Ore: From theatre of war to industrial hub

for illustration only

Ore, the headquarters of Odigbo Local Government Area of Ondo State, gained its prominence during the Nigerian Civil War. It was the place where Nigerian soldiers stopped advancing Biafran army. But the town has now become the industrial hub of the Sunshine State as BABATOPE OKEOWO reports

Although the town has been in existence before 1967, Ore in Odigbo Local Government Area of Ondo State gained its prominence during the Nigerian civil war when Biafra and Nigerian Armies battled for control of the town.

During the war, the Biafra Army led by Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu had conquered the Midwest states and was on its way to capture Lagos when the Nigerian Army mobilised and confronted the ravaging Biafra Army in what is popularly called the battle of Ore. It is known in Yoruba parlance as ‘Ija Ore’

Ore was the town where the final battle for the soul of Nigeria was fought and won. The Biafra Army who could not withstand the firepower of Nigerian Army surrendered and the war ended in 1970.

It must be noted that the centrality of the town made it the gateway between Southwest, Southeast and South-South geo-political zones. Also, it links the Ondo Central senatorial district to the South Senatorial districts in Ondo State. For travellers going to the South-South/ Southeast from Lagos, Ore is the stop-over point where they eat, drink and get refreshed before proceeding on their long journey to the Eastern part of the country.

Being a gateway town, many industrialists have made a move to establish one company or the other in the town. Being a town at the centre, getting raw materials from the hinterland and market in Lagos has now made the town a business hub.

The Federal Government, who knew the importance of the town, started an Independent Power Plant (IPP) some few years ago. The immediate past government also set up an IPP in order to distribute electricity to companies who may want to establish in the corridor.

All the governments in the state had one way or the other tried to woo investors to Ore, as the gateway town between the West and Eastern States. The efforts did not yield the desired result until two years ago when a Chinese Company moved to the town to establish five companies in a row.

The investment drive which began by Governor Oluwarotimi Akeredolu has started to pay off as no fewer than five new companies have settled and ready to begin operations in the Ore Industrial hub.

Before this investment drive, the Sunshine State was often described as an agrarian state, or at best, a civil service state. All governorship candidates of political parties have always promised to change the narratives of the state from civil or agrarian state to industrialized state.

The last time deliberate and genuine efforts were made to industrialize the state was during the administration of the first civilian governor, Chief Adekunle Ajasin, between 1979 and 1984. The Oluwa Glass Company and the Okitipupa Oil Palm were the pride of the state at the time. But four decades after, the sites of the companies are overgrown with weeds. This was because the government was owner of these companies and they died with the initiators as the subsequent governments said ‘government has no business in businesses

Even the cocoa plantations which gave the state its logo was no longer attractive to younger generations who opted for white collar jobs. The once beautiful and buoyant state became a shadow of its former self. It now depends on paltry monthly allocations from the Federal Government, almost three-quarter of which goes into payment of salary of the state workforce.

The determination of Akeredolu has given room for a fresh of hope for the state, as it joins the elite club of industrialised states in the nation. Already, five companies – a paper mill, ethanol plant, medium density fiberboard, high-density fiberboard, plywood, and a textile company have sprouted from the mustard seed that was planted when the state signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Linyi municipal government of Shandong province of people Republic of China.

Determined to ensure a solid economic base for the state, the Governor had embarked on an investment tour to China in June 2017. That tour has given birth to what is now known as the Ore Industrial Park.

It will be recalled that he had earlier flagged-off the 10,000 hectares ODSG /Wewood afforestation project, where Gmelina arborea have been planted on 1,500 of the 10,000 hectares. The industrial revolution in the state has taken a very strong foothold with the ethanol plant at about ninety-five percent completed and set to roll. According to the Business Development Manager of Wewood Limited, Mr. Sun Peng, a special specie of cassava are being planted in – between the Gmelina which will be used to feed the ethanol plant.

Speaking with reporters at the site of the company in Ore, Sun Peng said the ethanol factory is almost ready, with works at ninety-five percent completed. His words “We are expected to begin test-running of the machines before the end of April,” Already, about 1,000 people have been employed for the ethanol factory for direct jobs. The plant is also expected to provide jobs for more than 10,000 people, particularly cassava farmers and traders.

Local farmers are excited about a ready and lucrative market for their goods. Shehu Oladapo, a cassava farmer in Odigbo Local Government area of the state, was full of praise for the governor. Oladapo said “I thank Governor Akeredolu for this initiative. Farmers like me now have a ready market for our cassava. It has encouraged us to increase the number of hectares that we will prepare to grow cassava for the next harvest season.”

The WinWin Textile factory located inside the park commenced production of textile thread a few months ago. With 300 workers already employed, WinWin Textile has helped to ease the problem of unemployment on the people, especially the locals, who for the first time have found a worthwhile venture outside the civil service.

According to Ahmed Adeyinka, the Nigerian Manager of WinWin Textile said the textile is presently producing polyester sewing thread. He said the factory will move to the next stage of producing textile materials like lace and Ankara among others. His words, “Presently, we have 300 people working for us. We now produce all kinds of sewing polyester thread for the local market. In a couple of months from now, the factory will begin to run at full capacity with the production of textile materials of all kinds.”

The Weewood Plywood/HDF factory is already bubbling with life. Young men and women, who would have been roaming the streets, are busy with one task or the other. The company’s products, high-quality fiberboard plywood are already in high demand in local markets across the state, while the state is being positioned to earn foreign currency through the export of the product.

A short distance away, the expatriates are screwing the nuts and putting finishing touches to the giant paper mill factory. According to Jack Sun, Business Development Manager for Weewood, the factory is now about eighty percent completed. On completion, the paper mill is expected to employ more than 3000 direct staff, while many more are expected to benefit from jobs created down the value chain.

The paper mill, like other factories in the Ore Park, is structured to create more indirect jobs for the locals. For example, long before the machines for the mill began to arrive the shores of the country, Weewood commenced preparations by planting the trees that will form the primary raw materials for the mill.

Today, the almost 10,000 hectares of land allocated for the /Wewood afforestation project by Gov. Akeredolu is beginning to yield the expected result, as the trees continue to grow into maturity.

An elated worker in one of the factories said “The governor deserves commendation for this initiative. This is a win-win situation for Ondo State and its people. The company will employ our people on the farm to plant the trees, it will go on to employ our people in the factory and other auxiliary jobs that would be created.”

At the ethanol project, it was observed that farmers, businessmen, and women are already reaping from the indirect jobs created by the ethanol plant. Inside the ethanol factory’s warehouse, several thousands of bags of dried cassava are waiting to bed into the machines, while more than 10 trailer-load of cassava are waiting to off-load several other bags of cassava.

The Ore Industrial Park is fashioned after that of Linyi municipal government of Shandong province in China. Investors under Shandong group have made good their promise to make Ondo State a model for a one-stop industrial park in the country.

And if the experience of the Linyi’s economy, which is based around its wholesale markets and an annual trade volume of 40 billion RMB (~US$5 billion), is anything to go by, the state government has set sure set a standard by which governance would be measured in the country.