By AYOOLA OLAOLUWA
After several years of dashed hopes and delays, Dangote Group’s $2 billion fertilizer plant has started operations, making Nigeria the only Urea exporting country in Sub-Saharan Africa.
The take-off of the granulated Urea fertilizer plant project, the largest in the world, with its 3 million tonnes per annum capacity, had suffered some setbacks with the opening date leading to its postponement several times.
Before the successful kick off of the plant project sited in the Lekki Free Trade Zone (LFTZ), Lagos alongside the 650,000 barrels per day Dangote Refinery, critical sections, such as the Central Control Room, Ammonia and Urea Bulk Storage, Cooling Tower, Power Generator Plant and Granulation Plant underwent various stages of pre-commissioning and test-run in March and would have started production, but for the COVID-19 pandemic which disrupted plans and caused the date to be shifted.
The plant is constructed by Saipem of Italy and Tata Consulting Engineers of India. It’s being powered with gas from Chevron Nigeria Limited under the Gas Sale and Purchase Agreement to supply 70 million cubic feet of gas daily. The gas is piped by the Nigerian Gas Company and Chevron Nigeria Ltd.
Sources in the company said the plant will get the supply of the major raw material, urea, from its own nearby production site, while phosphates and potash will be imported for blending
Business Hallmark gathered that the fertilizer plant will generate $2.5 billion annually, about 10% Nigeria’s remittances from abroad.
An elated Edwin Devakumar, Group Executive Director for Strategy, Portfolio Development and Projects at Dangote Industries Ltd, said the country will soon become self sufficient in fertilizer production and even have the capacity to export the products to other African countries.
“The project, which will create thousands of direct and indirect jobs in construction and related fields, will provide a major boost to the agricultural sector by significantly reducing the importation of fertiliser in Nigeria and ultimately removing the need for imports when the plant is in full production.
“The coming on stream of Dangote Fertilizer will surely make Nigeria and Africa as a whole self-sufficient in food production and a net exporter of food to the world”, Devakumar stated.
Devakumar revealed that the fertilizer plant has a well-equipped fertiliser soil testing laboratory to ensure efficiency of the product for farmers.
“The laboratory will enable us analyse and identify a particular soil deficiency. Applying the right fertiliser to soil will enable it yield maximum result. The goal of our soil testing is to provide an accurate assessment of the soil’s fertility to make fertiliser recommendations.
“A proper soil test will help ensure the application of enough fertiliser to meet the requirements of the crop while taking advantage of the nutrients already present in the soil.
“Right now, farmers are forced to utilise whatever fertilizer that is available as they have no choice, but we need to know that the fertiliser that will work in one state may not be suitable in another state, as they may not have the same soil type and composition.
“The same fertilizer you use for sorghum may not be the fertiliser you will use for sugar cane,” he added.
He also added that the fertiliser complex, which is sited on 500 hectares of land has the capacity to expand as it is only occupying a small fraction of the allotted portion.
“The capacity will later be expanded to produce multiple grades of fertilizers to meet soil, crop and climate-specific requirement for the African continent as fertilizer is essential for agribusiness in Africa”, Devakumar stated.
Industry experts who spoke with our correspondent are of the opinion that the ambitious Dangote Refinery Complex, which is also expected to start the production of petroleum products in 2021 will boost the nation’s economy.
According to Engineer Dapo Olorunmojo, the refinery and petrochemical projects will end the nation’s reliance on importing fertilizers and refined petroleum products, including gasoline, diesel and lubricating oil once it comes on board in 2021.
“The fertilizer project is going to be a game changer as it will make Nigerian self-sufficient in fertilizer production, thereby saving it the huge foreign reserves presently spent on importation of fertilizer”, Olorunmojo said.
The Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Alhaji Muhammad Sabo Nanono, in his response, said the Dangote Fertilizer Plant is very important to the success of the Federal Government’s Agricultural Transformation Agenda, aimed at boosting food security in the country.
He said Dangote’s investment in fertilizer production would contribute to improved farm yields and agricultural productivity, which are critical to Nigeria’s long-term food security, while he commended the richest Blackman in the world for keying into the Federal Government’s Presidential Initiative on Fertilizer aimed at bringing down the cost of fertilisers across the country.
“The capacity of Dangote Fertilizer is enough to change the way fertilizer is being used in this country. We are going to complement his efforts and support him in this regard. The challenge of the supply of fertilizer is going to be solved by the Dangote Fertilizer plant. I can now go home and sleep.
“The Federal Government wants to make sure that Nigerians have enough food to eat. We can only achieve the objective with enough fertilizer in the country. I am extremely proud of Aliko Dangote for what he is doing in this country. I think no other person has probably done half of what he is doing in the area of investment.
“If we can have just additional two of his type, this country will be completely different. I think all we have been trying to do as far as agricultural development is concerned, has been captured by the Dangote Fertilizer plant. Nigeria has a potential for agriculture. Obviously, Dangote Fertiliser is going to help the government and the farmers,” Nanono assured.
The journey to this major milestone began in July 2011 when the President of Dangote Group, Alhaji Aliko Dangote, signed an engineering works for infrastructure agreement with Saipem’s Group’s Nigeria Country Manager/Managing Director of Saipem Contracting Nigeria Limited, Mr. Giuseppe Surace, for the construction of the biggest fertilizer project in Africa in Edo State.
The project location was later moved to the Lekki Free Trade Zone (LFTZ) in Lagos.