Ondo State’s N9 Billion Naira Chocolate Factory Remains Desolate Three Years After Launch

In Breaking News, Investigation

By Alaba Adeyemi, Development News Nigeria

September 21, 2020 was a remarkable day for farmers in Alade and other farming camps and villages in Idanre in Ondo State as a new chocolate factory was launched by the state government in Alade.

During the inauguration, the state government said that the Sunshine Chocolate Factory would produce 2.8 million tons of chocolate per annum. But investigation by Development News Nigeria has shown that the factory has remained abandoned since its launching by the governor, dashing the hope of the farmers who had expected higher returns on their cocoa farming due to the factory.

A Bold Initiative That Became A Maize Farm

West Africa, including Nigeria, accounts for at least two-thirds of global cocoa beans production which is used to make chocolate but gains little from the multibillion dollar chocolate industry because the region mainly exports the raw cocoa beans. The Sunshine Chocolate Factory was seen as a bold initiative by the Ondo State Government to process the cocoa in the state and generate higher value to the state and farmers.

 

Rotimi Akeredolu, the governor of Ondo State said the project was initiated by his predecessor in partnership with a United States-based firm Spagnvola Chocolatiers. The factory cost about N9 billion.

During the launching of the factory, dignitaries visited the town in large numbers. Journalists from various media houses swarmed the agrarian community, taking and sending out beautiful pictures of the governor, inspecting the factory flanked by his Chief of Staff and other important members of his cabinet.

A table stood before the governor upon which hundreds of beautifully wrapped chocolate bars were arranged. Akeredolu took one of the bars, unwrapped it and took a bite, shook his head to certify the chocolate as tasty, to the joy of the cheering crowd.

But when this reporter visited the factory in June 2021, about ten months after the inauguration, a side of the entrance to the premises had become a farm, with lush green maize plants growing.

In October 2022 he visited again as the premises remained completely deserted. The signpost had fallen apart and the Federal Inland Revenue Service had pasted a “SEALED” notice on the gate of the factory for non-payment of necessary taxes.

Then last month, the reporter visited the factory again. This time, the factory appeared to be undergoing some form of renovation under a new name. 

Residents of Idanre who spoke to Development News Nigeria said the chocolate factory never functioned and did not employ anyone from the community.

Idanre is an agrarian community with most of the farmers engaging in cocoa production. Although the town is recognized by UNESCO as a heritage site for the presence of the Idanre hills, its economy revolves around the cultivation of cocoa.

“There is no family in Idanre without a cocoa farm,” said Ojo Busayo, an indigene of the community.“It’s practically unthinkable. Cocoa is our culture, our economy, our life.”

Another resident Orosundipe Biodun said, “about two weeks before the inauguration of the factory, we noticed that some men were working at the factory and thought that soon anyone coming from Akure to Idanre would perceive the scent of cocoa beans being processed. It gave us so much joy.

“One month later, the company stopped working and the entire compound was taken over by weeds. Later it became a maize farm but recently renovation has started again under a different name. The whole thing looks like a scam to me,” he added.

Biodun narrated how frontline gubernatorial candidates and sitting governors have always come to Idanre to deceive the people with the establishment of a chocolate factory in Idanre.

Olofinjana Akin, a young farmer in Idanre recalled that everyone had been excited, believing that at least 200 workers would be employed from the community.

“We believe it will reduce poverty in Idanre,” Akin said. “They disappointed us. I don’t know anyone in this local government who worked for the company or supplied the company with cocoa beans”, he added.

Factory For Sale

Between November 2020 and January 2023, the N9 billion factory was completely abandoned. However, the story changed in January, as the Senator representing Ondo Capital, Ayo Akinyelure alerted the public on the plan to sell the factory to an unnamed friend of the governor.

In response, the Special Adviser to the Governor on Agriculture and Agro Business, Akin Olotu responded by admitting there was a plan to sell the factory and blamed Spagnvola for not fulfilling the terms of the agreement.

“He was to roll out chocolate from the factory on April 2nd, 2020 unfortunately he couldn’t return to the country due to the COVID-19 outbreak” Olotu explained, adding, “however he put up another proposal with a humongous financial implication, demanding another set of equipment including bringing in many other workers from the United States.”

Despite not producing or selling any chocolate since 2020, the firm’s managing director, Robo Adhuze, had in April 2022 said the Sunshine Chocolate Factory was ready to launch in the European market in July 2022 starting with the UK.

He also said that the chocolate bars were already on sale in the U.S. and other parts of the world. The Akeredolu-led administration did not deny this or issue any disclaimer even as this information made headlines in the news.

Meanwhile, Akin Olotu who is the State Senior Special Adviser on Agriculture had recently told local media that “wonders are already happening at the factory, anyone can go there and see for himself, we have partnered with a new company Johnvent, the company has been completely revived.”

According to the accounts of many people we spoke to, the Idanre people have waited for almost 25 years to have a chocolate factory. 

The factory which was a collective aspiration of the Idanre community has become a weapon of mass deception as it is a regular item during every campaign. They believed that the Oluwarotimi Akeredolu-led government took the deception to a new level by inaugurating the factory a month before the election to deceive the people of the community into voting for him.

This report was produced with support from Civic Media Lab.

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