment. It respects its host communities because it believes that the communities give it the licence to operate and without such licence there is nothing it can do.
“We have respect for all the communities in which we have operations. In our case, we have only two communities, Funakeye and Maiganga, where we have our plant and mine our coal respectively. The entire Northeast is also our community”, Umar said.
As a way of giving back to the communities, the company has three key focus areas—education, healthcare and youth empowerment. Through these programmes, it has provided free housing, education, healthcare, classroom blocks, rural electrification and artisanship training for the people.
About 56 percent of the company’s workforce comes from Gombe while 70 percent come from the northeast. The company has two schools with about 1000 pupils and 60 percent of them is from the community receiving free education. On daily basis, 200-250 patients from the community visit the company’s clinic to receive free consultation and drugs.
Beyond this, the company deepens its relationship with the community by going beyond what it signed or promised to provide for them. The most significant in this respect is agriculture. There is land everywhere in the community but it is only used during the few months of rainfall.
“We want to move agriculture from its present seasonal activity to something that will happen all year-round and, for that to happen, we are partnering with the National Agriculture Research Institute in Zaria to do what is called industrial ecology, basically to increase the yield to between 30 to 40 percent of existing faming activity”, Umar disclosed..
“We are also going to introduce other farming activities that will further improve the yield on the same piece of land that farmers use. By doing this, we will be creating a sustainable income stream, hoping that the benefit will be felt all across the community”, he assured.
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